earlier this month, the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) provided a venue for the INSPIRE Research Symposium presented by the American Samoa Community Cancer Coalition. INSPIRE (Indigenous Samoan Partnership to Initiate Research Excellence) is a five-year program funded by the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities, and awarded to the Coalition. In turn, through the symposium, the Coalition aims to establish the capacity and resources essential to conducting scientific research in American Samoa, with an emphasis on Colorectal Cancer literacy pertaining to indigenous Samoan adults. While the Coalition hopes that the support generated by INSPIRE will ultimately lead to more and better informed screening for cancer among local residents, the program also supports research in a variety of health-related areas.
The two-day symposium featured noted authorities in the field of medical research, and also incorporated some input from ASCC students affiliated with the BUILD EXITO program. BUILD EXITO, a partnership between ASCC and Portland State University (PSU) now serving its fifth cohort group, provides incentives and opportunities for individuals committed to pursuing careers in research. Students in the program begin their training at ASCC as the first step in a process that enables them to continue after graduation to PSU or one of several participating BUILD EXITO colleges in the United States. In addition to giving the current BUILD EXITO students at ASCC the opportunity to talk about the program and their individual aspirations, the Coalition provided funding for Alice Tausaga, an ASCC alumnus and current BUILD EXITO scholar at PSU, to return to American Samoa and speak at the symposium about her current research project.
Tausaga, 23, names both Fagatogo and Vatia as her home villages. She currently pursues a Psychology major with a minor in Child, Youth, and Family Studies at PSU. At the symposium, she shared her work to date on her area of research: Exploring the Parenting Needs of Fathers Exposed to Domestic Violence in Childhood. “This research benefits the parenting needs and mental health of fathers exposed to domestic violence as children,” she explained. “I focus on whether or not fathers who experienced domestic violence as children parent their own offspring children the same way they were parented, or if they intentionally break the cycle of exposing children to domestic violence.” Tausaga described the experience of contributing to the symposium as “humbling and amazing,” but ultimately well worth the preparation and travel. “Conducting research presents a big challenge,” she reflected, “but also an opportunity to understand how to provide services we currently lack in our community. I also hope my work inspires anyone who has experienced domestic violence and wants to do something about it.”
ASCC Health & Human Services Department chairman and instructor Derek Helsham, who also serves as the College’s BUILD EXITO Career Mentor, explained the significance of symposium participation by a researcher-in-the-making like Tausaga. “To actually have researchers that are from American Samoa represents a huge development as far as tomorrow’s solutions to the health challenges our islands face,” he said. “With the help of programs like INSPIRE and BUILD EXITO, we’re developing our own scientists in the health, bio-medical, behavioral, and social fields. “ Tausaga agreed that American Samoa needs to cultivate its own research culture. “The ability to do our own research will help us with community planning and ultimately with achieving better living standards,” she said. She strongly recommends that students with an interest research look into BUILD EXITO. “Besides providing a structure for developing my skills, the program pays 60% of my tuition, and even provides travel support when I have an opportunity to present my work at a conference or a symposium like this.”
Helsham expressed his gratitude to the Coalition, INSPIRE and ASCC coordinators of the symposium, and his congratulations to Tausaga and the current BUILD EXITO cohort members who participated: Grace Lagai, Francella Pola Nau, Monique Hollister, and Karallyn Fitisone. For more information on BUILD EXITO at ASCC, call the College at 699-9155 and ask for the Health & Human Services Department.