U.S. South Pacific Scholarship Program Alumni Conference in Fiji

From December 7-9, 2018 29 alumni from the U.S. South Pacific Scholarship Program (USSP) attended a conference entitled ‘Connecting the Dots: Using your USSP Experience as a Path to Professional Opportunities.’ The conference held at the Outrigger Resort in Sigatoka gathered alumni from eight of the 11 countries where scholarships are awarded. The participants learned from each other’s experiences and shared how their experiences in the Unites States have changed their lives and helped their communities.

Organizers from the East-West Center in Hawai’i arranged a Gala Lunch on December 8, 2018 to celebrate 25 years of the USSP changing lives in the Pacific. Rebecca Archer-Knepper from the U.S. Embassy, Richard Vuylsteke of the East West Center, Joel Nilon from the Pacific Islands Forum, and three alumni celebrated the program and highlighted the impact on individuals, communities, countries and the region. Following the lunch program a panel of U.S. business leaders in the Pacific and conference sponsors spoke about private sector engagement and opportunities in the Pacific on a panel moderated by Chuck Bennett an Economic Officer from U.S. Embassy in Suva. Michael Jones represented Matson South Pacific; Laura Essenberg spoke about the Outrigger values; and Etuale Sefo from SerendiCoco shared how they work in partnership with a U.S. company, Dr. Bronner’s, and get organic and fair trade certifications.

Rebecca Archer-Knepper, PAO at Suva Embassy, Eric Yau, Fiji & Tony Siamomua, Samoa/Tonga at the Conference.

The three-day conference boasted panel discussions on resources for alumni, working with U.S. companies, Pacific women in the workplace, English challenges and opportunities, personal branding, Pacific development needs, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and improving networks. Sessions were led by alumni, East-West Center staff, U.S. Embassy staff, and local business leaders. The United States has been working for decades to build relationships with the peoples of the Pacific through nurturing future leaders, building capacity, promoting education, sharing opportunities, and supporting cultural ties.

Alumni in attendance said the conference was a wonderful way to reconnect and be inspired to do more for the Pacific with their degrees, experiences and expertise. Alumni represented government, businesses, academia, and civil society. They said they have been able to accomplish so much because of the USSP program. In her remarks Archer-Knepper said, “The more connected people are, the more experience and education they have, and the broader their vision for their communities and countries – the bigger the difference they can make for their own country’s goals. By promoting these types of exchanges and people-to-people ties we can strengthen individuals, communities, countries and whole regions which, in the end, benefit us all.”

Funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by the East-West Center, USSP is a competitive, merit-based scholarship program that provides opportunities for Master’s and Bachelor’s degree study at the University of Hawai’i in fields that are directly relevant to the development needs of Pacific island countries. Since its inception in 1994, 117 scholarships have been awarded to students from Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue. Established by the U.S. Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.