Women making history for birds in Connecticut

Progress in STEM may be slow, but Audubon Connecticut’s woman-led team is pushing conservation forward.

"My whole life has always been animals. From as early as I can remember, all I have ever wanted to do was wildlife rescue" - Sunny Kellner, pictured above

A female board chair and five vice chairs. A female executive director. A female managing director. A female director of science and bird conservation. A female wildlife rehab specialist. One incredible nonprofit guided by women's voices.

How is it that industry analysis continues to show a lack of gender diversity in STEM fields, yet here at Audubon Connecticut, women are taking over the bird world?

A National Audubon Society news article points out, “Like most matters of importance, women have been integral to birding from the get-go. Female ornithologists drew attention to avifauna in the late 1800s, and suffragists helped the movement take off in the early 1900s. Today, 42 percent of U.S. birders identify as women… And yet men have the loudest voices and the most power in the industry.”

At our National headquarters, “the closer you get to the top of the birding, conservation, and academic ranks, the more the gender balance tips.”

Here at Audubon Connecticut, the state office of the National Audubon Society, the (gender) roles are happily reversed. Out of a staff of 35 individuals working across science, fundraising, communications, policy, land management, wildlife rehab, and more, 22 are women– that’s 64%. Interestingly, while all of our land and facilities managers are male, our wildlife and bird conservation staff are predominantly female.

Of course, we want to see overall trends change beyond our flock. But it’s not our goal to invite more women into conservation only to leave others out. Like migratory birds, we live in an ever-changing world, so we need to empower our best and brightest to reach for the sky.

What do the women of Audubon Connecticut have to say?

Get their perspective on being a woman in conservation, and get inspired to act for birds and people! We might even have an opportunity for you to work with us.

Corrie Folsom-O’Keefe, Director of Bird Conservation
I think I kind of stumbled on conservation. I wanted to work with birds, and conservation is one way to do it. I love working with Audubon because I feel that the work I do actually makes a difference for birds, their habitats, and people.

Elyssa Scheck, Program Coordinator/Summer Camp Director, Greenwich Audubon Center
I always knew that I wanted to enter a career in which I would be able to help wildlife. While working towards my MSc in Global Wildlife Health and Conservation I learned about the countless different ways in which wildlife is impacted by human activity. I felt that if I were able to help educate the general public about their impact, I could motivate them to take action to help.

Wendy Miller, Education Program Manager, Sharon Audubon Center
The leader of my very first nature camp in 5th grade was a woman: she inspired me and is still my mentor to this day, 35 years later! She had us dissect an owl pellet and I was hooked! I love that my job entails so many different things. Although my focus is education, I work with children, high school groups, and adults in the field and in the classroom, help wildlife in the rehab clinic, band American Kestrels and songbirds, support community volunteers, raise and release caterpillars and butterflies, and so much more. I love doing whatever I can now to help inspire young girls to engage in conservation.

Sunny Kellner, Wildlife Rehabilitation and Outreach Specialist, Sharon Audubon Center
When I was 13 my mother brought me to the Sharon Audubon Center to volunteer in the wildlife rehabilitation program, which at the time was run by Wendy Miller, our current Education Program Manager. Although I was young, Wendy invited me to get involved caring for orphaned songbirds in the clinic and the rest is history. Because of my volunteer experience with the Sharon Audubon Center, my college undergrad focus was in wildlife rehabilitation and have since worked at several rehabilitation facilities in the country before returning full circle to the Sharon Audubon Center as the Wildlife Rehabilitation and Outreach Specialist. I often think to myself, if it weren’t for Wendy, where would I be now?

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