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Young scientists present research

Local high school students and attendees of the 9th Annual STEP-UP High School Summer Research Symposium held at the Agriculture, Community and Natural Resources (ACNR) Division of the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) on July 22, 2017.  (L to R) Dr. Rob Rivers, Athanasius Talataina, Olyvia Ta′ase, Joelyn G. Rafil, Karallyn Fitisone, Finiana Finau, Tausala Judy Leota, Dr. George Hui, Netini Sene and Dr. Joserose Jyothibhavan.  [Photo: ASCC-ACNR]

Six local high school science students presented their research projects at the 9th Annual STEP-UP High School Summer Research Symposium held at the Agriculture, Community and Natural Resources (ACNR) Division of the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) on July, 22, 2017. The local symposium was the culmination of six weeks of research completed by each of the students. During the symposium, each student was given the opportunity to present their research to peers, mentors and family.

The Short-Term Research Experience for Underrepresented Persons (STEP-UP) program provides hands-on research opportunities and training for high school and undergraduate students from ethnic groups underrepresented in biomedical and behavioral research, as well as students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) sponsors the STEP-UP program. The program is coordinated locally through collaboration between the American Samoa Department of Education and ASCC-ACNR.

Each year, a review committee from the NIDDK and the University of Hawaii selects students from American Samoa’s public and private high schools. Each selected student is assigned an experienced mentor to work with on his or her project. Mentors are scientists from ASCC-ACNR and other local and federal agencies.

This year’s six participating students were Finiana Finau of Samoana High School, Karallyn Fitisone of South Pacific Academy, Tausala Judy Leota of Nu¢uuli Vocational High School, Joelyn G. Rafil of Fa¢asao Marist High School, Olyvia Ta¢ase of Fagaitua and Athanasius Talataina of Tafuna High School.

Finau, mentored by Fepulea¢i Dr. Micah Van der Ryn of ASCC-ACNR, presented her project Children’s Food Knowledge and Preferences and their Effect on Early Childhood Obesity.

Fitisone, under the mentorship of Visa Vaivai of the National Park of American Samoa, presented on The Effects of Trash and Piggeries on the Health of Mangrove Forests in American Samoa.

Leota, mentored by Emily Ilaoa of ASCC-ACNR, presented on In-Vitro Screening Methodology for Salt Tolerance in Taro (Colocasia esculenta).

Rafil, mentored by Dr. Mark Schmaedick of ASCC-ACNR, presented on The Effect of Ant Mutualism on the Harm Caused by the Soft Scale Insect Pulvinaria urbicola to its Host Plants.

Talataina, mentored by Ian Gurr of ASCC-ACNR, presented on the Evaluation of Newly Developed Taro (Colocasia esculenta) Cultivars for Taro Leaf Blight Resistance, Corm Weight, Nutritional Content, and Eating Quality.

Ta¢ase, mentored by Ian Moffit of the National Park of American Samoa, presented on the Giant Clam Variations based on Size and Density at Different Underwater Depths.

As in past years, two of the six students were selected to present their projects at the National STEP-UP Symposium in Bethesda, Maryland. This year Olyvia Ta¢ase and Finiana Finau will be representing American Samoa at the Bethesda meeting.

On behalf of ASCC-ACNR Director Aufa¢i Apulu Ropeti Areta, Dr. Schmaedick welcomed guests from off-island Dr. George Hui, Professor at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine and Program Director of Pacific STEP-UP and Dr. Rob Rivers, Program Director, Office of Minority Health Research Coordination, NIDDK, NIH.

ASDOE Assistant Director for the Office of Curriculum and Instruction Netini Sene gave the introduction for the program while Dr. Schmaedick served as moderator for the student presentations.

ASDOE Science Specialist Dr. Joserose Jyothibhavan was also in attendance. After the presentations students received certificates of completion and stipends for participating in the program.

Local students interested in applying for an internship for summer 2018 can find more information at: and https://www.pacificstepup. org. The online applications will open in November.