Karen Kessler is carving her own path in the face of adversity.
A teen mother who had her daughter at age 15, Kessler took four years to work her way through community college before eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Central Washington University. Later, she obtained her CPA (certified public accountant) and a master’s degree from Boise State University while working at Energy Northwest.
“When you have a child at 15, people have a lot of opinions about how you’ll turn out, so you need to make those decisions for yourself about what your life will be like, and I did,” Kessler said. “I kept figuring it out. It motivated me – at least I’m moving forward. At least I’m looking for the next thing to make myself better.”
Kessler is bringing that same energy as the latest participant in the Nuclear Executives of Tomorrow (NEXT) program. A joint venture between U.S. Women in Nuclear (U.S. WIN) and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), NEXT is geared toward helping women tackle the unique challenges they face in the nuclear industry.
Kessler is the fifth representative from Energy Northwest to participate in the program. Leading the way were Cristina Reyff, vice president for Corporate Finance and chief financial officer; Denise Brandon, Work Management; Rebeka Seeman, now with Entergy; and Desiree Wolfgramm, Security Services.
Kessler has been with Energy Northwest for 15 years, starting as an intern before getting hired as an entry-level accounting analyst in finance. She worked her way up to director of the Accounting & Budgets team. In August 2023, she took on a temporary assignment leading the implementation of Workday’s financial systems for the budget team.
She’s always looking for new ways to challenge herself and solve problems.
“If I’m no longer making a difference, I don’t want to be here anymore,” she said. “I may only conquer 10% of a problem, but we’ll be 10% better off than we were yesterday.”
NEXT is helping Kessler grow her soft skills as a leader. The cohort-based program focuses on mentoring and developing individual skill sets. Each month, the group of 12 women from across the nuclear industry meet to discuss that month’s theme, support each other, and brainstorm solutions.
This year, Kessler is the only person in the program with a corporate-focused role rather than a plant role. But the participants have found their experiences as women in nuclear transcend departments.
“It’s nice to have someone who is experiencing what you’re experiencing. You know you’re not alone,” she said. “The value is really in creating that mentorship environment and building camaraderie in a male-dominated field. These women help you navigate through their own experiences.”
For others looking to blaze their own trail, Kessler has some advice: When you see something new you want to do, go after it.
“Go to the person who is responsible for that thing, and say, ‘I want this. I’m going to get 80% of it done by myself, and I will need your help with 20%.’ That kind of initiative is really rewarded.”