Dreams really do come true

As a 10-year-old, Lydia Miller (B.A. '13, general biology) was enraptured by the dolphins and sea lions she saw during her family's vacation to SeaWorld in San Diego. The beauty, majesty and intelligence of these mammals stayed with her throughout the years, as did her dream: to become a marine mammal trainer.

Lydia Miller
Lydia Miller and a Navy dolphin in San Diego. Miller was an intern with the Navy's Marine Mammal Program where she learned the basic elements of marine mammal training and husbandry.

Landlocked Iowa is nearly 2,000 miles from San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. Miller didn't let that stand in her way – or the fact that UNI doesn't have a marine biology program.

"My mom, dad and brother are all UNI alumni as well," said Miller. "I loved UNI and grew up knowing that was where I wanted to go. Choosing to go to a school in the Midwest didn't negatively affect me getting into the marine biology field at all."

Miller supplemented her UNI studies with a marine biology course she took one summer at the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs, Miss.; she also took two summer marine mammal training courses through California State University in Monterey Bay. There she heard about an animal care and training internship with the Navy Marine Mammal Program in San Diego. Miller took one more step toward her dream, interviewed for the position and became one of 21 students from across the country chosen for the 40-hour-a-week, 16-week internship.

Miller and fellow interns provided support to program staff through hands-on experience with marine mammals. "I learned husbandry skills, training techniques and what steps need to be taken to take the dolphins and California sea lions out into the open ocean to do work," said Miller. "I spent a great deal of time helping with and observing training sessions. I also did a lot of cleaning! All my hard work was worth it because I got to spend time interacting with the amazing animals on a daily basis."

In September 2013, Miller moved to Chicago to complete another marine mammal training internship, this time with Shedd Aquarium, one of the largest indoor aquariums in the world. Miller credits her internship with the Navy for helping her land the internship.

"The Navy Marine Mammal Program is an amazing thing. It is unbelievable what the animals are capable of doing in such detail," said Miller. "Before this internship I never really thought about how dolphins and sea lions have different personalities, like pets or people. It was so fun learning the different training techniques used for different personalities and forming relationships with some of the animals."

Learn more about the Navy's Marine Mammal Program at www.public.navy.mil/spawar/Pacific/71500/Pages/default.aspx.