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University of Utah developing plan to boost enrollment of Pacific Islander students

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SALT LAKE CITY – The University of Utah is known to produce top athletes who are part of what’s called, the ‘Polynesian Pipeline.’ Now there’s a movement on campus to use that same concept to attract high-performing Pacific Islander students.

Right now, there are about 300 Pacific Islanders attending the University of Utah.

Pacific Islanders migrated to Utah starting in the 1800s. Today, 43,000 call Utah home – that’s more than any state that is not made up of islands in the Pacific.

“That heritage is not represented at the University,” said Adrian Bell, University of Utah Assistant Professor Anthropology and co-director of the Pacific Islander studies initiative.

Bell is heading up an initiative to build a top-notch Pacific Islander program.

Faculty and community organizations will work together to attract more Pacific Islanders to the Pac-12 institution. They’d like to build a center where counselors can help Pacific Islanders navigate their education, and hire two full-time faculty in Pacific Islander studies.

“We're hoping we can bridge a lot of gaps here," Bell said. "Make connections so that we can be a resource to the state, be a resource to students and researchers who want to know more about the Pacific Islander community."

Every year, the university hosts hundreds of Pacific Islander high school students, yet many do not pursue higher education. They plan to recruit Pacific Islander students with the creation of a new scholarship.

Ailine Kinikini is a sophomore majoring in Ethnic Studies.

“My mom is from New Zealand so she grew up in a Tongan community there," she said. "My dad grew up in Salt Lake City.”

She’s encouraged by the university’s commitment. She hopes others will give college a shot.

“Higher education can really help us open doors, as far as helping our community progress or to better our surroundings,” Kinikini said. “Just like in Pacific Islander culture, everybody has a role to play in the village.”

If you would like to learn more about the initiative, and how you can donate to the scholarship fund, send an email to pacificislander@utah.edu.