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“Take a healthy risk,” and other great insights from a recent Oregon State graduate

Joann Malumaleumu on graduation day at Oregon State University

Joann Malumaleumu overcame plenty of challenges on the path to earn her bachelor’s degree online in human development and family sciences. Now, she’s a proud graduate of Oregon State University.

by Elena Moffet

Earning your bachelor’s degree is one thing. Earning it when you already work full time, are raising three kids and recently became the primary caregiver for your aging father? 

That’s superhuman — aka Joann Malumaleumu. 

When Malumaleumu first enrolled online in Oregon State University’s bachelor’s degree in human development and family sciences, she made the honor roll and found ways to balance all of her life’s competing commitments.

But between her role as a wraparound services coordinator for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the birth of her fourth child and a decline in her father’s health — she needed to put her studies on pause. 

“It definitely took a toll,” she says of that time.

It wasn’t until she found herself grieving the death of her father that Malumaleumu felt pulled to go back.

“My father believed in learning your whole life,” she explains. “He was a strong supporter of higher learning and formal education and he always expressed to me how much he wanted me to finish my degree.”

So, several years after pausing her educational journey, Malumaleumu re-enrolled online with Oregon State.

“It wasn’t that I had a lot of free time,” she says. “But I needed to fill that void he left. I knew what my end goal was.”

Bringing decades of experience to her education

Before starting her bachelor’s program, Malumaleumu spent years training to become a registered nurse. She worked as a research assistant for Oregon Health Sciences University and as a senior service coordinator for elders of the Umatilla tribe. In her current role, she supports tribal families in navigating early childhood education, food security, family conflicts and more.

“My degree program focused on everything from infancy to old age, so it really correlates with work I’ve done professionally,” Malumaleumu says. “For example, working with the Native population, there’s a lot of intergenerational trauma. A lot of the concepts I learned in the family conflicts class really helped prepare me for that.” 

While returning to school later in life can be intimidating for many, Malumaleumu also recognized how her prior experiences brought richness and understanding to Oregon State’s human development and family sciences curriculum.

“I was able to add more, and I had more self-confidence because I could speak from experience and reflect on my own experiences — that made a real difference.”

Likewise, Malumaleumu found she benefited from the perspectives of her OSU classmates and from the format of online discussion groups, which drove her to seek others out.

“You can’t assume that a post someone makes, in a chat or discussion, that that’s what they mean. You have to go beyond the chat and ask clarifying questions,” she explains. “That’s also true of my work with families. You need to make sure you’re reaching out, actively listening and creating a safe space for people to share.”

Oregon State’s online courses are known for bringing together students from different places, ages, cultures and perspectives together, and Malumaleumu found this to be true in her courses as well.

“There were other students that would incorporate something specific to their culture or their customs, and I found that really insightful,” she says.

Extra support makes a difference

In addition to Malumaleumu’s determination and hard work, the Oregon State Tribal Student Grant also contributed to her ability to finish her degree. Originally passed in 2022, the grant covers most or all public undergraduate college-related expenses — tuition, housing, books and other related costs — for eligible students who are enrolled members of Oregon’s nine federally recognized Tribes. 

“There’s a lot of support here at Oregon State,” says Malumaleumu. “I qualified for the grant but ran into issues with financial aid. Oregon State’s financial aid office reached out to me and was so helpful.”

Recently reinstated for $24 million for the 2023 to 2025 biennium, the Tribal Student Grant will continue to play a critical role in creating more equitable access to higher education and supporting tribal student success

“I received the grant and the scholarships my tribe awarded me,” says Malumaleumu. “And here I am.”

Joann Malumaleumu standing with her husband and four children

Joann Malumaleumu standing with her family on graduation day at Oregon State University. Malumaleumu earned her B.S. in Human Development and Family Sciences.

Reaching her goal

After completing her degree requirements online, Malumaleumu traveled to Oregon State’s Corvallis campus with her family for graduation and to celebrate as her goal — and her father’s longstanding wish — became a reality. 

Malumaleumu participated in both the College of Health and the Kaku-Ixt Mana Ina Haws graduation celebrations.

“I was impressed with the Native celebration. They had a wide range of ages there, and I think it’s good to have older people recognized,” says Malumaleumu thoughtfully. “You never know, there might be someone out there in their 60s who wants to finish their degree.” 

Asked about her advice for other students, no matter their age, Malumaleumu encourages people to ”take a healthy risk and challenge yourself.” 

Additionally, she emphasizes how helpful it can be to take your degree one course at a time: “Set a goal to take one course, and just see how you like it.” 

“And then,” Malumaleumu says with a smile, ”keep going.”

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