Alumni of Distinction: Josie Wilson

by Matt Jardin  |   

2018 Alumni Humanitarian award recipient Josie Wilson, director of strategic communications at HDR Inc. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

2018 Alumni Humanitarian award recipient Josie Wilson, director of strategic communications at HDR Inc. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

Jocelyn "Josie" Wilson, M.B.A. Business Administration '09, will receive the 2018 Alumni Humanitarian award at the Homecoming Breakfast on Oct. 12.

When southern California transplant Josie Wilson first came to Anchorage in 2003, it was for a yearlong work assignment through the Aramark Corporation as location manager and marketing specialist for UAA's Creekside Commons dining program.

One year easily turned into 15 as Wilson fell in love with the university where she would earn her M.B.A. and serve as an adjunct professor, and the community she has been giving back to ever since.

After deciding to stay, Wilson worked as catering sales manager for both Sheraton and Hilton hotels. One of her frequent clients was The Salvation Army. As a vendor, she steadily developed a relationship with their leadership team and witnessed the work they were doing to benefit Anchorage. After falling in love again, this time with The Salvation Army's mission, she joined them as community relations and development director.

During her seven-year tenure with The Salvation Army, Wilson was tasked with raising funds for more than 16 programs. The most prominent of these was the McKinnell House expansion, then a six-bedroom homeless shelter in Anchorage and the only one in Alaska open to families. The home is also part of the three-building Salvation Army Family Enrichment (SAFE) Center which included the Corps Community Center and the Cares for Kids Shelter.

Partnering with Alaska's philanthropic network of foundations, corporate grants, individual donors and estates, Wilson was able to raise more than $11 million to expand the McKinnell House from six beds to 16, and help build the other two facilities on the campus.

"It was all hands on deck and the whole community came together to make this project happen," she describes.

Any event that sees people coming together to benefit the wider community is always cause for gratitude. However, Wilson doesn't necessarily think it's surprising in Alaska, where helping each other is in our DNA.

According to Wilson, "We have some of the most philanthropic, big-hearted, generous and committed people building our community for the future. I believe it's part of the Alaska spirit. It's who we are as a culture. It's the Last Frontier. The goldpanners and miners from back in the day who said, 'I want to make this happen' - I believe that's still in the fabric of who we are today."

Not one to rest on her laurels, Wilson's volunteer efforts with other causes and groups are as wide-ranging as her interests.

While working toward her M.B.A., Wilson recalls catching the leadership bug after studying organizational behavior under two UAA professors, Dr. Carlos Alsua and Dr. Rashmi Prasad. Sometimes, a bug is all it takes for the self-described "activator," who has taken a vital role shaping Anchorage's leaders through her own consultancy and by founding programs like the Leadership and Executive Advancement Program for the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.

Through her business leadership efforts, Wilson naturally got involved volunteering with several nonprofits, including one where she met Julie Taylor, CEO of Alaska Regional Hospital. The two started talking and, as per usual, another opportunity to help presented itself.

Taylor brought Wilson aboard to coordinate volunteers for Alaska Regional Hospital. It's a cause that resonates closely to Wilson, having spent a lot of her early childhood in the hospital due to severe asthma. She remembers making it through difficult days with the help of some very kind nurses and volunteers, so she pays that generosity forward with her own bedside efforts.

Perhaps most surprising to Wilson is her volunteer efforts in the arts, specifically as a violinist, which she remembers as just a fun activity she did in high school that would have no bearing on her adult life. That pastime has morphed into teaching students, conducting adults and kids in the Summer Strings Orchestra, playing in an annual commemoration for the Victims for Justice nonprofit to honor victims of homicide in downtown Anchorage, and even playing for patients in the hospital.

If you're noticing a pattern connecting Wilson's work in leadership development, hospital volunteerism and arts advocacy, know that it's a trend that extends to the rest of her many outreach endeavors.

"It does all tie together," Wilson explains. "I love the arts, and to apply that to the healthcare world and then apply that to social services and to apply that to building the next generation of leaders, that's such an exciting and motivating and honoring privilege."

Wilson attributes the interconnectedness of her efforts to the vast amount of volunteer opportunities that exist in Anchorage, again harkening back to the Alaska spirit.

"We have so many ways to help in Alaska, people just don't know about them. If I had a nickel for every time somebody said that they didn't know about an opportunity, I could fund every nonprofit," she says. There's a place for everyone. What are you passionate about? Because if you have a heart and you want to serve, there's a place for you. It's just a matter of finding it."

Written by Matt Jardin, UAA Office of University Advancement

Creative Commons License "Alumni of Distinction: Josie Wilson" is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.