Biology Students Experience Trip of a Lifetime and Earn Credit

Summer is a time of relaxation, fun, and vacation. The break also offers exciting learning opportunities outside of the classroom, and at times, these adventures lead to exotic and inspiring locales. For Saint Mary’s Hall biology students, the opportunity to participate in the 2021 Marine Science Trip led them to the picturesque Big Island of Hawaii.

A total of 28 seniors and 13 juniors spent two weeks on the island after completing 80 academic hours of Marine Science as well as four hours of Hawaiian Studies. Not only does the trip involve enriching and fun activities and excursions, students receive a semester of Macrobiology credit.

“This Marine Science Trip is an amazing opportunity for students,” said Associate Athletic Director Katrina Benoist, who accompanied students with eight faculty and staff chaperones. “Not only do the students learn an incredible amount of information in a short time, but they also get to take what they learn from the classroom that day and complete hands-on labs in the ocean, tidal pools, beaches, and coves. The Hawaiian sites, cultures, and history are a bonus!"

The students stayed in dorms at Hawaii Preparatory Academy in Waimea, Hawaii, while being taught by local Marine Science teachers, Kumu Dewey and Kumu Cordova (kumu meaning teacher), who are subject-matter experts regarding the island. Students attended three to four hours of instruction in the classroom, and then headed out to do their labs. Labs consisted of snorkeling/diving to identify coral, fish, fish feeding, marine organisms, as well as identifying dangerous organisms, getting into tidal pools, and examining beaches and waves.

Though scuba dives will not be a part of future trips to Hawaii, this year 22 of the SMH students who attended the trip are PADI Certified Divers; these students were able to conduct some of their labs during four dive trips, each dive consisted of two-tank dives. Divers were able to participate in the Manta Ray Night Dive, listed as the #6 dive in the world. In addition, snorkelers experienced a Night Manta Ray Snorkel.  

The learning opportunity also involved Hawaiian Studies, including Hawaiian history, myths, and legends; learning the hula; and making leis, taught by a local Hawaiian instructor. The group toured many places on the island, such as Mo’okini Heiau (Hawaiian temple), Hapuna Beach, Waipio Valley Overlook, Laupahoehoe Point, Akaka & Rainbow Falls, and Volcano National Park.

Watch a Big Island Adventure video of the students’ trip, produced by 3D Art Teacher Nate Cassie, who served as a chaperone.   

Benoist, who has participated in the trip since 2008, said the Marine Science Trip occurs every two years. The trip was first created in 1979 by former Upper School Science Teacher Carol Brown, and several faculty and staff members have repeatedly helped on past trips. Though this recent experience was a postponed trip from June 2020, students shared that it was well worth the wait.

“Having the opportunity to take a Marine Biology course in Hawaii where I could see firsthand the animals that we were studying through the course truly enriched my experience because I was genuinely studying organisms in the field to earn a credit, instead of just taking another class,” said Patrick Lang ‘23, SMH junior.  

Due to the postponement of the 2020 trip, SMH is offering it again in the summer of 2022. In addition to the Hawaii trip, students will have the opportunity to participate in Spanish and French summer language immersion trips in 2022 to Costa Rica and France as well as entire school years in Europe and Asia. To learn more about SMH student experiences outside of the classroom, visit