Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May 14, 2024

We're honored to celebrate Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month. Throughout May, get to know our outstanding employees as they share their experiences, wisdom and advice.

Stacey Potosnak

Stacey Potosnak, Supervisor Environmental Compliance

AANHPI Heritage Month is a perfect opportunity to raise awareness of the rich culture and historic contributions of Asian Americans and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders. As part of this effort, I’m very proud to be the founder of the AltaGas/Washington Gas InspirASIAN employee resource group and its chairperson since 2021. Our group encourages sharing our cultural heritage while learning about the many different cultures represented at our company.

I’ve also been part of the Women’s Leadership Network, from member to chairperson, for several years. I enjoy volunteering at company events, including the DC Special Olympics and Maryland/DC Regional High School Science Bowl. Outside work, I am a board member for my city’s community garden.

All four of my grandparents immigrated from China to the United States in the 1950s and settled in New York City, each with a unique story that inspired me. For example, my maternal grandfather served in the U.S. Army and later worked as a cook. My paternal grandmother, a young widow with three small children, went on to become a business owner.

Each of my grandparents learned English and worked hard to provide for their families, sending their children to college while instilling the values of hard work, respect and education. Whenever my siblings and I visited or called our grandparents, they always asked, "Have you eaten yet?" This is a common beginning to many Chinese conversations, symbolizing care and concern that loved ones are well-fed and healthy.

Maintaining a work-life balance is an ongoing process! Clear communication is vital, so my husband and I manage a color-coded, shared weekly calendar to help visualize our tasks. We prioritize what matters most and release whatever doesn’t serve our family goals. Our toddler keeps us busy, so we simplify tasks as much as possible and outsource options such as grocery delivery services.

I use similar strategies to manage my professional life, including keeping my calendar up-to-date and available for my colleagues to view. Time blocking is another tactic that helps me complete essential tasks, breaking complex problems into smaller parts.

If my stress levels start rising, I take breaks, go outside, exercise or pursue my hobbies of knitting, gardening and cooking new recipes. I also remind myself to maintain healthy boundaries and that saying “no” is sometimes the correct strategic answer.

Workshops and guest speakers are a great way to encourage employees to learn about the heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders while fostering inclusive environments. Celebrating diversity and individual achievements helps colleagues feel heard and appreciated. Supporting the advancement of Asian employees and other minority groups through equal career growth and advancement opportunities is another powerful way to champion diversity.

Leadership training on diversity, equity and inclusion creates a workplace culture that welcomes everyone. Good leaders can be instrumental in guiding groups toward building greater understanding by developing self-awareness, decisiveness, collaboration and adaptability.

To cultivate cultural awareness in the workplace, we must offer learning opportunities that boost the ability to navigate cultural differences. We must encourage questions and then really listen to the answers we receive. Celebrating cultural holidays and traditions promotes inclusive policies and practices that create an atmosphere where everyone feels appreciated and heard.

When starting your career, here is my best advice: ask questions, be flexible, learn avidly and seek feedback.  For example, “ride-alongs” here at Washington Gas are a great way to learn about different departments and aspects of the natural gas industry. Volunteering for challenging projects can also help you gain valuable experience.

Theresa Avila Curtis

Theresa Avila Curtis, Supervisor Civil Engineering

My father immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in the late 1950s after enlisting in the U.S. Navy. In the early 1960s, my mother was invited to a nursing program in Philadelphia after receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in the Philippines. Celebrating Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month reminds me of those life-changing opportunities the United States provided my parents and, ultimately, to me and my three siblings. 

While I can’t say for sure that my heritage influenced my personal and professional values, my parents have always set shining examples. Their hard work and perseverance through adversity shaped my values, decisions and appreciation of leadership, which I define as the ability to guide a group to reach a common goal. While many qualities define a good leader, I value the ability to listen and give feedback while remaining empathetic. 

These lessons have served me well in the daily balancing act of raising three active kids and juggling a busy work schedule. Several strategies I rely on for personal and professional success include maintaining a routine, frequent communication with my husband, sharing a family calendar and partnering with friends for sports carpools.

When times become stressful, I make it a point to take time for myself, even if it requires waking up at 5 a.m. for a quick run. This allows me to think about situations and keep a positive perspective.

At a minimum, I believe that workplaces should recognize and celebrate diverse cultures by opening employee resource groups to everyone, not just specific groups. Featuring DMV cultural events is another excellent way to foster greater cultural understanding and appreciation. It’s also important to discuss the Asian communities’ contributions to the growth and prosperity of the United States.

I’m proud to have participated in several Washington Gas volunteer events, including JA In A Day (Junior Achievement), A Wider Circle, SHARE Food Network and the DC/MD Regional Science Bowl Competition. Probably the community involvement I’m most proud of is presenting at Career Days at my kids’ schools. These events allow me to showcase STEM careers to younger students who may not have had other exposure to engineering.

My advice for someone just starting a career is don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions! Also, stay current on industry news and technology and get to know the employees and stakeholders with whom you will work most closely.

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