Young scientists share their research results at Fourth Annual STEP-UP Symposium

ASCC/CNR Director Tapa’au Dr. Daniel Mageo Aga presents a certificate to Talimeli Taufete’e of Tafuna High School at the annual American Samoa STEP-UP Summer Research Symposium as Ms. Jennifer Curry (left) and Dr. Lawrence Agodoa (center) of the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Dr. George Hui of the University of Hawaii Medical School look on. [Courtesy Photo]

Five local high school students presented the results of their summer science research projects in American Samoa’s fourth annual STEP-UP research symposium held last Saturday at the American Samoa Community College Division of Community and Natural Resources (Land Grant).

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the U.S. National Institutes of Health sponsor the STEP-UP program. It is coordinated in the Pacific region by the University of Hawaii and locally by the American Samoa Department of Education with assistance from the American Samoa Community College Land Grant Program.

The program aims to provide hands-on research opportunities to students to help increase the numbers of American Samoans embarking on careers in the biomedical sciences. American Samoa is no exception in the global trend towards an increase in diabetes, digestive and kidney diseases, and there is an urgent need for American Samoan scientists who can help develop locally appropriate solutions to reverse this trend.

The symposium provided an opportunity for the five students selected for this year’s STEP-UP program to describe their results from six weeks of intensive research conducted over the course of the summer.

Tapa’au Dr. Daniel Mageo Aga, Dean and Director of ASCC’s Division of Community and Natural Resources, and Ms. Netini Sene, the Department of Education’s Science and Health Coordinator opened the program. Over the last four years, Ms. Sene has been responsible for developing and coordinating the program in American Samoa with assistance from Dr. Aga and ASCC CNR.

The opening was followed by special remarks from Dr. Lawrence Agodoa, Director of the Office of Minority Health Research Coordination at NIH NIDDK and Dr. George Hui, of the University of Hawaii Medical School. Both stressed the importance of nurturing young local scientists who will someday be in a position to conduct the research necessary to address problems such as diabetes and kidney diseases that disproportionally affect some groups of people, including many American Samoans.

Three of the five students conducted their research in the ASCC CNR Plant Pathology Laboratory, with the assistance of Plant Pathologist Dr. Ndeme Atibalentja.

Ms. Faaumatialagipuapua Batta Siatuu, a teacher at Samoana, mentored Kimberly Jasmyn Godinet, a senior at Samoana High School. Godinet studied the effect of extracts of bark of the fig (pulu) tree on Fusarium sp., a fungus that causes plant diseases such as root rot and blights.

Mellody Ah-Lam Parungo, a senior at Fagaitua High School, tested the efficacy of extracts of beach pea (fue sina) and tropical almond (talie) leaves on another important plant disease-causing fungus, Fusicoccumsp. Her mentor for the project was Fagaitua teacher Mr. Steven Young.

Another important plant disease, Lasiodiplodia theobromae, a cause of branch dieback and other diseases, was the target of Sarona Talaluma To’alepai, another senior at Fagaitua High School. She evaluated the effect of Derris malaccensis (‘ava niukini) leaf extracts in controlling this fungus under the mentorship of Fagaitua teacher Mr. Louie Segi.

Earthworms and hydroponic lettuce were the research topics of the two STEP-UP participants from Tafuna High School.

Ryanny Hall studied the effects of several popular pesticides on earthworms and was assisted in his project by Ms. Cecilia Tuionoula, science teacher at South Pacific Academy.

Talimeli Fa’alenu’u Taufete’e worked with Dr. Ian Gurr of Land Grant to assess the effect of different levels of electrical conductivity in reducing leaf tipburn in hydroponic lettuce production.

Both the Tafuna High School students graduated this year and will be entering college in the fall, Hall at Sierra Nevada College and Taufete’e at ASCC.

In addition to the local STEP-UP symposia, such as the one held here in American Samoa, there is also a national STEP-UP science symposium held annually at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

This year two of the local STEP-UP participants, Mellody Ah-Lam Parungo and Sarona Talaluma To’alepai were selected to represent American Samoa at the national symposium and will be heading to Bethesda to present their research results there on Thursday.

The STEP-UP program happens every year in American Samoa. Students, parents, or teachers interested in the program can get more information at http://stepup.niddk.nih.gov. Application information will be posted at the site during the school year.


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