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Student Testimonials



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.



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.



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!



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.



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!



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!



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.



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.

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