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Oregon college student from American Samoa adapts to pandemic life

Motu Sipelii
Source: Oregon Public Broadcasting

Portland, OREGON — Recently, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) took a look at how the pandemic has changed lives of Oregon college students. And they found that life has changed rapidly for many of them in the past few months, including Motu Sipelii from American Samoa.

Sipelii, 22, is a first-generation college student who transferred to Portland State University from American Samoa Community College.

He has a lot on his plate as a resident academic mentor and the student life director at PSU, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has not made things any easier.

“There are just so many things that residents need that I can’t really help them with,” Sipelii told OPB. “A lot of them aren’t doing so well because of the whole pandemic thing.”

In his roles, Sipelii acts as a peer mentor to students — offering information about academic resources and accommodations, and he offers a listening ear for concerns and questions.

A lot of the residents Sipelii was mentoring ended up leaving school over spring break, when Oregon Gov. Kate Brown enacted her stay-at-home order on March 23 and businesses began closing.

Unlike some of the other colleges and universities in Oregon, PSU has a large population of older, nontraditional students, many of whom have full-time jobs on top of going to school.

“A lot of them lost their jobs,” Sipelii said of his residents. “They weren’t able to afford to live on campus and they had to move back home. If it wasn’t that, then a lot of them weren’t able to get certain scholarships and internships … and a lot of the international students had to go back home because their country’s borders were closing.”

He is the Luau Coordinator for the school’s Pacific Islanders club. “When [the luau] got canceled, that was like nine months of work down the drain,” he said.

Sipelii said he had the option to graduate this year, but he’s going to wait until next year to make sure his mom and grandma in American Samoa can attend.

Read more at Oregon Public Broadcasting