Q & A with NANA Employees

A Conversation with De'Andra Harris, Lead Onboarding Administrator, NANA's Commercial Group

This is part of a series of interviews to learn more about our diverse employees throughout the NANA family.

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De’Andra Harris first joined NMS at the front desk as a two-week temp. Five years later, she’s the lead onboarding administrator, often processing over a hundred new hires a week. Photo by Craig Billingsley.

 

Where did you grow up?

I was raised in Yakutat and Hoonah, then graduated from Bartlett High School (in Anchorage). My mom is Tlingit and Aleut. I’m Tlingit, Aleut, Filipina and Spanish. I’m a Sealaska shareholder. (Sealaska, one of the corporations created by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, is headquartered in Juneau.)

I’ve never been to Yakutat.

I miss home. If I could drive there, I’d go back every weekend. (Yakutat is remote, along the Gulf of Alaska about midway between Anchorage and Juneau.)

We have beautiful beaches: cold water, but white sand. People from all over the world, from as far away as Australia, come to Cannon Beach to surf. (Outside magazine named Yakutat one of the five best surf towns in America.)

What was your first job?

Babysitting. It’s a cliché. [pause]

The summer I was 13, I worked in my aunt’s café in Seward. My dad’s family settled in Seward in 1903, a year before the town officially was founded.

Seward’s fun in summer.

We played all over. At seven, I started climbing Mt. Marathon. They had to send the Coast Guard once to find us. I don’t think I could make it to the top now. (Every Fourth of July, since 1915, runners race straight up the mountain and back down.)

What brought you to NANA?

I started as a temp at NMS, working the front desk. It was meant to be a two-week stint, but I stayed on as an executive assistant (to interim NMS President John Rense) and helped orchestrate the consolidation of our offices. Then Dana T. brought me into HR at NMS. (Dana Tuimalealiifano is currently NANA’s senior director, total rewards & compensation.)

Who has inspired you?

Definitely Patty. (Patty Hickok is the senior director of employee relations, HRIS & HR operations.) My desk is near hers, so I get to hear her thought process. She’s an HR goddess.

My stepfather also inspires me. I was 10 when he became my stepdad and, of course, I gave him a hard time. When I was a teenager I realized he was funny, nice and phenomenal. “Wait a second. This man is amazing!’

He’s undergoing treatment for Stage IV brain cancer. He named his tumor “Doug.” After he had open-heart surgery, he completed the FBI’s “Yellow Brick Road.” (It’s the final test of a 10-week-long, grueling training program for law enforcement managers from every state.)

What important lessons have you learned?

Growing up, I was taught to respect my Elders. If you see an Elder with groceries, you carry them. You walk behind them. You speak only when spoken to.

My parents demonstrated a great work ethic. My stepdad was the chief of police in Hoonah and the director of public safety out in Dutch Harbor. He’s been the interim director and chief investigator of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. My mom worked for NMS in accounts receivable. Now I’m proud of my children’s work ethic. My 20-year-old daughter is a daycare teacher at Alaska Regional Hospital. My 21-year-old son is a kitchen helper at Prudhoe Bay.

What do you like best about working at NANA?

When I tell people where I work, they say, “You get to work in that NANA building?” Yes I do!

I love that people bring seal oil to work. We live in the city, but we still share Native food. My parents keep a traditional smokehouse in their backyard (in east Anchorage).

What do you like best about your job?

For the size of the corporation, we’re such a small department within HR. Besides Patty, I work with Craig Billingsley and Kristine Couse. We have a great dynamic. We work hard and have fun, but it can be high stress. It’s a balancing act, trying to keep everyone happy—the hiring managers and the job applicants. We manage to do it though.

I love my job. I know that (through onboarding) I’m helping improve somebody’s life. When they’re cleared to work, they’re able to make money for their families.

What advice do you have for job applicants?

Read the job description carefully. Fully understand the requirements: fit for duty exams, drug tests and background checks. Realize that mistakes you make when you’re young can affect your life.

What would someone be surprised to learn about you?

I’m a blue-eyed Indian. My family belongs to the Raven clan. (Tlingit people are born into their identity through a matrilineal clan system. Raven and Eagle are two major clans.) When I was a baby, my mom set me down on the beach so she could pick some wild strawberries. Just when an eagle swooped down to grab me, a raven came out of nowhere, distracted the eagle and saved my life.

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De’Andra Harris was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation