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Fuatino Taufalele overcomes obstacles to earn bachelor’s degree online after long hiatus

It’s understandable that Fuatino Taufalele takes great pride in returning to college as a non-traditional student and completing a degree a decade after dropping out. The extent of her unconventional route to graduating from Boise State University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Professional Studies program in December 2023 is astounding. She also earned a certificate in Applied Leadership.

Shortly after enrolling in Fall 2021, Taufalele contracted COVID-19. After battling the virus at home for two-and-a-half weeks, she suffered a mini-stroke on her way to the emergency room.

“I was on a ventilator for five days,” she said. “It was crazy. When I woke up, my vision was blurry. I could see color, but there was a lot of grain. I could see the outline of things but no detail. It hindered me a lot. I needed all of 2022 to recover.”

Even after her setback, Taufalele easily re-started the program. In addition to earning a degree, she completed an advising internship in the interdisciplinary professional studies program during her second semester while working full-time for the Better Business Bureau in Boise.

“The internship was inspiring,” she said. “Because I love the program so much, and because I want to help those non-traditional students like me, I am waiting for a position to open up. I would love to be able to work with the interdisciplinary professional studies program in any capacity to see if I can fit.”

Taufalele’s husband, Josh, is Boise State’s assistant director of graduate recruitment for the Department of Extended Studies. After she dropped out of school, he went on to earn a master’s degree at the University of Washington as a graduate assistant for the football program.

“He’s also been very inspirational for me,” she said. “I didn’t have much inspiration growing up in San Jose, California. There weren’t a lot of people who got out of my community. He helped push me to want to finish something I once quit, and also to challenge myself to go back to school.”

Right Time, Right Place

Tino Taufaele with her family, standing in front of the metal Boise State B
Tino Taufalele with her family, photo provided by Tino Taufalele

Another issue facing Taufalele when she decided to return to college was that she had no future career path in mind. The customizable and flexible nature of the Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Professional Studies program allowed her to explore multiple interests.

“Josh provided me with some insight about what the program entailed, but I didn’t really fully understand it at first,” she said. “It was great that it didn’t specify and wasn’t geared toward one thing. That’s why I wanted to do it. After being in the program, I knew it was the best decision I’ve made in my life.”

One course in particular, the Practice of Wellness, taught by Alexis Kenyon, hit home in a big way for Taufalele as she got back into the swing of school.

“That course wasn’t just a game-changer for me — it was a life-changer,” she said. “It focused on all of the dimensions of wellness we need in order to have a healthy lifestyle. Mid-semester, she was covering burnout.

“It helped me recognize the burnout within myself, and how my spirit shifted in trying to navigate my new weaknesses and restraints. It empowered me to live in my truth that I’m not the same woman I was pre-COVID, but I am still going to be this awesome woman, embrace the restraints in front of me and move on from there.”

By the time Taufalele graduated last year, she had a new outlook on life to go along with the degree she coveted for 10 years.

“I had a lot of insecurities from quitting school and with my communication skills and writing style,” she said. “I didn’t realize how those things are relevant to each other. It goes hand-in-hand. It really challenged me.

“I always wanted to work on my writing, which got better. My speech improved, too. I also have that confidence that I know more, which is ultimately what Boise State has given me. A lot of non-traditional students need that confidence builder.”

Just Getting Started

Tino Taufalele at the graduation ceremony after getting her interdisciplinary professional studies degree
Photo provided by Tino Taufalele

Now that Taufalele has a bachelor’s degree, she plans to put it to good use. In addition to her hopes to work within the program she completed, she is helping her husband run a six-week football camp for high school offensive and defensive linemen in the area.

The couple also has a long-term goal in mind. Two of their three sons, Reign (6) and Jethro (5), are non-verbal and on the autism spectrum. Their other son is Bayley (8).

“I did my capstone on our journey and finding the needed resources for kids and parents in our situation,” she said. “We have had a lot of issues. We were going to leave Idaho because we weren’t getting any help. It was sad.

“That led me and my family to our goal to start a non-profit organization to help kids in need and provide families the education needed with kids on the autism spectrum.”

Taufalele credits Boise State’s online Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Professional Studies program with giving her the foundation to build on her goal of starting a non-profit and envisioning its reality.

“The program met me where I was, which was key,” she said. “The instructors never looked at something that I lacked as a weakness; they were empowering.

“I always viewed my instructors as mentors. They wanted to get to know everybody more, understand our own story and how to navigate through life with all of these skills we have and don’t really know.”

Taufalele said that several of her family members who dropped out of school are inspired by her growth through the program.

“I’ve told a lot of people who have dropped out to go back, enroll now and do it to have that degree in their back pocket,” she said. “I tell them the Interdisciplinary Professional Studies program will empower, accentuate and elevate them. I give thanks and credit to this program all of the time.”

Learn More About Interdisciplinary Professional Studies

Want to learn more about the online Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Professional Studies program? Join us for an online information session or contact a student success coach.

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