Nick Hardigg '99, Executive Director, Alaska Conservation Foundation
Nick Hardigg talks about how SOM and the Loan Forgiveness Program shaped his career path.
I worked in documentary filmmaking before SOM and knew I wanted to transition into nonprofits. I thought an MBA would be a vital mark of commitment and skills. If you want to work in nonprofits, you really need to have the right degree. But yet when I looked at borrowing $60,000 or $70,000 for this new career, I honestly felt like I might be pricing myself out of nonprofit work. When I heard about the Loan Forgiveness Program, I knew I’d found the answer.
If my career could be seen as a path from one place to another, it begins at SOM. My summer internship was with National Parks Conservation Association. I was at Yale, in New Haven, and I got a call telling me I was being sent to Alaska. Before I knew it I was in the middle of nowhere. I remember walking into the Post Office and being warned about grizzly bears coming out of hibernation. I was scared I’d get eaten by a bear opening a Post Office account. But the experience was amazing. I developed an accounting system for the National Park Service that shows how each park spends its money and allows for comparisons across the park system. It was adopted by the Parks Service for all of its business planning initiatives.
After graduation I was hired to oversee business operations for Denali National Park in Alaska, where I developed a business and tourism plan that raised more than $15 million for Denali, funded a new visitors’ center to educate the public, and started a new approach for operating visitor tours. Those were times of great change for the park, and I had a very satisfying impact. I then went on to manage concessions for the Grand Canyon for a couple years (where I was known to say, “We’re not selling them hot dogs, we’re selling them an opportunity to learn.”). I rejoined nonprofits with The Nature Conservancy in Oregon, and after a couple of years I was recruited back to Alaska, where I’m executive director of the Alaska Conservation Foundation.
My job is to lead Alaska’s only foundation that serves the conservation community. We have a focus on solutions-based approaches to conservation, meaning that we approach divisive issues like coal exports or logging to Tongass, our message is more than just “no coal” or “not in my backyard.” We also need to push for new energy solutions such as wind power, geothermal power, and tide power. You can’t get things done without understanding the compelling interests of the other side.
I could not have had this career without the Loan Forgiveness Program at SOM. For me, going into the nonprofit world became no-risk. If I had to repay these loans on my own, I’d be working in higher-paying fields that aren’t as compelling for me as the causes I’m really committed to—the issues that have greater need and use for my skills, but not the ability to pay. Now I can actually save towards my retirement; my wife and I are expecting a child, and I don’t have to lie awake at night worrying about how we can afford a family. I promote SOM to a lot of people in the nonprofit community. I tell them they can get the best education in the world and then go make the world better. It’s a great program.
Interviewed on December 6, 2007.
Learn about the Loan Forgiveness Program.