“I want to be a peacemaker. On this island.”
Those are the words—and dream—of Meghan Tanuvasa, a student in ACU Online’s Master’s in Conflict Management and Resolution program. Meghan says while many of her peers from U.S. territories often stay in the mainland United States after college, her goal was always to return home to American Samoa.
“Some people get their education in the States and then use their degree in the States,” she said, adding that many wish to leave because of problems in their homeland. “I took a different look. Instead of ignoring [issues], I want to use what I’ve learned to help the government and people of my island.”
And she is. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from North Park University in Chicago—and spending a brief time in Washington state caring for her grandmother—Meghan Tanuvasa headed back to the South Pacific. Today, she’s taking online graduate courses at ACU while working full-time as a counselor at a government-run juvenile detention facility in Pago Pago.
Discovering Her Calling in Conflict Resolution
Meghan explains that a single course in conflict resolution, as well as a field trip to a Cook County juvenile detention center, during her senior year at North Park changed her career trajectory. She discovered that she wanted to look at the issues surrounding conflicts “rather than focus on punishing people.”
“I am amazed and surprised by how I just shifted my focus from police officer to counselor,” she recalls. This led to her decision to study conflict resolution in graduate school.
Meghan’s search for an online conflict resolution master’s degree program led her to ACU. Once she read the ACU mission, she found it aligned with her personal beliefs.
“I chose ACU because it was available online, but also because it is a Christian school,” she said, adding that her parents are ministers and much of her time is devoted to God and prayer. “ACU allows us to practice our faith along with what we’re studying.”
A Chance for Her to Be a Part of Something Bigger
Although she lives on a remote island in the Pacific, Meghan says she’s still connected to campus in many ways. First, she’s found lots of support from the admissions team, especially when it came to getting connected—literally.
“Being on an island, I often have internet problems,” she said with a laugh, adding that the helpful staff has been a blessing. “What I like about ACU is that, even though we’re online, we’re able to get the same resources as other students.”
Second, Meghan says she follows ACU on social media and through email updates, and this helps her feel part of something bigger. She used the recent hurricane-related flooding in Texas, ACU’s home state, as an example.
“I felt moved and involved as I was reading [email updates],” she said, adding that there also was a sense of community as people in her online class discussed current events.
Putting Her ACU Education into Action
Meghan Tanuvasa’s already applying what she’s learning at ACU to her current role as a counselor. She explains that many children who live on American Samoa are from low-income families whose parents are working all day.
“They come home and don’t always have enough strength to connect with their children and do family stuff’” she said. This and other reasons lead to children and teens getting into trouble, and some of them are sent to Meghan’s facility.
Meghan’s goal, as she counsels each juvenile about twice per week, is to help get at the root of their issues, to help stop the cycle. She found her communication theory class at ACU to be incredibly useful not just for advising her young clients, but deepening her connection with them.
“Communication is what connects one thing to another. It allows me to get underneath their skin, to understand why they do the same thing over and over again,” she said, adding that being a better communicator has also boosted her confidence.
In her role as counselor, Meghan also serves as a role model of sorts.
“I don’t just look at them as a juvenile, but also like a daughter or son because they don’t have that [at home],” she said.
Since she’s started her career, and especially since beginning the conflict resolution program at ACU, she’s seen an improvement in herself—and in those she helps.
“I am really proud of my work because I am seeing some of my juveniles succeed,” she said, adding that sometimes she requests students stay at the facility longer so they have access to educational resources. “That’s the prize, the satisfaction: seeing them join the military, ministries, or go off to college.”
Meghan sees herself working with young people throughout her career. She’d like to eventually use her work experience and knowledge from her master’s program to open her own business, one that would focus on instilling hope in future generations. Meghan reflects back on her decision to return to American Samoa and make a positive impact, to change the status quo.
“These people who are misguided, these kids, are the future of the island,” she said. “And one person can make a difference. I want to be a peacemaker. On this island.”
If you were inspired by Meghan Tanuvasa’s story or have an interest in a similar career, you can learn more about ACU’s online master’s degree in conflict resolution.