Charlotte Peterson says people “have underestimated me my entire life.” The new Seward County Community College Director of Human Resources isn’t complaining: she has used the secret power of the overlooked to spur herself to greater achievements, self development and a desire to make the world a better place. These days, she applies that energy to serving the 200+ employees in the Saints family.
Charlotte Peterson says people “have underestimated me my entire life.” The new Seward County Community College Director of Human Resources isn’t complaining; she has used the secret power of the overlooked to spur herself to greater achievements, self-development, and a desire to make the world a better place. These days, she applies that energy to serving the 200+ employees in the Saints family.
Peterson grew up in Liberal, graduating from Liberal High School and Seward County Community College.
“When I was little, I was your good student, studied, did everything I needed to do, but, we weren’t wealthy. Things were never handed to me,” she said. “Life happens, and after you graduate high school, you have to figure out what to do with your life. It was especially tough because I had no direction and no idea what I wanted to do or be.”
Faced with the daunting landscape of adulthood, Peterson made a choice that’s served many uncertain young Americans well:
“I joined the army,” she said. “There were a lot of personal reasons I felt I needed to do that, and one of the biggest things I learned was confidence — not the arrogance, but the confidence I needed in myself to achieve my goals.”
It did not come easy, beginning when Peterson stepped off the bus and heard a drill sergeant bark orders for each cadet to drop to the ground with a full backpack and do a pushup.
“I had no idea that you have to do a push-up to get into the Army. I did one at MEPS, but when I got to reception at Basic Training, I wasn’t able to do the push up. Silly, I know. We had just received all of our vaccinations, then we had to do a push up. I couldn’t do it, so, what happens?” she asked.
Answer: “You go to what we called Fat Camp. We weren’t fat, but it was a place where we did remedial PT. You do pushups until you think, ‘I can’t do anymore,’ and you learn not to say that because then you do more of them,” she said. “You learn to do whatever you have to, and just go with it. It’s not easy. It was never easy.”
Yet Peterson says she would not change any part of the experience.
“After I got out of the army, I always thought I should be a motivational speaker and go to high schools and tell kids about my experience. Basic training was a place for growth, education, and understanding what you need to know about yourself to do whatever it is you set your mind to do. It was a place of self-reflection and pushing yourself beyond your own limits to achieve success.”
Growth for Peterson led to a variety of jobs, from being a legal assistant to hospital work to the classroom.
“In my previous life when I worked at the hospital in Ulysses, I did all things,” she said. “I was the executive assistant, did the onboarding for the people who came to work there, I gave tours, training, development, community relations, and my favorite part was the director of volunteer services. I really love those volunteers. They taught me so much about how to accept the things I cannot change and make the most of what I can.”
Peterson also returned to college, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Fort Hays State University. She also invested in helping others attain more education by teaching GED classes at Garden City Community College.
Becoming a Saint
When she arrived on campus in Fall 2021, it was just in time to meet the college’s 12th president, also a new SCCC employee. By January of 2022, family obligations had prompted unexpected turnover in the president’s office, and current SCCC President Brad Bennett arrived to take the reins.
Peterson, meanwhile, had concluded that she would benefit from another “first” three months on the job.
“It was educational,” she said. “It wasn’t even that I had a new boss, I didn’t understand how all the processes flowed into the big picture, and I had to take a step back.” Were it not for coworker Amy Knudsen, who had worked in the HR department for years before moving to the controller position, “I would not have survived,” she said. “She has been my rock.”
Peterson was also strengthening a department that had been neglected over the years.
“People didn’t understand what Human Resources does for an organization, and they have a lot of misconceptions. They worry that if they are asked to come to my office, they’re getting fired, or they think that it’s all about being bossed around,” she said. Not so.
“We want to help you, the employee,” she said. “My major is in leadership, a bachelor’s and a master’s in organizational leadership. Do you know what kinds of jobs you can get with those credentials? Not many. It is a Human Resource related field, and the one thing it has taught me is that it’s about relationships.”
“Leadership is not about me. It is about the people. It’s about Elizabeth (Dominguez) and it’s about Hanh (Brockett) and it’s about how much they can grow as employees in the HR department. It’s an outlook we all can adopt. A lot of our supervisors are already there, and some think it’s all touchy-feely … but the reality is, people are human, and they have lives. We have to be able to meet their basic needs. Are they safe, are they secure, do they have enough to take care of their families? Are we doing what we can to help them succeed? Are they continuing to grow and develop as employees and as individuals? What is it that we can do to help our people achieve success?”
Ask Charlotte: Peterson’s top projects and some random facts
Paperwork & Forms — We have to continue making sure paperwork is done correctly and things are documented, from onboarding documents to performance reviews to exit interviews.
Compensation — We were not where we need to be in the market, nor within our own walls. This is a huge undertaking, and we’ve just scratched the surface.
Policies — We don’t have a lot of written processes and policies that most organizations have. I know I come from the outside, and people often say, “but higher education is different.” Even so, we need policies and procedures because that is the only way to enforce anything.
“We need accountability. I’m not saying that we don’t have it, but it’s not clear. Without having someone here, things just got really relaxed. We lose accountability, we lose enforceability, we lose our credibility. We, as leaders, can be better for our people and the college.”
Title IX — This is such an important piece of how an organization ensures people are safe and feel safe. The rules change often, so we have to keep a close eye on making sure our policies and practices reflect that.
Employee Morale — We are starting an Employee of the Month program, which is based on nominations from coworkers across campus, and awards the winner a gift card and assigned parking spot. It’s a small way to let people know we appreciate and value them. We are also starting a “Get to know your Saints” which is a spotlight on different employees and how they came to be a Saint.
Onboarding — New hire orientation is something that we haven’t had on campus for a while. I’ve talked to a lot of people who started here since I did, and asked them, “What do you wish someone had told you?” We will soon have a comprehensive new hire orientation to make sure people have the information they need to be successful.
If a song described your life, what would it be?
“Underdog” by Alicia Keyes
Other countries you’ve visited?
I was stationed in South Korea. This was very educational. I also visited Mexico.
Interestingly, I have visited more than 40 states in the United States.
I love a really good steak, and I am a huge fan of my lasagna and most pasta dishes.
Least favorite food?
I’m a very picky eater and was traumatized by what I witnessed in Korea. I will not eat rice. When I was in South Korea, I survived on egg salad (because you can boil eggs in a little pot in your room), ramen noodles, and shells and cheese.
Your dream scenario for SCCC?
A mentor program that partners new hires with longtime employees. When you put someone with a person from another department, you receive all kinds of benefits that go beyond knowing how to get lunch in the cafeteria or where the forms are for reserving a car. Relationships are built, silos are broken down. I am very excited about this. I would also like to see more efficiency with the application process and records storage.
Kids, grandchildren, pets, partner?
I married Ernie Peterson almost 21 years ago. We have six kids: Bobbie, Clay T., Ashli, Clay W., JJ, and Tucker. We have five grandkids: Layton (12), Emery (6), Mason (5), Grady (3), and Kai (20 months). We have two horses, and four dogs: (Jane, Jynx, Stitch, and Pedro P. Diddy). My best friend in the whole wide world is Tammy Taylor who lives in Florida.
I also come from a very large family. I have eight brothers: Joe, Bill, Loren, Gordy, Robert, Ronnie, Jeff, and Chuck. I have one sister: Esther. I have 35 nieces and nephews and 37 great-nieces and nephews. Several cousins, aunts, uncles, and close friends and families to top it off.
I have had several proud moments in my life. My children and grandchildren are great successes, and I am very proud of the young men and women they have become or are becoming.
Earning my degrees when it felt like the world was against me was a huge accomplishment. I am very proud of the Teen Med Program I did a few years back. It was a program for teens who were interested in going into the medical field and being able to explore the medical field. They were able to experience what it would be like to work as a nurse, a lab tech, or a pharmacy technician. It was a great experience!
When I taught GED classes, I encouraged students to do the work to obtain their GEDs. It was about building the relationships with the students and the team of teachers. Most of the students I taught have finished and obtained their GEDs.