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First Pacific Islander campus visit draws big numbers

First Pacific Islander Campus Visit Draws Big Numbers
Brittany J. Noelani Valdez, a USC master's student in social work, shares a traditional Hawaiian chant.

The first Pacific Islander USC Campus Visit on Oct. 8 started off with a traditional Hawaiian chant.

“Chanting opens up the heart,” said Brittany J. Noelani Valdez, a USC master’s student in social work and one of the coordinators of the event. “I shared two mele oli [chants without instruments] that I had learned from my old kumu hula [hula teacher]. They speak of ‘inspiration.’ ”

More than 220 people came to the event that was intended to inspire Pacific Islanders with information about educational opportunities at USC.

“One of the biggest things this demonstrated to me is that folks are hungry for information to be able to access schools like USC,” said Sumi Pendakur, director of Asian Pacific American Student Services (APASS), which put on the free event through its Promoting Unity, Liberation and Education (PULE) program.

Founded in 2010, the program encourages unity among Pacific Islander students on campus and aims to “build a stronger pipeline of students to USC,” Pendakur said. Pacific Islander undergraduate and graduate students at USC number only about 200, even though California has the largest population of Pacific Islanders outside of the Pacific Islands.

DannyBoy Naha-Ve’Evalu, Valdez and Mace Fuataina Porotesano, the three student coordinators who work on the program, were instrumental in promoting the event to community-based organizations, church groups, and mentorship and school programs.

“We were happy to see that so many of our Pacific Islander community members were taking time out of their schedules – and on a Saturday – to bring a group of youth to visit USC,” Valdez said. “There was this sense of dedication and a common desire for our Pacific Islander youth to consider and pursue higher education.”

With support from Admissions, Financial Aid and the USC tour guides, the event offered a panel of current students who discussed their experiences at USC, a spoken-word performance by a student from the University of California, Santa Cruz, an admissions overview, financial aid presentation, pizza lunch and campus tours.

“One of the main highlights was the panel because it gave insightful information and perspective from current USC Pacific Islander students,” Porotesano said. “The panel was able to inform students on a variety of subjects – from the importance of pursuing higher education to the limited resources USC has for Pacific Islander students to staying connected with our culture and roots.”

The panel consisted of Siona Motufau Jr., a dentist; Abraham Seumanu Markowitz, a senior majoring in urban planning and a USC football player; Jenna Sablan, a doctoral student in urban education policy; Christian Tupou, a master of communication management student and USC football player; and Naha-Ve’Evalu, a junior majoring in critical studies.

“The best part about the panelists is not only how inspirational they were, but also how brutally honest they were,” Pendakur said. “It was very powerful and very motivational.”

Ignacio Salas, a senior from Morse High School in San Diego, said: “I have been inspired by this whole college-prep opportunity because I was able to connect with other Pacific Islanders. I hope that I can be one of those Pacific Islander students who will one day be able to walk on the campus of USC as an actual college student.”

For more information about the PULE program, contact APASS at (213) 740-4999 or at

First Pacific Islander campus visit draws big numbers

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