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“The Classroom as a Metaphorical Canoe”

Pacific Islander Diasporas and Education

April 9

1:00 pm – 2:30 pm

You will be able to access all or any one of the April Pacific Islands Studies Symposium panels by registering.

What does it mean to teach Pacific Studies in the current moment? What are the pedagogies, both old and new, that Pacific Islander scholars, activists, teachers, and performers are drawing on to educate and foster knowledge relevant to Pacific Islander people? Deepen our conversations about Pacific Islander diasporas and pedagogies in relation to education.

This event is part of the Pacific Islands Studies Symposium.

The symposium is intended to support efforts to expand the course offerings associated with the newly launched undergraduate Certificate in Pacific Islands Studies and to contribute to the field of Pacific Studies by converting the panels into an iBook for the Teaching Oceania Series. The symposium is supported by grants from the Mellon Foundation and the University of Utah’s Global Learning Across the Disciplines.


Melsihna Folau

Melsihna Folau
Pacific Heritage Academy

Melsihna R. Folau [BS, MAELL expected 2021) come to us from Pelenekous, Pingelap, known as the “Island of the Colorblind”. Her homeland of Pingelap Atoll is part of the Pohnpei Islands’ archipelago, known as Pohnpei State, home of Palikir, the capital city of the Federated States of Micronesia. (Compact Of Free Association) COFA nation Federated States of Micronesia is comprised of one island of Kosrae, and three archipelagoes of Pohnpei State, Chuuk State, and Yap State), spreading across from the Eastern Caroline Islands to the Western Caroline Islands of the North Hemisphere of the Pacific Ocean.

She holds her heritage and her ethnicity sacred. She wears few roles. She is the mother of 4 grown-up adults and grandmother to the cutest grandson. She is a 2nd grade teacher at Pacific Heritage Academy and is one of the founding teachers of the unique charter school. In her spare time, she is involved with her Rose Park neighborhood and her Pingelapese community. Also, she is the founder and chairwoman of the United Micronesian Women (UMW) organization in Utah, a nonprofit 501©3 organization with a membership of 244 Micronesian girls, women and friends. UMW is the recipient of the OCA Asian Pacific Islander American Advocates, Utah Chapter’s “2020 Emerging Community of the Year Award”. UMW focuses on promoting, empowering, and educating through mentorship and connection in hopes to better the trajectories of Micronesian girls and women.

Melsihna is also the co-Chair of the United Micronesian Coalition (UMC), which involves both male and female members of the Micronesian communities at large. She also co-founded Utah Pingelapese/Pohnpeian Organization (UPPO). She is also an active member of the PIK2AR family. She loves her family and food.

Finausina Teisa Tovo

Finausina Teisa Tovo
College of San Mateo

Dr. Finausina Teisa Tovo is a Tongan-American scholar born and raised in East Palo Alto to Rev. Iunisi Tovo of Ma’ufanga, Kolomotu’a, and Fu’amotu. Working in the California Community College system for 10 years, Finausina coordinated the Mana Pacific Studies Learning Community which specializes in college navigation, retention and transfer success of Pacific Islander students. Finausina earned her Ed.D (Education Leadership: Community College Concentration) with the completion of her dissertation entitled: “Talanoa a Mana: Validating Oceania Voices in a Pacific Studies Learning Community” in May 2020. Dr. Tovo’s research has been recognized by the American Education Research Association, the U.S. Pacific Islander Studies Association, Tonga Research Association, and the Ministry of Education in Tonga. Currently, Finausina is the Mana Learning Community Coordinator and a Professor in Counseling Success & Pacific Studies at the College of San Mateo. Additionally, Finausina is the coordinator of the California Community College (CCC) Mana Network which she consults community colleges who wish to support their support towards the NHPI student community. Additionally, Dr. Tovo serves on the Pacific Studies curriculum planning committee in the U.S. higher education system, a member of the Tonga Research Association, San Mateo County Pacific Islander Initative and a member of the Bay Area Regional Pacific Islander Task Force. She is a proud first generation college graduate of the University of California, Riverside (BA), San Jose State University (MA) & San Francisco State University (EdD) who puts her scholarship privilege into action to protect Mauna Kea, and Black lives. In collaboration with the Center for Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, Dr. Tovo is a contributing author to the Teaching Oceania Series Book.

Damon Salesa

Damon Salesa
University of Auckland

Toeolesulusulu Damon Salesa is a prizewinning scholar who specializes in the study of colonialism, empire, government and race.  With a particular interest in the Pacific Islands, he also works on education, economics and development in the Pacific region, as well as in New Zealand and Australia.  After studying at the University of Auckland, he completed his studies at Oxford University.

He is currently Associate Professor of Pacific Studies at the Centre for Pacific Studies, University of Auckland.  Previously he was Associate Professor of History, American Culture, and Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.


Kehaulani Vaughn

Kēhaulani Vaughn
University of Utah

Kēhaulani Vaughn (Kanaka Maoli) joined the University of Utah in 2018 as an assistant professor of Pacific Island Education in the Department of Education, Culture, and Society and the Pacific Islands Studies Initiative. She also serves as the faculty advisor to the Pasifika Bridge Program—a higher education bridge program between the local Pacific Islander community and the U, as part of the Mellon Foundation’s grant to Transform.

As a scholar-practitioner, Dr. Vaughn’s teaching and research interests are in Pacific Island Studies, Indigenous epistemologies, higher education, and decolonial practices and pedagogies. Her book manuscript, Trans Indigeneity: The Politics of California Indian and Native Hawaiian Relations, is about the trans-Indigenous recognitions between Native Hawaiians living in the U.S. and California Indian tribes. An interdisciplinary ethnographic project, Trans Indigeneity utilizes a Native feminist praxis to forge new methodological, theoretical, and political directions for Indigenous recognition-based politics. Her recent work, “Sovereignty Embodiment: Native Hawaiians and Expression of Diasporic Kuleana was published in Hūlili Journal (Fall 2019), a leading journal in the field of Hawaiian Studies.

Organizer: Pacific Islands Studies Initiative