American Samoa visit by SOU delegation

President Bailey leads SOU contingent to American Samoa

(Ashland, Ore.) — SOU President Rick Bailey and three other university employees flew out of Medford’s Rogue Valley International Airport on May 23, en route to a remote island of fewer than 50,000 people – American Samoa. Three plane rides, two layovers, four time-zones, more than 3,000 miles and nearly 23 hours later, they were greeted and adorned with flowers and candy leis.

Welcome to American Samoa: a dot on a map that is nearly 14 degrees south of the equator. The team accompanying President Bailey were Director of Admissions Zac Olson; Capt. Stephanie Rokes, director of the ROTC program; and American Samoa admissions counselor Ria Galo, who was born in American Samoa.

More than 100 students from American Samoa have enrolled at SOU over the past four years. Some are transfers from other colleges and universities, including American Samoa Community College, but most are first-year students who graduated from one of the 10 high schools in American Samoa.

The recent SOU trip is a part of the university’s annual efforts to show up for students and their families, and provide an in-person orientation for new students as they gear up and get ready for their first term at the Ashland campus.

Prior to arriving in American Samoa, Olson and Galo spent months collaborating with folks on the island, coordinating event spaces and an agenda for the trip. They hit the ground running on the first day there, with an interview on the local radio station, a four-hour registration event and a private dinner with several community leaders. There were other registration events throughout the weekend, including a Parent Session hosted at a local church, and a ROTC Fitness Assessment by Captain Rokes.

Given that it was Memorial Day, President Bailey and the team were invited by the governor of American Samoa, the Honorable Lemanu Mauga and wife, Ella Mauga, to attend an event as special guests. One of the governor’s nephews currently attends SOU.

SOU is a well-known place to the local people in American Samoa. The team often ran into people who were wearing Raider gear or saw an SOU sticker or flag hung up while walking into a local restaurant. People sometimes greeted the team and talked about students they know who are currently attending SOU – several alumni of SOU even met to hang out. Several family members of current students also showed up at the SOU events, just to say hi.

After four full days of laughter, conversation, relationship-building, connecting and community, it was time for the SOU contingent to bid farewell.

SOU has made intentional efforts over the years to make sure its doors stay open for the students in American Samoa, and the people there appreciate and embrace the support. President Bailey’s presence was graciously received and welcomed in American Samoa.

It was a four day trip filled with love and learning about a culture and place that many of SOU’s students call “home.”

Those who made the trip have a special thank you to the families of current and past students of SOU in American Samoa, Reverend Iasepi and Leone Ulu, Ms. Lusia Pereira and Ms. Nash Yandall-Gaopoa, and an alumni and past speaker of commencement 2022 – Second Lieutenant (2LT) Tofoipupu Unutoa, who is now a member of the Hawaii National Guard. The SOU team also acknowledges those who hosted them and opened the doors of their facilities for SOU – Fagatogo Representative Melesio Gurr, Director of Tafuna Department of Youth and Women’s Affairs (DYWA) Salote Aoelua-Fanene, American Samoa Community College President Rosevonne Pato, State Director of Pacific Center in Human Security Tafaimamao Tua-Tupuola, Director of Office of Veterans and Military Affairs Paleafei Pulou, Sadie’s by the Sea and Tradewinds Hotel. Faafetai tele lava!