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Date: Monday, March 17, 2003
Contact: Sharon Ziegler-Chong, (808) 933-0706

For Immediate Release

Summer program promotes environmental careers to Pacific Island students

Imagine spending the summer conducting research on your home island while earning credit for learning about the island’s environment and the people involved in its conservation. That’s the educational adventure that awaits students selected for the Micronesia and American Samoa Student Intern Program (MASSIP), which is now accepting applications for positions on select islands.

Since 1994, the University of Hawai`i at Hilo has worked in collaboration with the University of Hawai`i Sea Grant Extension Service to offer summer internships for undergraduates from the U.S. affiliated Pacific islands. Students selected for the program stay with their families and are paired with a host agency on their home island where they work on projects identified by that agency in the areas of environmental education, resource management and conservation and development, while earning a small stipend. In the process, students get to “try-on” a job, get their feet wet, and connect with a network of people interested in helping them succeed in their future endeavors.

UH Hilo Student Development Director Jim Mellon, who has worked with the program since its inception, said MASSIP has helped to develop skilled and trained indigenous Pacific Island students to work in environmentally-related careers in the islands.

“We thought that by providing an internship experience in their home islands, that more students would see returning home to work as a serious, viable option,” Mellon said. “Secondly, the program has served to encourage more Pacific Island students to pursue degrees and careers in the natural and environmental sciences.”

MASSIP targets students attending any four-year institution who are from the US affiliated Pacific Islands: American Samoa; Guam; the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI); the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM); the Republics of the Marshall Islands (RMI) and Palau. The program also accepts students attending two-year colleges who plan to attend a four-year institution in the fall semester following the internship. Freshmen through first-semester seniors of any major in good academic standing, who have an interest in returning home in the future to work in roles relating to the environment, should consider this opportunity. Potential opportunities this summer are available on CNMI, FSM, Palau, RMI and American Samoa.

Sharon Ziegler-Chong, who works with Sea Grant and the UH Hilo Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center and coordinates the program, said MASSIP has become very popular with both students and the island agencies who have continued to host interns year after year.

“The challenge when we began this program was to get students interested in going home to work and make a difference in the conservation and use of their island resources,” Ziegler-Chong said. “The results have been very rewarding for everyone involved.”

Students selected to participate write a project proposal in cooperation with their host agency supervisor, participate in a pre-departure orientation, and then complete a 10-week internship, which includes completion of their project and assisting with on-going agency activities. They also submit regular progress reports to the MASSIP office and participate in videoconferences via satellite. Host agencies mentor and guide the intern’s progress, involve the intern with agency activities, provide the intern necessary project support, and provide at least a $500 stipend.

Mellon, who has taken trips to the region to monitor the interns and meet with sponsoring agencies, says he has always been impressed with how seriously the interns take their work.

”I’ve observed that most of the students mature a great deal during the summer while doing their internship,” Mellon said. “As a result, they return to UH Hilo as more confident individuals and students.”

UH students are required to complete a credit-earning course in the fall semester following their internship. This includes participation in a student symposium and completion of a final report on their project and experience, as well as sharing and discussing learning outcomes from their summers.

Kabua Oliver, who graduates in May with a BA in political science, described last summer’s internship with the Forestry Department for Pohnpei State as a valuable learning experience that resulted in tremendous personal and professional growth.

“MASSIP gave me a better understanding of my own island, how to interact with government officials, and what roles different departments play in the government,” Oliver said. “From my experience, I realize how important it is to contribute something to the government.”

Josie Malepeai, who interned with the public awareness division of the American Samoa Coastal Zone Management Program in 2000, developed a promotional campaign for an archeological site believed to have been used for healing rituals. That episode proved to be an important turning point.

“The experience ignited my interest in the public awareness field, and helped me decide that Communications would be the bachelor’s program I would pursue at UH Hilo.”

A total of 57 students have completed internships since the program began. Anthropology Professor Dr. Craig Severance, who has also been involved since the program’s inception, says nearly every student has benefited significantly from the experience.

“MASSIP has significantly enhanced our island student’s skill levels in areas related to coastal resource management, helped prepare them for professional careers, and helped them find appropriate jobs at home,” Severance said. “A number of interns have been hired after graduation by their host agency, or a related agency that saw them in action. A few have parlayed that experience into graduate and professional training.”

Among those who graduated, eleven are working in science or development related careers in the islands, including one in Hawai`i, seven are employed in the islands in non-development related government and private offices, eight are in graduate, law or medical school, four have graduated from higher degree programs, and several have been connected to further internship and training opportunities as a result of their performance as an intern.

For more information about the MASSIP program, please contact Sharon Ziegler-Chong at (808) 933-0706, or email: ziegler@hawaii.edu

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