To Protect and Serve
PROVO, Utah – Mar 20, 2020 – For Uati Afele, a current BYU Marriott Executive MPA student, the day starts early and ends late. Between juggling his career as a school resource police officer at Valley High School in South Jordan, Utah, being a loving husband and father, and pursuing a master's degree in public administration, he has his hands full. However, Afele, who was born in the small village of Viagaga, Samoa, doesn’t see his busy schedule as a burden but rather as a way to help others and lead by example.
Afele’s busy schedule starts at 5:30 a.m. every day. The early rise helps him by providing enough time to check his police gear and mentally prepare to start his day. “I always tease my daughter because she takes so much time in the morning to get ready, but I think I’m worse,” he says. “I take at least an hour.” Afele and his wife, Naomi, have three children, and Afele takes charge of waking up their kids for school. Afterward, he climbs into his patrol car and heads over to Valley High School to begin his day.
“When I get to the school, I try to make sure everything is safe and nothing is out of the ordinary,” says Afele. This often includes looking for cars left overnight at the school, checking on bad weather and road conditions, and scanning patrol calls for any assistance needed.
Afele has centered his life around helping others, especially youth. Before ever thinking about the EMPA program, Afele graduated from BYU–Hawaii in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in social work. He was drawn to the opportunity to help others overcome obstacles in their lives. In his duties as a school resource officer, Afele loves to talk with high school students and lend a listening ear. “I talk with the kids and act like a mentor,” says Afele.
At the high school, he also teaches a law-enforcement class to help students understand their rights as citizens, interact with law enforcement, and address both negative and positive perspectives students have of police officers. “The kids have questions about law enforcement, and I’m there to help them,” says Afele.
As part of his law-enforcement duties outside the high school, Afele works as a SWAT hostage negotiator for the South Jordan police department to facilitate communication in high stress situations. Because he knows firsthand the difficult scenarios police officers can face, Afele also helps with a support group for law enforcement. The support group provides therapy, connects members with others experiencing similar situations, and offers additional resources to help officers process difficult experiences they have had on the job.
“The culture of the police force is changing. The support group is breaking an old stereotype of being weak if you go and seek help,” says Afele. “We see so many different things on a daily basis, and it affects officers. Talking about those experiences can help.”
Afele explained he applied to the BYU Marriott EMPA program in order to find more career opportunities to benefit others. He attends class with other EMPA students once a week where they learn leadership skills such as project management, budget and finances, and decision-making. “The EMPA program has helped me become a better leader and a better father,” says Afele. By completing his master’s degree, he hopes to take on a more administrative role in law enforcement to continue supporting officers, youth, and community members.
As someone balancing a dedicated professional and academic career, Afele has set a great example for others who are considering similar pathways. He often gets invited to speak to incoming EMPA students on how to find success as they go through the program Afele attributes much of his success to his wife, support from his family, and his belief in God. “I’ve only been able to make it this far because of them,” he says.
Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Erin Kratzer