The Commencement for the fall 2018 semester at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC), the 69th since the College’s inception in 1970, took place on Friday, December 14, in the auditorium of the Multi-Purpose Building. Government leaders, members of the Board of Higher Education, the ASCC administration, faculty and staff, and family members of the graduates joined the festivities as 117 students celebrated the completion of their degrees and certificates.
To make each Commencement Ceremony a memorable one, the ASCC Division of Student Services regularly asks a distinguished member of the community, often an alumni of the College, to provide the keynote address. For this occasion, ASCC proudly welcomed as keynote speaker Malopao Dr. Akenese Epi Nikolao, a 1991 ASCC graduate who has gone on to serve as Acting Director of Human Resources for the LBJ Tropical Medical Center.
Dr. Nikolao is one of six children of the late Malopao Rev. Deacon Ta’afulisia Pula Tuiteleleapaga Iuli Nikolao of Fagatogo/Utulei, Leone and Pago Pago, and Faletua Susitina T. Nikolao of Vaimoso, Malie, Satupa’itea, Salelesi and Saleaula. She is a loving single parent to Nikolao II Chacko Mutini, Taofinu’u Izrael Mutini, Clement Ta’afulisia Nikolao, Tusa John Nikolao, and Penita Nicholas Nikolao, and a member of the Utulei Catholic Parish.
After graduating from Fa’asao High School in 1989, she attended ASCC, where she participated in the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and made the Dean’s List while completing an Associate of Arts degree in two years. Upon her ASCC graduation, she received an American Samoa Government and a Minority Scholarship to enroll in Northwest Missouri State University, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Sociology and Psychology in 1993.
Returning to American Samoa, Dr. Nikolao taught from 1993 to 1996 at Samoana High School, while also participating in the University of Hawaii - Manoa Masters in Education cohort program in American Samoa. What she describes as “life changing events” prompted her to relocate back to the US mainland. Resuming her personal studies, in 2001, she received her Master of Science Degree in Business Organizational Management with a concentration in Human Resources Management and Development from the University of La Verne in California.
In 2005, she attended the University of Guam, where she received an Education Teaching Certificate for Secondary Education and was on the Dean’s List. Once again returning to the states, she next earned a Doctorate of Education from the University of Southern California (USC) where she defended and published her dissertation “An Examination of Resource Allocation Strategies and Finance Adequacy: Case Studies of American Samoa Department of Education Secondary Schools,” in 2012. Having completed her Doctorate, she moved her family back to American Samoa with the intention of caring for her mother while also seeking a way to give back to her family and the community.
After more than 15 years as an educator in Hawaii, Guam, California and American Samoa, Dr. Nikolao’s current position at LBJ involves her overseeing the functions of all the hospital’s Human Resources-related activities while enforcing personnel policies and procedures for a workforce that numbers approximately 750. Dr. Nikolao's background in education, along with her focus in workforce development and training, has earned her additional duties which include: Grants Manager; Public Relations Officer; Professional Education and Training Officer; Education Liaison with external agencies; and Grant Writer
In December 2017, she fulfilled a longstanding wish to serve in a cultural role when she and other family members of the Sa Afoafouvale and Sa Lutu of Fagatogo/Utulei were bestowed with chief titles to serve and tautua the spirit of the family and the culture. She humbly accepted the title that once belonged to her father, Tofa Malopao Reverend Deacon Ta’afulisia Nikolao.
Another highlight for Dr. Nikolao came in 2018 when, thanks to a grant proposal she had written, LBJ was successfully awarded over $1.1 Million in Technical Assistance from the Department of Interior – Office of Insular Affairs. The funding enables technical training in nursing, pharmacy, dialysis, support staff and finance. Dr. Nikolao is also LBJ’s liaison for the Governor’s Medical Physician Scholarship to Fiji and the Oceania University of Medicine (OUM) Medical Physician Scholarship.
“We at ASCC were honored to have Dr. Nikolao join us as keynote speaker,” said the College’s Dean of Student Services Dr. Emilia Le’i. “Dr. Nikolao clearly aspires to be a vehicle of positive change, and an innovative thinker, lifelong learner, effective leader and public servant who serves with integrity, humility and kindness. Given her passion for her family, her culture and her work, her address was an inspiring one.”