Q & A with NANA Employees

A Conversation with Patty Hickok, Senior Director of Employee Relations, HRIS and HR Operations for NANA Development Corporation

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

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If you look at Patty Hickok’s business card, you’ll see a lot of letters after her name: SPHR, GPHR, SHRM-SCP. All those certifications reflect her dedication to education, training and development. She’s one of only a dozen HR professionals in Alaska to hold both the SPHR and GPHR certifications, and was the first Alaskan to get the SHRM-SCP certification. Photo by Craig Billingsley.

 

 Where are you from originally?

I’m from Mazatlán, México, which is a big tourist destination. Before coming to Alaska, I worked at a beach resort, which also employed foreigners. That’s where I met this guy from California who is now my husband.

How did you end up in Alaska?

A girl from Eagle River (near Anchorage) also worked at the hotel. She and my husband were good friends. He always teased her by asking, “When are you going to hook me up with a job in Alaska?” When she got back up here, she told him, if he was serious, to come up now. “It’s summer. There are lots of jobs in tourism.”

The plan was for my husband to work here for just one summer. I tagged along on a tourist visa to experience Alaska. That was 22 years ago!

Why did you stay?

We stayed with our friend’s parents. Her mother encouraged me to go to immigration to inquire about a work permit. Turns out, I met all the requirements for a green card. On the same day I got my green card, I got a job at UAA (the University of Alaska Anchorage). I started as a bookstore clerk. It was supposed to be a temporary job, stocking books on shelves. I ended up working at the university for eight years—eventually becoming the accounting supervisor, the bookstore’s No. 2 job.

Why did you leave UAA?

I only left because I wanted to work full-time in HR. You have to go where you can expand your wings.

I had just completed my master’s degree in business administration, but I was willing to pursue any opportunity to get my foot in the door, so I took a job as an HR coordinator with Chenega Corporation (an Alaska Native village corporation). The eight years I was there were amazing. It was a period of remarkable growth, which meant I had plenty of opportunities to learn and advance within the organization. I learned more in those eight years than many people learn in a lifetime in a regular HR job. When I left, I was an HR director.

At some point, I figured that in order to continue to advance, I needed a fresh start elsewhere. I wanted to work for another Native corporation. NANA was at the top of the list of companies recommended to me by people in the know.

What was your first job at NANA?

In 2011, I was hired as the director of HR process improvement. After that, I became the director of employee relations and HRIS. (HRIS stands for human resource information system. This encompasses a variety of automated solutions in the HR cycle.)

What’s your current job?

Now, I’m the senior director of employee relations, HRIS & HR operations.

What do you like best about working at NANA?

Every day at work, I can see and live NANA’s mission of providing opportunities for shareholders. I love coaching and mentoring others, especially shareholders, because they are NANA’s future. If I can have a positive impact on their development and growth, I figure I’m not only doing something for those individuals, but also for the future of NANA.

As a volunteer with Junior Achievement, I was able to travel up to the NANA region, which was a great experience. Because of my accent, the kids asked, “Why do you speak funny?” When I told them where I was from, they said, “Wow! I’ve never met someone from México.” Then they kept asking me to say, “Hasta la vista, baby!”

Another important aspect for me is culture, and the Iñupiaq culture is very similar to mine. We share a lot of values—respect, sharing, being true to who we are, and the importance of family. I can relate to the familial relationships at NANA very well, since I also have a big extended family.

Where did you go to school?

I have two associate of arts degrees, one in general studies and the other in occupational safety and health, a bachelor’s in business administration, and a master’s in business administration. I finished three degrees within five years, all from UAA. I started with my associate’s degree, since I thought that was an achievable goal. Then I kept going.

Where did you find the encouragement to go back to school?

At my first meeting with an associate dean at UAA, he asked me about my education. I told him I had always thought about going back to school. He said, “Well, why don’t you?” It was one of those aha moments. Through my job at the university, I had free tuition. I was able to transfer a ton of credits that I accumulated during my seven years at two different colleges in Mexico. All it took was that one question, and it’s been nonstop for me ever since. Once I found my motivation and drive, the doors and windows and everything opened up.

What were you like as a student?

I was the perfect child and student. Really, I always did well and was highly disciplined. But things changed when I went to college in México. I had other priorities that were way more fun than school, and I blew that opportunity. I felt like I let my parents and grandparents down.

When I went back to school (at UAA), I was a different person. I had the right priorities and motivation. I believe that everything had to happen, even the detours, for me to become the person I am now. To learn from your mistakes is the best way of learning.

Who has inspired you?

My grandmother. She was an elementary school teacher and has always been big on education. The talk was always where, not if, we were going to college. Her goal was for all her grandchildren to get a college degree, and we did! My degree came much later than it was supposed to, but she was here to see it! I went a step further and got my MBA, becoming the first, and the only grandchild, to get a master’s.

We lived next door to her, so I spent a lot of time with her. She gave me advice and positive reinforcement. She told me I was smart, I was the best, and there was nothing that I couldn’t achieve.

I grew up in a loving, supportive environment. My parents also obviously played a key role. They led by example. They were committed, reliable, dependable, loving, and caring. They raised four great kids.

What lessons have you learned?

Recognize what’s important to you.

Let your words, behaviors and actions demonstrate who you are. Your actions will determine your opportunities.

HR is my passion. Like the saying goes, choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.

What advice do you have?

My grandmother’s advice is still the best. Never stop learning, and that includes personal and professional development.

Keep up-to-date on what’s going on in the world, in the country, in the state, and in your community. Do your part in making this a better community—and world.

Be humble, respectful of others, and thankful.

What are you grateful for?

I’m thankful for all the guidance I’ve received in this country from people who didn’t really know me. Their encouragement helped me reach levels I never thought possible.

I’m grateful for having great mentors throughout my career. The last three years at NANA have been the best because of Sandy West’s leadership and mentoring. (Sandy is the senior vice president of HR). Her business acumen, experience and knowledge are out of this world. It really motivates me to continue to learn more, to get better. I tell her that when I grow up, I want to be like her.

She’s very development-oriented and that cascades down from our department to all the companies we support through our programs.

You’ve been honored by the academic community. Please tell us more.

I teach an undergraduate course in strategic human resource management, a graduate-level course in HR management, and the HR management course in the Alaska Native Executive Leadership Program at Alaska Pacific University (APU).

In April, I received the Exemplary Teacher Award for APU from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. I was surprised and honored. (The national program awards faculty who have demonstrated exemplary teaching, service to students beyond the classroom, and commitment to education at United Methodist-related colleges and universities.)

In 2015, the UAA Leadership Fellows Program named me Mentor of the Year. (The program matches business leaders with graduate and senior-level undergraduate students.)

As if that’s not enough, what else do you do when you’re not working or teaching?

I volunteer for Friends of Pets as their Facebook page co-manager and at various community events.

In 2003, I helped establish a Safe Haven for Pets of Victims of Domestic Abuse. It’s a community partnership between Friends of Pets and Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC). When their owners enter the AWAIC shelter, the pets can be assured a safe, temporary home. It’s the only program of its kind in Alaska and one of the things I’m proudest of. (To learn more about Friends of Pets, click here.)

I’m on the board of the Anchorage Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Alaska SHRM State Council, and the Northwest HR Management Association. I also act as webmaster for the MatSu, Southeast Alaska, and Northern Alaska SHRM chapters.

Also, for years I’ve been the president of my homeowner’s association.

I have no time to get into trouble!

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Patty Hickok was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.