Former American Samoa Community College (ASCC) students Casidhe “Cassie” Mahuka and Johann Vollrath are the inaugural recipients of the ASCC Marine Science Program Scholarships.
To help build research and sustainability capacity and support American Samoa’s budding marine scientists, Hawaii Sea Grant Extension Agent Kelley Anderson Tagarino, based at ASCC, has secured funding for scholarships from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Program, in collaboration with the local Coral Reef Advisory Group (CRAG) and the American Samoa Government Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources.
The funding will provide $40,000 in scholarships from fall 2020 to spring 2022.
Although American Samoa has the oldest regularly monitored coral reef transect and is in many ways the cradle of coral reef science, the territory still has too few local coral researchers.
These scholarships are part of the ongoing effort to build local capacity in the marine sciences and encourage more Samoan students to pursue science fields and protect the islands precious natural resources.
“This is a competitive, merit-based scholarship to provide opportunities for current ASCC Marine Science students who have been accepted to a four-year university, as well as ASCC graduates who are now pursuing a Bachelor or graduate degree in Marine Science or a related field,” explained Kelley Anderson Tagarino, an Extension Faculty of the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program who teaches Aquaculture and Marine Science at ASCC.
Johann Vollrath, an ASCC graduate now pursuing a degree in Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, expressed enthusiasm for his experience in the field while at ASCC.
“Before joining the ASCC Marine Science program, I had volunteered with the National Park Service and the National Marine Sanctuary,” he recalled. “But with the Marine Science program, I gained more knowledge and experience than I had previously, in part due to the management of the program and how well they found experience opportunities for the students.”
Vollrath considers Marine Biology a career possibility and says he would like to help protect and preserve American Samoa’s environment. “My plan involves returning home at some point and using the knowledge and experience that I’ve gained to contribute to the work being done to manage our valuable marine resources,” he shared via email.
Cassie Mahuka attended ASCC for a year before transferring to Chaminade University in Honolulu. Currently a Junior pursuing a double major in Environmental Science and Environmental Studies, she credits the ASCC Marine Science program for helping her determine her academic direction. “Studying Marine Science at ASCC was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she said.
“The program taught me so much and also provided an abundant amount of opportunities.” Mahuka would also like to someday work at ensuring the well-being of the Territory’s natural resources. “I can see myself working with the National Park of American Samoa, the Marine and Wildlife Program, or the Environmental Protection Agency,” she reflected.
“My goal is to come back home after I get my Bachelor’s degree, get a couple years of working experience, and then to hopefully get my Masters and maybe one day, my PhD.”