MRBO Staff

The Missouri River Bird Observatory is currently operated by the MRBO founders, an Education Coordinator, a Field Project Leader, and a Conservation Science Communicator, as well as assisted by seasonal technicians and interns.

Dana Ripper – Co-founder/Director

Dana DukeDana is a native of Illinois but moved to Hong Kong with her family at a young age and attended elementary and middle school there. She chose to return to her hometown of Naperville where she received her bachelor’s degree in biology at North Central College. Although she earned the 1998 “Biology Student of the Year” award, Dana missed her commencement ceremony as she was already off pursing her career with a posting at Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario, Canada. Already it was evident her focus would be avian ecology and conservation.
In 2000 Dana enrolled at Arkansas State University to obtain her Master’s Degree in Wildlife Biology. Her thesis on habitat use by Hairy Woodpeckers in western Washington State took her again to the top of class and awards.
The move to Missouri in 2008 was a pivotal point in Dana’s life. In a very short time she established a relationship with the Missouri Department of Conservation. Her early work at Grand Pass in conjunction with MDC served as the foundation for the founding of MRBO.
Anyone who has the opportunity to meet Dana will immediately feel her passion for avian conservation. She will enthuse on her vision for research and monitoring of bird populations; not just for the sake of knowledge in and of itself but for the purpose of putting that knowledge to work to save declining bird populations across the state and beyond.
Dana is particularly enthusiastic about MRBO’s Education Program: “There is no way we will ever be able to conserve anything if people don’t know or care about it. Birds are great ambassadors for conservation. I’ve seen people who seemed afraid of even the smallest of birds but once a colorful wild bird is held in a hand just inches for their peering eyes, they become enamored and want to become a part of this beautiful world that we call nature.”



ethEthan Duke – Co-founder/Director
The rural northern Appalachia area of western New York State offers a wealth of biodiversity and it was here that Ethan grew up and experienced a childhood surrounded by many of the wonders that nature had to offer.
Four years in the service of our country as a member of the US Air Force took Ethan overseas. While there, he began bird watching in earnest.
Upon returning to the States, Ethan earned his Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management in 2006 from the State University of New York at Cobleskill. During these and the following years he also gained invaluable knowledge for his work at MRBO.
Extensive experience in research and monitoring of several avian species, including Pileated Woodpeckers, Veerys, Cerulean Warblers, American Redstarts, Wild Turkeys, and grassland birds, was gained across the United States.
His years of experience gathering data for universities as well as state and federal agencies for conservation programs became an important feature in the founding of MRBO.
One of Ethan’s fortes is avian vocal communication or more simply put, bird songs. He willingly shares his thoughts on this, “There is something about listening to a bird sing that I will never grow tired of. Birds are such an enjoyable medium through which MRBO can connect with people and this enables us to employ a seamless integration of research, education and conservation.”
Ethan has developed a state-of-the-art data collection workflow that has led to MRBO being able to compile the most comprehensive bird dataset of spatially explicit locations of birds using Missouri’s most imperiled habitats.



Marlee Dodson – Operations Assistant

Marlee is originally from north-central Illinois where she grew up until she moved to Missouri for college. Her love for the outdoors began as a young girl bird watching, foraging for wild mushrooms, hunting, fishing, and camping with her dad. Marlee received her B.S. in Science from the Missouri University of Science and Technology in 2016.  

She spent the last 7 years working with endangered pallid sturgeon for the United States Geological Survey. Marlee started as MRBO’s Operations Assistant in March of 2022. She enjoys all things outdoors and conservation and has a small farm with her husband just north of Sedalia, Missouri.

As Operations Assistant, Marlee helps coordinate every aspect of MRBO’s work! 


Laura Semken – Education Coordinator

Laura was raised in Kansas City, Lee’s Summit, and on a farm on Little Blackwater Creek. As a kid she could be found in a tree, in the creek, smelling wildflowers or on her bike. Not much has changed. 

Spending time in the woods, prairies and water led to an art degree from the University of Kansas and then toward a passion to share her love of nature with children. In 2001 she began leading bird hikes and mushroom forays at a wildlife camp in Iowa. In 2011 she went back to school and earned a Masters of Science in Environmental Education and Interpretation from the University of Wisconsin in Stevens Point. Since then she has been the assistant director for the Iowa Raptor Project, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer for Missouri River Relief and a naturalist working for the Louisa County Conservation Board in Iowa. And now she is here, ready to continue connecting kids, and all folks, with nature. Ready to develop the Arrow Rock Nature School, and coordinate bird adventures that lead to stewardship action.

Tessa Poolman – Kansas City Community Conservation Educator

Tessa is a true Kansas City native, growing up just north of the river. Since she was young, Tessa has felt a strong connection to nature and extreme compassion towards wildlife. She recently graduated from Pittsburg State University and now holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology with an Emphasis in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. During her academic journey, Tessa’s commitment to the field of conservation was evident through her active involvement as a member of the executive council of the Wildlife and Fisheries Society at Pitt State for two years. She gained practical experience working for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks at the Southeast Kansas Nature Center, enriching her and others understanding of local wildlife and nature. 

With a deep love for her hometown of Kansas City, Tessa is excited to use her knowledge and expertise to connect people of all ages with nature through immersive experiences. Her passion for learning drives her to continuously seek out new information and insights about conservation and biology. Through her role with Missouri River Bird Observatory, Tessa hopes to inspire others to appreciate and preserve the nature around them.