From a “tough and rough but exciting” beginning to become one of the country’s notable figures in education history, the Vice Chancellor and President of the National University of Samoa (N.U.S), Prof. Fui Asofou So’o, has been awarded the University of Waikato’s Distinguished Alumnus.
The award, to recognise outstanding contribution in being “instrumental in guiding the university to national and international recognition,” was presented during a ceremony held in Hamilton, New Zealand recently. Prof. Fui is honoured.
“Not always does one have an opportunity to reminisce about one’s educational past that has contributed so much to shaping one’s future,” he said.
“Growing up and being educated in a small rural village school in Samoa was tough and rough but exciting. Moving to town for secondary school education was even more tough and rough but also exciting.”
His journey continued on to tertiary education when awarded a New Zealand government scholarship to attend the Teacher’s College at the Waikato University in Hamilton.
It was an experience he described it as a culture shock.
“Everyone spoke English so fast,” Prof. Fui told the gathering through a live facebook feed by the University of Waikato.
“I couldn’t take notes because the lecturers spoke even faster, so I tape recorded my lectures. It didn’t help because the Kiwi accent was so foreign and the lecturers were talking in the speed of 100 miles an hour for my limited English.”
Yet, Prof. Fui took that leap of faith to succeed in the end when he graduated from the University of Waikato in 1982 with a Bachelor of Education and a Bachelor of Arts.
He returned to Waikato to study for a Master of Arts majoring in Politics with a particular interest in Samoan politics and graduated in 1989.
An area in which to date, Prof Fui, in his citation acknowledged at the ceremony, has published widely on matters of democracy and governance not only in Samoa but the Pacific region. These also include public sector reform, the impact of globalisation, sustainable development and conflict in the region.
He also completed his PhD at the Australian National University in 1996 before returning to N.U.S. The one place that he has made pioneering changes for three consecutive terms as the Vice Chancellor and President.
Exactly how much does one do that deserves to be distinguished.
For Prof. Fui, having spent more than 25 years at the N.U.S not just as a lecturer but as a public servant who has instigated changes that are now termed in the university’s refined Mid Term Strategic Plan 2017-2021 as ‘responsive to the development needs’.
Upon his reappointment in his third term as Vice Chancellor in 2015, he reassured opportunities for his comparable and academic staff to upgrade qualifications. By the academic year 2016, over 60 staff members have returned with Doctor of Philosophy and Master’s Degrees as part of the many collaborative networks with overseas institutions including that of the University of Waikato.
Rather sending staff overseas for further studies, last week’s graduation was an historic and a celebration for N.U.S.
One of its own senior staff members and Head of Social Science Department, Tuiloma Susana Taua’a was conferred with a Doctor of Philoshopy degree alongside Ms Ramona Boodoosingh of Trinidad and Tobago, a first time international student under the Carribean and Pacific Islands Mobility Scheme (C.A.R.P.I.M.S) also being conferred the same degree.
For the first time, it was a regional graduation for the Faculty of Medicine as well, as three students were conferred with Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degrees, from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.
Certainly there will be stories to tell by these international students as a member of the N.U.S. Alumni, just like how Prof. Fui remembered his exploratory and sporting days at Mooloo Land.
“It was a relatively small and empty Waikato Campus. Half of the buildings I see now were not there then... I never knew who the Vice Chancellor was.”
“I can now understand why after eight years as Vice Chancellor of my University, the students do not know me, except of course those students who had to be disciplined because of some student conduct.”
“Back then I was playing in the University’s Senior Reserve Team wearing either jersey 13 or 14 for five per cent of the season. For the other 95 per cent of the rugby season, I was the water boy.”
For many of those returning after years of studies, like Prof Fui, a time to give back to the country is hard to fulfil over long periods.
Being recognised and acknowledged on an international front according to Prof Fui, is a humble experience that could only mean, that the N.U.S. too has grown to be on the same international platform.
These awards celebrate and honour graduates of the University of Waikato who have made outstanding contributions in their careers and communities.
They are graduates who have achieved at all heights of their careers, and have achieved excellence in the professional, cultural, creative and voluntary sectors.
Prof. Fui’s hard work, patience, perseverance, advocacy and guarded approaches towards the advancement of education in Samoa have earned him this award.
(* Misa Vicky Lepou is a Media and Journalism Lecturer and Website News Administrator at the National University of Samoa. For more stories about NUS, visit www.nus.edu.ws, or Facebook Pages of The National University of Samoa and NUS Media and Journalism School.)