Empowered Pasifika Women: Lorna-lei Sua’ava

Can I just say how absolutely amazing our Pasifika women are? If you ever hear that our women aren’t smart or are lesser, than might I point you to Lorna-lei Sua’ava! Here is her amazing story:

Empowered Through Education

My name is Lorna-lei Sua’ava and I am Samoan! I live in the land of the midnight sun.. and brutal winters, Alaska! I just recently graduated from Southern Virginia University with my Bachelor’s in Biochemistry/Psychology. I love all things nature, hiking, traveling and shopping. I also love school, I’m not sure many people can say that but I love learning and trying new things. 🙂

What was the spark that started you on the path where you are today?

The spark has always been there. There’s always been this drive, this fire within me when it came to my schooling. I have always been so competitive when it came to tests, quizzes, presentations and even games like sparkle (the ultimate test whether you can spell or not). Although, there has been a fire that has rekindled when I was fortunate enough to obtain not one but two National Science Foundation (NSF) research internships at Brigham Young University for Computational Chemistry and Biochemistry. After my first day in the lab, I knew that Graduate school was for me! I hope to obtain a PhD someday and look forward to help more of our Pasifika Women in similar settings.

What is one thing that you think Pasifika can do to help our voices be heard more?

I think Pasifika leaders can help promote things like higher education in order for experiences like mine to be possible. With social media, there are many platforms that are available for Pasifika youth to access workshops and reach out to other Pacific Islanders in similar career fields that one may be interested in.

If a young Pasifika girl asked you, “Why is it important to empower other Pasifika women?” What would you tell her?

It’s important to empower other Pasifika women simply because, “Ua iloa I va’a lelea”, of one seldom seen. In the STEM field, there are very few Polynesian women. There aren’t very many women in general. Though there are few, we are mighty and I am determined to stand and represent all women, especially of my Polynesian women in a predominantly male career field.

As a Pasifika leader, creative, advocate, etc. how do you find ways to uplift the voices of other Pasifika women?

I have found that sharing my story and being able to relate to Pasifika women and youth has been one way that has helped uplift their voice and strengthen my own. Also getting involved and volunteering for programs that give the youth and young adults a platform to interact. The most recent organization that I volunteered for was the South Pacific Islander Organization (SPIO).

SPIO is 100% nonprofit and our mission was to promote Pacific Islander’s voices, our cultures, and communities through leadership development and higher education. There, I was able to share my story and work with other PI’s in STEM careers, Mathematical and Finance careers to name a few.

How important is it for Pasifika men to be a part of the conversation of uplifting our Pasifika women?

VERY important! This is where our support comes from when we pursue careers that are predominantly male. When we are able to work together and provide insight from both sides, we can create a more in depth, detailed perspective from our culture, our upbringing and experiences that have helped influence who and what we stand for.

Who is it that you look to as a role model?

I look to my mother as a role model. My first and forever role model in everything! As cliche as that might sound, my mom is the one person that continues to support me in all that I do. She is constantly pushing to do more, to be more and the potential that I have and may not see at times. I would not be where I am today and would not have accomplished the things that I have without her!

Where do you think the Pasifika community falls short when it comes to empowering our women? If we do at all.

I believe that the Pasifika community lacks the recognition of the strength in Pasifika Women. Oftentimes I feel like there is so much to balance between the culture and everyday living. There are so many standards to uphold and expectations to meet being a Pasifika Woman in this day and age.

What song do you listen to that empowers you to keep going?

Run the world (Girls) by the one and only Queen B!

What movie brings you inspiration?

Hibiscus & Ruthless. This movie brings me inspiration because I related to Hibiscus at one point in my life and focused on a relationship rather than my future and education that was at stake. Every time I see this movie I am reminded of my goals and what I should be focused on.

What is a quote that you go to when needing encouragement?

“Hold fast to the blessings which God has provided for you. Yours is not the task to gain them, they are here; yours is the part of cherishing them.”

What is your advice to Pasifika women who are on the journey to empowerment?

Our Pasifika people have SO much potential. We just need to find the proper support and materials/resources for us to succeed. My experiences prove that the opportunities are there and the possibilities are endless. Fa’a muamua le atua (God first), Fa’amalosi (Be strong) and with the right mindset, YOU can do anything.

I want to thank Lorna-lei for sharing her story with us! It’s not often we read about women, let alone Pasifika women, in biochemistry and psychology. It’s inspiring, and I look forward to the day when I see more women follow in her footsteps!


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