Q & A with Shareholder Employees

A Conversation with Carolyn Smith, Director of Opearations, NANA Development Corporation

This is part of a series of interviews with NANA’s shareholder-employees.


Carolyn Smith, a NANA shareholder originally from Kotzebue, is the director of operations for NANA Development Corporation. She has been with NANA for nearly 19 years.


What is your Iñupiaq name?

Aluniq. I was named after my great-grandmother, Jenny Mitchell, who came from the Kobuk area.

What is your position?

Director of Operations for NANA Development Corporation.

How many years have you been with NANA?

Eighteen, almost 19, years. It goes by fast!

What are your main job responsibilities?

I oversee all aspects of our 909 building, as well as the Benson building and Annex (in Anchorage). I handle any remodeling or renovation issues. I manage the real estate databases of leases for all NANA properties and subsidiaries, enterprise-wide.  I develop operating and administrative budgets. Additionally, I maintain a calendar for NDC board meetings and other related events.

What is an example of a recent project?

When we moved to our 909 building, the objective was to create an environment where people can perform at their best. It needed to be a space to accommodate the latest technology. It needed to be secure and convenient.  It was my job to plan out the details (with the architects and designers) so that people could adjust easily to the new space. We considered everything—from the placement of computer monitors to the overall design. Sometimes it’s the things you can’t see that make a difference.

Where are you from?

I’m from Kotzebue. My parents were Art and Marie (Mitchell) Fields. My dad was raised by his grandparents, Tom and Molly Berryman. My mother’s parents, Gordon and Leela Mitchell, were from Noatak. We have a large extended family on both sides, the Fields and Mitchells.

What was your first job?

I grew up working. In my family, we always had chores to do. My father was entrepreneurial, just like his grandparents, who were merchants.

One of my father’s businesses was a gold mining operation. The mine was upriver, above Kiana. To get there was a trek. We flew in Dad’s small plane to Kiana, then boated to the landing on the Squirrel River, then rode for 10 hours on a sled pulled by a tractor. Eventually, my dad built a runway at Klery Creek.

My mom fed the mine’s crew breakfast, lunch and dinner. My two sisters and I washed dishes, chopped wood, and helped Mom in the cookhouse. Once we did those chores, we could help out at the gold dredge. Our favorite part was working on the flume, keeping it clear. If we weren’t fast enough, rocks would pile up and water would splash everywhere. This was fun—especially on hot days—like running through a sprinkler.

What is your first memory of NANA and of being a NANA shareholder?

When enrollment began (after the Land Claims Settlement Act was passed), I was attending college in Fairbanks. I remember talking with other students from Kotzebue about which corporation we’d enroll in, since we had a choice. In my mind, there was no question that I would sign up with NANA.

Where did you study or train?

When I was a teenager, 10th was the highest grade level you could complete in Kotzebue. My sister and I moved to Anchorage to finish high school. That flight out of Kotzebue was my first in a jet; it wasn’t as much fun as riding in a small planes, swooping here and there.

After graduating from West High, I attended Sheldon Jackson College for a semester. But Sitka was small and too far from home, so I transferred to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where I earned an associate degree. Then, in Anchorage, I acquired a bachelor’s degree in organizational management at Alaska Pacific University (APU) and a master’s in business administration (MBA).

Have you had other jobs within NANA?

My first job with NANA Corporate was in the BP building. After that, I transferred to the HR department (human resources). About five or six years into working for NANA, I started our shareholder development program. Then, after obtaining my master’s degree in business, I moved over to operations.

Who has inspired you?

Other than my parents?

In summer, Eskimo dancers performed for tourists at Kotzebue’s old Wien Hotel. Other kids and I peeked through the window and watched the dancers: Charlie and Lucy Jensen, Alvin and Virginia Shagloak, Paul Green, and Chester and Helen Seveck.

My favorite dancer was a tall, thin Elder named Saġainik. She wore a cloth atikłuk, not a fancy fur parka, like some of the others, but she was so elegant. She Eskimo-danced as if it were her sole purpose in life. She put everything she had into the dance. Everything else disappeared.

Tell us about someone who has inspired you to work at NANA.

When we moved to Anchorage, my husband Jeff suggested that NANA might be a place for me to work.

Before I accepted an airline job, I interviewed with Joe Mathis, at NANA Development, and was offered a higher-paid position. Our corporation had grown and there were opportunities at NANA to learn and grow.

What has surprised you most about working at NANA?

NANA has evolved into a global company.

What is the best thing that has happened since you started working with NANA?

Work and training opportunities are available, especially for shareholders.

What do you like best about your job?

I like the variety. Things come up daily. Every day, there are new problems to solve.

I appreciate that I’ve been able to travel to see our projects around the country. For example, we visited Lawrence Livermore (science lab) in northern California, where we have a staffing contract, and Fort Carson (army installation) in Colorado, where one of our companies maintains those large, heavy (MRAP) vehicles used in Afghanistan.

What are your strongest beliefs about what you do?

I want our shareholders to succeed and grow. I like the fact that our grandchildren, when they are ready, will have career opportunities (with NANA).

What advice do you have for young shareholders?

Get an education. Keep moving forward. Go beyond your fears. Believe in yourself and what you can do.

What do you want people to know about NANA?

It’s a great company to work for. Career opportunities are here. NANA stands by the values of our culture. One example of that is giving back to our Elders (through the Elders’ Settlement Trust).

What is the best news you’ve heard lately?

This summer, one of my granddaughters attended ANSEP’s middle school academy. She came out of the program and announced that she’s going to be involved with ANSEP through college.

ANSEP is the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program at the University of Alaska. It began as a scholarship program for Alaska Natives studying science and engineering. NANA is an ANSEP partner and some of our shareholders are ANSEP alumni.

Kotzebue was the first school in ANSEP’s summer bridge program—for high school students to gain experience through an internship and to enroll in a college-level math course. I’m proud to say I had a small role in getting the program into Kotzebue schools.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

Two things.

Once, I jumped out of an airplane. On the Fourth of July in Kotzebue, a man with a plane was offering tandem skydives. There was a moment when the plane was circling up when I thought, “What am I doing here?” Floating back down to earth was so quiet. It was like the sound volume had been dialed down to zero.

The other thing is that I serve as a JBER (Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson) Honorary Commander for the 176th Medical Group. 


Carolyn Smith was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.