Q & A with Shareholder Employees
Anchorage, AK February 8, 2017
A Conversation with Janelle Anausuk Sharp, Environmental Technician, WHPacific Inc.
This is part of a series of interviews with NANA’s shareholder-employees.
Janelle Anausuk Sharp, a NANA shareholder, is an environmental technician for WHPacific, contracted out to NANA’s resource department. Photo by Chris Arend.
What is your Iñupiaq name?
Anausuk. My mom named me after my aana’s mom (my great-grandmother).
Where is your family from?
My mom, Suzanne (Mendenhall) Sharp, grew up in Kotzebue. Her mom (my aana) is Ida Curtis, used to be Mendenhall. Aana was born in Deering and raised around there. My dad, Timothy Sharp, was born and raised in Jefferson City, Missouri and moved to Alaska in the ‘80s.
What is your job?
I’m an environmental technician. I work for WHPacific (an engineering company owned by NANA) and I’m contracted out to NANA’s natural resources department.
What are your job responsibilities?
My projects include environmental remediation. We figure out how extensive the contamination might be, then we clean up and monitor contaminated sites.
Where are the projects?
One site on NANA land is Bornite, north of Kobuk. (Bornite has been explored for copper since the 1950s.) More recently, Trilogy Metals (formerly NovaGold) is exploring there for copper, zinc and gold.
Another site is the old Utica gold mine near Candle. The mine began operating in the early 1900s. Candle was the headquarters of the Fairhaven mining district. It was once a bustling spot. Aana’s dad (my great-grandfather) had a claim at Utica. So, it runs in the family, right?
At Bornite, equipment may have leaked hydrocarbon waste, and petroleum and diesel products were discarded, so the soil was excavated and treated. Contaminates at Utica were from mercury and petroleum products.
What’s the remediation process?
NANA works to clean up the sites. We fertilize the soil to increase microbe activity. And we use nitrogen phosphorous. The soil regularly gets tilled to degrade hydrocarbons.
Twice a year, we visit the sites, after the thaw and before freeze-up. We get there before and after the drilling season, staying out of anyone’s way.
Where did you study or train?
I have a bachelor’s degree in chemistry with a minor in math from the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA). In high school, I had an awesome chemistry teacher; we did cool, hands-on stuff. At ANSEP, I was the only chemistry student at the time. (ANSEP is the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program at UAA.) I think I’m the last chemist to graduate from UAA. (Due to budget cuts, the program has been shut down.)
I wouldn’t say it was easy, but I’m mathematically and analytically inclined and I have a lot of drive. When I start something, I have to finish it. Now, while working part-time, I’m tutoring and taking a statistics class. It keeps my brain fresh. I’ve applied to a master’s degree program in geology, through the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
What is your first memory of NANA?
I have a five-year-old, so I think about that question from his point of view. When we drive, he points out the building. “There’s NANA.”
When I was little, my mom took us to the Friends Church (in Anchorage), where I met a lot of people from the NANA region. They became my extended community.
Who has inspired you?
My mom was the first in her family to get a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s. Getting an education was ingrained in me. My parents expected me to go to college.
Halfway through college, I had a kid. There was no way I could quit. I needed a good job to support him. He became my main motivator. I put my butt in gear (to study), so I could spend time with him.
What was your first job?
My very first job, the one I got on my own, was with the Green Connection (a horticultural and landscaping service). I was laborer, working outside, rain or shine. I took care of flowers all over Anchorage. I did that on-and-off for three years, starting in high school and halfway through college.
The first summer out of high school, while still working at the Green Connection, I was also an intern at DOWL/HKM (then a NANA company). I worked in a dirt lab, where soil and dirt are tested to determine their content and whether their composition would be a good foundation for houses, or could be used as gravel for runways.
The second summer, I had another dirt job, working for Sivunniq Inc. (now part of WHPacific). At Fort Greely, I gained field experience at a contaminated site, doing flow remediation and environmental cleanup.
My favorite kind of job involves getting caked-on dirty all the time. There’s a saying, “There are two kinds of jobs. The ones where you shower before going to work and the ones where you shower after.” I prefer the jobs where you have shower after.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I get to spend time in the region. Ever since I started college, it was a goal to go up there.
In Deering, we gathered local knowledge on puvlak. (Puvlak is the Iñupiaq word for bubbles trapped under the ice.) The bubbles are methane seeps, either hydrothermal vents or microbe degradation of plants. They’re caused by the degradation and thawing of organic material, and the secretion of methane from the bugs that eat the organic material. We were told that kids used to scratch the bubbles with the blades from their ice skates, light a match over them, and sometimes singe their eyebrows.
What advice do you have for younger shareholders?
You have to push yourself. It’s going to be miserable and hard sometimes. Put your head down and finish it. Just do it. Keep working.
A big part of my academic success came from tutoring others. At ANSEP, I was a recitation leader, helping students work through math and science problems. When they got stuck, I’d help them, since I’d already passed the class with a good grade. Helping them reinforced what I’d learned. Plus, the group learning environment was fun.
Make connections, not just with other students, but also with teachers and professors. Reach out when you need help. Professors tend to have a soft spot for students who take the initiative to ask for help. When you’re working, find mentors in the field, people who’ve been in the industry for a while. Form bonds with people around you.
Why did you want to work at NANA (for a NANA company)?
In college, most of my friends were engineers. They got jobs at BP and Conoco Phillips. The jobs at NANA were more related to my studies and fieldwork.
At Sivunniq, I had great mentors (in the field). It was a dynamic working environment.
Having an awesome boss whom you greatly respect is really valuable. I’m lucky. I have two of them. My bosses (Melissa Becker at WHPacific and Lance Miller at NANA) have put a lot of faith in me. From the start, they had me working on actual projects. And Lance shows that he really values our work.
What important lessons have you learned?
Don’t be late, especially for a flight. I was invited to go up to Kotzebue to talk to middle and high school students about my college experience, and I missed the early flight. When they met me at the school, the teachers and counselors said, “Oh, you’re the one who missed the jet.” You don’t want to be that person.
Janelle Sharp was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.