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Outreach Biologist, National Audubon Society’s Migratory Bird Initiative
Major in Biology, Minor in Environmental Studies
After Knox, Mikko worked as a technician in the field of research and conservation and as an intern at Chicago’s Urban Wildlife Institute. He then earned his master’s in ecology from Colorado State University.
What do you do as an outreach biologist for Audubon's Migratory Bird Initiative?
As one of Audubon’s newest initiatives, our goal is to gather migratory data for all of North America's migratory birds in one place to gain a more holistic understanding of where these species are going throughout the year and, in turn, where Audubon and other conservation partners can focus efforts to protect them. As an outreach biologist, my role is largely to reach out to the people studying migration to see if they are interested in working with Audubon on this global endeavor.
What led to your interest in ecology and birding?
I became interested in ecology sometime during my sophomore year at Knox. In a class, Stuart Allison assigned a ton of Aldo Leopold for us to read. As someone who was interested in creative writing but was spending entire days in SMC, I was fascinated with Leopold’s ability to describe the natural world so expressively. The combination of field trips to Green Oaks and Leopold readings got me hooked on the field of ecology pretty quickly. The following year, I also studied abroad in Tanzania, and was able to develop my own research project on wildebeest and giraffe foraging behavior. I think the experience of conducting a field study in the East African savannah solidified my interest in ecology as a career.
[Professor] Jim Mountjoy single-handedly turned me into a birder. His incessant passion for birds is infectious and his skills as a naturalist are an awe-inspiring reminder of a lost art. With his help, we started a Birding Club and took other students out to Green Oaks on birding trips.
How has your Knox experience made an impact on your career?
While at larger universities opportunities for research experience can often be dictated by the projects being conducted by faculty and graduate students, at Knox, I was encouraged to build my own research projects from the ground up. As a result, the Biology Department really equipped me with a strong ability to develop a research question and implement an experiment on the ground. I even gained experience with grant writing and outreach as the founder and president of Birding Club.
Knox also helped me realize that I wanted to keep other, non-science hobbies in my life, such as music. I trekked across campus to CFA multiple times a week as a proud member of the Knox College Choir and played a number of open mics with friends. I was also a cutter on the Knox Ultimate team. This balance has followed me into my early career.
Describe a memorable experience and the impact it had on you.
I vividly remember the first time I held a bird. As part of ornithology, Jim took us out to band birds. After Jim had banded an eastern phoebe, he let me hold it before we let it go. I had never seen a bird up close. As it flew off, I couldn’t help but think about how something so small and fragile could migrate all the way to Mexico. Just weeks ago, I was looking up tracking projects for the same species, thinking about how incredible it is that I now study their migration for a living at the National Audubon Society.
The combination of field trips to Green Oaks and Leopold readings got me hooked on the field of ecology pretty quickly.