Nick Saumweber


Nick Saumweber is a Soil Conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), working on the South Pacific archipelago of American Samoa. When asked how he ended up in American Samao, Nick laughs and admits that 3 years ago, “I didn’t even know where American Samoa was!” In the dead of winter in North Dakota, USA, Nick applied to the job posting, thinking he didn’t have “a snowball’s chance”. Six months later, he stepped off the airplane in American Samoa.

For those of you who remember Nick as the sweet and talkative kid at ISPP, you may not have guessed that he would have ended up pursuing a career in soil conservation. Today, however, he could tell you all about the different practices for controlling erosion in steep farming situations, or the best compost materials for taro crops (You can also read about this in his latest blog post) When I asked Nick how he chose this profession, he explains that he had never thought about it initially. He took a class on basic soil science while at the University of Minnesota, where he earned his Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science, Policy and Management, and found himself appreciating the subject more and more. Eventually, he began participating in Soil Judging contests, where students study and practice for weeks in order to come together to compete at regional and national events to describe soil profiles according to national standards. 

Living in a small expatriate community and tropical weather in American Samoa, Nick is regularly reminded of life back in Phnom Penh. Starting as a kindergartener in Ms. Copple’s class back in 1990, Nick witnessed ISPP’s continual growth. He was a student when ISPP was located near Wat Phnom, remembers the move to ISPP’s current North Campus, and spent one year in the South Campus. At lunchtime, Nick reminisces that he would either be stealing food from his friends or playing ridiculous games on the playground. One of his most vivid memories is when all the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students came together to protect their right to run during recess:

While they were most likely doing this in an effort to prevent the increasing number of scratches, bruises, and torn clothes, the teachers decided to ban us from playing our favourite games. First it was cops and robbers, and then it was tag. When students were told not to run, we hatched a plan to simultaneously run around like crazy during lunch time. Ultimately a reconciliation process was initiated and we were able to return to our normal pastimes while making an effort not to be as aggressive on the playground. I don’t think of this as a story as an act of rebellion, but one that shows how much the students felt like and acted as one community. Moreover, it demonstrates how ISPP students are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in!

Nick performing at an ISPP concert, before his front teeth grew back in.

Some of Nick’s favourite teachers include: Ms. Copple, “The nicest kindergarten teacher in the world. Hands down.” She and Ms. McLaurin, Nick’s Second grade teacher, were the ones who followed his growth throughout his time at ISPP and after. Lastly, there was Mr. Fishbane – Nick’s English teacher in Ninth and Tenth grades: “Though I didn’t like him at the time because he was really tough and never gave me good grades, he whipped me into shape, which led me to do really well in college.” 

When asked what three words best describe ISPP for Nick, he lists:

  1. Caring - While the teachers were caring, I remember the Khmer security, cleaning, and other staff as being the most caring people there. They were amazing to us all, but I remember they formed special connections with the students there that could speak Khmer. They remember my name even when I go back for visits long after I left. I feel like I was not as appreciative of their hard work and dedication to the students when I was young.
  2. Excellence - The school was tough on its students academically, which may have been rough at times, but ultimately proved to be the difference in my ability to transfer to life in the U.S.
  3. Friendship - Friendships that transcend borders, races, religions, space and time.

Nick with Mr. Sakheda Khong, Design and Technology Assistant at ISPP.

Nick also added the word “Cultural,” saying how much he loved International Day Festivals and that he really hopes the school still organizes them. I was happy to tell Nick that ISPP does still celebrate International Day and that we hope to see him at one in the future!