“Meet a Mentor” With Olya Weekley!

Nov. 15, 2023
A mentor sitting outside with trees in the background.

Photo taken by Jonathan Horst, of Olya Weekley getting ready to band Lucy's Warblers in order to study their natal distribution.

Tell us a little about yourself, your community (however you define it), and your current professional role.

My name is Olya Weekley and I'm the Applied Conservation Project Manager at Tucson Audubon. I lead the Desert Nestbox and Bird-safe Buildings programs as well as other community science projects. At Tucson Audubon we encourage our community to enjoy and protect birds through recreation, education, conservation, and restoration of the environment upon which we all depend.

What was an early experience that inspired your values or interests in this kind of work?

Growing up in Ukraine I was always outside: playing with my friends, collecting little trinkets, and going on long exploration walks with my grandma. I loved animals as early as I can remember so I, of course, decided to be a veterinarian when I grew up. One day someone mentioned that being a vet is not just cuddling cute animals, it's also seeing them during some of their hardest times. That got my little kid brain thinking. When it was time to select a college major I picked Wildlife Conservation. I realized that I could help animals in the habitat they already occupy, ensuring their wellbeing in the future.

What education or experiences helped prepare you for this role?

I got a Bachelor's of Science in Wildlife Conservation and Management as well as a GIS graduate certificate from University of Arizona. After taking an Ornithology class I discovered how rich and beautiful Arizona bird life is. Following a rejection from one internship, I discovered the one at Tucson Audubon and I'm so grateful it's the one that actually worked out. This internship grew to be a full-time position on staff. For the last 8 years I got to explore some of the best hidden gems of southeast Arizona, see amazing rare birds and contribute to the conservation efforts in this important migratory flyway. I wouldn't have it any other way. 

What are some pros and cons of your job?

I love my job. It's a perfect mix of office and field work so you never get tired of either one. Non-profit work can be difficult when trying to find funding for the projects you care about and summer heat can be pretty brutal but a bad day outdoors still beats a good day in the office.

What’s a common misconception people have about your work? Any myths you’d like to bust?

Tucson Audubon is sometimes seen as a recreational birding club but we do so much more. Many don't realize that we also restore habitat through invasive plant management; educate kids and adults about conservation issues and solutions; partner with federal, state and local agencies in important on-the-ground efforts and, most importantly, build a community of conservation advocates.