Melissa Pillias: University of Guam HR Student Wants to Help Next Generation

By Kathy Gurchiek Jun 10, 2016
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Melissa PilliasThe mangrove swamps, rainforests and beautiful lagoon of the Chuuk Islands will be thousands of miles away when Chuuk native Melissa Pillias attends the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2016 Annual Conference & Exposition in Washington, D.C., June 19-22. But the islanders’ needs will be close to the heart of this college student pursuing an HR degree.

Pillias is one of seven recipients of the 2016 SHRM Foundation Annual Conference & Exposition Scholarships. The Foundation launched the Annual Conference scholarship initiative in 2015. Five scholarships are awarded to SHRM members from each of five regions of the U.S., one is awarded to a veteran who is a SHRM member, and one is awarded to a SHRM student member.

The nearly $2,500 scholarships give HR professionals who might otherwise be unable to attend because of a lack of financial support the opportunity to experience Annual Conference. Each scholarship comes with full-conference registration, four nights’ housing at a conference hotel and a $500 travel stipend. 
In the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), where Pillias lives, “there are many challenges we face as a growing and developing country,” she said in her scholarship application.

The Chuuk Islands, a cluster of 16 volcanic islands, are located in the western Pacific Ocean. They are encircled by a barrier reef about 40 miles long that is made up of 85 sand and coral islets, and the area is popular among scuba divers. The native people grow yams, bananas and taro; they fish and raise pigs and poultry. Their chief cash crop is copra—the dried sections of meat from a coconut, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

“Chuuk and most of the FSM States are culturally traditional with tribal customs and practices. We are still not up to date with the technology advances and new tools or strategies to help better our way of handling business or people,” Pillias wrote. “Everything back home is still old-fashioned and traditional. The roles of women are still not fully equal to those of men in society or business.”

Native people also face discrimination. Pillias encountered it as a child attending school away from her home.

“On Guam, I’ve faced bullying and mistreatment from others, even teachers. Sometimes I felt like I couldn’t handle it anymore and wanted to go home to Chuuk. I felt neglected and targeted as a 10-year-old on Guam. I came home and cried about how I hated school and was treated. School was no second home but a place where I was threatened, bullied, and mistreated.

“However, I saw my father work to keep our family under a roof and how people like my teachers didn’t understand my mom because she wasn’t fluent in English. For both my parents high school was the end of their education. ... I was their only hope in making their tomorrow a better place.”

Today, Pillias is working on a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in human resource management at the University of Guam and is a member of the SHRM Guam chapter.

“I overcame the negatives and discrimination,” she said. “I’m ready to give back and help the next generation of island children enter the workplace here on Guam and in Chuuk.”

Attending Annual Conference, she said, “will help me better understand the different perspectives of other countries in how they have developed and have been able to withstand the challenges they face as HR professionals.”

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor of HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter.
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