top of page
20220616_085605 (1).jpg

Summer Marine Mammal Intensive Learning Experience (SMMILE)

Are you a high school student in the 10th or 11th grade living in Hawaiʻi?

Do you love the ocean?

Interested in learning more about marine mammals & what it takes to be a marine mammal scientist?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, apply to SMMILE today!

SMMILE copy (6).png

The Summer Marine Mammal Intensive Learning Experience (SMMILE) is a 10-day, overnight program hosted by the Marine Mammal Research Program (MMRP) from June 1-10, 2024. We are excited to invite twelve incoming juniors and seniors from Hawaiʻi (Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, Maui, Lānaʻi, Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi) and American Samoa to participate in this fully funded opportunity! During SMMILE, participants will live on Moku o Loʻe (Coconut Island) at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology. Priority will be given to Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and students from other historically marginalized groups as an effort to increase diversity in the field of marine mammal science. This program is funded for Summer 2024 and 2025 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) Program.


Did you ever think that working or talking to a marine biologist was out of your league because you're in high school? SMMILE will give you the opportunity to overcome those barriers in a fun, interactive learning environment!

Students will learn about marine mammals in Hawaiʻi and what it means to be a marine mammal scientist through fieldtrips and hands-on training. Workshops with current University of Hawaiʻi undergraduate and graduate students will allow participants to explore future educational opportunities in marine science. SMMILE participants will engage with marine mammal scientists through interactive classroom-based content where they will learn about current research in Hawaiʻi, a day in the life of a scientist, and the speakers' personal career paths.


Follow us on
to learn more!
  • Instagram
2022 Cohort
DJI_0306 (1).JPG
2023 Cohort

My week at SMMILE was downright one of the best weeks of my life. It was a life changing experience for me and changed my views on the marine mammals surrounding Hawaii and my future plans in life.

- Kalamaku

2022 Cohort

Many of the activities we did were brand new to me like the dolphin survey, Dolphin Quest, viewing the Hawaiian monk seals, and flying drones. This whole experience has opened up new opportunities and pathways that I did not think I would ever pursue.

- Melina

2022 Cohort

Being a native Hawaiian, I am so proud that I got the experience of being a marine biologist in Hawai’i at MMRP.

- Levi

2023 Cohort

 This year's SMMILE program has forever changed my life's perspective on the importance of marine science through the in-depth learning and hands-on experience provided during the program. I have gained new friends, mentors, future opportunities, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

- Crystal

2023 Cohort

The Program

The Summer Marine Mammal Intensive Learning Experience (SMMILE) is a 10-day program that will expose students to marine mammal science in a hands-on learning environment. Our goal is to provide an opportunity for high school students from historically marginalized groups to learn about marine mammal science, marine protected areas, and conservation.

This course will cover a variety of topics related to marine mammal research including:

  • Acoustics (Communication/Hearing)

  • Animal Behavior

  • Population Health

  • Population Ecology

  • Stranding and Response

  • Innovative Technologies (e.g. unmanned aerial vehicles, 3D scanner, tags)

  • Conservation/ Management

The course will facilitate hands-on learning opportunities through:

Guest Lectures

If you could ask a marine biologist anything, what would you ask?

Invited speakers from MMRP and other local marine mammal conservation organizations will speak about what they study and describe their job and career paths.

Field Trips

Ever participated in a marine mammal survey?

Students will have the opportunity to visit local marine mammal related educational facilities and observe and study marine mammals in the wild.


Ever wondered how scientists use drones to study marine mammals?

Students will receive hands-on exposure to many different techniques and technologies used to study marine mammals.


Thinking about going to college?

Students will engage in workshops with their peers to learn from current graduate students and professionals in the field.


Have you ever wondered what it might be like to live at a research institute alongside scientists?! Participants will live at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology on Moku o Loʻe (Coconut Island). Moku o Loʻe is a 28-acre island located in Kāneʻohe Bay. Participants will be staying overnight on the island in the Lanai Suites for the duration of the program. Students will be chaperoned by the instructors.


Meet the Instructors

Sprouts and KP.png

Kirby Parnell



Brijonnay Madrigal


Together, Kirby and Brijonnay have over 14 years of experience in outreach and education with groups of students ranging from elementary to graduate level. Most recently, they worked together as Co-Coordinators for the Acoustical Society of America's Summer Undergraduate Research or Internship Experience in Acoustics (SURIEA) program for under-represented minority students. They love to create interactive curricula and lectures together and understand the importance of active learning in and out of the classroom. Developing and implementing SMMILE together over the last two years has been an extremely rewarding experience and they are excited to offer this unique opportunity for students to become introduced to marine mammal science in our local community!


Have additional questions about the program?

Apply now!

Fill out the application to apply for SMMILE!


Hear from past SMMILE participants about thier experience


Support SMMILE!

in the media

Check out media highlights of past SMMILE programs

Questions about SMMILE?
Email us at

Mahalo nui loa to our sponsors!


We would like to acknowledge our ʻohana of collaborators and B-WET partners!

bottom of page