MHS alumna represents islanders in higher education summit
- By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor - Reporter
A MARIANAS High School alumna recently represented Pacific islanders in the third Higher Education Summit.Gates Millenium scholar Samantha Birmingham-Babauta was scholar representative in the third annual Higher Education Summit held at The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C. last month.
In an email to Variety, Birmingham-Babauta said, “As a Gates Millennium and Asian Pacific Islander Scholar, I was selected as a scholar representative for the Pacific islands.”
The summit afforded participants like Birmingham-Babauta an opportunity to engage in discussions centering on national priorities regarding diversity, equity and demographic engagement, and on identifying key stakeholders and resources.
Relating her experience at the summit, Birmingham-Babauta told Variety, “During the round table discussion, I was asked by APIASF [Asian-Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund] president Neil Horikoshi to share my thoughts and feelings from a Pacific islander’s point of view. I spoke in front of very distinguished guests such as California Congressman Mike Honda; NYU’s Robert Teranishi, who is the principal investigator for the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education; and Sefa Aina, the vice chair appointed by President Obama to the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.”
Other personalities in the audience during her talk were University of Guam president and chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Dr. Robert Underwood; Guam Community College president/chief executive officer Dr. Mary Okada, and Northern Marianas College president Dr. Sharon Hart.
“I shared how I felt that the Pacific Islands are often underrepresented and forgotten in the U.S higher education system. Because we aren’t a population that migrated to the U.S., we do not have a strong presence in mainland institutions,” she said.
She also spoke of the limited resources available to students in the Pacific Islands compared to those who reside in continental United States.
Commenting on research conducted by New York University professor Robert Teranishi which showed that younger-generation Chamorros have lower educational attainment, Birmingham-Babauta said, “I offered that a reason may be that in our culture, we protect and support our family at all costs. Because the present day economy is so poor, many people sacrifice education to either enter the workforce or enlist in the military straight out of high school.”
She explained that going to college in the islands is expensive enough.
“Many of us aren’t given the ability to go off-island for higher education,” she said.
The summit brought together key leaders in the education, policy, non-profit, private and public sectors.
According to the APIASF website, panels and round table discussions at the summit highlighted what democracy means to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and the crucial role that groups such as Asian American/Native American/Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions, who serve a significant percentage of AAPI students, play in advancing the democratic mission of higher education.
In attending the summit, Birmingham-Babauta said, “As a scholar representative, not only did I want to get the CNMI on the radar of people from the public and private sectors, as well as be remembered by some of the top leaders in education, I wanted to get the Pacific Islands as a whole to be better represented and thought of for future opportunities.”