Our Team

Team Leaders:

Kelsey Johnson, Program Director/Founder
As the founder and director of In My Backyard, Kelsey brings her experience as a current park ranger with the National Park Service and passion for sharing the outdoors to supporting and strengthening the program. She is an 11-year veteran of the NPS, with experience in interpretation, education and cultural and natural resource management. Kelsey has a Master of Science degree in Resource Management from Central Washington University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism/International Studies from Western Washington University. Her graduate research project entitled, The Elwha River Restoration: Landscape Change, Salmon and Sense of Place, analyzed stakeholders perceptions of landscape change and their connections to natural resources, such as salmon. While earning her graduate education, Kelsey was a University Fellow Participant in the CWU WATERS Program – a National Science Foundation funded project that focused on science communication and integrating environmental research topics into local, under-served schools.
Learn more about Kelsey and how she became a park ranger!


Jimi Hightower, Program AssistantJimi has been involved with In My Backyard since the summer of 2014. Initially, she was a volunteer for the program as a mentor, assisted in taking photos and documented the growth of In My Backyard. As of June 2015, Jimi has worked at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park as a Student Conservation Association Centennial Volunteer Ambassador Intern and will continue to work with In My Backyard. Jimi earned a Bachelor of Arts in History from Southeastern Oklahoma State University and a Master of Arts in Museology from the University of Washington. Her master’s thesis entitled, Trailblazing the Concrete Jungle: Museums Utilizing Interpretive Nature Trails in Urban Communities, highlighted the benefits of incorporating interpretive trails to supplement environmental education. 
Read more about Jimi and find out where her favorite museum is!

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Alicia Raftery, Community Outreach Mentor: Alicia graduated from the University of Washington in June with a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Comparative History of Ideas. She was an In My Backyard intern in winter and summer 2015, and is excited to be back on the IMBY team in a mentorship role. Alicia is passionate about environmental and social justice, design and creative arts, and youth education programs. This summer she looks forward to building on past cohorts’ work to support the intern team’s creation of tangible and meaningful programming.

Current Intern Cohort:


Erin Savoy, Community Outreach Intern: I am a student at Seattle University studying Environmental Studies, Biology, and Spanish. I grew up in Reno, NV, Jacksonville, FL, and Portland, OR. Daughter of high desert dwellers and avid outdoors people, I spent my childhood outside, learning to hike, backpack, camp, and explore with my parents and two younger sisters.

I have passion for learning about the biology of the natural world, but also the ecology of our intertwining evolution, connections, and histories. I wish I could spend every day taking walks, observing animals, and identifying plants! I also love reading and drawing. I particularly like to draw the morphology of plants and animals. Another strong passion I have is for music. I spend every second I can of every day listening to a wide variety, from Blues and Jazz, Grunge, Punk, to Death, and Thrash metal. My absolute favorite band and influence is Fleetwood Mac. I learned guitar early on, but now focus on playing the drums with my friends, and in a band.

I became more intrigued with the history of National Parks during my freshman year of college, in the same class that made me decide to pursue Environmental Studies. I began to understand how we conceive of wilderness, and the process by which we started to protect some of the most beautiful places, while simultaneously erasing the residents of those places. While having a contentious history, the National Park Service has served to protect natural areas, but also important historical sites, monuments, and wilderness protection areas. This protection of the collective American heritage, history, and natural beauty is what I hope to contribute to the stewardship of nature and the world around us, by becoming a Park Ranger. This is why I am very excited to have the opportunity to work with In My Backyard this summer, to work to try to make this collective heritage available to everybody.


August Franzen, Community Outreach Intern: I’m a senior at the University of Washington studying English and Environmental Science. I was born in Seattle but spent most of my childhood in Pittsburgh and moved back to Seattle for college. Every afternoon after school, I would walk the trails of a park near my home. These afternoons spent on and off the trails ignited my love of nature in an urban context. Through my studies, I hope to reunite people with the nature that they see every day: the trees beside the street, the little park down the road, and the creek under the bridge. I believe that these small places can be ecologically valuable and emotionally restorative. Eventually, I would like to use restoration and urban agriculture to fight for environmental justice. I’m excited to be a part of the IMBY team and start connecting youth with their everyday environment. I also work as a technician at the Kelly Ethnic Cultural Theater. I love cooking, especially baking bread, and there is almost always dough rising in my kitchen. Whenever I can find a couple of spare hours, I go straight to the climbing gym and would love to finally hit some outdoor boulders this summer.


Mattie Powell, Community Outreach Intern: I am a senior at the University of Washington pursuing my Bachelors in Landscape Architecture with a minor in Environmental Science and Resource Management. Born and raised in Spokane, Washington I grew up exploring and running wild through the pine forests of the Inland Northwest where I developed a deep love for the outdoors. Recognizing the impact the natural world has had on my own becoming, I am interested in exploring other people’s relationship to nature and how their experiences or lack thereof have influenced their personal lives, their participation in society, and their views of the world. Having previous experience as a housekeeper, floral designer, and toddler teacher, I look forward to my next adventure: working with the IMBY team for a few short months. Over the summer I am also taking a Landscape Architecture studio at UW where I will work with colleagues and a local artist to create a design plan for City Hall Park.  In my spare time I hope to spend some time on the water and exploring all Seattle has to offer.


Aaron Nordman, Community Outreach Intern: I was born and raised outside of Seattle, and moved into Capitol Hill five years ago to begin undergrad at Seattle University. From there, I graduated in 2016 with a BS in Psychology and Environmental Studies, and, after working on a research project for a Global Health startup, went right to the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance at the University of Washington to start my Masters this past year. I’m extremely excited to get into this second (and final) year of the program and dive into my specialization in Environmental Policy and focusing my courses around social justice and ethics! Within the Evans School I also serve as the VP of Programming for the Partnership for Community & Diversity (PCD). I’m also interning in Sustainability for King County! Among many other things, outside of work and school I enjoy playing soccer and hiking. I also enjoy leisure reading (it’s nice to pick up a book that hasn’t been assigned to me every once in awhile) and I’m especially interested in topics of social justice, sustainability, ethics, and mental health!


Megan Young, Community Outreach Intern: I am going into my final year at the University of Washington, majoring in Landscape Architecture with a minor in Urban Design and Planning. Originally born in Utah, I’ve lived in four different states, having settled in with my most recent move to Arizona. Loving the warm weather Arizona has to offer, I’m able to consistently do outdoor activities I enjoy. Since I was five years old, I’ve been playing soccer and thrive working with a team. Other activities I love include swimming, basketball, tennis, softball, ceramics, photography, and graphic design. Chloe and Gertie are my two Miniature Schnauzers in Arizona; I absolutely love dogs. In addition to this summer internship with In My Backyard, I also work for the Seattle Mariners, running around with Mariner Moose all game! When I’m not working or doing schoolwork, you’ll find me playing sports, eating, reading fashion magazines, and hanging with family and friends! I’m very excited for this opportunity with the National Park Service and working with the In My Backyard program alongside a great group of people.

Team Support:


Amanda Hsu, Program Mentor: Amanda started as an Exhibit Intern with In My Backyard in the Summer of 2016 where she designed the prototype for the mobile park, and is thrilled to be back with the intern team! She is originally from sunny Southern California and moved to the Pacific Northwest three years ago to pursue her undergraduate degree at the University of Washington. After two years at UW she decided to take a year off to gain Washington State Residency and will be returning to UW this upcoming Autumn. As a rising junior, she will continue her studies in Environmental Science and Resource Management with a focus on restoration ecology. Amanda hopes to apply her degree and transcend her role with IMBY to one day become a National Park Ranger. In her spare time, you can find Amanda outdoors admiring plants (with Pojar & MacKinnon in hand, of course!), planning her future tiny house on wheels, or serving delicious pastries at Larsen’s Bakery in her Ballard neighborhood.

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Rachelle Urquhart, Teacher:
 Rachelle teaches AP US History and Honors English at Eastlake High School and is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher. As the 2013 Teacher-Ranger-Teacher for the National Park Service, she worked closely with Kelsey to create several lesson plans, including a problem based learning project. Her class worked closely with Kelsey and other rangers to connect the NPS to the urban community, thus, laying the foundation for Kelsey’s In My Backyard Initiative. Rachelle is a University of Washington Adjunct lecturer for the University of Washington in the High Schools Program. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Ethnic Studies, focusing in African American Literature with Minor in Law Society and Justice from UW. Her passion for multicultural education and diversity of social justice pushed her to earn her Master’s degree in Teaching from UW with the intent to make positive change in her community through the education of others. In 2012, Rachelle earned the Teacher Recognition Award from the US Presidential Scholars Program.

Leila Mirhaydari, Program Mentor:
 Leila has been involved with In My Backyard since the summer of 2014. She began as a visitor center volunteer at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, shortly after joining the In My Backyard team as a mentor. Assisting with the documentation and professional growth of the interns through photography and short videos, she also enjoys being a great reference and point of support. Leila earned her Bachelor of Science in Natural Resource Science from Washington State University. Leila has a great affinity for wildlife, leading her to choose a degree in Wildlife Ecology. She hopes to continue inspiring others to enjoy and cherish the natural world around them.
Read more about Leila and her journey!