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Becoming a scientist

Clarence Rachel Recto Villanueva, 20, of Fagatogo, is currently studying forensic science and technology, and double minoring in biology and chemistry at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA. In addition to being a full time student and working at the school, Clare interns at a research center that focuses on finding cures for pediatric brain tumors. See story for details.  [photo: courtesy]

Her name is Clarence Rachel Recto Villanueva but to family and friends, she's just “Clare.”

The petite 20-year-old, a 2015 graduate of Samoana High School, is the daughter of Filipino immigrants Ariel and Gemma Villanueva who have lived in Fagatogo for more than a decade.

Currently, Clare is attending Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, studying Forensic Science and Technology, and double minoring in Biology and Chemistry. According to her, she is the first person from American Samoa, and the first international student who is a Philippines’ native to attend Point Park University.

According to Clare's former teacher, Anntionette Fisher-Slade, Clare pursued her love of science at the suggestion of another former Samoana teacher, Veevalu Meauta Mageo, who is the current faipule for Pago Pago village.

Apparently, Clare has always had an interest in science. "I like watching crime shows and reading crime related stories," she told Samoa News yesterday via email from Pittsburgh.

When she's not immersed in textbooks relating to biology and forensic science, Clare is just like any other college student — hanging out with friends and sleeping. During free time, she goofs off with paintballs, and she enjoys biking, zip-lining, paddle boarding, and traveling.

"I like trying out new things," she shared. "I like to bake and crochet when I have time." She says she doesn't play any sports because she's just "academically focused."

The eldest of three siblings, Clare is the first member of her family to go to college.

When asked about her future plans, Clare replied, "I’m honestly just focusing on my current goal, which is to graduate; however, I am planning on pursuing a job as a scientist (a forensic scientist, especially) or something in the CSI field." 

So how has it been, going from a small rock in the middle of the Pacific to a big city on the east coast of the US? "It’s challenging. I love it, but at the same time, I don’t. It can be fun and stressful. I keep myself busy and motivated."

And yes, she is very busy. Clare is a full time student, and also interns under the Neuroscience department at the Rangos Research Center of the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh (UPMC), where the focus is on finding cures for pediatric brain tumors.

In addition, she also works part time at the school.

When asked about her biggest challenge, Clare responded, "I think the biggest challenge is moving across the world to a city, where I don't know anyone at all. In addition, it was my first time being away from my family for more than two weeks. I had to learn to be independent, and be responsible with my decisions, finances, health, and safety - basically living the adult life while focusing on school and keeping up with my grades."

She continued, "I’m in the East Coast and my family is in American Samoa. I’m 7 hours ahead and I don’t see them everyday, or have any physical interactions.  I do talk to them through Facebook and sometimes on FaceTime whenever we are all not busy."

Responding to whether she plans to return to American Samoa to work someday, Clare answered, "Maybe. It’s one of my options." 

Her words of advice to the up and coming generation: "Keep striving and do your best. Don’t rush to grow up but enjoy your younger years, because you’ll regret growing up. Being an adult is not as easy as it looks. Also, never take morning classes in college!" 

Speaking of her parents, whom she calls her biggest inspiration, Clare said, "They have been through so much and they still manage to remain strong. They give me the courage to battle every obstacle in life and they've always believed in me. Through good and bad times, they are still there cheering me on, supporting me in every way and decision, no matter how far they are from me. I can never thank them enough." 

For now, Clare says she is using her internship to advance in her studies.

"I have been learning and gaining so much skills, especially with laboratory protocols and experiments, from my lab mentor and fellow research assistants, skills that will help me reach my goal of being a scientist."