Teaching ecology is my passion

I challenge students to think creatively and critically in answering questions about nature. My research interests are in behavioral ecology and conservation biology.

I am also a birder, a sometime vagabond, and a connoisseur of fine pastries.

Olga Milenkaya, Ph.D. (please call me Olya)

Teaching

I empower students to engage with course content in a way that builds knowledge and competencies, rather than just memorizing facts. My curricula emphasize creative and critical thinking, science literacy, and communication skills for the sciences.

I teach upper-level and introductory courses in biology, and have done so in a variety of contexts: as an Assistant Professor at a small liberal arts college, as an instructor at a community college, and as a teaching assistant at a large research university.

Instructor of Record at Young Harris College (2015–present)

Courses for Biology Majors

Intro to General Biology I + Lab

Intro to General Biology II + Lab

Conservation Biology + Lab

Ecology + Lab

Vertebrate Zoology + Lab

Animal Behavior

Independent Study: Captive Animal Biology

Special Topics: Ornithology

Courses for Non-Science Majors

Organismal Biology + Lab

Ecological & Environmental Studies + Lab

Intro to Environmental Studies & Sustainability

Instructor of Record at Laredo Community College (2014)

Biology for Science Majors I + Lab

Biology for Science Majors II + Lab

Biology for Non-Science Majors I + Lab

Graduate Teaching Assistant at Virgina Tech (2008–2013)

Lab Courses

Ornithology Lab

Principles of Biology Lab

Guest Lectures

Avian Mating Systems, Avian Conservation, Life

History, Population Biology, Conservation

Selected teaching evaluations

“Thank you for incorporating scientific articles into the courses that you taught me. …I feel so prepared for [my current graduate class] because of the background knowledge that you taught me.”
“[Olya] made the class relevant.”
“This is by far one of my favorite classes…fantastic!
“[Olya] keeps students engaged. She is a fair grader and has a lot of concern for students.”
“This class refined my discussion skills because Dr. Olya would do evals during our discussions and she would give us feedback that I found to be very helpful.”
“[Olya] made an intense impact on how I think and interact with the world around me.”

Teaching philosophy

My goal is to develop critical thinkers that will be able to answer the big questions in both science and society. To this end, I create a learning environment where students:

(1) have agency over their education which is coupled with high academic standards,

(2) develop the skills needed to independently interpret science, and

(3) understand how knowledge is formed through the scientific method.

Mentoring

I mentor undergraduate students in research, capstone projects, grant-writing, professional development and academic advising. Perhaps just as impactful are the countless hours of informal chats that I have with students on a daily basis about wildlife, career goals, new sustainability initiatives on campus, strategies for studying, and life’s shenanigans.

I mentor undergraduate students throughout the entire scientific process for their biology research projects, including literature review, experimental design, fieldwork, data analysis, writing and presentations. All of my mentees have gone on to present their findings at regional or national conferences. I have also mentored several students during their Honors Program independent research projects and one student for his Sustainability Minor capstone project. I also serve as a Faculty Accountability Coach for student athletes who need additional support to improve their academics.

Research

My current research at Young Harris College utilizes 100 bird boxes that we have deployed on campus and in our community. Carolina chickadees and other small, cavity-nesting birds use these boxes every spring, making them excellent study subjects on the evolution of avian behavior. I am using predator models, a handful of GoPro cameras and many hours of video to test hypotheses about the birds anti-predatory behaviors. Results are coming soon!

Peer-reviewed publications

Somaweera, R., Lilley, R., Putra, A., Ganz, P., Govendan, P.N., McKay, J.L., & Milenkaya, O. 2018. Additions to the herpetofaunal diversity of the Island of Bali, Indonesia. Sauria 40(1): 75–86.
View publication

Kindel, J., Legge, S., Milenkaya, O., & J.R. Walters. 2018. Male-male pair bonding, nesting and egg incubation in a wild passerine. Journal of Ornithology. 159(1): 307–309
View publication

McKay, J.L., Marantelli, P., & O. Milenkaya.  2017. APALONE SPINIFERA (Spiny Softshell). Herpetological Review 48(1): 121.
View publication

McKay, J.L., & O. Milenkaya. 2016. Stegonotus batjanensis: diet. Herpetological Review 47(2): 316–317.
View publication

Milenkaya, O., & J.L. McKay. 2016. Observation in the Wild of the Poorly-Known Varanus yuwonoi. Biawak 10(1): 13–17.
View publication

Milenkaya, O., Catlin, D., Legge, S., & J.R. Walters. 2015. Body
condition indices predict reproductive success but not survival in a sedentary, tropical bird. PLOS ONE. 10(8): e0136582. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0136582
View publication

Catlin, D., Milenkaya, O., Hunt, K., Friederich, M., & J. Fraser. Can river management improve the piping plover’s long-term survival on the Missouri River? Biological Conservation 180: 196–205.
View publication

Milenkaya, O., Legge, S., & J.R. Walters. 2014. Body-condition indices are repeatable across short, but not long, time periods in crimson finches Neochmia phaeton. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 87(4): 550–558.
View publication

Milenkaya, O., Weinstein, N., Legge, S., & J.R. Walters. 2013. Variation in body condition indices of crimson finches by sex, breeding stage, age, time of day, and year. Conservation Physiology 1: doi: 10.1093/conphys/cot020.
View publication

Milenkaya, O., Legge, S., & J.R. Walters. 2011. Breeding biology and life history traits of an Australasian tropical granivore, the Crimson Finch Neochmia phaeton. Emu 111(4): 312–320.
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Maurer, G., Double, M.C., Milenkaya, O., Süsser, M., & R. Magrath. 2011. Breaking the rules: sex roles and genetic mating system of the pheasant coucal. Oecologia 167: 413–425.
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Hall, M.L., Murphy, S.A., Churchwell, R., & Milenkaya, O., 2010. Interspecific feeding across feeding guilds — male purple-crowned fairy-wren feeds nestling crimson finches. Corella 34: 49–50.
View publication

Doody, J.S., Milenkaya, O., Rhind, D., Eastley, T., & K. Penrose. 2010. Varanus mitchelli (Mitchell’s Water Monitor) diet and foraging behavior. Herpetological Review 41: 233–234.
View publication

Conference & seminar presentations

* Mentee, undergraduate student

Dunn, L.*, McKay, J.L., Aviña, L.M.*, & O. Milenkaya. 2018. Carolina chickadees (Poecile carolinensis) increase nest visitation rate in response to a novel predator, the house wren (Troglodytes aedeon). Poster presentation, Wilson Ornithological Society, Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA.

Muldoon, M.M.*, & O. Milenkaya. 2018. Population-level response of Carolina chickadees to the expansion of house wrens in Appalachian Georgia. Poster presentation, Georgia Academy of Sciences, West Georgia University, USA. Travel award

Aviña, L.M.*, McKay, J.L., Dunn, L.*, & O. Milenkaya. 2018. Parental anti-predatory behaviour of Carolina chickadees (Poecile carolinensis) based on clutch size manipulation. Poster presentation, Georgia Academy of Sciences, West Georgia University, USA. Travel award

Cochran, E.E.*, McKay, J.L., Aviña, L.M.*, Dunn, L.*, & O. Milenkaya. 2018. Variation in structural nest properties and their effects on reproductive success in Carolina chickadees. Poster presentation, Georgia Academy of Sciences, West Georgia University, USA.

Dunn, L.*, McKay, J.L., Aviña, L.M.*, & O. Milenkaya. 2018. Evolution of anti-predatory behaviour among Carolina chickadees (Poecile carolinensis) in response to a novel predator, the house wren (Troglodytes aedeon). Poster presentation, Georgia Academy of Sciences, West Georgia University, USA.

Milenkaya, O. 2017. Validating body condition indices as
indicators of individual quality: Does condition explain intraspecific variation in reproductive success and survival among crimson finches (Neochmia phaeton)? Invited seminar presentation at Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina, USA.

Milenkaya, O. & J.R. Walters. 2013. Testing the condition-quality hypothesis: is body condition a meaningful proxy for individual quality? Invited seminar presentation at Radford University, Radford, Virginia, USA.

Milenkaya, O. & J.R. Walters. 2013. Testing the condition-quality hypothesis: condition indices are repeatable but do not predict reproductive success or survival. Oral presentation, Wilson Ornithological Society Meeting, Williamsburg, Virginia, USA.

Awarded Alexander Wilson Prize for best graduate student oral presentation.

Milenkaya, O. & J.R. Walters. 2012. Condition indices among Crimson Finches are repeatable but do not predict reproductive success or survival. Oral presentation, North American Ornithological Conference, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Milenkaya, O. & J.R. Walters. 2012. Interpreting condition indices as individual quality: a cautionary tale. Poster presentation, Virginia Tech Research Day, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA.

Milenkaya, O. & J.R. Walters. 2012. Condition indices do not predict survival in a wild passerine. Poster presentation, Society for Integrated and Comparative Biology Annual Meeting, Charleston, South Carolina, USA.

Milenkaya, O. & J.R. Walters. 2011. Variation in avian health parameters across age, sex, year and breeding stage. Poster presentation, Virginia Tech Research Day, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA.

Milenkaya, O., Legge, S., & J.R. Walters. 2010. Life history and the evolution of clutch size in a tropical granivore. Poster presentation, International Ornithological Congress, Campos do Jordão, São Paulo, Brazil.

Milenkaya, O., Legge, S., & J.R. Walters. 2009. Breeding biology and life history traits of a tropical granivore, the Crimson Finch. Oral presentation, Australasian Ornithological Conference, Armidale, New South Wales, Australia.

Dissertation

Milenkaya, O. 2013. Validating body condition indices as indicators of individual quality: does condition explain intraspecific variation in reproductive success and survival among crimson finches (Neochmia phaeton)? Ph.D. thesis. Department of Biological Sciences. Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA.
View dissertation

Crimson Finch Project

My Ph.D. research was a joint project between Virginia Tech and Australian Wildlife Conservancy, conducted from 2007–2013. See the project archive for details.

Contact me

Olga Milenkaya Ph.D. 
Assistant Professor of Biology
Young Harris College
1 College Street, Young Harris, GA 30582 USA