Posts in Spotlight
First-Generation Tongan Law Student, Jullian Sekona | Breaking Pacific Islander Stereotypes

First-generation law student, Jullian Sekona, shares her experience as the only Tongan at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. Currently employed at Barulich Dugoni and Suttmann Law Group, Inc. in San Mateo, she hopes to see more Pacific scholars pursuing law degrees in order to provide more resources and representation for their community.

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First-Generation Kānaka Maoli Stanford Student, Jaysha Kuuipoaloha Alonzo-Estrada | Using Community Resources as a Tool for Academic Empowerment

First-generation Native Hawaiian Stanford student, Jaysha Kuuipoaloha Alonz-Estrada, talks about changing majors, following her path and utilizing community resources in high school and in college (4-H, College Horizons, Leland Scholars Program, Muwekma Tah-Ruk) to empower her throughout her academic career.

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Tongan PhD in Developmental Studies, Faka'iloatonga Taumoefolau | “Remember that college isn’t the only means to a fulfilling life”

Tongan PhD candidate, Faka’iloatonga Taumoefolau, shares his academic path throughout the South Pacific, motivations for pursuing graduate degrees and advice for students pursuing higher education.

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Fijian entrepreneur with M.A. in Gerontology, Ana Jones | Launching an app that connects elders with caregivers

Community-minded Fijian entrepreneur, Ana Jones, talks about her transition from the British to the U.S. education system, how she serendipitously fell into her professional field and how she is working to improve the lives of elders through her business, Phlex65. She hopes to see more Pacific scholars using their degrees to solve community problems.

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Tongan-American valuation analyst, Daniel Tonga: “Take advantage of local resources”

Daniel Tonga grew up in Kansas City with his Tongan-Hawaiian father and Puerto Rican mother. After going on his mission in Utah, he forged strong community ties and a desire to finish his college degree. He recently graduated from University of Utah in May 2019. He drew much motivation and inspiration to pursue higher education from his grandfather - a true trailblazer - who migrated from Tonga at age 16 to pursue his degree in Electrical Engineering at BYU and eventually worked at Ford, Northrup Grumman and Lockheed Martin. Daniel showcases grit and determination as he worked nearly full-time while finishing up his degree. He aims to pursue a career mixing finance and entrepreneurship.

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Tongan EdD Student and Gates Millennium Scholar, Anita Kiteau-Tuiaki | Conducting Research on the First-Year Experience of Pacific Islander College Students

Raised by her maternal grandparents in Tonga, Anita shares her experience transitioning to school in the U.S., drawing motivation to pursue higher education from her elders, and receiving the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship to fund her college and graduate degrees. Now in her last year of her EdD program at Northcentral University, she looks forward to sharing her research on the first-year college experience of Pacific Islanders in order to find ways to increase their college graduation rates.

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I-Kiribati and Tuvaluan PhD, Dr. Buriata Eti Tofinga | “Be daring and strategic in pursuing a graduate degree”

Of I-Kiribati and Tuvaluan descent, Buriata Eti Tofinga grew up in Bikenibeu, a small village on the island of Tarawa in Kiribati. After completing her undergraduate degree at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, she pursued a Masters degree at University of Sydney and a PhD from the University of the South Pacific. She now lives in Kuala Lumpur and works as a Lecturer at Monash University where she teaches and conducts research in the field of management and entrepreneurship. She hopes to see more Pacific Islander scholars pursuing careers in academia, because Pacific Islander representation in leadership matters.

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Micronesian and Makah Health and Education Advocate, MichaeLynn Kanichy | Supporting indigenous students to become successful community contributors

Born and raised on the Makah Reservation and of Pohnpeian (Federated States of Micronesia) descent, MichaeLynn believes in the importance of supporting young indigenous people in exploring their paths. She also believes all students can become independent and successful contributors in their communities. After graduating from Stanford University with her B.A in Science, Technology and Society with a focus in Life Sciences and Biotechnology, MichaeLynn immediately returned home to Neah Bay, WA, eventually becoming the Project Manager for a SAMHSA Native Connections Grant, which focused on preventing suicide and substance use for indigenous youth. After spending 3 years working with her tribe to decolonize mental health approaches for Makah youth, she returned to school and is currently pursuing her M.A in Education for School Counseling at Seattle University.

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Bay Area educator and Assistant Principal, Cady Kealohi Ching | Working to close the achievement gap through mentorship

Cady's first college guidance counselor dissuaded her from applying to top colleges. With personal determination and support from mentors, she ended up graduating with a BA and MA from Stanford University. Now as a Bay Area Assistant Principal and a Board Member of SPIO, she recognizes the importance of early mentorship and is working with a small volunteer team to build a free e-mentorship program for Pacific Islander students preparing for college and career success.

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Tongan software engineer, Ikani Samani: “I came from nothing, but education was the great equalizer”

Ikani Samani believes young Pacific Islanders have limitless career potential. After growing up in poverty and briefly pursuing a college football scholarship, Ikani decided to break the Polynesian athlete stereotype and pursue a career in software engineering. After graduating from Utah Valley University with a B.S. in Computer Software Engineering, he worked for 5 years as a successful software engineer. He is now pursuing his MBA at BYU while working full-time at WeWork. He hopes to mentor young Pacific Islanders interested in tech and empower students to find a skill that will make them valuable to their community.

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Keani Hin - A Filipino-Polynesian’s Journey to Google

Bay Area Filipino-Polynesian native, Keani Hin, shares her journey on becoming a Google sourcer. As the second oldest child in a family of 6 siblings, Keani held many family responsibilities early on, which helped set a strong foundation for her college and career success. With a passion for health and fitness she majored in Kinesiology, but changed courses out of college and is now working for one of the top tech companies in the world. Keani trusted in her path, and she’s found a genuinely caring and helpful community at Google. Her next personal goal: creating a podcast with her best friend.

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Polynesian McKinsey Business Analyst, Aidan Reiri, encourages students to “break the mold”

After growing up in New South Wales and graduating from BYU with a degree in Finance, Aidan Reiri now works as a Business Analyst for one of the top management consulting firms in the world , McKinsey & Company. Aware of the lack of Pacific Islander presence in business settings, Aidan aims to mentor young Pacific Islanders interested in business and establish a space for Pacific Islanders within his company. He hopes to see more students branching out into different fields of study and pursuing leadership positions.

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Samoan Mechanical Engineer, Emily Sataua Lautoa: “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there”

Emily Sataua Lautoa talks about culture shock in college, sexism in the engineering industry and the importance of pursuing higher education. While she currently works as a mechanical engineer, she one day hopes to give back to her community by providing engineering resources to students in her hometown of Pago Pago.

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