Student Interview: Nikita Salas

CPIS BA student Nikita Salas was the teaching assistant for Dr Monica LaBriola (CPIS MA, 2006) during the GEAR UP 2013 summer session of PACS 108. GEAR UP—Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs—is a US Department of Education program aimed at increasing the number of low-income students pursuing and succeeding in higher education. UH Mānoa partners with Farrington and Waipahu high schools to support for incoming freshman by offering introductory courses during the summer sessions. 
Monica LaBriola (ML): Please say a bit about your background.
Nikita Salas (NS): I am Chuukese, Chamorro, and Filipino. I was born on the island of Guam and moved to Hawai‘i when I was four years old. I grew up in Makakilo but moved to Wai‘anae when I was fifteen years old. I graduated in 2011 from Kapolei High School and I am currently a junior at UH Mānoa majoring in Pacific Islands studies.
ML: Why did you decide to study at UH Mānoa?
NS: In my senior year in high school, my parents gave me two options: go to work or go to college. I wasn’t allowed to freeload around the house and I had to do something productive. Given these two options, I decided to go to college because school was the only thing I knew. I applied to two schools: Leeward Community College and UH Mānoa. With my grades the way they were in high school, I thought that my only chance of going to college would be through a community college. But luckily, my high school guidance and college counselors told me about a free summer program called the College Opportunities Program (COP), which is a program aimed at students like me who want to attend a four-year university but don’t fulfill the admission requirements. So with that information and the application in hand, I decided to go for it. After weeks of applying, test taking, and interviews, I got the letter I had been waiting for—I got accepted into the program! It is thanks to COP that I have had this opportunity to attend UH Mānoa.
ML: Why did you decide to major in Pacific Islands Studies? What is your concentration in the major and why did you choose that route?
NS: During my PACS 108 class freshmen year, I was introduced to the PACS major and the different concentrations it offers. I didn’t have any prior knowledge about the PACS major or courses so once I found out about them, I was happy to learn that there is a public policy and community development concentration that I can use to fulfill my goal of becoming a high school counselor on O‘ahu.
 Dolmii Remeliik and Nikita Salas
Nikita Salas (right) with Dolmii Remeliik
ML: How has the Pacific Islands Studies program shaped your perspective on the Pacific Islands region and on your own experience as a Pacific Islander woman in Hawai‘i?
NS: By being part of the Pacific Islands Studies program, I am happy to have been exposed to the different Pacific Islands cultures and the region. In high school, I never learned history about the Pacific Islands or its people. We learned about the Hawaiian Kingdom and government, but nothing more. So I am happy that I have had the opportunity to learn not only about my people and my culture but also about those of Melanesia and Polynesia. As a young Micronesian woman growing up on O‘ahu, I am glad to see that the PACS courses are teaching cultural values and the experiences of our fellow Micronesian community members. I know the types of stereotypes, judgments, and negative attitudes some people have towards the Micronesian community, and so having a course that gives me, and others, the opportunity to learn, understand, interact, and work with members of that community means a lot to me. Seeing the community members work and interact with the students, getting them engaged and involved with the tales they have to tell creates a more relaxed learning environment and gives students the opportunity to connect with the community and to try to empathize with the pain and struggles they go through.
ML: Last summer you were a teaching assistant for PACS 108 as part of the GEAR UP program for incoming high school students. What did you gain from that experience? How did the experience contribute to your perspective and goals?
NS: Being a teaching assistant for PACS 108 was the opportunity of a lifetime! I was able to gain valuable experience working in a classroom environment, connecting with students, tutoring, and grading papers. I was also able to compare different types of teaching styles so that if I ever go into teaching, I will know what is expected of me and how to develop my style of teaching. This experience will definitely help me with my future goal of becoming a high school counselor on O‘ahu because it gave me the opportunity to work with newly graduated high school students—which is exactly the age group I want to work with. This early exposure to working directly with students is great experience for my future career goals.
ML: What other factors have shaped your experience as a student at UH?
NS: Living in the dorms for the past three years has helped me become more focused and involved with my education, student employment, and extra-curricular activities. Since I live on campus during the school year, everything is very convenient for me and I don’t waste time commuting back and forth to and from Wai‘anae. The time I have saved has allowed me do so many other things on campus such as working at the Office of Multicultural Student Services (OMSS) and as a student ambassador doing office work, peer advising, helping plan Pacific Islander events, and giving campus tours. I am a member of Micronesia Connections (MC), the Marianas Club, and the COP Na Alaka‘ina Club. With the help of our advisor, Dr Lola Quan Bautista, five other students and I created the MC as a way to keep in touch with our fellow Micronesian brothers and sisters at UH Mānoa. I helped found the club during my freshman year, became club president my sophomore year, and currently serve on the board as a student helper through the UHM Students Helping Students Succeed Program.
ML: What are your plans once you finish your degree? How do you plan to use your degree in Pacific Islands studies?
NS: Once I graduate with my BA in Pacific Islands studies next year, I plan to apply to Chaminade University to pursue an MA in high school counseling. From there, I will complete my training and testing to get certified as a high school counselor on the island of O‘ahu.