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Samoan girl headed to MIT for the summer

Evelini Suani

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — In two months, a local girl will be on the campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as part of the six-month MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC) program, which serves "rising high school seniors from across the country - many of whom come from underrepresented or underserved communities," according to the program's website.

The program is administered by the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs (OEOP).

Evelini Suani, 16, will be a senior at Manumalo Academy this fall. She is the daughter of Nuuausala and Telesia Suani of Pava'ia'i.

"It’s crazy thinking I’m actually going to MIT to study what I really want to do in the future," Suani told Samoa News via email from California, where she will be spending her summer break before she departs for Boston in August.

Suani's admission to the MOSTEC program came after she was recommended by her former English teacher, Ms. Blue Chen. With only a few days left until the February deadline, the lengthy application process took its toll but everything spiraled into place when, in April, Suani got the notification that she had been accepted out of a pool of more than 5,500 applicants from all over the United States.

 The selection process for MOSTEC is highly competitive, with favor towards applicants who demonstrate a keen interest in science and engineering, accompanied by a strong academic record.

The extensive program begins the summer before a students' senior year in high school, and extends through their first semester of 12th grade.

The MOSTEC consists of both in-person and online components. The academic phase starts this month, June, until early August, whereby students complete two online courses and projects in science, engineering, and science writing with support from course instructors.

This is the phase when students begin meeting virtually in small groups with undergraduate mentors, and the mentoring will extend throughout all three phases of the program.

The second phase in the conference is early August. Suani and her peer attendees will take part in a 5-day MOSTEC conference on MIT's campus where they will present their projects, attend workshops, and participate in social and community-building events.

The third and last phase, the enrichment phase, is an online phase where students interact with faculty, researchers, and professionals via webinars and Q&A sessions, and online blogs.

The program, worth thousands - including education, food and board - is free, covered by generous 'funders' of the program. Students only pay for transportation to and from MIT.

Requests for assistance in paying Suani's airfare were made locally. As the clock was ticking, and the deadline for travel confirmation was nearing, the hunt was on, to find a local contributor or even a business to help pay for Suani's airplane ticket.

Thankfully, the organizers of the Amerika Samoa Tatau Fest, and local company Auto Nation/Talofa Inc. in Nuuuli, stepped up and now, Suani is all set to go.

The aspiring neurosurgeon spoke to Samoa News last week.

"While attending this program, I hope to gain experience in fields surrounding neurosurgery, to explore different fields of science that I could potentially use in the near future, and to make new friendships with people who share the same passion," she said.

When asked how she felt about going to MIT, she responded, "It feels surreal, yet exciting and thrilling; to be able to actually take a step towards one of my biggest lifelong goals and do it with the support of everyone you helped me reach this point."

She thanked her teachers at Manumalo - Talimeli, Miriam, Angel, Seongshim, Tiana, and Blue - for 'preparing her' for this, and the 'time and trust' they have invested in her.

She also expressed gratitude to her parents for "instilling" in her, "a will to pursue my passion wholeheartedly, despite whatever circumstances we were and are facing."

As part of the program, students take on intensive project-based course and a science writing course that, in the past, have included the following: astrophysics; combinatorics; electrical engineering and computer science; mobile app development; neuroscience and connectomics; and machine learning.

Good luck Evelini!


"The MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs (OEOP) runs outreach programs under the School of Engineering at MIT for underrepresented and underserved students interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

"Since 1975, our programs have provided enriching science and engineering experiences to over 3,000 middle and high school students free of charge.    

"Through our local program, we serve middle and high school students from Boston, Cambridge and Lawrence public schools. Through our summer programs, we serve students from all across the country.

"In 2017, we served around 400 diverse and talented students. Sixty to seventy percent of our students come from low socio-economic backgrounds. Seventy to eighty percent of our students are members of underrepresented minority groups."

The vision is to make science and engineering careers "accessible to all."

The mission is simple: "To diversify the science and engineering community by serving students from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds and empowering these students to develop the skills and confidence needed to pursue careers in technical fields."