Lusiana Wainiqolo has always thought like an economist, looking for the best payoff and best path toward her goals. Classes at a community college sent her on a trajectory to receive a bachelor’s degree in business economics from UCR. She is the first person in her Fijian family to graduate from college.
“I took the scenic route to get there,” she said.
A rough senior year in high school shook Wainiqolo’s plan to attend a four-year university. Instead, she chose the College of San Mateo, a community college in the Bay Area, where she grew up. She juggled work and school for a year, then took a break. She spent a year visiting family in Hawaii, Fiji, and Australia.
Wainiqolo returned to the College of San Mateo with renewed purpose. The results were stellar. Upon acceptance to UCR, her family challenged her: “With so many great schools in the Bay Area, why move so far away?”
“For Pacific Islanders, education has always taken a backseat to the household,” she said.
But Wainiqolo wanted to go to UCR even if it meant being far from home. She soon made friends through the Pacific Island Student Alliance (PISA), and was hired in fall 2017 as the student coordinator for Asian Pacific Student Programs, where she helped create Blank Canvas, an art and poetry event. She co-founded a mentorship and outreach program, yet unnamed, to encourage Pacific Islander youth to pursue higher education.
The solid network Wainiqolo formed proved invaluable in spring 2017. Right before finals, her grandmother in Fiji passed away.
“When someone close to us passes away, it is very natural and common for the families to mourn together for weeks, 24/7. I had no other concern but to get to her right away,” she said.
Her friends in PISA helped with rides to the airport, money for gas and food, and even attended review sessions so she would have the notes to study for finals.
“I don’t expect academia to understand my familial obligations, but I will not let one get in the way of the other. I know that there is always a way to do both,” Wainiqolo said.
She believes Pacific Islanders are invisible at most colleges, and that people stereotype them as athletes or entertainers, not scholars.
“I wish there was a better way for people to see who we really are, but that won’t happen until there are more of us on campuses,” she said.
After graduation, Wainiqolo hopes to get a job as an analyst or program manager for a movie studio. She intends to remain active in efforts that promote educational growth in the Pacific Islander community.