Five ASCC Students Attend 2019 BUILD EXITO 

New Scholar Orientation

By James Kneubuhl, ASCC Press Officer

Published on July 8, 2019

ASCC BUILD EXITO Career Mentors Derek Helsham (far left) and Tala Ropeti-Leo (far right) join the five ASCC students selected as BUILD EXITO scholars at the program’s orientation for new participants in late June at Portland State University. BUILD EXITO supports students intending to become researchers in the biomedical fields. (Courtesy Photo)

In late June, five students from the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) returned from Portland, Oregon, where they had attended an orientation for new scholars in the BUILD EXITO Program at Portland State University (PSU). BUILD EXITO is an undergraduate research-training program that provides support to students taking the path towards becoming scientific researchers. PSU received a major grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to assist as a center for innovation to help undergraduates, including those from diverse backgrounds, achieve success in health research careers. The BUILD EXITO model aims to identify students early in their college career and engage them in finding solutions to today's major health problems.

ASCC is one of many BUILD EXITO partners in the Pacific, along with the College of the Northern Marianas, the University, of Guam, and the University of Hawaii. Students accepted into the program spend a week at the New Scholar Orientation at PSU, where they get an overview of the program, an opportunity to meet and learn from qualified researchers, and a chance to build relationships with students from other colleges and universities. The five ASCC students selected as BUILD EXITO scholars are Fancella Pola Nau, Karallyn Fitisone, Monique Hollister, Finiana Finau, and Grace Lagai. Accompanying the five students to the orientation were the two ASCC instructors who serve as BUILD EXITO Career Mentors, Mrs. Tala Ropeti-Leo and Mr. Derek Helsham.


The students also had the opportunity to meet alumni of ASCC that are currently attending PSU as participants in the BUILD EXITO program. Motutama Sipelii, Francine Iopu, Olivia Atisanoe and Alice Tausaga are ASCC Alumni as well as EXITO Scholars who took the time to help the current cohort at the orientation. Tausaga and Atisanoe also gave presentations their research to an audience that included not only the current BUILD scholars but also others from the many partner schools that collaborate with BUILD EXITO/PSU.  

At the orientation, the ASCC students learned how BUILD EXITO follows a four-tiered model to bring out the best possible outcome of development for each scholar. The first tier is the integrated curriculum, which supports the development of the scholars as researchers. The second is developmental mentoring, which provides a team of mentors who foster supportive relationships with the students. Third is a supportive environment, especially for those transferring to PSU, and fourth is research experience, which provides the scholars with hands on opportunities to develop their research skills in their specific medical area. “The orientation at PSU gives BUILD EXITO students planning to transfer a feel for the PSU campus environment,” said Mr. Helsham, “as well as a better understanding of what they will be required to do as they work towards achieving their academic goals.”

2019 marks the fifth year of collaboration between BUILD EXITO/PSU and ASCC, and according to Helsham the partnership will remain in place for at least another five years. He acknowledged the Principle Investigator for BUILD EXITO at Portland State University, Dr. Carlos Crespo and Co-Director Dr. Tom Keller for their ongoing collaboration with ASCC, and expressed gratitude to ASCC President Dr. Rosevonne Pato and Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs Mrs. Letupu Moananu for their support.

A detailed description of the BUILD/EXITO program can be found online at: To find out more about BUILD/EXITO opportunities at ASCC, contact the Health and Human Services Department by calling the College’s main switchboard at 699-9155 and asking for extension 476.