ASCC Students Attend BUILD EXITO Orientation in Portland

By James Kneubuhl, ASCC Press Officer

Published on July 18, 2017

Five American Samoa Community College (ASCC) students returned recently from Portland State University (PSU), where they attended a six-day orientation for BUILD EXITO, a program designed to support undergraduate students interested in pursuing research careers in the biomedical, behavioral and social sciences and engineering funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH). Students accepted to BUILD EXITO receive scholarships, stipends, mentoring, summer seminars, paid job experience engaging in hands-on research, and dedicated academic and financial aid advising, with these incentives increasing the longer they remain in the program.

Alice Tausaga, Vinesa Faaogea, Olivia Atisano’e, Francine Iopu, and Luavaasiitia April Esera, the third BUILD EXITO cohort from ASCC, traveled to Portland, Oregon with all expenses paid to attend a Scholar Summer Orientation, accompanied by Mr. Derek Helsham of the College’s Health & Human Services Department. Either in the coming fall 2017 semester or in spring 2018, the five will take an introduction to biomedical research class referred to as a "gateway course," designed to introduce beginning students to the values, skills, and attitude that a researcher should possess or develop.

The NIH BUILD initiative, funded through a $23.7 million research and training grant from the NIH, is part of a broad national strategy to develop new approaches that engage researchers, including those from backgrounds underrepresented in biomedical sciences, and prepare them to thrive in the NIH-funded workforce. Through the NIH funding, Portland State University (PSU) established the Enhancing Cross-disciplinary Infrastructure Training at Oregon (BUILD EXITO) program. PSU and Oregon Health & Science University serve as centers of innovation for creating biomedical research career pathways for undergraduates, and, together, are one of ten national consortiums working to develop, implement, and evaluate approaches to encourage them.

After the summer orientation and during their gateway course, each selected student will be mentored by a third-year BUILD EXITO peer mentor from PSU. It is the program's goal that each student selected for BUILD EXITO from a partner institution, including ASCC, will continue their interest in research and eventually transfer to PSU to pursue a biomedical research career. If they do, the financial assistance and training that will be provided to them along the way may include a paid ($1200 stipend) one-month summer research intensive at PSU; in-state tuition at PSU discounted up to 60%; continued mentorship; a paid part-time research project; access to research grant funding, and other benefits. ASCC began its partnership with BUILD EXITO in 2014, and recently ASCC Cohort 2 students Yean Ji Jung, Motutama Sipelii, and Tausaafia Uiagalelei have transferred to PSU as BUILD EXITO scholars.

Current ASCC student Alice Tausaga of Fagatogo, a Cohort 3 member who took part in the recent orientation at PSU, described BUILD EXITO as “a great opportunity.” “I got to learn about different types of research, not only in the biomedical field but also the social studies field,” she said. “It helped open my eyes to my own interests in my field of learning. Now I know more about research and the impact of putting your work into some type of action.” Tausaga plans to focus on the Social Behavioral field, which deals with conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorder, post-traumatic stress, bipolarity, and related mental health issues. “I believe that the BUILD EXITO program will help me as I further my studies and research more on sustainable treatments for people with mental health challenges,” she said.

For more information on BUILD EXITO at ASCC, contact Health and Human Services Program Chairman Mr. Derek Helsham by emailing