Previous scholarship recipients from throughout the Pacific mark the program’s 25th year with a conference on professional opportunities

USSP alumni conference participantsFIJI (Dec. 10, 2018) – Over this past weekend, 29 alumni from the US South Pacific Scholarship Program (USSP) attended a conference in Fiji titled ‘Connecting the Dots: Using your USSP Experience as a Path to Professional Opportunities.’ The conference held at the Outrigger Resort in Sigatoka gathered alumni from eight of the 11 countries where scholarships are awarded. The participants learned from each other’s experiences and shared how their experiences in the United States have changed their lives and helped their communities.

Organizers from the East-West Center in Hawai’i arranged a gala lunch on December 8 to celebrate 25 years of the USSP changing lives in the Pacific as part of decades of effort by the United States to nurture future leaders, build capacity, promote education, share opportunities, and support cultural ties.

Rebecca Archer-Knepper from the US Embassy, East-West Center President Richard R. Vuylsteke, Joel Nilon from the Pacific Islands Forum, and three alumni celebrated the program and highlighted its impact on individuals, communities, countries and the region. Following the lunch program a panel of US business leaders in the Pacific and conference sponsors spoke about private sector engagement and opportunities on a panel moderated by US Embassy Economic Officer Chuck Bennett. Michael Jones represented Matson South Pacific; Laura Essenberg spoke about the Outrigger hotel chain’s values; and Etuale Sefo from SerendiCoco shared how they work in partnership with a US company, Dr. Bronner’s, and get organic and fair trade certifications.

The three-day conference featured panel discussions on resources for alumni, working with US companies, Pacific women in the workplace, English challenges and opportunities, personal branding, Pacific development needs, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and improving networks. Sessions were led by alumni, East-West Center staff, US Embassy staff, and local business leaders.

Alumni in attendance, who represented government, businesses, academia, and civil society, shared accomplishments and community contributions they have been able to make because of the USSP program. Many said the conference was a wonderful way to reconnect and be inspired to do more for the Pacific with their degrees, experiences and expertise. In her remarks Archer-Knepper said, “The more connected people are, the more experience and education they have, and the broader their vision for their communities and countries – the bigger the difference they can make for their own country’s goals. By promoting these types of exchanges and people-to-people ties we can strengthen individuals, communities, countries and whole regions which, in the end, benefit us all.”

Funded by the US Department of State and administered by the East-West Center, USSP is a competitive, merit-based scholarship program that provides opportunities for Master’s and Bachelor’s degree study at the University of Hawai‘i in fields that are directly relevant to the development needs of Pacific island countries. Since its inception in 1994, 117 scholarships have been awarded to students from Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.