Gates Millennium Scholar Samantha Birmingham-Babauta vowed yesterday to do her best to become an effective ambassador for Pacific islanders not only by increasing local students’ awareness of the great opportunities ahead of them but increasing national awareness about the region and its people as well.
Birmingham-Babauta had just returned from a conference about higher education in Washington, D.C. where she met other Gates Millennium scholars. Yesterday, she shared the insights and experiences she learned from the conference as guest speaker of the Saipan Rotary Club’s weekly meeting at the Hyatt Regency Saipan.
As the voice of Pacific islanders at the June 19 conference organized by the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund, Birmingham-Babauta said she learned that Pacific islanders are not remembered and remain “underrepresented” in many educational opportunities despite having very capable and talented people.
She also came across some research studies about the Pacific islands, the most notable of which she said were the findings that fewer Chamorros among the younger generation are pursuing higher education compared to the older generation. She said she was able to provide some input on this subject at the conference.
She believes that this is probably because of a culture where families are prioritized over other things like education. She also cited the high cost of education, which motivates a greater number of students to enter the military or seek jobs after high school. The military, she said, is the fastest and easiest way to gain experience and at the same time provide for one’s family.
At the conference, Birmingham-Babauta strongly advocated for Pacific islanders and encouraged public and private leaders to explore investing in the region. “We’re limited because we’re very far. But please don’t forget about us, don’t forget about the Pacific islanders,” she said.
These, Birmingham-Babauta said, are among the many motives she has to increase awareness about the CNMI and the Pacific islands. As a Gates Millennium scholar, she vows to reach out to other students and give them information about this scholarship opportunity that provides a 10-year free education to deserving students, including books, transportation, and related expenses. Anyone interested may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Birmingham-Babauta was named GMS scholar in 2011. Since her return, she has spoken to many schools and groups, encouraging students to take advantage of this opportunity provided by the GMS Foundation.
“My passion now is to talk to people and tell them about the great things about GMS and make them excited about what they could have. I want to really make the community aware of the amazing resources they need to look into,” she told Saipan Tribune yesterday.
Birmingham-Babauta was among the 23,000 applicants for a Gates Millennium Scholarships in 2011. She was the only one chosen in the CNMI that year. She just finished her freshman year at University of Guam and will be transferring to California State University at Northridge where she will pursue exercise science.
To be a GMS scholar doesn’t call for a “perfect student,” Birmingham-Babauta said. Rather, the program searches for potential leaders. The beauty about the scholarship, she added, is it is not strictly academic but based on the student’s active involvement in the community and groups.
A sports enthusiast, Birmingham-Babauta has been active in numerous sports events and activities and held positions in several sports teams. She was also a member of the CNMI National Team and spent seven years in a soccer team. She dreams of opening her own gym.
By Moneth Deposa