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Student Testimonials


Oʻahu, 2022 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. I am now considering learning more about marine mammals inside and outside of school, future and now, thanks to this program. There are many other topics that I am interested in doing in the future which I learned about, but marine mammals in the broader topic are taking the lead. So many opportunities were opened up for me, and for that I am very thankful. I got to learn more about the Hawaiian roots of these animals and places, which I take much pride in. It was also just a great summer experience outside of all the learning, as you get to meet many new faces and expand your horizons. Everybody was so kind and fun to be around and the vibes were great. I highly recommend attending this program and you definitely will have a blast. A big mahalo to Brijonnay and Kirby, my amazing leaders, and everyone else who helped make my experience during this week one to remember.


Oʻahu, 2022 Cohort

Attending SMMILE was one of the most amazing and worthwhile experiences I have ever had. It was interesting and enjoyable to learn and get hands-on experience of what these people do in their respective fields. We got to learn about whale tagging, drone flying, surveys, echolocation, acoustics, 3D scanning, necropsy and so much more. Every day was a new exciting adventure and there was never a dull moment. The co-instructors, their team, and the speakers were awesome. The speakers were incredible.  Listening to them talk passionately about their field/what they do engaged me and made me think about the possibilities of doing that one day. I got to receive some advice and the challenges that happen in this field but it shouldn't discourage you if you really want it. The co-instructors and their team were the best! I had such a great time learning from them and building a bond with them. They all worked so hard for this program, especially Bri and Kirby. I made great friends with everyone and lots of memories from this program. This program impacted me because it made me more interested in taking on this career path and doing more programs like this or getting more involved with marine mammals in any way I can. Before I came to this program, I was debating between a career in marine biology or medical and I was more inclined towards medical. But after going through this program, it sort of opened my eyes and sparked a big interest in the ocean and marine mammals. Another reason SMMILE had an impact on me was because it made me just as passionate as everyone at HMIB about their field and wanting to learn more. I am very grateful for being a part of this program and hope to see it continuing for other students like me.

Oʻahu, 2022 Cohort


During the application process, I had lots of mixed feelings. Some of them included: fear of not making friends, feeling of regret if I did not end up liking the program, and being away from my friends, family, and the comfort of my home for a whole week. This being said, it was a huge leap of faith for me. However, once I arrived at the island, those feelings washed away in a matter of hours. SMMILE is hands down one of the best experiences to ever happen to me. Brijonnay and Kirby did an amazing job at making everyone feel welcomed and comfortable. Plus, I made many valuable friendships during the program with students from a variety of schools on Oahu. 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. It was always my goal in life to study to become a veterinarian. Now I am leaning towards being a specialist in marine mammals or otherwise known as an aquatic/marine veterinarian. I will forever be thankful that this opportunity came across me and for the instructors who taught me many valuable lessons. I hope many other students will get the opportunity to experience this program in the years to come!


Oʻahu, 2022 Cohort

Initially, I did not have high expectations of the SMMILE program. It is not because of the marketing or infographics posted, but because the program seemed too good to be true. Usually, if programs are first starting out and sell themselves as much as SMMILE did, they have a very rough start despite. I had dealt with a few other leadership programs that had given me that view. However, as I was fully introduced into Kirby’s and Bri’s program, I was pleasantly surprised and proven wrong. Not only had the program proved to be what it communicated to be, but it had surpassed my expectations. Everything had. Through this program, I was exposed to Marine Biology through multiple fun and engaging activities and lectures. Essentially, this program helped me to fall in love with Marine Science again. I was able to discover my love for pinnipeds and perhaps a desire to work with Marine Mammal Rescue/Response Organizations. I was introduced to many amazing people, mentors and friends. I am beyond grateful to all experiences and memories I had gained from this program. I hope for other O’ahu students to receive this amazing opportunity. An opportunity to not only gain memorable relationships, but discover some things about themselves.


Oʻahu, 2022 Cohort

Aloha my name is Aubrey and I was one of the eleven high school students invited to the SMMILE program during the summer going to my senior year (2022). I, along with everyone else were nervous the first day we arrived at Coconut Island but, Bri and Kirby made everyone feel so comfortable that the nerves and awkwardness was gone by the end of the night. I never understood the idea of going to overnight programs and "making the best of friends" but now I totally understand! We were all so close by the end of the week and were sad to leave. There was so much to learn from the lectures and the hands-on activities! I learned so much and the coolest part was being able to connect things from my marine science class to the lectures we had. All of the activities we did were so fun and inclusive that we learned so much while getting the chance to get to know everyone else a little better. We also had time for us to reflect and relax as a group which I loved. Kirby and Bri also took time to talk to us about our interests which really helped me realize that this is a career I want to pursue. My experience at SMMILE will forever be a core memory of mine and an inspiration to pursue marine biology in the future. In the weeks following SMMILE I had the chance to use what we learned. For example, when I pass any marine mammal posters I'll yell out the name of the species. I also used the NOAA Marine Mammal Hotline to report a seal sighting on the Marine Base because I now understand how helpful that little bit of information could be. I am beyond thankful for this amazing opportunity and hope many others get to have the same experience!


Oʻahu, 2022 Cohort

My time at SMMILE was extremely memorable. The week was filled with many fun activities and interactive learning. This program has made me more interested in learning about marine life and consider having a career related to marine biology in the future. I am extremely grateful for all of the opportunities that this program has opened up for me and the many connections I’ve made throughout the week. Learning from the presenters was very inspiring and made me think of other possible careers to pursue. Thank you very much to Brijonnay, Kirby, the speakers, and everyone who contributed in making SMMILE possible!


Oʻahu, 2022 Cohort

This program has been a great opportunity for me, it gave me hope for pursuing a career in this field. Brijonnay and Kirby did an excellent job keeping us locked in on mammal research and they helped me meet people that will help me get to where I want to be in the future. Overall this program has been a great learning experience and I hope they continue to run this program for many years to come.


Oʻahu, 2022 Cohort

My name is Andrew and I participated in the SMMILE internship on coconut island. This opportunity to stay on the island and learn about marine mammals for a week is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am so grateful for this experience and I will never forget it, let me tell you why. As I was getting dropped off to begin this trip, I was a little nervous because I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Little did I know the amazing adventures and experiences this week would bring. This week far surpassed any expectations I could have set. Every part of everyday has become memories I’ll never forget. Bri and Kirby did a stellar job in charge of the camp. Weather they were teaching us marine mammals in the classroom or sharing funny stories while bonding, they always made sure the vibe was positive and everyone was having fun! The energy they brought everyday was simply unmatchable. This past week I learned an incredible amount about marine mammal research and the efforts taken her in Hawaii to protect our native species. The guest speakers spoke on a variety of subjects; their lectures ranged from necropsies, whale tracking, and to individual identification within species. Bri and Kirby made sure the learning was super fun! After some topics, such as photography, hydrophones, and drones, we would go out of the classroom to become familiar with the technology which was crazy cool! Although all of the marine mammal knowledge we learned was incredible, there was an entire other aspect of the trip that made this camp wonderful; bonding with the other 12 wonderful people at the camp. The social part was incredible because we got to experience this wild adventure together. In the beginning of the camp, we were all strangers. By the second day we were all friends. And by the end of the camp, we’ve created amazing bonds of friendship that will last beyond SMMILE. Another thing that will last beyond this internship is the valuable information I learned from this camp. I feel way more confident in my knowledge on marine mammals which I feel in vital for me, especially because I live in Hawaii. This internship is a truly incredible and life changing opportunity for both the students and teachers! SMMILE is a great way for students to become interested and learn all about marine mammals and marine science in general. If this program were to continue in the future, it would continue to attract wonderful students that would ensure a bright future for HIMB and marine mammal research around the world.


Molokaʻi, 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.
    Coming into this program I expected to be closed off and not connect with others as I tend to be quiet and reserved when introduced to new people and new environments. I remember the whole plane ride from Molokai to Oahu I was overthinking and anticipating my arrival. I thought this program would be strict and overwhelming as I knew practically nothing, except basics, in marine science subjects. As I walked off the plane and into the Mokulele terminal, I scanned for the light blue shirts as instructed. As soon as I spotted them I knew this program was going to be nothing like what I expected. Their warm smiles, excitement on their faces, and great big hugs changed my whole perspective on the program. I immediately felt welcomed and felt like I belonged. This feeling set the rest of the trip on a good note.
    During my stay, I learned new aspects of marine mammals and marine science that I have never learned or even thought about learning. The information I learned was more than what I could have comprehend in a quarter of school. The lectures were so interesting and engaging
(also not expected) as it talked about so many aspects including marine mammals, tracking devices, sounds in the ocean, etc. Having guest speakers/presenters also gave me new perspectives on the cultural side of marine-based learning. However, my favorite part of the activities was the excursions around the island. I could speak on this topic forever about what we did, and what we saw. The opportunities we got to experience were things I never thought I would ever be able to do. Thinking back to it now feels unreal.
      All I can say is how grateful I am I got to experience this. I truly wish other students around Hawaii could all experience what I did. I have changed my career path and expanded my learning in ways that I will use in the future. I think the whole purpose behind the program of having local students get more involved in marine science is extremely significant. Not only will this have greater cultural importance it would also get the community more involved in perhaps helping the aquatic marine environments and native Hawaiian marine mammals. Having this opportunity for later years to come will educate future generations and expand the number of individuals interested in this career. Many things are happening in the ocean that most aren't aware of, that I wasn't aware of. Being educated in this way of going to a special place with other interested students, and having very caring and knowledgeable mentors by your side, creates a safe space where you can ask anything, be interested in anything, and have a perception of everything. I hope that this program continues for many years to come.

Oʻahu, 2023 Cohort

My favorite memory in the SMMILE program was a combination of two days when me and a group of kids were on the water 12 miles offshore of the Wai’anae coast.  We were split up into two groups, assigned to different research boats. The water was glassy and made it perfect for research and spotting dolphins. We took turns taking pictures of the dolphins dorsal fin that we could later ID them with, and we got to use real high quality gear that researchers would use. One of the tools was a small hydrophone that we hooked up to a computer to listen in on and see the sound waves created by the dolphins. When they communicated or used their echolocation to figure out where the fish were that they would eat. The first day we surveyed rough toothed dolphins who had significantly more badgered features then the spinner dolphins that were smaller in size that we researched on the second day. The two different dolphin species were incredible to say the least. I was amazed at the differences of the two species from how they interacted with each other. The spinners were very active and playful, jumping, spinning and launching themselves at each other while the rough toothed were more casual and took care of their young. The differences in pod size were appalling; there were at least ten spinner dolphins in a pod and we saw 2 pods in Pokai bay close to the harbor. The rough toothed dolphins on the other hand are deep sea dolphins who were fewer in numbers only having 7 to a pod. Being a native Hawaiian, I am so proud that I got the experience of being a marine biologist in Hawai’i at MMRP. I had a great experience.

Hawaiʻi, 2023 Cohort

 It is a warm summer morning. I feel an overwhelming sense of joy as our boat glides across the ocean’s surface. As we look upon the horizon, we can see a group of spinner dolphins jumping in and out of the crystal blue water. I will never forget this moment. One of my favorite parts of SMMILE was our boat surveys, where we had the opportunity to experience what a field day might look like for a marine biologist. From the boat, we observed the behavior of marine mammals. We also had the chance to use cameras to capture photos of dorsal fins to identify individual dolphins. The ten days we spent at Moku O Lo'e made for an incredibly enriching experience I will cherish forever. I think what makes the SMMILE program so remarkable is how hands-on each day was. Our co-instructors Brijonnay and Kirby are some of the most dedicated and genuine people I have ever met. Seeing their passion for marine mammals was incredibly inspiring, as we spent every day learning in an interactive and fun way. Whether we were listening to experts in the field, spending time outdoors, learning about navigation and the stars, or even just taking time to get to know one another, there was never a dull moment. Another one of my favorite parts of SMMILE was the bonds we created in a relatively short period. Everyone was so genuine and fun to be around. This part made for a very bittersweet goodbye because at the end of the trip I was sad to leave many new friends and beautiful Moku o Lo'e. Despite feeling sad to say goodbye, I am forever thankful for this experience as I now feel more excited than ever to pursue marine biology and I know that the friendships formed during SMMILE are strong enough to last a lifetime.

Oʻahu, 2023 Cohort

SMMILE helped me build lasting relationships and memories with the advisors and other students that were a part of this program. I got to learn from local experts and scientists with loads of experience, coming from different backgrounds and expertise. I got to see the different career options, and found that I was really interested in lab work related to analyzing cells. I was initially really nervous about not knowing a lot about Marine Mammals, but Bri and Kirby were always making sure me and the other students, felt comfortable from the moment we got to Coconut Island. I was happy to learn alongside other local students who I have met in this program, for I came to value their ideas and perspectives. Every night I would be excited for what we’d be doing the next day. SMMILE gives me the confidence to consider Marine Biology as a potential future career path. I will take everything I learned from this program and try my best to implement what I’ve learned into my studies and life. I believe future students would benefit and greatly appreciate being a part of this program. Many thanks to Bri, Kirby, the speakers, and everyone who made this opportunity for local students possible.

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