Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us about your company and the duties of your position.
Karen Purcell: PK Electrical is a women-owned small business electrical engineering and design firm. I established the firm in 1996. We do electrical design for buildings, roadways, airports, schools, hospitals, universities and most commercial applications. Realistically this means we do all the electrical design within a facility or to support a new roadway. This includes bringing power and communications to a site, branch circuit and power distribution, interior and exterior lighting, lighting controls, emergency generator systems, telecomm and data, fire alarm, etc. In my position, I wear many hats. I am the Electrical Engineer of Record for the majority of our projects. I oversee and do project proposals, marketing, financials, mentoring, hiring, quality control, customer service, and meeting with clients.
Outreach is also a big part of what I do. I wrote a book about getting more women involved in STEM. The book is titled “Unlocking Your Brilliance: Smart Strategies for Women to Thrive in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.” I speak publicly about the book and STEM.
Purcell: I sit on various boards and chair events. I was the 2016 Chair of the Nevada Women’s Fund Women of Achievement Lunch. I was appointed by Governor Sandoval in 2015 to the Nevada State Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. I am a Governance Director for the U.S. West Region for the Entrepreneurs Organization(EO). I have been an EO member for 10 years.
NNBW: How did you get into this profession?
Purcell: I had a high school physics teacher that recommended that I pursue engineering. At the time I asked “What do engineers do?” This was pre-Internet days. My teacher’s response was that engineers can do anything and it involves a lot of science and math. That had me hooked and I went of from there.
NNBW: What do you enjoy most about working in your field?
Purcell: I get to do something different everyday because of the variety of projects we work on. It is very satisfying to see one of your projects come to fruition. Also, the people I get to work with from clients to our staff, are amazing.
NNBW: What is the most challenging part about your job?
Purcell: As far as the field goes, deadlines keep getting shorter and shorter. What we do involves attention to detail and responsiveness. We are also tasked with staying current with the latest trends and technology in the architectural/engineering industry. I think for me personally, juggling commitments both inside and outside the office and finding qualified employees can be the most challenging.
NNBW: What advice would you give someone who wants to get in your profession?
Purcell: First and foremost, find a mentor. Then go to school and take every opportunity to job shadow or intern.
NNBW: What was the best advice anyone ever gave you either professionally or personally?
Purcell: To stay positive regardless of what happens. You can do anything that you set your mind and heart to.
NNBW: Has there been someone who was especially influential in helping you establish your career or in reaching your higher goals? If so, who and how?
Purcell: I’ve had help achieving success. There have been many people that have contributed. I have surrounded myself with good people and have amazing business partners and staff. I am so grateful for all that they do. My mentors would be my high school physics teacher that suggested engineering, and Tom Krob. I went to work for Tom after college. I was able to learn from Tom not only from an engineering standpoint, but also from a business owner prospective.
NNBW: Do you belong to any professional/networking organizations? How has membership benefitted your career?
Purcell: I am a member of EO, Society of Women Engineers, and National Society of Professional Engineers. From a business owner’s standpoint, EO has helped me develop and gain a different perspective. It’s nice to have peers that are going through some of the same challenges as me. It’s a great organization to learn from other’s experience and to learn and grow.
NNBW: Is there any educational advancement that is essential for someone in your career field?
Purcell: To become a licensed professional engineer in the State of Nevada, an individual must have a bachelors degree in engineering and be committed to life-long learning. Continuing education is required to maintain one’s license and essential to being good at what we do.
NNBW: How do you manage your time between the responsibilities of your profession and your personal life?
Purcell: This is always a struggle. Work/life balance is hard to achieve. I am vigilant about keeping appointments with myself, i.e. keeping time in my calendar to exercise/run. I am also learning to say no.
NNBW: What was your first job?
Purcell: I was a ride operator at Hersheypark in Hershey, Pa.
NNBW: What are your hobbies? How do you spend your time away from work?
Purcell: Running. I love to run. I run half marathons and 200 mile relays.
NNBW: Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
NNBW: If you had enough money to retire right now, would you? Why or why not?
Purcell: No because I love what I do.
NNBW: If you had the chance to have dinner with someone, who would that be and why?
Purcell: Elton John because I have been a fan forever.
NNBW: What is a unique characteristic or attribute about yourself that makes you stand apart from other people?
Purcell: When I set my mind to something, I get it done
NNBW: Is there anything in your life that you wish you could do over again? Why?
Purcell: No. I believe that everything that I have experienced happened for reason — good or bad. All of my experiences have made me who I am today.
NNBW: Last concert or sporting event attended?
Purcell: Elton John of course.
NNBW: Why did you choose a career in northern Nevada? What do you like about living/working here?
Purcell: At first, northern Nevada chose me. I had two clients here so I started my business 20 years ago. Now I live here by choice. You can’t beat the lifestyle. I get to run at altitude. My family loves to spend time on Lake Tahoe.