LAHAINA - As Mary Anna Enriquez joins the crew of the Hikianalia as an education specialist on the fourth leg of the World Wide Voyage, she leaves her classroom at Sacred Hearts School (SHS) in the more than capable hands of former student Mariah Gill.
"She knows how I teach; she knows the setup of the classroom; she knows the school, so it was just meant to be. It was more than serendipitous; it was divinely led," Enriquez told the Lahaina News.
SHS Principal Susan Hendricks wholeheartedly agreed: "We just feel like it was a gift to get dropped in our lap. We're so excited to have her with us. She is technology savvy; she's going to help us with the World Wide Voyage - connect with them on Google Hangouts, bring it alive to not only the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders that Mariah will be teaching, but to the entire school. She is just an amazing treasure that we get to have."
Mariah Gill (center) and the “Ocean Angels” campaigned for ocean sustainability at the United Nations.
Gill is equally pleased with the opportunity: "It was a sign. I got chicken skin. It was so perfect. It gives me an extra month to get inspired again and get to back why I got into my field in the first place."
The 24-year-old is an esteemed alumnus of King Kamehameha III Elementary School and Sacred Hearts "middle school (Class of 2004)." She graduated with honors as class Valedictorian from Lahainaluna High School in 2008.
She attended University of Southern California and earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Science with Cum Laude status. Her major was Marine Biology.
Her studies continued in Connecticut.
"I graduated from Yale in May," Gill said, "and I now have my Master's Degree in Environmental Management, with an emphasis on Coastal Resilience and Water Management."
Gill is a research specialist.
"There's no better feeling than finding something that you're passionate about, and you can sit down and realize you can set your computer for ten years and still feel like you don't know enough about the subject. To me, that is the neatest feeling in the world," she commented. "That started in this classroom (the eighth grade classroom at SHS). That's why I went on to grad school; that's why I went on to college; that's why I went on to this research."
The resume of her graduate studies is impressive, if not stunning.
She was the social media coordinator at Yale.
"Last year, starting in August of 2013, I was in a class where we worked with clients. My client happened to be Stuart Beck, who is the former Ambassador of Palau and the current Ambassador of the Ocean and Seas (at the United Nations)," Gill said,
"My role was, with two other girls, doing research on oceans and sustainability, trying to figure out a way to connect the two and convince every nation at the United Nations that the oceans are central to their sustainability," she continued.
"I was in charge of the social media campaign. We started blogs. With the two other Yale students, we really tried to promote this idea that no matter where you live in the world, you depend on the oceans.
"Ultimately, the goal of the project was to create a stand-alone sustainable development goal for the new agenda of the United Nations."
And it was a success.
"My last direct interaction with the campaign was in February (2014), when I went to the Healthy Oceans meetings at the United Nations, and we had every, pretty much every, Pacific small island nation present. It was a huge turnout - standing room only. It was very successful; social media was going off. The president of Palau announced that he was the first-ever country to close his exclusive economic zone to commercial fishing which is huge," Gill advised.
During the course of the crusade, Gill connected with the students at SHS.
"Last year, when I was working at the United Nations, I e-mailed Miss Enriquez and told her about the project, and she immediately connected me with her students. We started this correspondence where the girls were writing blogs and reading my blogs and following my project. That was really neat for me, because it made everything that I was doing feel like it counted for something," Gill said.
She briefly outlined her eco-strategy: "I am on the promotional side of environmental issues, but I also have been doing the research all along as well. The promoting resulted in the fact that I wasn't satisfied with just writing report after report after report and not having anything come of it."
"The promoting comes from the fact that I am an activist at heart," she continued, "and I think that everyone is. If you're passionate about something, you want people to know about it. You write all the reports in the world, and no one will read it. But if you can actually write and communicate to seventh-graders in Lahaina and get them excited about the issue, then you've really done something. So that's why I got into promoting, and that's why I do social media."
After graduation from the prestigious New Haven university in May, "Nothing was really calling to me. I felt that I needed to ground myself again, so I came home and decided to take at least three months off of anything academia."
"I think there is another thing I was missing when living on the East Coast. I was just so busy all the time, I let myself fall into a lifestyle that is so far from how I was raised. I was raised as an athlete, eating good food, living on a farm, eating farm fresh eggs," she remarked.
"I am passionate for the environment, and it starts with me as an individual," she explained with conviction.
On a volunteer basis, she has been working on a research project with the U.S. Arctic Research Mission.
"I was able to travel to Norway with that project for a conference," she said.
She currently has a job at Kimo's Restaurant while she contemplates her next step.
Gill is resourceful.
"I've been applying for jobs in New Zealand and in Scandinavia. Both areas have amazing natural resource management programs. The Arctic is really an interesting place to me. There are a lot of parallels between the Arctic and islands and climate change. If I do get an opportunity in those places or in California, then I will consider relocating," she said.
But home is where her heart is.
Parents Margo and Damon Gill own an organic egg farm in Launiupoko. Both are justly proud of the accomplishments of their three daughters.
"She (Mariah) inspired her sisters Hailey and Koral to keep up with her traditions of going for what you want to succeed. Although neither Damon nor myself went to college, all three girls wanted a higher education; and, with hard work, all three have achieved this goal," Margo said.
The Gills are firm believers in the African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child."
"We feel that the girls are a product of the beautiful community of Lahaina," Margo concluded.