Published: August 5, 2020

Tomorrow’s Leaders Start Here

Ylanda Wilhite, Youth & Community Partnerships Organizer, Keller Science Action Center


I’ve seen firsthand the impact of youth programs at the Field. 

 Ylanda Wilhite at a protest in downtown Chicago. She wears a facemask and a Field Museum shirt while holding up a t-shirt that reads, “If you can breathe, vote!”

At the Field, Ylanda Wilhite connects local organizations like forest preserves and park districts with neighboring schools to conduct onsite science and environmental education. She answered some questions about the Field's youth programs and shared how she got to where she is today.

What neighborhoods and schools do you hail from?

I grew up in a military and governmental family so we were always traveling. Because of that, my educational experiences range from school districts in Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, and Louisiana. However, the core of my family is from the South Side of Chicago, within the Englewood and Roseland neighborhoods. While attending school in Illinois, I graduated from Plainfield South High School in 2007, Illinois State University with a BA in Anthropology and Spanish (2011), and Louis University with a MA in Organizational Leadership (Concentration: Not-For-Profit Management) in 2013.

How did you get involved in youth programs at the Field? 

My involvement initially started as a volunteer in the education department's The Crown Family Playlab in 2009 while attending Illinois State University. From there, I was able to obtain a part-time job with Guest Relations and an internship in what was then known as the ECCO (Environment, Culture, and Conservation) Department, now known as the Keller Science Action Center. During my volunteer and internship days, I was exposed to several communities within Chicago that I previously had no affiliation with, such as Pilsen and the Southeast Asian community. My exposure to these communities encouraged me to apply for Illinois State University's Study Abroad Program to Peru in 2011.

Ylanda Wilhite, wearing a facemask, holds two large bags full of face shields that are ready to load into a car behind her.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Ylanda and other Field staff helped deliver face shields to the city of Gary, IN, and the Dunes Learning Center.   

JP Brown

How have you used what you learned to shape your career?

Understanding the importance of language was a major realization for me. I had never been in a location where I heard so many different languages in one place...Spanish, English, Portuguese, African dialects, Native American languages, and more....all in a single day. 

I begin to understand the power of communication (verbal and nonverbal) and how to consider cultural norms within basic conversations. Now, as the Senior Partnership Coordinator and Mighty Acorns coordinator, this is what I do. I read verbal and nonverbal body language while communicating with partners and coworkers to find methods of approaching difficult conversations. Because of this, I am more well-rounded and open-minded to finding solutions for all parties involved.

Why do you recommend the Field's youth programs?


My internship took me all over the city and exposed me to different people, languages, and food that I was unaware of. Taking the train to the American Indian Center opened my eyes even more to Chicago’s untold history, and I’ve been learning more about disadvantaged groups in the Chicago area.

What do you enjoy about nature? 


I have a love for native plants and cultural histories for how people use local plants to meet their everyday needs.

Ylanda Wilhite
Youth & Community Partnerships Organizer, Keller Science Action Center

Ylanda is the Senior Partnership Coordinator on the Keller Science Action Center's Chicago Region team. She fosters positive connections to nature, trains the next generation of conservation leaders, and builds the capacity of the Field Museum and its partners to best support future leaders within formal and non-formal educational institutions.