Dr. Kathayoon Khalil

| Areas of Expertise

Evaluator, Educational Researcher, and Conservation Social Scientist

| Born

Portland, Oregon

| Currently

Seattle, Washington

| Favorite Quote

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies – God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

– Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

| Job Title

Principal Evaluator at the Seattle Aquarium & Adjunct Professor of Biology, Miami University of Ohio

| Degree

Masters of Environmental Science, Yale School of Forestry; Ph.D. in Education with a focus on Learning Sciences and Technology Design, Stanford University.

| Increasing empathy for all animals is my passion.

| Biography

I grew up on a farm outside of Portland, Oregon, and it’s easy to say that my environmental ethic was ignited by running around in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. But really, my passion for environmental conservation was discovered at the Oregon Zoo, where I worked on and off for thirteen years as a ZooTeen, Camp Educator, Coordinator, Intern…the list goes on. What I saw at the zoo was the power of education and engagement for getting people interested in wildlife, and eventually motivating them towards environmental behavior. The more I interacted with people at the zoo, the more I started wondering about the pathways that led people towards and away from pro-environmental action. I also wondered about our own conservation field and our capacity to make data-driven decisions and act reflectively to improve our practice. My current research at the Seattle Aquarium is on the role of empathy in fostering conservation behavior. In my job, I can be evaluating a program at our aquarium one week and traveling to Brazil (or Baja, or Belize, or Mongolia) to teach graduate students about community-based conservation the next. I love the variety of experiences we get to have in our field and the meaningful work we engage in every day!

| Snorkeling with the largest fish in the ocean.

| Challenges

The people who have tried to stop me often didn’t understand my vision. I had a professor in undergrad tell me that I “wasn’t fit for graduate work.” And for the more traditional fields of research she was used to, that might have been true. But I found a path, mentors, and schools that understood and supported what I wanted to accomplish. There’s always a way!

| Emotional Story

When I was 14 years old, I started volunteering at the Oregon Zoo as a ZooTeen volunteer. Over the next four years, the program became my heart and soul. I treasured every day that I got to be on grounds, hanging out with other ZooTeens and teaching people about animals. Despite these amazing experiences, though, I followed the advice of many of the trusted adults in my life and enrolled in a government and economics program at a liberal arts college with the intention of one day being a lawyer. My last day as a ZooTeen was the day before I left for college. After my last shift, I stayed behind to clean up our common area and as I locked the door to the volunteer room for the last time, the weight of the last four years flooded over me. I realized that my life would never be the life I wanted if I left that day and never came back. I didn’t know what that meant, or what it would look like as a career, but the next day I went to college and changed my major to biology. It was without a doubt the most influential moment of my life and I have no regrets!

| Conservation Tip

Conservation isn’t actually about animals so much as it’s about people – in your conservation work, include diverse voices and listen to what they have to say. Get people involved.

| Advice

1. Say yes to anything that feels remotely right, even if it scares the hell out of you.
2. Be yourself. Be yourself. Be yourself.
3. Never give up. When it gets hard, find a different approach. There’s a million different ways to accomplish your goals, so don’t get too attached to one path.

| If You Could Be Any Animal, What Would You Be?

I’ve always answered, “Elephant” or “bar-headed goose,” but honestly I think I’d just love to be my cat, Catniss. Girl has a good life.

| Contact

Social: Twitter/Instagram: @kathazra and @otterandink