Dr. Nancy Foster Scholars Visit National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa

By Nerelle Que Moffitt

September 2023

photo of the 2023 scholars

In June 2023, a group of NOAA Dr. Nancy Foster Scholars traveled for a science communication and training retreat to American Samoa, the only U.S. territory south of the equator and home to National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. The group of 21 scholars included the seven new scholars for 2023 and scholars from previous cohorts. They were joined by a team from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, including Deputy Director Monique Baskin, Pacific Regional Director Kristina Kekuewa, Chief of Science Division Dr. Steve Gittings, Chief of Communications and Engagement Kate Thompson, National Education Liaison and Volunteer Coordinator Claire Fackler, Regional Education Coordinator Seaberry Nachbar, and Videographer Nick Zachar.

"As NOAA continues to build a climate-ready workforce, the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship Program is an integral opportunity for students seeking their master’s and doctoral degrees to experience real-world science in some of the most special underwater treasures and to become ambassadors for NOAA and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries." said Monique Baskin, deputy director of the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

people wearing matching t-shirts, blue lavalavas, and fresh flower leis pose together for a photo in front of the ocean
NOAA Dr. Nancy Foster Scholars each received a lavalava, a traditional article of daily clothing in American Samoa. Photo: Nick Zachar/NOAA

In true Samoan fashion, scholars were welcomed with an ‘ava ceremony and cultural learning tour about Samoan traditions, landmarks, legends, food preparation, and taro cultivation in a village setting. The excursion highlighted community or communal values, and gave visitors a deeper appreciation for cultural traditions in American Samoa.

five people together under an outdoor pavilion weaving coconut fronds
Dr. Nancy Foster Scholars learned to weave coconut fronds during the retreat in National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. Photo: Isabel Halatuituia/NOAA

Throughout the week, activities were planned to provide an immersive sense of place, including snorkeling, outrigger canoe paddling, site visits with resource management agency partners, and science communications training. The culminating event was a science and education roundtable at the Tauese P.F. Sunia Ocean Center, where scholars engaged with local science, education, and community members to discuss priorities nationally and in American Samoa. Two of the scholars were even interviewed by a local radio station.

The experience was a warm welcome for new scholars like Kailey Pascoe, who shared her perspective as a native Hawaiian scientist, saying that “It was interesting to see the similarities between Hawaiians and Samoans. We share so many cultural similarities, including traditional practices, landscape ecology, myths, and linguistic characteristics.”

a large group of people gather together in a room
Dr. Nancy Foster Scholars attended several events during the retreat. Photo: Tiara Drabble/NOAA
people sitting at desks and facing each other in a circle formation
Dr. Nancy Foster Scholars were engaged in a roundtable event at the end of the retreat. Photo: Tiara Drabble/NOAA

Elise Keister, a 2019 Dr. Nancy Foster Scholar who studies coral resilience in the face of a warming climate, extended her visit to work with the education team at National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa on a professional development workshop for educators, and a science curriculum to be included in local classrooms. “I didn't expect to fall in love with American Samoa as much as I did,” said Keister. I felt welcomed from the beginning and wished I could have extended my stay even longer!”

"We are thrilled to welcome this year's cohort of Dr. Nancy Foster scholars, and the diverse perspectives and knowledge they bring to NOAA," said Baskin.