ASCC-ACNR (Land Grant Program) and ASDoE Conclude 8th Annual STEP UP Program
August 4, 2016
By James Kneubuhl, ASCC Press Officer
The 8th Annual Pacific Short-Term Research Experience for Underrepresented Persons (Pacific STEP-UP) Symposium took place on Saturday, July 30th, at the Agriculture, Community and Natural Resources (ACNR) division of the American Samoa Community College (ASCC). The symposium marked the conclusion of summer-long research activity by four local high school students chosen to participate in this year’s STEP-UP program. The four students, Ms. Casidhe Mahuka, Ms. Gabrielle T. Langkilde, Mr. Kiso Skelton and Ms. Tausala Judy Leota, gave presentations on their research projects before local and off-island dignitaries as well as family and friends.
ACNR Director Aufa’i Apulu Ropeti Areta, who hosted the event, welcomed guests from off-island Dr. Lawrence Agodoa of the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and Dr. George Hui, Program Director of Pacific STEP-UP based at the University of Hawaii. Representing the Department of Education was Mrs. Netini Sene, Assistant Director, Office of Curriculum and Instruction. Dr. Mark Schmaedick of ACNR served as moderator. A very special guest at the event was the very first director of ACNR, HC Tauiliili Pemerika, present to support two of his granddaughters among the STEP-UP students, Ms. Mahuka and Ms. Langkilde.
Following welcoming remarks from the dignitaries, Ms. Casidhe Mahuka of Fa’asao Marist High School launched the student presentations with an explanation and discussion of her project “Identifying the Spawning Season of the Crown of Thorns Starfish to Help Management Efforts in American Samoa.” Mentored by Tim Clark, PhD, of the National Park of American Samoa, Ms. Mahuka sought to illuminate the reproductive cycle of the Crown of Thorns, a recent serious threat to the Territory’s marine environment.
Ms. Gabrielle T. Langkilde, also of Fa’asao Marist, followed with her study, “Effect of Stream Nutrients on Benthic Algal Overgrowth in Vatia Bay.” Mentored by Visa Vaivai, B.A., also with the Nation Park, Ms. Langkilde hypothesized that an increase in nutrients from the streams that feed Vatia Bay have caused an overgrowth of algae that threatens the bay’s corals. Next was Mr. Kiso Skelton of Tafuna High School. Working with mentor Dr. Ian Gurr of ACNR, Mr. Skelton took on the challenge of “Evaluating Seeding Growing Media Produced from Locally Sourced Organic Materials,” a comparative study of the success of Pak-Choi grown in media produced locally as opposed to imported media.
Ms. Tausala Judy Leota of Nu’uuli Voc-Tech rounded off the presentations sharing her research on “Validation and Genome Mapping of Randomly Amplified Polymorphic DNA (RAPD) Markers for the Analysis of Genetic Diversity in Taro.” Working with mentor Dr. Ndeme Atibalentja of ACNR, Ms. Leota sought to resolve the existing confusion in identifying the dozens of taro cultivars currently being grown locally, some of which were imported clandestinely.
With the presentations concluded, ACNR Director Aufa’i, Dr. Agodoa, Dr. Hui, Mrs. Sene and Dr. Schmaedick presented the students with their Certificates of Participation. Dr. Hui also announced that two of the participants, Ms. Langkilde and Ms. Leota, have been invited to attend the national STEP-UP conference in Washington, DC later this month. Dr. Hui also shared with those present that this year brings to a close the present STEP-UP funding cycle, but that he remains hopeful that the NIH will later this year approve a proposal to support STEP-UP for another five years.
Since its introduction in 2009, a total of 51 American Samoa high school students have participated in STEP-UP, which provided short-term research opportunities and training for high school and undergraduate students from racial/ethnic groups underrepresented in biomedical and behavioral research, as well as students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The program has been offered each summer through STEP-UP-sponsoring institutions throughout the United States, which includes ASCC-ACNR.
More information on the STEP-UP program in Hawaii and the US Pacific territories is available on the website: www.pacificstepup.org.