PRESS RELEASE - May 31, 2016

Students and faculty who participated in Molecules of Life Explorations, a collaboration between ASCC-ACNR and DoE, gather for a group shot following the closing of the program. The program familiarized students from the public and private high schools with the fundamentals of molecular biology. (Photo: J. Kneubuhl)

ASCC-CNR/DoE Molecules of Life Program Concludes

May 31, 2016

By James Kneubuhl, ASCC Press Officer

Molecules of Life Explorations, a series of sessions providing local high school students with instruction in basic molecular biology methods and life science laboratory techniques, was celebrated at the completion of its initial phase with a Closing Ceremony held at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) on Friday, May 23rd. Most of the 78 students from American Samoa’s public and private high schools who successfully completed the program joined with their instructors to receive their certificates of recognition and celebrate their achievement among peers with a similar interest in the sciences.

A collaboration between the ASCC Agriculture, Community and Natural Resources (ACNR) division, the American Samoa Department of Education (DoE), Office of Curriculum and Instruction (OCI) Science and Pacific STEP UP, Molecules of Life Explorations offered local high school students an opportunity to gain an edge in their science studies through training not otherwise available to them. During the weekly two-hour sessions, students participated in discussions about principles and practice of molecular biology prior to engaging in hands-on lab activities.

The program, provided without charge to the students, got underway in September of 2015. At total of 96 student applicants, divided into 16 groups of six, spent two hours a week during normal school hours at ASCC-ACNR for a total of four weeks per group during a morning or afternoon session. DoE instructors, OCI Specialists and ASCC-ACNR staff provided training and supervision. Instruction included proper safety precautions and techniques for molecular-level analysis of the macromolecules responsible for biological activity—techniques commonly employed in molecular biology labs around the world.

Weekly lectures and discussions were facilitated by Dr. Joserose Jyothibhavan, Science Specialist with DoE-OCI, while hands-on laboratory activities were led by Emily Ilaoa, ASCC-ACNR Plant Pathology Research Assistant. Dr. Joserose and Ms. Ilaoa were assisted by Plant Pathology and Entomology Research Assistants Shalley Tailevai and Metotagivale Meredith. ASCC-ACNR Plant Pathologist Dr. Ndeme Atibalentja provided critical technical support for planning and developing the program activities.

During the closing ceremony, Mrs. Magdalene Augafa-Leauanae, DoE Health and Science Coordinator in the Office of Curriculum and Instruction, served as MC and provided the Opening Remarks. On behalf of ASCC President Dr. Seth Galea’i, Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs Dr. Rosevonne Pato spoke to the students and reminded them of American Samoa’s need, in both the educational and technological fields, for more individuals with a background in science. Following Dr. Pato’s remarks, she was joined by ASCC-ACNR Director Aufa’i Apulu Ropeti Areta, Dr. Joserose, and ASCC-ACNR Entomologist Dr. Mark Schmaedick to present certificates of completion and a small gift basket to each student present who had completed the program.

Mrs. Augafa-Leauanae also recognized the high school teachers in attendance that had facilitated their students’ participation in Molecules of Life Explorations. These teachers included Penelope Mareko of Fagaitua High School; Valasi Apulu of Tafuna High School; Adelle Talaea'i of Nuuuli Vocational Technical High School; Aitulagi Tuiasosopo of Leone High School; and Cecilia Tuiono'ula of South Pacific Academy.

On behalf of Mrs. Netini Sene, Assistant Director, OCI, Fa'afetai Teofilo, Program Director, DoE Secondary Division, gave the Closing Remarks. ASCC-ACNR Director Aufa’i Apulu Ropeti Areta, who had also said the opening Invocation, provided the closing Benediction in place of Dr. Samasone Asaeli, whose schedule precluded his attendance at the ceremony.

The Molecules of Life Explorations program utilized the molecular biology laboratory established at ASCC-ACNR via the Pacific STEP-UP program. STEP-UP, funded through the U.S. National Institutes of Health, is coordinated in the Pacific by Dr. George Hui at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine. STEP UP aims to increase the number of Pacific Islanders and other underrepresented persons entering careers in biomedical research. In addition to the Molecules of Life Explorations program, STEP-UP American Samoa offers summer internships with local scientist mentors for selected high school juniors and seniors. ASCC-ACNR and DoE-OCI work together to implement both the Molecules of Life program and the STEP-UP summer internships program in the territory.

The second phase of Molecules of Life Explorations is scheduled to begin in September. For further information on the program, contact Dr. Joserose Jyothibhavan; Ms. Magdalene Augafa-Leauanae of DoE-OCI 699-6516; or Dr. Mark Schmaedick of ASCC-ACNR at 699-1575.