OIA Grant to Facilitate Major Upgrade in Computer Technology at ASCC

By James Kneubuhl, ASCC Press Officer

Grant funding from the Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) will enable the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) to make major upgrades in its capacity for instruction in the area of information technology, and will also allow the College to address longstanding technical issues in the area of cyber-security. This summer, the OIA announced nearly $3 million in grants for American Samoa’s government and related agencies as part of its Technical Assistance Program (TAP). Of that amount, ASCC will receive $375k in funding, $200k of which will go towards upgrading and re-equipping the Computer Science Department (CSD) and $175 of which will be used to strengthen the College’s disaster recovery capabilities by replacing an outdated generator and addressing related issues.

The ASCC Computer Science Department has previously offered a Certificate of Proficiency in Information Communication Technology (ICT), and beginning this year will also offer an Associate of Science degree in the subject.  Since 2015, the CSD has doubled its course offerings as student enrollment increased substantially. An impediment to the department’s progress has been an urgent need for updated equipment to replace technology which in some cases has been in use since the CSD facility first opened in 1979.  The TAP grant will facilitate the upgrading of the desktop equipment, learning software, and antiviral protection used by students and staff.  “We anticipate that this investment in our Computer Science programs will in the long run be a tremendous boost for our Territory’s economy and community workforce,” said CSD Chairperson Dr. Ernie Seiuli.   

  With the extensive upgrades to the CSD technology, the department looks forward to the development of advanced degree programs in information technology.  Currently under review by ASCC is the introduction of a Computer Science Associate degree, which would entail the CSD introducing new courses, such as: Introduction to Programming, Introduction to Cybersecurity, Introduction to Microsoft Office, Intermediate & Advanced Microsoft Office, Introduction to Networking, and Networking II. Dr. Seiuli emphasized that, as with most federally-funded programs, the changes within the CSD will not be made overnight, but will follow a prescribed timeline to fulfill the requirements of the TAP grant. “An upgrade program of this magnitude cannot happen right away, but will take place in stages,” explained Dr. Seiuli. “Each stage will bring us closer to our goal of offering the people of American Samoa the best instruction available in the area of information technology.”  

ASCC will also use TAP grant funding to resolve existing issues related to cyber-security. The College has developed a disaster recovery plan that includes equipment to fully replicate its online services at an off-site location. This will ensure that ASCC can recover quickly from cyber-attacks, intrusions or other system failures. “The recent Covid-19 shutdown in American Samoa, which led to us needing to provide most of services online, made us realize how important it is that we protect against online threats and have the ability to recover data,” said ASCC Chief Information Officer Grace Tulafono-Asi. The ASCC Management Information Systems (MIS) Division, in charge of providing Information Technology support for the ASCC campus, intends to establish an off-site data backup location on the east side of campus at the College’s Multipurpose Center (MPC), which is currently identified as a secondary Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for American Samoa.  

Another data security issue has been a failing generator system that is more than 10 years old, and has not always switched on automatically when needed, causing multiple system failures and loss of data. In response, TAP resources will enable the College to purchase a new backup generator, and to update its Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) and network switch units to eliminate the loss of power and connectivity to significant systems in the current Network Operations Center (NOC) and throughout the campus that need to run uninterrupted and be protected from surges and outages.

“It’s important to remember that disasters can be both natural and the result of failing equipment or infrastructure,” reflected Tulafono-Asi. “In both cases the ASCC wants to be prepared to act proactively and quickly to protect its information and data. Power fluctuations and outages are not uncommon in American Samoa, so UPS units are vital in order to safeguard the equipment that provides access to key services and data. Keeping this equipment safe, operational and protected against surges and outages is an important part of recovery.”

For more information on Information Technology courses offered at ASCC, see the College’s catalog, available online at the ASCC website: www.amsamoa.edu.