2020 SYMPOSIUM SPEAKER BIOS

Keynote: Collin O’Mara

President and Chief Executive Officer, National Wildlife Federation

Collin O’Mara serves as President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, America’s largest wildlife conservation organization with 52 state and territorial affiliates and nearly six million hunters, anglers, birders, gardeners, hikers, paddlers, and wildlife enthusiasts. Under O’Mara’s leadership, the National Wildlife Federation is focused on recovering America’s wildlife ranging from bison and bighorn sheep to pollinators like monarch butterflies and native bees, improving management of and access to public lands, restoring America’s water bodies, advancing environmental education (including publishing Ranger Rick® magazines), and connecting every American child with the great outdoors.

O’Mara serves on the Wildlife Hunting and Heritage Conservation Council, the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council, and the Blue Ribbon Panel for Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources. He also represents the National Wildlife Federation as a member of the American Wildlife Conservation Partners, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Policy Council, and the BlueGreen Alliance. In 2015, O’Mara was named Bass Pro Shop’s Conservation Partner of the Year. He is regularly called before Congress to testify about wildlife, water, and sportsmen issues.

Prior to the National Wildlife Federation, O’Mara led the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control as Cabinet Secretary from 2009 through 2014. In that position, Secretary O’Mara served as the state’s top natural resource official, and led the state’s efforts to conserve and restore wildlife and fishery habitat, improve air quality and public health, ensure access to clean water, expand outdoor recreation and environmental education opportunities, and enhance the state’s resilience to extreme weather and other climate impacts.

When O’Mara was appointed in 2009, he was the youngest state cabinet official in the nation. He spearheaded a range of initiatives, including Delaware’s “No Child Left Inside”/ Children In Nature campaign, a comprehensive strategy to introduce children to the outdoors; the First State Trails and Pathways Plan, a multi-year initiative to expand and connect the state’s trail system; and the Delaware Bayshore Initiative, an effort to establish the region as a world-class conservation and outdoor recreation destination for hunting, birding, fishing, hiking, canoeing, and kayaking.

His previous board service includes a term as Co-Chair of the Natural Resources and Agriculture Subcommittee of the President’s Task Force on Climate Adaptation and Preparedness, Chair of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Chair of the Ozone Transport Commission, Chair of the Climate and Energy Subcommittee of the Environmental Council of the States, and the Executive Council of the Chesapeake Bay Program.

A native of Syracuse, New York, O’Mara was a Marshall Scholar at the University of Oxford, a University Fellow at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, and a Presidential Scholar at Dartmouth College. He is a Catto Fellow at the Aspen Institute, a U.S. Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accredited professional, and completed Stanford Business School’s Executive Management Program in Environmental Sustainability.

O’Mara lives in Delaware and spends every possible moment in nature fishing, hunting, hiking, and birding with his wife Krishanti and daughters Riley and Alana.

Youth Keynote: Aidan Place

Every March, teams of birders descend on the Negev Desert of southern Israel to participate in the Champions of the Flyway bird race—a big day competition to raise funds to combat conservation issues in the Old World. In 2018, a youth team from North America attended the race for the very first time. Dubbed the ABA-Leica Subadult Wheatears, they have competed for the past two years, raising over $10,000 for conservation, and setting an example for young birders across the US and Canada. With the 2020 race just over the horizon, the team are again competing and raising funds, this time for Steppe Eagle conservation in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Team captain Aidan Place will talk about his experiences birding in Israel, the past two fundraising campaigns, this year’s cause, and just what it is that makes this event so special.

Aidan Place (21) is a sophomore biology student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. His love of birds started at a young age on the Pennsylvania farm where he was born. Since then, his passion for birding has taken him everywhere from the steaming jungles of Panama to the barren steppes of Kazakhstan. In addition to birds, Aidan has a great love of travel as well as history, particularly that of the Balkan Peninsula and former Ottoman Empire.

Katie Fallon

Author of Vulture and Cerulean Blues

Katie Fallon is the author of the nonfiction books Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird (University Press of New England, 2017, available in paperback 2018) and Cerulean Blues: A Personal Search for a Vanishing Songbird (Ruka Press, 2011), which was a Finalist for the Reed Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern Environment. Katie is also the co-author of two books for children, Look, See the Bird! (2017) and Look, See the Farm! (2018), both from Hatherleigh Press.

Katie’s essays and articles have appeared in a variety of journals and magazines, including Fourth GenreRiver TeethEcotoneBark MagazineStillAppalachian HeritageNow & ThenIsotopeFourth Riverthe minnesota reviewThe Tusculum Review, and elsewhere. Her essay “Feeding” (published in Still in 2018) was nominated for a Best of the Net award and was listed as a “Notable” in Best American Science & Nature Writing 2019, and her essay “Rebirth” (published in River Teeth, Fall 2013) was listed as a “Notable” in Best American Science & Nature Writing 2014. Another essay, “Hill of the Sacred Eagles,” was a finalist in Terrain‘s 2011 essay contest. Katie has taught creative writing at Virginia Tech and West Virginia University, and in the Low-Residency MFA Programs at West Virginia Wesleyan College and Chatham University.

Katie is currently serving as President of the Mountaineer Chapter of the National Audubon Society, and she is also one of the founders of the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds through research, education, and rehabilitation. The ACCA is based near Morgantown, WV, and each year treats more than 400 injured wild birds, conducts dozens of environmental education programs, and sponsors research projects. Email Katie (or visit the Outreach section of this site) if you’d like to learn more.

WV Living magazine named Katie a 2017 “Wonder Woman of West Virginia.”

A lifelong resident of Appalachia, Katie’s great-great grandfather, great-grandfather, and grandfather were coal miners in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. She lives in Cheat Lake, WV, with her family.

Katie’s first word was “bird.”

Tykee James

Government Affairs Coordinator, National Audubon Society

Tykee James works with Audubon state offices, chapters, and members across the country as the government affairs coordinator at the National Audubon Society.

As a birder, he appreciates Audubon’s broad influence and strong bipartisan voice to address the climate crisis to scale and also their central mission to protect the important places for birds and people, today and tomorrow. After joining the team and moving to D.C. almost two years ago, he has made ground with his most special role: organizing bird walks with members of Congress and congressional staff! Tykee has built his residency in this work from his professional and personal experiences in Philadelphia, his hometown. His first job was an environmental educator and community organizer in his own neighborhood. There he was introduced to the principles of environmental justice and the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and leadership that have brought him to this climate moment.

Jason Weikstein

Associate Professor, Drexel University

Dr. Jason Weckstein is an associate professor in the Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science (BEES) at Drexel University and associate curator in the Department of Ornithology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.  Weckstein obtained his BS degree in Natural Resources from the University of Michigan in 1993, his MS in Zoology from the University of Minnesota, and his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University in 2003.  His dissertation research used DNA sequences to reconstruct the coevolutionary history and host-parasite associations between toucans and their ectoparasites.  After obtaining the Ph.D. he continued studying birds and parasites as a postdoctoral fellow at the Illinois Natural History Survey at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, where he stayed on as a staff scientist until joining the BEES faculty in 2014. 

Weckstein is a fellow of the American Ornithological Society and has authored over 60 peer-reviewed publications and delivered over 50 presentations at universities and both national and international scientific meetings.  He has over 20 years of experience working in natural history museums and has conducted research on birds and their parasites in the United States, Canada, South Africa, Ghana, Malawi, Nicaragua, Brazil, and Mexico.  In addition to teaching, training, and research, Jason’s additional interests at the Academy of Natural Sciences include collections building, curation, and public outreach.

Weckstein’s current research program focuses on three main areas: 1) avian comparative biology and evolutionary history, 2) biodiversity surveys of birds and their parasites and pathogens, and 3) coevolutionary history of birds and their parasites.  His research involves both active field collecting of bird and associated parasite specimens and analysis of DNA sequence data to reconstruct the ecology and evolutionary history of birds and their parasites.  Specimens housed in natural history collections such as the Academy of Natural Sciences are a critical resource for his research program.

Dr. Andy Wilson

Associate Professor, Gettysburg College

Andy has been a birder since age nine, encouraged by his parents and an elementary school teacher in his hometown of Sheffield England. After working with the British Trust for Ornithology for 10 years, Andy came to the US to attend graduate school at Penn State, where he earned a PhD in Ecology. He was data analyst and lead editor of the 2nd Atlas of Breeding Birds in Pennsylvania. He has taught in the Environmental Studies department at Gettysburg College for nine years and lives in Maryland with his wife and 7-year old twins. gua, Brazil, and Mexico.  In addition to teaching, training, and research, Jason’s additional interests at the Academy of Natural Sciences include collections building, curation, and public outreach.

Weckstein’s current research program focuses on three main areas: 1) avian comparative biology and evolutionary history, 2) biodiversity surveys of birds and their parasites and pathogens, and 3) coevolutionary history of birds and their parasites.  His research involves both active field collecting of bird and associated parasite specimens and analysis of DNA sequence data to reconstruct the ecology and evolutionary history of birds and their parasites.  Specimens housed in natural history collections such as the Academy of Natural Sciences are a critical resource for his research program.

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