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Rachell Gulanes: ‘My end game is to return and contribute to life in Alaska.’

Raised on Amaknak Island near Alaska’s famed Dutch Harbor, NorthStar Energy Legal and Compliance Assistant Rachell Gulanes is a 2013 recipient of the Delta Western scholarship program, a stepping stone she said enabled her to explore her passion for the law and launch her professional career in Seattle.

“Having these kinds of programs is great. Without them, a lot of kids wouldn’t be able to go to college or trade school. It motivates me to be a champion of Dutch Harbor and a good representative of the community and find ways to give back to it because it gave me so much.”

Gulanes was born in Stockton, California, but her parents fell in love in Dutch Harbor.

“They’ve moved separately to the States from the Philippines,” she said. “My mom lived in the Bay Area, and my dad lived in Stockton. He was eager to make money, and his friends told him all the money was in Alaska, so he moved up and found work as an employee at Western Pioneer.”

Her mother’s best friend, who lived in Alaska and was acquainted with Gulanes’s father, invited Gulanes’s mother up to attend her son’s birthday party and “meet a great guy.” While the couple moved back to California before Gulanes was born, the family settled back in Dutch Harbor well before her first birthday.

“My dad went from working at the store to working at the affiliated auto shop with the fuel distribution arm that eventually became Delta Western,” she explained. “We actually lived up the hill from the Delta Western’s Dutch Harbor site on Amaknak. It’s a community of about 5,000, but during the fishing seasons in the winter and summer, the population can triple.”

She said the large Filipino immigrant population there allowed her to connect with her heritage while also forging her own path.

“Back in the ’20s and ’30s, a lot of Filipinos would do a sort of rotation—they’d work in Alaska at the canneries, head down to Washington and then California to work in the farming communities, then head back to Alaska. They wanted to have a name for themselves, so they called themselves ‘Alaskeros.’ So by the time I grew up there, I really benefited from that already established identity.”

Gulanes’s mom worked as the administrator of the island’s only health clinic before taking a position with the City of Unalaska, which encompasses mainland Unalaska and the island of Amaknak, where Dutch Harbor is located.

“I remember wanting to be a public servant like my mom growing up,” she said. “My first job was working for a local nonprofit, USAFV—Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence, the only crisis intervention and safety shelter in all of the Aleutians.”

Rachell holds up her scholarship at a restaurant.

Delta Western scholar

Even in Alaska, where remote communities are the rule rather than the exception, Dutch Harbor is unique. In addition to her work with USAFV, Gulanes’s lived experience there allowed her early access to opportunities to represent her community on multiple student government and association boards. She applied for the Delta Western scholarship during her senior year of high school.

In 2006, Delta Western started its annual scholarship program, offering a $10,000 scholarship paid over four years to a graduating senior in each of its operating communities. Independent, school-led scholarship committees select the recipients; students are evaluated on the following criteria: academic performance, community involvement, extracurricular activities, awards received, and financial need. The scholarships can be used toward any accredited educational institution, including university, college, vocational, technical, or trade school.

“The Delta Western scholarship is well known—it’s one of the most prestigious scholarships you can get as a rural Alaskan,” Gulanes said.

Gulanes was awarded the Dutch Harbor scholarship due largely to her involvement in the community and began attending classes at the University of Alaska in Anchorage—a three-hour flight from Dutch Harbor—in the fall of 2013.

She majored in nursing but stayed close to her roots in nonprofit and government services by interning for Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, as well as Delta Western. But it was Gulanes’s junior-year internship with U.S. District Court Judge Deborah M. Smith, who created Alaska’s first federal reentry court in 2015—Alaska Hope Court—that changed the trajectory of her education.

“That’s really when I knew I wanted to go into law,” she said.

‘It felt like home’

Gulanes graduated with a degree in Legal Studies in 2018.

“My plan was to take a few years off from school and work a little bit before applying to law school.”

She was working for the Apple store in Anchorage when her father, Roy, now Delta Western’s Dutch Harbor site manager, sat her down.

“My Dad very much encouraged me to get a legal job. Jen Meeker (former NorthStar Energy Compliance Officer) came to Dutch Harbor, and my dad told her, ‘My daughter’s kind of lost and needs some direction,” she laughed. “Jen invited me to Seattle to interview for a Legal and Compliance internship.”

Gulanes moved to Seattle in October of 2018, and although it was a new experience, many of NorthStar’s early projects involved Delta Western, “so it also felt like home. I knew a lot of the people I was talking to over the phone.”

Now, she said, she feels like a Swiss Army Knife in the best possible way.

“After working mainly on environmental compliance projects and reporting, a lot of the different team members asked me if I wanted to learn other things—that’s how I ended up dipping into things like insurance renewals for risk management, and safety response and contingency plans for multiple different sites. It’s important that we’re seen as a resource, and I like to think I had a hand in ensuring that.”

Starting this year, Gulanes began helping create social media content for the energy company.

“It’s something I really enjoy, and we’ve definitely seen an uptick in interaction, as far as brand awareness in the marketplace, for hiring purposes.”

Gulanes’s love of social media also translates to her side hustle—social media and copywriting for small businesses. She also owns a photo booth business with her cousin, who’s a wedding photographer. This fall marks her fifth in Seattle, where she lives with her boyfriend and cat, Curry Cat, who was adopted from Hawaii.

Gulanes volunteers at Team Read helping elementary school students improve their reading levels and also hopes to volunteer at other Seattle nonprofits specializing in early childhood development.

“But law school is still what I want to do,” she said, adding that she’s studying for the LSAT and plans to take the exam in November. “I think long-term, I want to start my law career in intellectual property or compliance and end it in nonprofit work—but I’m very open. My end game is to return and contribute to life in Alaska.”

Hilary Reeves

Hilary Reeves spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining the Saltchuk family of companies as a consultant. Since People of Saltchuk launched in 2014, Reeves has interviewed more than 200 Saltchuk employees from operating companies all over the world. Born in Tacoma, Washington, Reeves is a former president of both the collegiate and local professional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, a graduate of the Society’s Ted Scripps Leadership Institute, and a Toastmaster. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, ski, and practice the piano. She lives in West Seattle with her husband and two young daughters.