The student news site of El Camino College

El Camino College The Union

The student news site of El Camino College

El Camino College The Union

The student news site of El Camino College

El Camino College The Union

Distinguished Women Awardees: 5 questions with student success coordinator

Mele Makalo, student success coordinator for MANA and El Camino College’s Distinguished Women Award recipient, poses at her office on Thursday, March 21. MANA is a program dedicated to helping Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students succeed. (Caleb Smith | The Union)

Mele Makalo, one of the six recipients of the Distinguished Women Award, is a student success coordinator for MANA, a program on campus that helps Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students succeed in education. Makalo has been working at the college since 2016 to help students and staff within the program.

Q: What is your role in the El Camino College community and what are some of your responsibilities?

A: My responsibilities are to ensure that our program aligns with the goals of the student equity and achievement department as well as the college as a whole. So for example, increasing the number of degrees completed at El Camino College, closing equity gaps and supporting students by ensuring their pathways. Our team consists of a student services specialist as well as two mentors, and then we have three student workers, so my objectives on a week-to-week basis are to make sure that everybody is clear on what our priorities are for the week and that we are meeting our deliverables as a team. Since I am the only full-timer on the team and everybody else only does part-time [work], a lot of times I’m navigating and working through everyone’s roles… I’m constantly wearing the hats of all. So sometimes I am tutoring, sometimes I am mentoring, sometimes I’m just going to events with students so they feel comfortable.

Q: What projects are you currently working on?

A: So one of the things we are working toward is preparing for the Papahi Conference that’s coming up in April and trying to make sure that students are completing their FAFSA for the year of 2024-2025.

Q: What are some of your goals for the future? What do you hope to achieve through the work you’re doing?

A: Well, as a team we want to help as many students as possible and gain numbers to have more and more people get their degrees. I want students to feel more comfortable on campus and just ask for assistance, for example, tutoring and having a mentor.

Q: What is it like being a woman in your field, and how has that affected your experience as a student success coordinator?

A: I think that being a woman affects every aspect of my existence. I think, particularly being a Tongan American woman, there are a lot of expectations placed upon Tongan women within our culture–not just within the household, but within the workspace and even within the community–to make sure that we are supporting all those around us. So I think that that standard that is set forth for me, as a Tongan woman, is something that has allowed me to be able to support folks as authentically as I can and meet people where they are. I think also the hugest part that has helped me as a woman in my position as a coordinator is my emotional intelligence.

Q: What does “diversity, equity and inclusion” mean to you, and how do you apply it to what you do?

A: Diversity, equity and inclusion is the ability that one has to fully embrace the experiences, identities, emotions, cultural traditions and values in its fullness and in its wholeness. Embracing it, welcoming it, being mindful of all of those things even if it’s something that’s not within our capacity to understand but to still fully embrace and affirm those aspects of each other.

(This Q&A has been edited for readability.)

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