ASCC student Ms. Ruta Ropeti (left), an assistant with the American Samoa Area Health Education Center (ASAHEC) is congratulated by ASAHEC Director Sailitafa Samoa after being selected by the Future Public Health Leaders Program to attend its 10-week summer internship in Michigan. (Photo: J. Kneubuhl)

ASCC Student Accepted to FPHLP Summer Internship

June 4, 2014

By James Kneubuhl, ASCC Press Officer

The Future Public Health Leaders Program (FPHLP), funded by the Center for Disease Control, is designed to encourage underrepresented college students to consider careers in public health. Housed in the Office of Public Health Practice at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, the FPHLP seeks to strengthen the current and future public health workforce through applied research, education, training, and service. Ms. Ruta Ropeti, a student at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC), departed the Territory in late May to take part in the FPHLP 10-week residential summer program to encourage careers in public health, currently in progress and continuing through August 1st.

Ms. Ropeti intends to graduate from ASCC this fall with an Associate of Science degree in Health Science, and she also has a strong interest in entering the field of Nursing. This past summer, she volunteered with the American Samoa Area Health Education Center (ASAHEC), located on the ASCC campus, where she has since risen to the paid position of Program Assistant. Ms. Ropeti works alongside ASAHEC Director Sailitafa Samoa to organize the outreach activities and other events hosted by ASAHEC. “My goal is to become a health care professional,” she said. “There are many different heath care careers out there, and going on this internship will help me narrow down my options.”

Through her Health & Human Services classes at ASCC with Dr. Daniel Chang, Ms. Ropeti gained an awareness of the different aspects of the health care field. She worked as an intern in the Radiology Department at LBJ Hospital, and also went on home visits with the Department of Health. “I loved both experiences,” she said. “This is why I’m still debating which area of health care I want to pursue as a career.” She traces her interest in health care back to elementary school, and has been able to develop her skills in the field at ASCC through a double major in Health Science and Nursing. “It’s no secret that American Samoa is in need of health professionals,” she said. “We need doctors, nurses, and many other kinds of specialists, so this has been a motivation for me.”

During the FPHLP summer program, Ms. Ropeti will be among 50 students from across the nation. Following an orientation in Atlanta, the entire group will travel to Michigan, where they will be assigned into five groups of 10 students each and given projects to work on. “We’ll be in different areas,” she explained, “such as community organizations, health systems, or government organizations. Workshops, seminars and field trips have been scheduled for us. At the end of the summer, we’ll present the findings from our projects to the Michigan School of Public Health.” Ms. Ropeti’s travel and living costs are covered by the FPHLP, who will also provide the students with stipends for personal expenses.

ASAHEC Director Sailitafa Samoa expressed enthusiasm for Ms. Ropeti’s participation in the internship. “This will open up great opportunities for other students in the future,” she said. Both the ASAHEC Director and Ms. Ropeti expressed their gratitude to Public Health Director Tuileama Nua and Occupational Therapist Mrs. Ipu Eliapo-Unutoa for making them aware of the FPHLP opportunity, and to Dr. Chang and ASCC Science Department chairman Mr. Randel Dewees for providing letters of recommendation.

Ms. Ropeti also expressed her gratitude to Dr. Sela Panapasa, research scientist in the Program for Research on Black Americans at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, and Relando Thompkins, FPHLP Program Coordinator, which whom she conducted a phone interview prior to being chosen for the internship. “The both of us were so moved and impacted so greatly by Ruta's interview that we knew even before we hung up the phone that we just had to have her to come and be a part of our program,” said Thompkins via email. For more information on the FPHLP, visit their website at: