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Rising Stars: Meet Kaylee Uland

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kaylee Uland. 

Hi Kaylee, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
In 2016, I took a job in Kansas City as a Healthcare Case Manager working with mainly Spanish-speaking migrant farmworkers even though I had never before been to Kansas City or worked as an interpreter. I liked the idea of doing a job I had never heard of– never even knew existed– and working with and learning from immigrant communities. Further, it was a job that would cater to my varied interests– rural and urban, office and field, early morning clinic appointments, and late-night outreach events. As I navigated that new path, I also worked on the side helping to grow an online human rights organization, The 88 Project, which I co-founded in 2012 while an undergraduate at Indiana University. The Project advocates for freedom of expression in Vietnam and shares the stories of those who are persecuted for their peaceful activism. 

As a younger person, I had always struggled to decide between the variety of topics and career paths that interested me. It was only many years later that found I out that can be at least partially attributed to my ADHD. Over time, though, I realized that careers, hobbies, and life, in general, don’t have to be an either/or or an if/then situation. Once I stopped trying so hard to fit my interests into neat boxes, I found opportunities that encompassed many of my interests at once. I allowed myself to structure my life in a way to make time for two very different jobs without worrying about the fact that they weren’t both clearly marked along the same tidy path leading to what our society calls a “career.” I just did the jobs because I genuinely enjoyed them both. 

I have no doubt that the opportunity to pursue multiple passions at once had always been there, but I hadn’t always had the correct perspective needed to find it. 

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
After years of exploring if I had OCD or an anxiety disorder, in winter 2019-2020, I was finally diagnosed with depression. I had never considered I was depressed, but when I expanded my definition of what depression could look like, a lot of facets of my life started making more sense. Soon after, I also found out I have ADHD. And in the fall of 2020, I found out I was pregnant. I knew my priorities would change as my pregnancy advanced, so I began scaling back my working hours. I also decided that I would not go back to work full-time after having my baby. That decision was really identity-shifting for someone who had worked about 55-60 hours/week for the past several years. I had to face the realization that my relationship with work was not always healthy, no matter how much I enjoyed my jobs overall. I wanted my son (and my own postpartum healing) to come first, and everything else could follow. It’s been almost five months since my son was born, and I am happy to say I’ve been able to keep both my jobs in my life, on a part-time basis, while learning how to be a full-time mom. I credit my friends and partner for normalizing mental health and for pushing me to advocate for myself and a nontraditional working arrangement, and I am grateful to my bosses, who understood that it was important to my identity for to me to stay involved in both projects but also not overwork myself. Becoming a mom has definitely shown me more of the positive side of my neurodivergence, like the hardcore brainstorming that accompanies my ADHD. I feel like that trait helped me to think about unique options for work schedules to create a better work-life balance!

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I have worked for over five years as a Healthcare Case Manager for the Migrant Farmworkers Assistance Fund. I’ve interpreted for hundreds of medical appointments, spent countless hours on the phone with clinics and hospitals, and seen firsthand how the healthcare system can simultaneously fail, bewilder, and inspire patients. I assist clients in navigating the entire healthcare process, from initial consultation to final follow-up. There’s inherently a power dynamic at play in my relationships with my clients, with me as a white woman, who has never done farm work, working in the mainly Mexican farmworker clients. I wanted to do the best I can for the people I serve. Sometimes it’s hard to know what that is. I listen to the clients and to my team. I feel honored to do the work I do, to spend time with people when they are often in very difficult places in their lives, like receiving a life-changing diagnosis, and when they are experiencing the most uplifting joys, like the birth of a child. 

In 2012, I helped found The 88 Project. I am in charge of data collection and processing for our Database, which is the only searchable, English database of Vietnamese political prisoners. I am proud that our work provides concrete statistics and facts about arrests, trials, and prison conditions that international advocacy groups can use in their work to press for human rights improvements. Our data was even cited in the UN resolution. In just nine years, we’ve gone from three volunteers to a team of over ten part-time and contractor staff. 

Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?
Go to events, and don’t be afraid to comment/message (if in-person stuff isn’t your thing). Don’t worry about doing it the best way possible– just do it. Ask questions, and defer to those who have been there/are doing it.

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