Previous MRBO Assistants and Interns

2020-2021 Conservation Science Communicator

Zeb Yoko – Conservation Science Communicator

Conservation Science Communicator Zeb Yoko

Zeb grew up in Iowa then moved to Missouri to earn a B.S. in Biology from Truman State University. Zeb was previously a Grassland and Wetland bird Surveyor with MRBO in 2014 & 2015. He sought other opportunities to broaden his experience profile after two seasons and went on to earn a M.S. in Environmental and Conservation Science from North Dakota State University. Zeb then returned to MRBO in a new role in 2020: Conservation Science Communicator. In this position, he worked with all projects currently underway in some capacity. Zeb’s primary focus was on analyzing data collected and writing both technical reports and reports aimed to reach a broad audience promoting conservation. He also assisted with field surveying, education and outreach events, and answering questions about conservation received by the observatory.

2017 Grasslands, Wetlands, and Education Assistants
Our 2017 team consisted of Veronica Mecko and Erik Ost on Grasslands, Philipp Maleko on Wetlands, and Paige Witek heading the education program.  You can read more about Erik Ost and Paige Witek on our 2018 assistants page! 

Born in the lush birch forests of Saint Petersburg, Russia,  Philipp Maleko moved to the desolate concrete jungle of Los Angeles at age 7, and immediately realized the impact human society has on planet Earth. A bird nerd atheart, Philipp has a strong passion for ornithology and the conservation of wild birds. Philipp’s ultimate career and life goal is to assist in the preservation of avian fauna in Alaska and eastern Russia, and he will work with passion and due diligence on any conservation project that is bestowed upon him. 


Veronica Mecko grew up in Illinois but went to school in Iowa, graduating from Grinnell College with a B.A. in biology, and has lived more than 20 years in Iowa. She has always had an interest in the natural world. About 10 years ago she focused on birds and began to identify and monitor the different bird species she observed on the 20-acre micro-farm she and her family lived on. She especially enjoyed spring and fall when the migratory species would pass through. In 2007 she visited Hitchcock Nature Center north of Council Bluffs and started volunteering as a hawk counter during the autumn hawk watches. In September of 2010, she spent 10 days at Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario and learned the basics of banding passerine birds. In January of 2011 she took a leave of absence from her job to pursue her interest in birds and from February through mid-May she volunteered and then did an internship in avian rehabilitation at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center. From Florida, Veronica headed to Missouri to volunteer with MRBO. She worked with the MAPS banding project on prairie sites and also with the purple martin nestling banding project during the summer and stayed on for the fall migration banding as a research assistant.  Veronica returned to MRBO as Head Bander and Grassland Project Coordinator from 2013-2017.  She now resides in Jefferson City and volunteers with MRBO, particularly to help with education events.  

2016 Grasslands, Wetlands, and Education Assistants


Will Britton field technician

Will was born in Houston, TX and raised in Arkansas.  He has been in love with the natural world since he can remember, and he furthered that with a Biology degree, which he completed in December of 2014, from his hometown school Harding University.  While he was originally planning to pursue marine ecology, an ornithology course during his senior year changed all that.  Now donning binoculars instead of a snorkel mask, Will is eagerly learning new skills for the study of birds.  Last fall he spent 5 weeks in Punta Gorda, Belize counting raptors with Belize Raptor Research Institute.  The diverse birds of Belize and the hawk-watch there made for an incredible experience that inspired Will to pursue seasonal field work whole-heartedly.  He is excited to encounter Missouri’s elusive and secretive marsh birds and is very thankful to MRBO for this great opportunity.  His future goals include becoming a well-rounded technician with bird study skills that run the gamut and perhaps pursue a Masters degree in avian ecology.

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Heather Desorcie seasonal educator

Heather hails from State College, PA. Her family fostered her love for the natural world throughout her childhood by taking her on hikes, signing her up for nature-themed summer camps, and traveling to destinations with national parks and zoos. She graduated from Canisius College in December 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in Animal Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. Originally wanting to be a zookeeper, she changed her career path after a trip to Belize helped her discover her passion for birds and conservation. Between semesters Heather worked as an educator at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and the Buffalo Zoo. She then worked as an animal husbandry intern at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, PA.

Heather believes that respect for the natural world is a vital part of a child’s education and the place to acquire that love is outside, which is why she always prefers leading experiential educational programs. Ultimately, she hopes her work helps make the world a better place for animals. As Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

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Katie Leonard field technician

Katie was born and raised in Missouri, and she graduated from Southeast Missouri State University in May of 2013 with a degree in Organismal, Ecological, and Evolutionary Biology. She has always been interested in nature and biology, but she found what she wanted to be in life after taking a course in animal behavior: an ornithologist. Since graduation, Katie has gained experience working in southern Florida researching Snowy Plovers with Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, as well as studying other birds and organisms on Sanibel Island as an intern with J.N. “Ding” Darling NWR. In the summer of 2015, she worked with the University of Nebraska-Omaha studying Henslow’s Sparrows, one of MRBO’s target species. After spending an amazing winter in Australia researching the evolution of brood parasites and their hosts over time, Katie was excited to work with the birds in her home state as an Avian Field Technician with Missouri River Bird Observatory. She enjoys doing temporary field work around the country, but one day hopes to find a permanent position doing what she loves—researching avian species through conducting fieldwork.

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Araks Ohanyan field technician

Araks was born in Armenia and raised in southern California. Thanks to her nature-loving mom, she has been interested in animals all her life. It wasn’t until high school, however, that volunteering at the Los Angeles Zoo helped her realize that she wanted to be a field biologist. She has been living in Philadephia for the past 5 years, and she received her B.S. degree in Biology from Drexel University last year. As an undergraduate, she studied abroad in Equatorial Guinea for 3 months, where she learned field methods in tropical ecology and completed a small study on local squirrel species. Her undergraduate career also included a 3-month stint on the island of Maui studying the endangered Akohekohe, and 6 months in Mexico participating in a Scarlet Macaw reintroduction project. Shortly after graduating, she spent the summer on a small remote island off the coast of Maine studying seabirds with Project Puffin. She joined MRBO with a desire to gain banding and bird ID experience, and to contribute to avian conservation work. In the coming years, she hopes to obtain her Master’s degree and keep doing what she loves!

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Matt Sim field technician

Matt was born in Houston, Texas and raised in Calgary, Alberta, where he lived for 10 years. It was in Calgary that his passion for nature and wildlife began and he has been an active birder for nearly a decade. While he has a very limited amount of professional field experience, Matt is always keen to learn more about the natural world around him. He recently spent a short period of time in Costa Rica assisting with a feline monitoring project. Matt is currently playing soccer and studying Wildlife Biology at Keystone College in Pennsylvania.

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Andrew Vo field technician

Andrew wants to live in a world filled with next-level technologies, phones that come standard with animal voice-to-text translation and a magic spray that will offer unlimited dog hair protection and the occasional food item.

As a field technician, he’s been commended on his successful team management and data analysis skills. At his last field position in South Africa, he led an important role in the habituation of wild baboons, where the new team now collects data for a baboon sociality project. Andrew is currently searching for a graduate program where he can study computer engineering in concert with animal behavior. Although his experience is mainly in marketing and design, Andrew plans to take this excellent opportunity from MRBO to learn more about birds and how they are such an important indicator for a healthy environment. For the next few months, Andrew will be learning from the knowledgeable team at MRBO in his position as surveyor and nest-monitoring technician. He will also be using audio recording equipment to study the vocalizations of Missouri’s rare marsh-dwelling species.

When he’s not out taking photos with his old film camera, you can find him diving into foreign films, trying to learn a new language, and optimistically searching for some good waves in Wilmington, North Carolina.

2015 Grasslands, Wetlands, and Education Assistants

Veronica Mecko and Andrea Ambrose
Zeb Yoko
Nic Salick

MRBO would like to recognize the seasonal staff that made possible all of the projects accomplished in 2015. These people worked tirelessly for the last three months, going many days without a break. Their days started pre-dawn and were filled with extreme heat, difficult terrain and brush, navigation around floodwaters, ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes, and snakes. In addition to field work, they cheerfully interacted with the public, agency staff, and school groups. They spent many days on the road, covering thousands of acres of Missouri’s habitats and working 38 different educational events. End result: more than 25,000 bird detections and 1,200 Missourians attending events with a bird conservation message.

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MRBO educator, Emily Wilmoth, during FlyingWILD training.

From April to June this year, MRBO was extremely fortunate to have a dedicated educator on staff, Emily Wilmoth. Emily joined us with several years’ experience in environmental education. She not only conducted all of the education events listed here, she independently developed new programs with a variety of new partners. We are pleased to report that Emily will be back at MRBO this fall from September to mid-November!

2014 Grasslands, Wetlands, and Education Assistants


Two of our assistants from previous seasons, technician Kalen Brady  and educator Alie Mayes (see more about Alie and Kalen below!), joined MRBO again for the spring and summer seasons. We also welcomed Zeb Yoko, who performed grassland and wetland bird surveys and remained with MRBO through the fall migration banding and survey season.


Zeb Yoko was born in Erie, PA, but grew up in Dubuque, IA. He recently graduated from Truman State University with a Bachelor’s of Science in biology with minors in music and chemistry. Zeb plans to use his degree for wildlife and conservation biology. He has always had an interest and curiosity about the outdoors, stemming from experiences both fishing and morel hunting with family as well going all the way through the ranks of the Boy Scouts of America to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout.
Zeb’s passion for music is a result of ten plus years of lessons on the cello, with performance experience varying from the symphony hall to musicals to weddings and even playing with Kansas. He is currently putting both skills to work with the Missouri River Bird Observatory as a grassland bird surveyor.

2013 Grasslands & Education Assistants

Our dedicated assistants were with us almost all year in 2013! Special Projects Coordinator Veronica Mecko (below left) operated all of MRBO’s grassland banding stations, from spring migration through MAPS and into the fall migration and education season! Educator Alie Mayes (below middle) ran our education and outreach events and made great strides in refining MRBO’s environmental education programs. Grassland Bird Technicians Nic Salick and Josh Smith (below right) spent hours upon hours in the field collecting data on avian species of conservation concern. Nic stayed with MRBO through the fall season to conduct the huge data analysis portion of the grasslands project. We were fortunate to have Missouri Valley College student Kalen Brady and long-time assistant Brittney Cross (both below) also remained with MRBO throughout our 2013 migration seasons. We thank all of these wonderful assistants and hope to see them again in 2014!

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Spring 2013 Grasslands and Missouri River Corridor Banding Crews

Crew with a LCSP
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From left:
Interns Cassie Ziegler and Allen Hamilton and bander Veronica Mecko operated the new grassland migration project at Hi-Lonesome and Mora CAs; Missouri Valley College intern Kalen Brady and volunteer Teresa Woody will assist bander Brittney Cross in operating the fifth year of spring migration at Grand Pass CA.

Cassandra (“Cassie”) Ziegler was born and raised in Beaver County, PA and graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a B.S. in biology and minors in anthropology and geology in 2011. She spent the last three spring/summer field seasons working with Golden-winged Warbler territory mapping, nest searching, and vegetation sampling in various parts of Pennsylvania. During that time she fell in love with birds, wildlife photography and field research. She has also done work with American Woodcock and Eastern Whip-poor-will response to Golden-winged Warbler habitat management in north-central PA. Cassie joins MRBO for spring and summer 2013 to gain extraction and banding experience and would like pursue a M.S. degree in biology in the future as well as other field work opportunities in avian research.

Allen Hamilton has always had a passion for wildlife. So it was no surprise that when he attended the University of Missouri in Kansas City in 2007 that he would declare his major to be Biology. While attending, he picked up another degree in Environmental Studies and a minor in Geography. Following Spring migration with MRBO, Allen will be working for the Institute for Bird Populations on a MAPS project in California. In the fall, he will be going to graduate school at the University of Rhode Island where he will be studying the Eastern Spadefoot Toad, its habitat preference and conservation methods.

Veronica Mecko is from southwest Iowa where her home base is the Strangers and Guests Catholic Worker Farm in Maloy. She worked with MRBO during the summer and fall of 2011 on the MAPS and fall migration banding projects. She is very happy to return to central Missouri to work on the grasslands and prairies for the spring and summer as well as other projects. In the past year she had the opportunity to be a field assistant for a study on hummingbirds as pollinators in Costa Rica, volunteer with bird and butterfly studies on the Grand River Grasslands, participate in the hawk watch at Hitchcock Nature Center in the Loess Hills, learn from Kalamazoo Nature Center banders during fall migration, operate a satellite banding station for Northern Saw-whet Owls, participate in Christmas bird counts and conduct a winter raptor survey. See more about Veronica on our staff page or in the Fall 2011 section below!

Kalen Brady came to Missouri Valley College on a basketball scholarship from Rolla, Missouri, but when classes commenced in the fall of 2010, he soon found his true calling was in biology. Currently president of the MVC Biology Club, Kalen is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in General Biology and Conservation Biology, as well as a minor in Chemistry. In addition to the MRBO projects, Kalen is also conducting an independent study on semi-aquatic turtles, and in May of 2013 he will be traveling to Belize for the second time to conduct research through a non-profit marine conservation organization.

Teresa Woody has been happily married to husband Joe for 32 years, and has three children and five grandchildren. She has done many things in life – worked for a shoe factory, as a telephone operator, as a mapping technician and as a civil engineering drafter. She joined the Air Force as a computer operator, and later, at the age of 37, decided to go back in the military and became an aviation tech in the Navy. Teresa intended to retire but decided to go back to school in 2009 and now has a BS in Health and Wellness. MRBO bander Brittney Cross is her daughter, and shared her love and absolute joy of the land and birds everyday with her family. Through the late winter, Teresa worked with Brittney and other MRBO staff and is now a skilled extractor assisting at the Grand Pass station.

Fall 2012 Migration Crew

Joanna Klass was born and raised in Seymour, Wisconsin and has always harbored a special interest in ornithology. Her strong desire to gain mist-netting and avian research experience brought her to MRBO in Fall 2012. Animals and the natural world have fascinated her throughout her life, and in May 2011 she obtained BS degrees in Zoology and Biological Aspects of Conservation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During her undergraduate career, she studied abroad in the rainforests of Far North Queensland, Australia through the School for Field Studies. Her research project, The Socio-Ecological Impacts of the Yungaburra Spectacled Flying Fox Colony (Pteropus conspicillatus), earned her the Distinguished Student Researcher Award from SFS faculty and staff for addressing adaptive management issues relevant to the community. After graduating, she completed a handful of internships at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, Texas, and Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas. At Fossil Rim, she participated in the captive propagation of the highly endangered Attwater’s Prairie Chicken. Future endeavors include pursuing a career in zoological management with the possibility of attending graduate school.

Everyone at MRBO was pleased to have Brittney Woody and Devin Couture remain with us for the summer!

Alexandra (“Alie”) Mayes grew up in Sedalia, MO and had a rich childhood with encouraged exploration of nature. Her parents owned a greenhouse business which gave her and her siblings free range of the woods, creek, and lagoon nearby. Turtle races, tadpole tubs, and “moss pots” were the norm of childhood fun. This early love for the natural world led Alie to a B.S. degree in Biology from UCM, and a six month Environmental Education internship with Fish and Wildlife in Fremont, CA. It wasn’t until this experience in California that her appreciation and curiosity for birds developed, leading her to MRBO. Alie pursues Environmental Ed because she wants to provide others with the connection to nature that has been so important in her own life.

Daniel Nery Cardoso was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where his love for biology started to develop in early middle school. He came to Missouri Valley College in the fall of 2008 to go to college and play basketball at the same time. He had his first experience with bird banding in the fall of 2009 when his Vertebrate Zoology class visited MRBO at Grand Pass Conservation to see the banding of shore birds. He graduated from MoVal in the spring of 2012 and this experience with the MRBO is his first of many in the biology field. Daniel plans on attending graduate school beginning in Spring 2013. After this summer with MRBO, he will be pursuing a research job with large mammals, specifically the wolverine. He also has interests in the archeology field, and in a possible future as a basketball player.

Stephanie Putnam was with MRBO from Spring 2010 to Spring 2012. She spent most of her life overseas as a military dependent, and calls Heidelberg, Germany, her home. She came to Missouri Valley College (MVC) on a wrestling scholarship and will be graduating with a B.S. in Biology in May of 2012.  She began working with MRBO with an internship at the Grand Pass CA banding station before the organization was even officially incorporate!  Stephanie has become a sub-permitted bander and independently ran the Fall 2011 Migration Station and the Fall 2011 Saw-whet Owl Station, both located at Indian Foothills. Steph spent the summer of 2011 in Indiana as a field technician banding bats through Indiana State University in conjunction with the Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment.  She is also a volunteer for the Marshall Animal Shelter where she adopted two beautiful dogs, JT and Kahoss; treasurer of the MVC Biology Club; and Fundraising Coordinator for the Coral Reef Ecology Class, a class which will take students to Belize in May of 2012 to conduct research through a non-profit marine conservation organization.

Devin Couture joined MRBO for the Spring 2012 field season and conducts our daily point counts as well as helping with mist-netting. Devin grew up in Olathe, KS. He developed a passion for nature through his family and activities such as hiking, camping, and fishing. Throughout his childhood he spent a lot of free time reading field guides and soaking up as much information as he could about wildlife. He earned a BS in Wildlife biology from Pittsburg State University where he focused on ichthyology and ornithology. Through his coursework he developed a passion for birds and began to venture out birding regularly and began to dabble in a bit of bird photography. In his free time he enjoys activities such as wildlife photography, mountain biking, hiking, and going birding with his brother Justin and his father. He hopes his passion and the passion he has seen from workers here at MRBO will spread and help increase awareness and appreciation for the natural world around us, and the creatures that live within it.

Estephy Sabin joined MRBO for much of the spring migration season. Her love for nature started when she was very young as a product of her father’s interest in gardening and bird-watching.  Her parents gave her a book about backyard science when she was 10, and she decided at that moment that she wanted to be a naturalist. In high school  Estephy volunteered with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor sea turtle nesting beaches where she lived on Guam.  After completing a B.S. in Environmental studies with minors in Biology and GIS from Montreat College in Asheville, NC, Estephy’s first job out of college was a wildlife internship at Arches National Park in Utah, where she conducted raptor and songbird studies and volunteered on a search-and-rescue crew.  She is currently pursuing an M.S. in Biology at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, and will graduate in December.  Estephy joins MRBO for spring migration on all of her weekends, and also volunteers at the Wild Bird Rehab in St. Louis.

Ryan Davis with a Mourning Warbler

Fall 2011 Crew
Ryan Davis grew up in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, where his passion for wildlife grew out of his constantconnection with nature. He attended North Carolina State University and earned a B.S. in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology with a minor in Forest Management. Though he originally intended on focusing his studies on reptiles and amphibians, Ryan ended up working on several bird projects while an undergraduate, which fostered his interest in ornithology. He has worked on several projects monitoring endangered species, including the Red-cockaded Woodpecker in North Carolina and the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher in Nevada. He has also worked as a species inventory biologist and as an undergraduate researcher. Ryan is currently searching for a graduate position where he can study birds and in the meantime is working on temporary wildlife technician crews. Despite his extensive experience with birds, Ryan didn’t have any official banding experience until joining MRBO. It was an excellent opportunity for him to become proficient with this technique, and his position here has also encouraged his interest in environmental education and community outreach, areas which he had previously never thought of and in which he is quite talented.  

Spring 2010 – Summer 2011 Interns and Assistants
Aaron Stelker, (in photo Spring 2011) with the first Summer Tanager to be caught at Grand Pass since 2009. Aaron worked with us from March 2010 to July 2011, and headed the very productive MAPS project in Summer 2011.

Chris Gobin graduated from Missouri Valley College in May 2010, and has since disappeared into the wilds of Canada! He assisted us at Grand Pass on many mornings, and spent countless hours building shorebird noose-mats.

Gavin Clark worked with us for several months at the Spring and Fall Grand Pass field stations before graduating from Missouri Valley College in December 2010. We still hear from him occasionally and keep asking him to return!