Kelsey Johnson, Program Director/Founder: As the founder and director of In My Backyard, Kelsey brings her experience as a current youth and volunteer coordinator with the National Park Service and passion for sharing the outdoors to supporting and strengthening the program. She is an 14-year veteran of the NPS, with experience in interpretation, education, and cultural and natural resource management. Kelsey has worked in seven different national parks, including the National Park of American Samoa, Olympic National Park, San Juan Island National Historical Park and Oregon Caves National Monument. She is passionate about youth engagement with public lands and making change within the NPS to be a more inclusive and equitable place to work and experience. 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. She loves her rescue dog and kittens and can found most weekends exploring the outdoors and playing with the pets. Learn more about Kelsey and how she became a park ranger!
Jimi Hightower, Program Assistant: Jimi 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 worked at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park as a Student Conservation Association Centennial Volunteer Ambassador Intern and continued 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!
Chanara Andrews, Park Ranger Intern: Chanara came to Klondike Gold Rush NHP in the summer of 2017 through a competitive Greening Youth Foundation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities internship. She had just finished her first year at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. Her goal for her internship was to foster a sense of belonging in the parks among youth, particularly youth of color and those from underserved communities. Many people in and out of the National Park Service have recognized the overwhelming whiteness of national parks and identified programs targeted at youth as the best way to change this. By teaching an appreciation of national parks at a young age, they want to inspire a new generation of visitors and leaders. Chanara agreed, but wanted to approach the problem from a more holistic angle: people need to feel comfortable in the parks before they will visit them, no matter how many beautiful postcards they see. Thus, A Place at the Park (a very intentional riff on A Seat at the Table) was born. Chanara is currently continuing to earn her undergraduate degree at Spelman College.
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!