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One-on-One with Erin Hagenow

Erin Hagenow with Junior Achievement of New Mexico discusses the occupation card that Ximena Diaz chose as Juan Rodriguez waits his turn to talk about his chosen occupation card last month. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Some of Erin Hagenow’s deepest secrets lie within the confines of Sylvia Quintana’s first- through third-grade class at Emerson Elementary.

Kids are never too young to start learning financial literacy and other business fundamentals, Hagenow says, so she was at Emerson weekly for more than a month to get the process going as a volunteer with Junior Achievement of New Mexico.

Hagenow also heads the organization, which last year sent 437 business leaders and other volunteers into 80 schools from Taos to Las Cruces to “prepare young people to own their economic success,” Hagenow says.

The volunteers are encouraged to go beyond the prescribed Junior Achievement curriculum and share some of their own personal and professional stories, she says.

“I’m always amazed at some of the things I share with those students,” says Hagenow, 49. “Things I wouldn’t necessarily have talked to my husband about in 15 years, but I’m going to tell them (the students) that story that has impacted me and wasn’t necessarily my shining moment but has defined and helped sort of narrow my own career. (My) lessons learned.”

Hagenow is something of a fixer when it comes to her career path. She’s developed a reputation for jumping into organizations as a short-term, interim leader who can help a group stabilize and grow. She did it at the Christina Kent Early Childhood Center and, most recently, at the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Erin Hagenow with Junior Achievement of New Mexico with the students from Ms. Sylvia Quintana’s class at Emerson Elementary School last month. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

She brought her skills to Junior Achievement at the start of 2017 and is happy to stay put for awhile. In fact, the organization is in the midst of a five-year plan, and Hagenow says, “This is the position where I’m actually going to start to dream big and look out into the world more.”

The dreaming big concept was part of Hagenow’s repertoire in the Emerson Elementary classroom, as she encouraged the kids to think about their future careers. All of them showed “very giving hearts” by wanting to be in the “helping professions: police officer, veterinarian, nurse or doctor,” Hagenow said.

Then came the doughnut lesson.

The young wanna-be entrepreneurs competed to see who could produce the most paper doughnuts by punching out forms, adding ingredient stickers and deciding a particular flavor by coloring the middle.

The finale? Real doughnut holes for every student, courtesy of Hagenow.

“They only wanted to be bakers after that,” she said.

What do you like most about your job?

“We make and build bridges between schools and places of business. We bring people together from all walks of life with the same goal: bringing these priceless life skills to our young people. We as the grownups in the world remember how hard it was for most of us to acquire some of these life skills around money, around jobs, around how to represent ourselves in the community. This is heart work for our volunteers, because we’ve all gone through the fire.”

How do you see the roles you had as interim director of several organizations?

“I was home with my second son – it was kind of the middle of my career – and I re-entered the work world in the nonprofit sphere. The vast majority of my experience has been over the last 20 years as an intentional interim executive director. I recognize having been in the nonprofit world through my 30s, that at certain non-profits, when the executive director leaves, we see some of them fall off the cliff significantly. We’ve even seen some of them close when that leadership leaves. At Christina Kent (Early Childhood Center), when I came in, they were in the midst of a major transition and needed major stabilization. I always knew it was going to be an interim position. Then I went to the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce. They had lost a leader important to the community … Debbie Moore. They were not in transition, though. It was in order to give the board the time they needed to find right leader. I was there for about six months.”

What was your childhood like?

“I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago. It was a very stable household. I had a wonderful high school experience – I just sort of cut my teeth on a lot of community-based activities – student council, a lot of sports, leadership positions. I nurtured the extrovert in me that has made me successful in community-based work.”

How did you get to Albuquerque?

“Honestly, there really is no reason other than he (husband Glenn Nicol) had lived in Florida and California during his growing-up years. We both lived in the Midwest and had met at DePaul University (in Chicago). Then we were in San Francisco, and we just knew we wanted someplace new. It was more just that adventurous part of being a 20-something. We came to Albuquerque, and fell in love with it and thought, ‘This’ll do.'”

How do you spend your free time?

“I’m the proud Thursday owner of a horse. I lease a horse every Thursday, so I’m learning to ride again, and I’m absolutely loving that. I was just a horse-crazy tween, so I rode when I was in probably late elementary school and through middle school. And I always said when I retire, I’m buying myself a pony. But this is a nice in-between situation. As far as hobbies, my hobby is basically whatever our 9-year-old son is into. I would say gardening is a hobby if you want to say gardening is the war that turned yard work into a hobby. Busy life.”

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

“Other than labor and having two kids? … Sometimes you wonder how you get the courage to do something like that. Professionally, it was definitely stepping into that interim space, that interim executive director work. Every community-based organization is a web of passionate community members, and so meeting all of them, finding out what their goals and objectives were and bringing us all together under one mission, even if I was only there for six months.”

Most embarrassing moment?

“Our petite yet mighty governor (Michelle Lujan Grisham) once kindly told me that it was ‘OK to stand back up now.’ Being 5 foot 9 and wearing heels that were way too high, I crouched down to give her a hug and stayed down there to talk with her. She encouraged me to go ahead and stand all the way back up. I did so slowly while apologizing profusely. My legs were starting to hurt, so I appreciated it.”

Do you have any superstitions?

“I won’t say things like, ‘died laughing,’ or ‘I almost died of embarrassment,’ and I really do knock on wood or my head if I have to say something negative out loud. I don’t want to put it out there.”

What do you consider a splurge?

“I’m Midwestern. I don’t splurge. But it would be something having to do with dessert, for sure. And sometimes I shop at Dillard’s rather than T.J. Maxx. Usually, I’m at T.J. Maxx. And then of course we splurge on our kids.”

Tell me something no one knows about you.

“I guess the best way to say it: I walk and talk like an extrovert, but I’m actually pretty shy.”

Do you have any pet peeves?

” ‘Heigth’ rather than ‘height.’ Also, the ‘word ‘awesome,’ even though I use it all the time.”