Q & A with Shareholder Employees

A Conversation with Mamie Karmun, Akima's Manager of Shareholder Programs

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


Intern season, says Mamie Karmun, is "my 70 days of pure bliss!" Mamie Karmun, a NANA shareholder originally from Deering, manages shareholder programs for Akima. Mamie, center, is surrounded by some her current and past interns. Front row:  Preston Lyons, Jeslyn Wieland, and Catherine Dunleavy. Back row: Frank Dayo, Royal Harris, Alvin Morris, Mason Evans, Mamie Karmun, Kenny Pooton, Petra Gregg, Cheryl Adams, Elsie Woods, James Mills, and Aja Mann.


What is your Iñupiaq name?                                             

Ataŋana. I was named after my mom, Mamie Karmun. I’m listed as “Mamie Karmun II” in shareholder records. I’m “Mamie Jr.”

What is your current job?

I’m the manager of shareholder programs for Akima. I work in our Herndon, Virginia office. (Akima is a NANA holding company that serves the federal and commercial sectors.)

What are your main job responsibilities?

I work closely with our human resources (HR) recruiting staff and our operating companies on shareholder hire, to ensure that shareholder hiring goals are met. One way we reach shareholders where our companies have contracts is to host career fairs.

I also manage our summer intern program. Shareholders who are attending college can gain real work experience—with one of Akima’s government sector companies or in our shared services departments (HR, IT, Finance, etc.).

I also coordinate Akima’s participation in the BWISE program. (BWISE stands for businesses working in school environments.) We bring experts to our four partner villages (Buckland, Selawik, Noorvik, and Kiana) to offer educational activities to school-age children. For the past few years, we’ve brought a scientist to the schools from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where we have a contract. The kids get to participate in hands-on science experiments. (See the video. http://bit.ly/1U97Nr2)

Where are you from?

I was raised in Deering by my paternal grandparents, Alfred and Mamie Karmun, who adopted me. I left Deering when I was 14, to go to boarding school in Nome.

What is your first memory of NANA?

I remember my mom and dad sending in my application for enrollment in NANA. Coincidentally, that was also my first memory of obtaining a social security number.

I also remember when NANA leaders came to the region to talk with shareholders about merging our village corporations with NANA. (In 1976, villages in the region, except Kotzebue, approved a merger with NANA to reduce administrative costs. After the merger, if a shareholder held 100 shares in NANA and 100 shares in their village corporation, they owned 200 shares in NANA.)

What do people ask when they find out you are from (Deering) Alaska?

They ask me if it’s cold and dark all the time.

What was your first job?

My first paid job was helping out my brother Gilbert at his grocery store in Deering. The store sold everything: food, coffee, Sailor Boy crackers (qaqqulauraq), and candy. Gil nicknamed me Chuck because I liked the jelly candy, Chuckles.

What was it like, growing up in Deering?

We lived a subsistence lifestyle. Before Deering got electricity, in the late 1970s, we had an oil stove for heat and a propane stove for cooking. It was like camping, but it was real life. In winter, we read a lot and lit the house with kerosene lamps and Coleman lanterns. Dad subscribed to Life magazine and the National Geographic. I read comics, when I was young, and I learned how to knit, crochet, and sew.

Life was simple. There was no rush. Just get up, go to school, do homework, play outside. We played Scrabble and Snerts. (Snerts is a fast-paced card game, sort of like Solitaire but played by several people all at once).

Who has inspired you?

My parents, Alfred and Mamie. Their formal education didn’t go past grade school, but they worked hard all their lives to provide for us. They instilled in us that you have to work hard for what you want and need.

What is your favorite memory of your mom and dad?

Every morning before school, my dad cooked breakfast for us. One day it would be sourdough hotcakes, and the next day it would be oatmeal. I still have an aversion to oatmeal. Hotcake days were always good days. Before we went to bed, we had to take turns mixing the sourdough.

My mom baked wonderful homemade bread and was a great seamstress.

What’s it like, working for NANA on the east coast?

When they asked me to transfer to Herndon, back in October of 2007, I said sure. I thought I’d just give it two years. Next year, it’ll be 10 years!

I wasn’t at all scared, even though it was first time “back east.” The farthest east I’d ever been was to Memphis, Tennessee, when my sister and I visited Graceland (Elvis’s famous home).

Two things I don’t like: the traffic and the heat. Anything above 70 is too hot for me!

What has surprised you most about working at NANA?

How much we’ve grown—from doing work for the oil industry in Alaska to now being worldwide, with over a billion dollars in revenue.

One thing that surprised me about living here is that Sailor Boy crackers are made in Virginia, but they’re not sold here. I even called the company, but they didn’t invite me to visit. That would have been nice. (Laughs.) I have to bring them back from Alaska!

What’s the best thing that has happened since you started working at NANA?

I’ve reached many milestones in my life, since I’ve started working at NANA. One that stands out the most for me, personally, is having four grandkids; you see so much potential in their growth. (Mamie’s two daughters work for NANA companies. Augustina works for Akima in benefits, and Agatha works for NMS at one of the pump stations along the trans-Alaska pipeline system.)

What are important lessons that you’ve learned?

When you make a mistake, always own up to it. You, and you alone, are responsible for your future and your destiny.

What do you like best about your job?

We have a lot of great people working hard for us, here at Akima. Many didn’t know about NANA or the NANA region until they started working for Akima. When they learn that NANA is owned by shareholders from northwest Alaska, and not some big company that makes money only for one person, it makes them want to work even harder.

I like seeing people succeed at their jobs. It’s so good to see former interns working here on the east coast—like Alvin Morris and Preston Lyons at Sava, Mike Scanlan at AID (Akima Intra-Data patent and trademark office), and Frank Dayo at ACS (Akima Construction).

For me, the best thing about summer is working with our interns. We’ll have 14 this summer. It’s my 70 days of pure bliss! We keep them busy all summer, even on weekends—with sponsored activities (like capital tours, baseball games, barbecues, and concerts)—so they don’t have a chance to get too homesick.

What tips do you have for students interested in applying for internships?

Maintain good grades. Stay focused. Keep up your computer skills, like Microsoft Excel and Word.

What advice do you have for young shareholders?

Your possibilities are endless. You have so many more opportunities than we had when we were your age. Take advantage of what life has to offer. Go and get your education. Go and see the world!

To learn more about Akima, visit their website. http://www.akima.com/


Mamie Karmun was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.