Ingrained in Alaska Native Culture

“Project Management” is just a modern term for something Alaska Native people have done for centuries. Now, CITC offers a training that prepares Indigenous people to build those natural qualities into leadership skills.

Michele Henzler, Maynard Wilson, and Rhody Launders tackle the classic “Marshmallow Challenge,” in which participants are asked to construct a tower as high as possible using only spaghetti and masking tape. The activity was part of a new training offered by CITC in conjunction with the Business Improvement Group to introduce career-minded individuals to project management.

There’s a moment that happens in every project management course LuAnn Picard teaches—a moment she can’t wait to see.

“A lot of the [Alaska Native] students who come through the program are exceptionally good at project management, and they just don’t realize how good they are,” said the Project Management professor and department chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage’s College of Engineering.

That’s because Alaska Native communities were doing project management before it had a name. The basics tenants of project management—framing an idea, breaking it into manageable parts, delivering an outcome—are embedded in traditional, cultural activities like hunting for whales, harvesting seals, weaving baskets—even picking berries.

“It’s an internalized skillset Alaska Native people have because it’s ingrained in their culture and lifestyle. So when somebody comes into the program and sees themself in project management, I love to see these lightbulbs go off as they say, ‘Wow, this is who I am. I’m really good at this,’” LuAnn described.

This summer, she got to see a lot of lightbulbs illuminate in CITC’s new Project Management Training, a free introductory course offered as a first step toward breaking into the construction and project management fields.

A Foot in the Door

At the first-ever CITC Tribal Youth Leadership Summit last March, when participants were asked what career pathways interested them, they responded overwhelmingly: construction.

“We were surprised because there are pathways into that industry already,” shared Senior Manager of Alaska’s People BreeAnn Davis. “But from our Tribal youth, we heard that they wanted a way to explore that opportunity before committing.”

BreeAnn saw the feedback as an opportunity to partner with LuAnn, Jim Bates, president and CEO of the Business Improvement Group (BIG), and BIG Vice President and COO Madeline Hogarth to create a curriculum that would open a door to project management and related fields—while infusing culture into learning.

Project Management training students Robert Savage, Rhody Launders, and Joseph Roberts work together to figure out how to pour dry cereal from one bin to another with out touching it.

Cultural Component

For two weeks this past July, seven individuals learned about the basics of project management through a variety of Alaska Native industry leaders who spoke about how it applies to their areas of work.

CITC Lead Cultural Advisor Ann Lawrence regaled the class with stories of her son’s whale hunts; she shared muktuk with students and talked about how the people you work with can make a difference in the success of a project. Aaron Leggett, senior curator at the Anchorage Museum, spoke about infusing Dena’ina language in his projects. Braden Kinnebrew, a former CIRI intern who now runs construction projects for Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, shared his experiences in the industry.

For one student, Traci Campbell, the course’s most compelling speaker was the late Amy Fredeen, former CITC CFO.

“It was moving and inspiring to hear how they created Never Alone. Amy spoke very deeply about how important it is to know where we come from, our traditions, and of being proud of what we do,” said Traci.

“Because so much of Alaska Native tradition is shared through story-telling, it was important to us to invite in these speakers, to share their experiences, and to encourage the students to tell their own stories,” Jim offered.

CITC’s CFO, the late Amy Fredeen, was one of several speakers who shared with the Project Management trainees about how they wove their cultural experience and values into Project Management. Amy spoke specifically about her involvement in develop Never Alone, CITC’s Indigenous-created video game.

Next Steps

When Traci signed up for CITC’s Project Management training, she was already working with the Employment Training and Services department to gain additional skills through CITC partner Northern Industrial Training. Though she runs her own business cleaning houses and has experience in management, teaching, and logistics, Traci was looking for an opportunity that would set her up for a more secure career.

Now, she is one of six students who completed the CITC Project Management course to earn a micro-credential credit.

Five of those students, including Traci, immediately followed their training by enrolling in the Project Management Bootcamp put on by BIG in collaboration with the Project Management Institute (PMI). BIG is the only authorized PMI training partner in Alaska.

The bootcamp prepares participants for taking their Project Management Professional or Certified Associate in Project Management certification exam.

Thanks to BIG, Traci and her Bootcamp cohort became members of both PMI and the local PMI chapter—for free. Membership will give students more opportunities for learning, networking, and ultimately integration into the project management community.

“We decided to sponsor those students’ memberships in PMI and PMI Alaska, which will set them up with skills they can take with them to any industry,” Jim said. “Every single student in CITC’s training impacted me. We get to be a part of their journey.”

Joseph Roberts, Traci Campbell, and Robert Savage paint birdhouses during Project Management training. The activity provided an opportunity to collaborate and share stories as the class cohort became a team that learned to work closely together.

Growing Indigenous Leaders

“What I like about community-based courses like this,” said LuAnn, “is that they open the door. It gives people a chance to dip their toe in the waters.”

By partnering with CITC to develop the Project Management training, Jim and LuAnn have created something that has the potential to do more than help people embark on new careers. And by collaborating with BIG, CITC is able to help grow Alaska Native leadership in Alaska’s industries.

“Our hope is that this cohort will take what they learned, including the cultural information, and carrying it with them into their projects, and share it with the people they eventually hire,” said BreeAnn Davis. “Hopefully they will be the next generation of project managers. Every Indigenous leader in that field is a win for everyone.”

Additional Project Management trainings will be offered through CITC’s partnership with BIG. Follow Alaska’s People for future opportunities. Or visit Alaska’s People to see how CITC can help you embark on a new career, get support with your resume, gain skills, and more.