Chelsea Fama: One of UOG’s first BUILD EXITO scholars
For Chelsea Fama, admission into what is known as the BUILD EXITO program was a game-changer in her college experience. Now in her final year of the three-year research training program, she said the program has brought her friends, her first trip to the mainland United States, and most importantly, direction and valuable experience in the type of career she wants to pursue.
“At the time, I was undeclared and didn’t have many new friends on campus,” she said. “The BUILD EXITO program changed all of that.”
BUILD EXITO — which stands for Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity and Enhancing Cross-Disciplinary Infrastructure & Training at Oregon — was initiated at Portland State University with grant funding from the National Institute of Health to train undergraduates, in particular those from diverse backgrounds, to become scientific researchers. Through the School of Nursing & Health Sciences, the University of Guam — together with the University of Hawaii-Manoa, American Samoa Community College, and the Northern Marianas College and several other educational institutions across the United States — has served as a pipeline partner for the program, adding 17 students to the program over four cohorts since 2016.
“The experience of meeting so many college students who were passionate about making a difference in their community was really something I am grateful for to this day. It made me realize the value of higher education and how pursuing a career in research or in the field of science could impact lives,” Fama said.
EXITO scholars are guided and mentored throughout the program to identify their research interests, learn how research is performed and documented, build confidence, and ultimately develop a research project that addresses a health-related issue in the community. In their junior and senior years, they get up to 10 hours per week of paid research experience as well as funding support for a three-month summer research opportunity.
“All BUILD EXITO activities — from journal club to meetings with our research learning communities — ultimately have to do with narrowing down our interests, practicing professionalism, and immersing ourselves with people that are already in their graduate programs or careers,” she said.
Fama applied to the program during her first semester in college and was admitted as one of three students in the first cohort along with UOG students Victoria Flisco and Tristan Paulino.
“I knew that college was all about seeking opportunity, so I was eager to get an application in, especially because it was a chance to travel to the mainland for the first time,” Fama said.
Fama took a research methods class to get exposed to academic journals and the data collection process. She then traveled to Portland State University for the BUILD EXITO orientation.
“It was all new to me. The week in Portland was an orientation to break down what the program had to offer us,” she said.
BUILD EXITO scholars are provided with a career, research, and peer mentor. Over the three years, the mentors assist the scholars — from choosing and applying for grad schools to building a professional resume. The program paired Fama with Lisalinda Natividad, an associate professor of social work at UOG’s School of Nursing & Health Sciences, as her career mentor and research mentor.
Natividad guided Fama in developing research focusing on campus-wide sexual misconduct.
Using a nationally used online survey called the ARC 3 Campus Climate Survey — the gold standard for measuring campus sexual assault across the nation, Natividad said — Fama and a research team collected data from seven college campuses in Micronesia last March, including 400 surveys from UOG, Guam Community College, and the Guam Trades Academy. Regionally, the team surveyed students from Palau Community College, the College of Micronesia-FSM, Northern Marianas Colleges, and the Northern Marianas Trades Institute.
Fama co-presented the results to students, academics, nonprofit and federal personnel,
and sexual assault advocates at the 2018 National Sexual Assault Conference last August
“My part of the presentation was reporting preliminary data on the campuses that we are conducting the survey on,” she said.
Natividad said she has been proud to watch Fama “rise to the occasion and not just being responsible for the study, but understanding it, developing it, and putting input into it.”
Natividad is consistently amazed to watch Fama and the other BUILD EXITO students develop their confidence over time. “It is really nice watching the students transform in terms of understanding and developing their interest in research,” Natividad said.
Fama said she believes this experience will create a path for her in research related to the Asian-Pacific community and will connect her to further academic travel opportunities. She is expecting to earn her bachelor's in sociology in Fañomnåkan 2020 and to continue on to graduate school from there.
“I really encourage students to do something out of their comfort zone. BUILD EXITO is definitely one of those kinds of things,” she said. "I have really grown through the mentorship made possible by the BUILD EXITO program."
The BUILD EXITO program is currently accepting applications for its sixth cohort. Click here for more information. Applications are due by noon on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020.