Nearly 50 years ago, Nina Whitehead, an education major looking for a job that would fill a specific time slot in her schedule, found a listing as a word processor at what is now the BYU Marriott School of Business. She knew nothing about word processing, but she seized the chance and made the most of it. This adaptability has defined her career at BYU.
Just before Thanksgiving in 1979, Whitehead returned to Utah from her mission in the Netherlands. She planned to use her bachelor’s degree in education to become an elementary school teacher. However, without a mid-year teaching contract and with many months to go before the next school year began, she searched for other opportunities.
Within a week of her homecoming, she had a job as a word processor back at BYU Marriott—this time as a full-time employee. Several job titles, three children, and over four decades later, Whitehead has contributed greatly to BYU Marriott in her role as the support services and office manager for the Marketing, Communications, and Technology (MCT) office.
Her dedication to consistent high-quality work led her, in 1992, to being the university’s third recipient of the Fred A. Schwendiman Performance Award for consistent and superior service to the university, which is the highest level of recognition a staff member can achieve. “I keep up with learning the new software and processes that come along because things are always changing,” she adds. “Because I have fingers in a multitude of pots, what I do every day will change depending on what’s going on.”
Through the broad influence of her work at MCT, Whitehead coordinates with departments and employees across BYU Marriott. “A lot of times people know my name because I’ve reached out to them for one reason or another.” Whitehead says, “I often call myself a jack of all trades,” referencing her wide range of work from the office’s finances to human resources.
In this role, she is able to grow and progress professionally and personally as she serves those around her. “We can rise in the service that we give to other people,” Whitehead says. “We can develop skills and have new ways of sharing our expertise.”
As she strives to gain expertise, Whitehead has had the opportunity to learn about photographs, layout, and publishing design skills—a pursuit she has embraced wholeheartedly. “It’s really enjoyable to be able to get all those different kinds of skills and use them in different ways,” she explains. The skills she learns on the job help her in other aspects of her life as well.
Singing is one of the activities Whitehead engages in outside of work to refresh herself. “I found a place in my life where my bucket was emptying faster than it was getting filled up,” she says. As a BYU employee, she was eligible to take university classes, so she signed up for University Chorale.
After seven years with University Chorale, Whitehead learned about Wasatch Chorale, a community choir, from a friend. She auditioned and has been with that group for about 13 years. Now she is on the choir’s board of directors and uses her skills in formatting to design posters and programs for the choir. Being involved in the choir helps give her the energy to keep going.
Whitehead says that knowing how to budget her energy—and her time—has always come naturally to her. “It’s been a blessing to me all my life,” she says. Whitehead has used this skill to schedule her time appropriately—fitting her husband’s and parents’ doctor appointments, lab draws, and surgeries into her busy schedule.
Between raising her three children, working, attending rehearsals, and taking care of sick family members, Whitehead has had to work hard to keep balance in her life. “Those kinds of things can interfere with each other—take a big chunk here and a big chunk there,” she admits. “But when you have that Tetris puzzle of how to make all the pieces fit, my brain seems to have a really good way of working it out.”
After decades of piecing together such a busy schedule, some people might be counting down the days to retirement. For Whitehead, though, it hasn’t felt stagnant. “Being a university that’s focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ, you feel like you can be a light shining in the darkness and share your influence with other people,” she says. “I love being part of the BYU community.”
Written by Melissa Een