LEAP was the first long-distance program outside of the continental U.S. for the College of Information

Pacific Island commencement

After 20 combined years of elementary school, secondary school and community college teaching, Elvis Zodiacal wanted to pursue another career as an academic librarian, which meant earning a master's degree in library science.

Until recently, Zodiacal would have had to leave his native island of American Samoa and travel more than 2,000 miles to enroll at the University of Hawaii. In August 2011, however, he received a full scholarship to enroll in the UNT's College of Information's online master's degree program in library science. The program, called LEAP: Library Education for the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific, began after the college received an almost $1 million grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services' Laura Bush 21st Century Library Program.

Pomp and circumstance
Pacific Island commencement

Zodiacal and 30 other students in the program received their master's degrees during a ceremony July 19 (Friday) in Susupe, Saipan, part of the Northern Mariana Islands. UNT representatives attended the ceremony. With his degree, Zodiacal will become the new library director at American Samoa Community College. The current director is retiring.

"The degree makes my second career path of being an academic librarian not only possible, but an immediate reality," said Zodiacal, who had been a social science instructor at ASCC before the 2012 fall semester, when he began working as the assistant to the director.

Thirteen years online
Pacific Island commencement

Since 2000, the UNT College of Information has offered its online master's degree in library science to areas in the U.S. with no nearby university offering the degree. The degree has been provided to students living in Houston, Georgia, the greater Los Angeles area, Nevada, Virginia and the Idaho/Montana/South Dakota/Wyoming region. Next year, it will begin an online degree program for Arkansas and Western Tennessee residents.

Before LEAP began, only two or three school librarians in the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands had master of library science degrees, and only an associate's degree in the field is offered at any of the islands' colleges and universities, says Yvonne Chandler, UNT associate professor of library and information sciences and LEAP's co-director.

"A higher percentage of citizens of the islands is undereducated than U.S. citizens, so the islands need libraries with professionally trained staff who are natives," she says.

Enhancing island libraries and life
Pacific Island commencement

Alicia Diego, from Guam, said the degree will "enable me to effectively identify issues that pertain to school libraries and to have the confidence to address them publicly."

"My interest in pursuing a master's degree in library science was to enhance the quality of life in Guam and neighboring islands in the Pacific region via education," she says.

Pacific Island commencement

Like Diego, Jayleen Kokis, from Chuuk in Micronesia, was already working as a librarian when she became a LEAP student.

"I want to let everyone, especially Chuukese, know the importance of libraries, and I believe a person with a master's degree in this field is the appropriate person," she says, noting that her knowledge could provide her with opportunities for teaching as well as qualify her for any library job.

The LEAP students began the program by attending a nine-day Web Institute held in Guam. Each student was assigned to a UNT librarian for mentoring, via videoconferencing and online communication, while completing 36 hours of online courses. The students also attended professional development workshops.

UNT mentor makes a difference

Roland San Nicholas, who has been earning his degree while working as the vice principal of a Catholic high school in Guam, said his UNT mentor, associate librarian Erin O'Toole "was an invaluable resource for me and several of my classmates."

"She assisted me greatly in the first two semesters and again in the last semester as I prepared to graduate," he says. He wanted to earn the degree to improve library services and create a digital archive for his school, but says he may also work as an academic or medical librarian in Guam or on another island.   

Overcoming challenges

Pacific Island commencement

Chandler says the LEAP students faced some obstacles that many UNT students rarely experience, such as not having Internet access for days at a time and not being able to get books for their classes right away. She adds, however, that she sees more similarities than differences in the LEAP students and other UNT students.

"The Pacific Islands community has placed tremendous pride in our program, and some of our students were promised jobs before they finished their degrees," Chandler says.

Jennifer Hainrick says she was named director of a library in Pohnpei, which is part of the Federated States of Micronesia, when she was first accepted into the degree program. She says she was hired "with the condition that I would earn my master's in library science within two years."

"I am excited to know that I have lived up to my end of the bargain and have every intention of fulfilling the duties and responsibilities," she says. "Earning a master's degree in library science had been a long-awaited goal of mine that I had been putting off too long.

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