Five ASCC Students Selected for BUILD EXITO

By James Kneubuhl, ASCC Press Officer

Published on July 14, 2016

Five American Samoa Community College (ASCC) students returned recently from a week-long orientation for BUILD EXITO, a program designed to support undergraduate students interested in pursuing research careers in the biomedical, behavioral, clinical, health, and social sciences, 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.

Mr. Motutama Nogotau Sipelii, Ms. Tausaafia L. Uiagalelei, Ms. Alisi Tagaloa, Ms. Ruby Salome Fia and Mr. Ulelemaikalani N. Kwon, the second BUILD EXITO cohort from ASCC, traveled to Portland, Oregon with all expenses paid to attend the orientation.  Either in the coming fall 2016 semester or in spring 2017, the five will take an introduction to biomedical research class referred to as a "gateway course," designed to introduce beginning students to what a biomedical research career requires. Course learning outcomes include the values, skills, and attitude that a biomedical 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 (in partnership) 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 one of the four partner universities, which are PSU; the University of Alaska, Anchorage; the University of Hawaii at Manoa; or the University of Guam. Their mentor will guide them through the following year with any concerns they may have about the program. In addition, each student will also be paired with a paid career mentor from each partner institution in helping and advising each student on the path of a biomedical research career.

It is the program's goal that each student selected for BUILD EXITO from a partner institution, including ASCC, will continue their interest in biomedical research and eventually transfer to one of the four partner universities listed above to pursue a biomedical research career. If they do, 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 or one of the other three partner universities; in-state tuition at PSU discounted up to 60%; continued mentorship; a paid part-time biomedical research project; access to research grant funding, and other benefits.

ASCC began its partnership in the BUILD EXITO program in 2014, and since its implementation, two of the students in the first year cohort, Ernest Puletasi and Sefilina Skelton, have continued on the path towards biomedical research careers. Puletasi majors in Bioengineering at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, while Skelton is majoring in Biochemistry at Dixie State University in Utah. The two remaining two students, Suluga Taliau and Yean Ji Jung, expect to graduate from ASCC in spring 2017. Three out of the four students in the 2014 cohort remain in the program as of today.

For more information on BUILD EXITO at ASCC, contact Health and Human Services Division Director Dr. Daniel Chang by emailing