Native Forward Scholars Fund is committed to serving our students through school, graduation, and beyond. Scholar Kirby Parnell (Cherokee Nation) is Native Forward, putting her best foot forward to influence positive change for her community. 

Kirby is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Marine Biology Graduate Program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She is a Marine Mammal Research Program member at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology. Kirby’s research is on the underwater vocal behavior and conservation of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. She collaborates with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admininstrationʻs Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program to deploy passive acoustic monitors and seal-mounted, multi-sensor tags to record their vocalizations and assess their responses to man-made noise from boats, sonar, etc. This research is the first to record and describe the underwater vocal behavior of wild monk seals.

As a Gates Millennium and Fulbright Scholar, her studies have taken her to Florida, California, Denmark, and Hawaiʻi. When she’s not thinking about Hawaiian monk seals, she co-teaches a summer education program, Summer Marine Mammal Intensive Learning Experience (SMMILE), for Hawai’i high school students. The program aims to increase the representation of minority students, particularly Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, in marine science. 

Kirby was recently awarded the BIE Professional Development Funding for STEM Educators and Students through Native Forward. This funding will allow her to travel to the 25th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in Perth, Australia, this November. There, she will present her findings on the underwater vocal repertoire of Hawaiian monk seals and co-host a workshop about SMMILE and other marine science-related education programs. 

In the future, Kirby hopes to become a professor and provide accessible educational experiences in marine science for Native American students. She looks forward to giving back to her community through education programs for Indigenous youth. 

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