proHNS’s Creative Director Karen Garcia celebrated her 7-year anniversary this September. As the firm’s second-longest tenured employee, Karen is a cherished steward of the history and culture at proHNS, and so we asked her to share a little insight into her institutional knowledge. The (abbreviated) conversation that follows, looks back on Karen’s career with proHNS, what drives her to proposal stardom, and offers a glimpse into her life outside of the office.
Interviewed by Jenny Jones.
What drew you to work at proHNS initially?
I was living in Haines and had just left my previous job as a reporter for the local paper. I was weighing offers to work for different newspapers in Alaska and Hawaii when Jeremy [Stephens, proHNS’s founder] approached me with a job opportunity. He explained that he was looking for a proposal writer for his new civil engineering company, the name of which I could not pronounce. I didn’t know anything about engineering or technical proposals, but someone recommended he recruit me based on my writing and editing background. I thought I’d give it a try and make some money while I continued to explore my options outside of Haines.
When I’d first joined in 2016, we were writing client proposals out of Jeremy’s living room on Small Tracts Road. The proposals back in those days were not good…I spent most of my time just trying to learn what basic terms in the civil engineering industry meant. At that time, there were only the four of us [Karen, Jeremy, Garret Gladsjo, and Andrew Gray]. I can remember when we got awarded our first CBJ design job, after many rejections. The D & H Streets Pavement and Drainage Improvements project was a huge break; it was really the beginning of legitimizing proHNS.
How has your job changed over the years?
Really, I have done so much unusual stuff for proHNS. I’ve mainly worked on our proposal responses to various RFPs and RFQs, assembling resumes, and those other tasks involved in winning work, but I have also been kind of a pinch-hitter on other projects.
One of our first big contracts in Haines was the Portage Cove Harbor Expansion project, where we provided marine mammal monitoring to ensure compliance with a National Marine Fisheries Service permit. I wrote and designed the manual that we distributed to the marine mammal observers, and filled in for our MMOs if they couldn’t make their shifts or needed a break. I have learned how to write, manage, and inspect Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plans. I muddled through building the company website and managed our social media accounts. I have written grants, helped moderate public meetings, and created promotional videos for the company. This isn’t to say I did any of these things particularly well, it just illustrates the breadth of tasks I’ve handled over the past seven years.
I have also, unexpectedly, gotten more involved with construction inspection over the years. Since 2019, I’ve helped inspect more than a half dozen road and utility reconstruction projects in Haines. My parents are still completely flabbergasted when they get a photo of me in my hard hat and high-vis. But that’s the best part of working with Garret and Lucas [Chambers], and our project managers like Ethan [Roemeling] who I’ve worked with a lot in the past year on Totem Street and Beach Road. It is all about communication and having the support I need. They always answer the phone, respond to my texts, and are ready to help me when I’m out in the field scratching my head or otherwise panicking. They have really provided the best common-sense guidance and education when it comes to performing solid construction inspection, and I continue to be astounded at the amount of trust and confidence they put in me.
You have lived in Haines for over a decade now, what do you like most about it?
I really like the community aspect of Haines and volunteering here. And that is something that proHNS has been really supportive of, both in terms of being flexible with my schedule and backing these efforts with company donations. For example, when I was volunteering with Girls on the Run, there were a couple days each week where I couldn’t work for chunks of time in the middle of the day when we held practice. They’ve also been supportive of Tournament of the Readers, an annual reading competition at the local school. proHNS donates money to the multiple cash prizes awarded to the top placing student teams. [Karen, Haines School Librarian Leigh Horner, and Haines Borough Public Library Children’s Librarian Holly Davis organize and run the event each year]. I have even taken my Little from Big Brothers Big Sisters out in the field and shown her around one of our construction projects.
What is a favorite memory from your time so far at proHNS?
My favorite memories are big proposal wins. Honestly, I love winning proposals and the competitive aspect of it. I work well under deadlines, under pressure. By far, the biggest reward is that by winning the contract, all the people’s names that you’ve put forth in your proposal are now guaranteed to have jobs in the upcoming year—or years—depending on the scope of the work. This industry can be such a revolving door, where people rotate among different companies to follow the work. It is truly rewarding to help positively impact others with a project win. [Let the record state, Karen has helped secure millions of dollars in competitive contracts for proHNS, including a highly sought, multi-year contract with the FHWA Western Federal Lands Division].
Lastly, what is something that most people don’t know about you?
I have always been a reader, though I would say most people in Haines know that about me. I was thinking to myself the other day, what are my hobbies? I read every day, I do crosswords, I go to the gym and lift [her leg press PR is 12 reps at 520lbs!], I walk my dog Bobo, and I drink beer at the Haines brewery with my boyfriend Russ. I am not very interesting. I just finished an incredible book called The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara. I would not recommend it to everyone though. One review cautioned that “those who are uncomfortable with moral relativism and who prefer to view the world in black-and-white should not take one step further,” and I would generally agree with that analysis. For me, it was one of those books that I could not stop reading it, and at the same time it pained me the closer I got to the end, knowing that it would soon be over.
For Karen, what is next is a furtherment of learning and achievement. She continues to push the bounds of a traditional career path by expanding her focus on grant writing, improving her construction inspection skills, and pursuing more federal proposals for proHNS. Karen will be flying up to Anchorage this week to attend the Alaska Infrastructure Development Symposium hosted by the Alaska Municipal League (AML), Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), and the Office of the Governor, along with other statewide partners.