Next month, one Seymour High School graduate will have the rare chance to work with dolphins, sea lions, penguins and seals as part of a college internship.

Emmalee Speer, a junior at Wesleyan College in Owensboro, Kentucky, will travel to Kailua, Hawaii, in pursuit of her career goals of working with marine mammals.

“I originally wanted to work with exotic cats, but the ocean just keeps me guessing and I have an over-obsessive love for it,” the zoology major said.

Speer, who took a marine biology class during her winter term two years ago, said she “just knew” she was meant to work in the ocean after learning about all the creatures and plant life it holds. 

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As part of the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association, she applied for the Hawaiian internship in January not knowing what the outcome would be.

“In all honesty, I did it for the heck of it — my major focus was to apply to many in Florida and get one there,” she said. “I figured I was a small town girl from Indiana, so there’s no way I could get (the one in Hawaii).”

But to her excitement, she was awarded the internship to Hawaii and will leave for the island on May 10 for about three months. 

Called the “Hawaiian Experience,” the internship will allow her and 14 others from across the U.S. a chance to spend time with Atlantic and Pacific bottlenose dolphins, California sea lions, Humboldt penguins and sea monks.

“I will be part of the Hawaiian Ocean Theater Team, and I will be in charge of assisting and helping trainers perform their shows for the public with the variety of marine animals,” she said. 

In addition to working five days a week — sometimes at 6 a.m. for fish prep days — she will have class lectures at Sea Life Park … and tests.

Though Speer is excited about the upcoming experience, the expenses to complete the unpaid internship aren’t going to be cheap.

She’ll have to pay for transportation including a plane ticket, bus fare and  rent when she moves in with a dolphin trainer who works at Sea Life Park.

She’ll get a free lunch every day, but she’ll still have to pay for utilities and groceries along with miscellaneous funds. She estimates the cost could be up to $5,000.

“I plan on getting a second job when I arrive, which means I will be working 40 hours a week for Sea Life Park and on my two days off and evenings after work, I will be heading to a second job to try and help with expenses,” she said.

Currently, she’s balancing two part-time jobs and a full course load while she’s also involved in organizations as the vice president of public relations for Kappa Delta and special events chair in Student Activities Programming. 

It sounds like a lot, but hard work isn’t something Speer has shied away from since she was a little girl working at the Cortland Diner, which is owned by her parents, Gail and Robert Speer.

“I know this is going to teach me a lot of life lessons and help improve ones that I have already taken up from working since I was 11 at my parents diner,” Speer said. “Growing up in a working family has been the best thing that has happened to me.”

In addition to the money she’s saving, she’s asking for donations through a page and also will post weekly updates on her Facebook page.

After the internship and following her graduation in 2016, Speer said she wants to move to Florida and hopefully find a job at the Dolphin Research Center, Theater of the Sea or Dolphin Plus, which are all three located in the Keys.

But she’s also not opposed to the idea of moving to Hawaii.

“The trainer that I am staying with said that everyone who is working there currently, previously had the internship experience,” she said.

Either way, Speer said she hopes to take away some great knowledge about the creatures in the ocean and educate others on what she learns when she returns to Kentucky. 

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To make a donation for Emmalee Speer’s internship, visit

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Emmalee Speer

Graduate of Seymour High School

Junior at Wesleyan College in Owensboro, Kentucky

Parents, Gail and Robert Speer, brothers Travis and Wes Trestler

Will spend about three months in Hawaii for a college internship.


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