Bridging the gap between Samoan culture and mainstream college life

Photo Credit: 
J. Kneubuhl
(Left to right) ASCC Institutional Effectiveness Director Sonny Leomiti, Natasha Autasi Saelua, Acting President/Vice President of Academic & Student Affairs Dr. Rosenonnve Makaiwi Pato, and Vice President of Administrative Services Dr. Mikaele Etuale.

Before moving to Indiana, Natasha made an extended visit to American Samoa this summer to reconnect with her family. “While here,” she explained, “I wanted to remain productive as a scholar, and also connect with ASCC. For my MA program, I wrote a paper on accreditation as it is applied to Pacific institutions, and presented it at the American Education Research Association Annual Meeting held in Chicago this year. Until then, my thoughts on that issue were purely theoretical, and I knew that I’d never fully understand it without meeting the people working every day to address it. So early in May, I contacted ASCC President Dr. Seth Galea’i about an internship with the campus office leading the accreditation effort, and President Galea’i referred me to Mr. Sonny Leomiti, Director of IE.

While at IE, Natasha worked closely with Mrs. Virginia Mailo-Filiga, Institutional Researcher, and over four weeks she observed ASCC’s approach to assessment, program evaluation, and accreditation. “Mrs. Mailo-Filiga shared her experiences as a researcher,” said Natasha, “and how the administration is addressing the WASC-ACCJC sanctions. I was honored to have been invited as a guest to committee retreats, where I witnessed first-hand how hard the administration, staff and faculty are working to address the accreditation issues.”

Mrs. Mailo-Filiga expressed her appreciation of Natasha’s assistance over the summer.

“Her insight and experience from other institutions of higher learning brought new knowledge and skills to our team,” said Mrs. Mailo-Filiga. “We discussed student retention at length, as IE is currently assisting in the effort to build a retention model for the institution. She also participated in our subcommittee workshops to address WASC-ACCJC recommendations. After the workshops, she gave a synopsis of how she views the evaluation of schools in the Pacific by US accreditors, a subject she hopes to delve into further as part of her her doctorate.”

As Natasha’s time at IE concluded earlier this month, she shared some of the vision that the experience inspired. “I try to conceive of what an indigenous approach to postsecondary accreditation would look like,” she reflected, “and whether it might be useful to reframe concepts like benchmarking, quality, standards, and assessment to reflect a holistic understanding of ASCC, taking into account American Samoa's unique social, historical and political history. This summer, I saw that there is cultural capital at ASCC that higher education scholars, practitioners and policy makers in the continent can learn from: that we can rely on our Samoan values of mutuality, collaboration, and collectivism to respond to critical issues/situations.”

For more information on EPIC, co-founded by Natasha Autasi Saelua, visit www.empoweredpi.org.

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