By Chantell Cosner, Division of Student Affairs

Three delegates from the island of American Samoa were welcomed recently by Washington State University administrators and students as part of a developing partnership between the U.S. territory and the university.

Arriving in Pullman on Sept. 24 for a week-long campus visit were:

  • Lemala Thompson

    with the Department of Human Resources for American Samoa.

  • Fred Thompson

    Lemala’s husband, from LBJ Tropical Medical Center.

  • David Vaeafe

    from the American Samoa Visitors Bureau.

The prior weekend, the delegates were in Seattle attending events with alumni and members of the American Samoan community abroad and focused on strengthening partnerships.

“This visit has opened my eyes to the opportunities that our young students can have,” said David Vaeafe. “The opportunities that WSU offers are amazing. We all know that this partnership will continue to grow.”

The partnership connects with broader efforts by the university to better serve underrepresented populations which historically have been neglected. This includes outreach and collaboration with the Pacific Islands.

Engineering student Patrick Agustin visited with the delegates over breakfast and shared that he was both excited and humbled by the experience.

“Fred shared with me that they are in need of engineers on the island,” said Agustin. “Knowing the island is in need of resources, it would be exciting to start something there and make an impact.”

Agustin, also noted that the visit inspired him to research his Pilipino heritage. “It made me look into my culture more,” he said. “As a Pilipino, I can identify with the family aspect of the Samoan culture. It was great to learn new global perspectives.”

Thompson and Vaeafe walking past WSU Library with student tour guide.
Lemala Thompson and David Vaeafe tour the WSU Pullman campus. (Photo by Kiera Clubb)

The visit is a follow up to a delegation of WSU administration including President Kirk Schulz and Vice President Mary Jo Gonzales who traveled to the island for five days in August 2017. The focus of that trip included how WSU could collaborate with the island’s two‑year community college to help students earn their bachelor’s degree.

The delegates presented during two classes within the Carson College of Business and one within the College of Arts & Sciences with the purpose of initiating discussion around careers within the hospitality, healthcare and business industries as well as the Samoan government.

During these events, the delegates shared their personal stories and stressed the importance of students completing their education, as well as seeing the value in returning to or visiting American Samoa to further their careers.

“Our island is hurting. We need doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, you name it,” said Lemala Thompson.

The island of American Samoa is home to about 60,000 people, and many parts of the economy are underserved leading to a need for professionals in numerous sectors. With long-standing teaching and nursing programs, as well as a new medical school, both administration and delegates believe that students can gain the skills they need at WSU to help the economy of American Samoa.

However, beyond future employment and education, the partnership aims to increase study abroad and service learning opportunities, as well as internships for WSU students of all backgrounds.

“I was excited to learn more about all of the various ways that our work at WSU could intersect with American Samoa,” said Stephen Bischoff, associate director for Multicultural Student Services. “The next challenge will be to focus our efforts to see which of these opportunities our university will want to pursue along with where our American Samoa partners see the most promise.”