About Us

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!

Current Intern Cohort:

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Molly Winslow, Community Outreach Mentor:  
Molly just finished her first year with the UW Museology Master’s program with a focus in collections management, the ethics of collecting, and community engagement. She also works part-time at the Burke Museum of Natural History as a collections assistant in the Ethnology department. There she assisted in developing a partnership with members of the Hmong Association of Washington. The program provides a space for Hmong community members to research Hmong objects in the Burke’s collection. This offers valuable information for the museum and an opportunity for members of the Hmong community to engage more deeply with their own cultural heritage. During her undergraduate years she majored in Sociology and focused on refugee and migrant studies. She completed a thesis which addressed barriers to integration for Bhutanese refugees living in Dayton, Ohio.  Since moving to Seattle in September she’s enjoyed getting to explore a new landscape, one that’s extremely different from Ohio. Molly has a love of museums, Harry Potter, kayaking, and old taxidermy.

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Rose Thompson, Community Outreach Intern:
 Rose is a sophomore pursuing a major in Environmental Studies at Seattle University. Growing up in Colorado with a family that loved road trips, she has had the opportunity to explore countless national parks all across the country. When she moved to Bellevue, WA  5 years ago, she was struck my how the scenery contrasted that of her southwest home but recognized the beauty in each landscape. Her passion for the outdoors and being in nature drives her to protect its beauty for generations to come. Growing up, she has enjoyed exploring many national parks all over the country, her two favorites are Bryce Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Park. When she’s not working with her fellow passionate interns at Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, you can find her hiking through enchanted forests or rock formations, playing sports like volleyball or tennis, or determinedly learning pieces of music on the piano. National parks have the space and beauty to inspire anyone who sets foot in any of these refuges. Rose is excited to work with the In My Backyard interns this summer to progress toward the ultimate goal of extending resources to urban youth and expanding their access to these amazing natural preserves.



Dana Needelman, Community Outreach Intern: Dana is going into her senior year at the University of Washington, majoring in Biological Anthropology (specifically, Human Evolutionary Biology) and minoring in American Sign Language. Through the honors program, she is studying macaque (the most widespread primate other than humans) home range sizes in Singapore in relation to human demographics and registered complaints against the monkeys in order to better understand human-macaque conflict and how to resolve this conflict. Dana has always been fascinated with animals and learning about their behavior and through her studies of primates, has realized how important it is to conserve the natural environment and the wildlife inhabited within. Dana grew up in San Diego and loves anything having to do with the beach, whether that’s surfing, swimming or hiking. She loves exploring the Pacific Northwest by way of hiking and exploring the many forests and lakes both inside and outside of Seattle. Dana‘s love for the outdoors was magnified when she studied abroad in Central Europe and explored  Iceland, Scotland, Switzerland, and Italy while backpacking. Dana is the happiest when she is outdoors in the sun with people that she loves. She is excited for the opportunity to work towards sharing with others the joy she gets from being in nature.

Megan Kuehl, Community Outreach Intern: Megan Kuehl (pronounced ‘cool’) hails from Northern Arizona near the Grand Canyon, which happens to be her favorite national park, and she relocated to Western Washington in 2012. Megan recently graduated from the University of Washington in Bothell with a Bachelor’s in Society, Ethics, and Human Behavior; an interdisciplinary degree that allows for a more holistic understanding of complex social interactions. Her journey into social services began early in life and her educational path has continued to fuel her passion for social justice and human equity. Megan intends to take a year off before applying to graduate school in order to refresh and recalibrate so she can focus on narrowing down her future educational and career goals. At the moment, she is considering pursuing education, nonprofit administration and/or law. In addition to this summer internship with In My Backyard, she also works full-time at a tap-house in Snohomish, WA, where she currently lives. In her free time, Megan enjoys hitting the trail with her two dogs, sleeping in tents, climbing rock faces, gardening, volunteering, reading, and spending time with friends.
Anna Wittow, Community Outreach Intern: Anna just finished her first year at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance where she is getting her master’s of public administration with a concentration in environmental policy and management. She has a bachelor’s degree in history and in linguistics from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In Michigan she interned for an urban farming company, working to increase access to healthy food. Anna has worked for the past couple of years in Seattle encouraging kids to get involved with the outdoors. As a volunteer naturalist for Seattle Tilth at South Shore K-8, Anna worked with classes each week in a learning garden, teaching about nutritious food, and their systems. Anna spent the past two summers working with kids of all ages through the farm, garden, and outdoor program at an overnight summer camp in Arlington, Washington. Anna grew up in South Seattle and has been an avid outdoors enthusiast since she took her first swim in a glacial lake at age 2.  She is so excited to be working with the National Park Service and  In My Backyard this summer.
Amanda Hsu, Exhibit Intern: Amanda is absolutely thrilled to be a part of the Summer 2016 In My Backyard cohort. She is currently taking a year off from attending the University of Washington to establish residency in Washington state (out-of-state tuition isn’t cheap!). She recently completed her Sophomore year, majoring in Environmental Science and Resource Management with a focus on Restoration Ecology and Environmental Horticulture. She hopes to one day become a Restoration Ecologist, and potentially a National Park Ranger! Amanda works at QFC where she is a Cheese Steward—cooking with, eating, and sharing the deliciousness that is cheese with the Ballard neighborhood. In her spare time Amanda really enjoys volunteering with EarthCorps to help restore Seattle’s beautiful parks and further her passion for environmental restoration. When she’s not surrounded by cheese or covered in dirt, you can find her at a brunch place trying the local fare, getting way too attached to a random neighborhood cat, or breaking a sweat at the gym. With that being said, she is beyond excited for this summer with the IMBY team! Let’s get to work!
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Menno Sennesael, Exhibit Intern: Menno has just completed his junior year at the University of Washington studying geography. As a Belgian-American dual citizen, Menno grew up in Europe and relocated to Southeastern Idaho in 2004. At the University of Washington, he has been involved with the Washington Public Interest Research Group working on voter access and campaign finance reform along with other public interest issues. He is also the President of Husky Winter Sports, a student run, non-profit ski and snowboard school at the Summit at Snoqualmie. His passion for public lands grew when he moved to the West. On trail runs through the hills of his backyard, during scrambles and climbs in the alpine peaks of the Tetons, and in the desert warmth and solitude of the Southwest, Menno found thrills and his identity through adventure and time spent with family, friends, and fellow recreators in our public lands. He is excited and proud to be working on this project where he gets to poke as much stoke for outdoor discovery as possible, from backyard adventures to National Park epics.

Team Support:

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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!