Meet the Women Conservationists and Scientists of Audubon Great Lakes

Members of the Great Lakes team look back on the women that inspired them and share advice with the next generation of women conservationists.

This International Women's Day and Women's History Month, we are celebrating some of the incredible women on our team leading conservation science, advocacy, and engagement work across the Great Lakes Region. Hear about their journeys entering the field, the women that inspired them, and advice they have for other women seeking careers in conservation and the sciences. 

Michelle Parker

Michelle Parker, Vice President and Executive Director of Audubon Great Lakes collects native grass seeds in a green field.
Michelle Parker, Vice President and Executive Director of Audubon Great Lakes collects native grass seeds at Spring Creek Preserve in Illinois. Photo: Michelle Parker/Audubon Great Lakes

"While with Shedd Aquarium, I was given the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Dr. Wangari Maathai. I chattered away as we walked the galleries, so proud of the organization and our work. Upon leaving, Dr. Maathai – who had won the Nobel Peace Prize just one year prior - took my arms, looked into my eyes, and said: “You give me hope.” 

Twenty years later, I regret not recognizing the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to humbly follow and listen to this world-renowned woman. Instead, she followed me, asked me questions, and laughed at my stories. By doing so, she taught me a precious lesson:

  • Listen with delight to young people bubbling over with energy for their passion.
  • Truly look at what they want to show you and find the magic that they see there.
  • Tell them they matter. Because they do. We all do.

In honor of International Women’s Day, I encourage you to tell a young woman in your life that they inspire you. May we find energy, magic, and hope together."

Since joining Audubon Great Lakes in 2020 as the Vice President & Executive Director, Michelle Parker oversees the Audubon Great Lakes staff in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, leading Audubon's field offices and directing on-the-ground conservation, policy, and education efforts across the region. 

Prior to joining Audubon Great Lakes, Parker spent nearly two decades as a conservation leader in the Great Lakes region. Most recently, she led the environmental and disaster response programs with the Crown Family Philanthropies. Additionally, she spent 12 years leading Shedd Aquarium's Great Lakes Initiative in the role of Vice President of Great Lakes and Sustainability. 

Izabela Grobelna

Izabela Grobelna, Engagement Manager with Audubon Great Lakes, stands and smiles at a podium as she facilitates a workshop at the Audubon Leadership Conference.
Izabela Grobelna, Engagement Manager with Audubon Great Lakes, facilitates a workshop at the Audubon Leadership Conference. Photo: Juliet Moderow/Northwest Illinois Audubon Society

"I am thrilled to be working in the environmental conservation field as a woman at the intersection of conservation and policy engaging our network of Audubon chapters, volunteers, community scientists, land stewards, and advocates in the shared mission of protecting birds and the places they need.

I stand on the shoulders of women anthropologists who mentored me and with whom I worked closely early on in my career at The Field Museum and Chicago Cultural Alliance who keenly intertwined their careers with conservation and social sciences.

My work at Audubon as the Engagement Manager working with our chapter and volunteer network allows me to draw on my experience with Chicago’s culturally diverse neighborhoods and heritage museums along with listening and synthesizing skills I developed conducting fieldwork on the perception of climate change, exchanging stories with Chicagoans of many walks of life.

If I could give one piece of advice to women wanting to enter this field, it would be to find mentors -- it truly goes a long way!"

Izabela Grobelna joined the Audubon team in 2018. As the Engagement Manager, Grobelna works at the intersection of policy and conservation to activate the Audubon network on climate action across the region. Grobelna's past professional experience spans urban ethnography on climate change, community organizing on immigration rights, and arts and culture administration. 

Stephanie Beilke

Stephanie Beilke, Senior Manager of Conservation Science with Audubon Great Lakes, snaps a selfie while in the field. A wetland and blue sky are in the background.
Stephanie Beilke, Senior Manager of Conservation Science with Audubon Great Lakes, visits an Illinois wetland. Photo: Stephanie Beilke/Audubon Great Lakes

"At Audubon, I am grateful to be able to work with many extraordinary women scientists every day and I learn so much from the wisdom and leadership that they generously share. As a woman in science, it’s incredibly important to me to help uplift the voices of other women whenever I can. I know from experience how powerful it is to see women leading the way and how that can inspire the next generation of women seeking careers in the sciences. If you’re a woman looking into science careers, my advice is to take the time to reach out to other women doing the work you see yourself doing someday. I’ve found that making connections is key to making your dreams come true! " Witnessing a diverse migratory flock of warblers visit the yard of her childhood home in Green Bay inspired Beilke to become a passionate birder and conservationist.

Stephanie Beilke joined the Audubon flock in 2017. As the Senior Manager of Conservation Science, Beilke has followed her passion by leading marsh bird monitoring projects to inform coastal wetland restoration across the Great Lakes states, while engaging community scientists and Audubon chapters. 

Sarah Saunders

Dr. Saunders is a quantitative ecologist at National Audubon Society and is based out of her home office in Grand Rapids, Michigan

"I have been fortunate to have had several strong female mentors throughout my scientific career. Many of my ecology and biology college courses were taught by women, all of whom encouraged me to pursue graduate school. There, my advisor Dr. Francie Cuthbert exemplified what it means to be a field biologist and inspirational leader of species recovery efforts. My postdoc advisor, Dr. Elise Zipkin, taught me how to be an empathetic mentor to fellow women in the field – including how to be both a successful researcher and an engaged mother. I am forever grateful for the opportunities and the advice these women have given me along the way, and strive to do what I can to give back to future generations of women hoping to pursue careers in the biological sciences."

Dr. Sarah Saunders joined National Audubon Society in 2018. Residing in Michigan, Dr. Saunders specializes in projects focused on the Great Lakes region. Her work includes modeling occupancy and abundance trends of marsh birds, which allows Audubon Great Lakes conservation staff to better understand how birds respond to habitat management actions over time. Dr. Saunders also assists in development writing to further regional conservation efforts. Her research on the NAS Science Team centers on integrating data types to better understand the drivers of population change for rare and declining species, as well as revealing how geographies are connected across the hemisphere by movements of migratory birds.

Fiona McCarthy 

Fiona is the Stewardship Engagement Coordinator at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center in Columbus, OH.

“I am grateful to work at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center alongside an all-woman staff. Being surrounded by women who are equally devoted to conservation and environmental education is incredibly empowering. I feel very lucky to work in an environment that uplifts women in science.

As I have pursued a career in conservation, I’ve received valuable guidance and advice from other women in the field. Notably, as I was studying environmental literature in my pursuit of a BA in Environmental Studies I found inspiration in my professor as she instilled in us the importance of hope in a field that is so often driven by despair for the future of the natural world. She introduced me to Rachel Carson, my favorite historical leader in conservation, and many other female authors who I credit for helping me find my place in the environmental field.”

Fiona McCarthy is the Engagement Coordinator, Stewardship at Grange Insurance Audubon Center and joined the Grange team in 2023. McCarthy's work focuses on conservation projects including the Native Plant Backyard Challenge, Lights Out Columbus, and research with the center’s MOTUS tower. 

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