Young Professional 2017: Katherine Sterling

Katherine Sterling, Material asset manager at Washington River Protection Solutions

Katherine Sterling

Katherine Sterling (Courtesy Rich Breshears of Breshears Photography)

Age: 37

Hometown: Clear Lake, Iowa

Describe the Company: Washington River Protection Solutions is reducing environmental risk posed by 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste stored in 177 underground tanks. WRPS’ focus is transferring waste from aging tanks into newer tanks where it will be stored until it is prepared for disposal.

What brought you to the Tri-Cities? A job at Hanford with CH2M Hill.

Do you have any family? Pets? Husband Rick, daughter (one-and-a-half years old) Kennedy, two dogs and my brother, who lives in Kennewick.

Tell us about your job/career and how you got into it: I attended a Service Academy Career conference in Washington, D.C., in March 2008 and ended up on the other side of the country living in a different Washington than I had intended. CH2M Hill said my experience in the Army is what they needed to assist in cleaning up the Hanford site. The vice president explained the job scope that I was to do and I wanted to continue serving my country, so I moved to Richland.

Tell us about your business philosophy: I care about people who work for me and about those we support and interact with. By maintaining high standards, setting clear expectations and being transparent, the goal is to energize diverse groups of individuals in a collaborative environment to bring about excellent results. I love seeing when someone gets it; the glow of understanding in their eyes is priceless.

How do you stay competitive in your job/industry? I see myself as a lifetime learner. It’s difficult right now to pursue a doctorate, but I glean as much as I can from literature, spending time with my mentors and honestly the time I spend with my workers I believe makes me the most competitive. I don’t just hear about what’s wrong, I see it and am walking through it, therefore the corrective actions are usually more effective and thus picked up by others to implement.

What are your future career goals? I want to have a good work-life balance as my family is very important to me. Yet inside of me I have this passion for fixing. I love to be given the worst job that no one wants, dig into what is wrong, develop corrective actions, implement them, and then pass the program/progress off to someone else. I don’t desire a specific position, but I desire to be challenged more and more with each step I take in my career.

Who are your mentors and what did they teach you? I have been blessed to have many mentors who all have given me good advice. Mark Lindholm has reinforced in me to be myself and follow my gut. He challenges me and is able to say what I need to hear due to our similar personalities. Laurie Hollick has taught me to view myself as an equal when I sit at a table and try and break down the military structure that was beat into me. My mentor from West Point, Col. David Trybula, taught me truth is in the data and to remember first names!

What was the toughest business/career decision you had to make or obstacle you had to over overcome? My biggest career decision was to leave Hanford in 2010 and 2012 for my third and fourth deployments. I knew it would put my career on hold and each time I returned to work it was like I was starting over. While I left active duty in 2008, I still had not gotten rid of my desire to give my country everything. If asked, I still would. But now with a family I will do it in other ways than deploying to a combat zone.

What do you like most about what you do? Doing the right thing was instilled in me at a young age and I love reading regulations and procedures and being able to visualize what program/process should be in place, identifying the gap and moving toward that goal. I love working with people, a lot of them have wanted the changes for a long time and being able to empower and reward people is very satisfying.

What do you dislike most about your job? I guess if this has to be filled out I would say the commute. I don’t really want a nuclear waste site right next to my house, but I could do without the drive to work and the traffic. I’m the type of person who really likes to work. Sometimes I get discouraged, need to take a step back and understand what caused the discouragement, then determine the path forward and take it.

What was your first job and what did you learn there? My first job was a second lieutenant in the Army. I learned that doing the right thing, while painful and unpopular, will always pay off in the end. I had some hard lessons standing up for what is right, but they all made me stronger.

If you weren’t in your current field, what would be your dream job? My dream job is what my husband and I do on the side. We buy houses, fix them up and rent them out. I really enjoy everything from buying the house, fixing it to make it safe and livable, renting it out and continuing a relationship with the renter to ensure they are comfortable and taken care of. We have a goal of 20!

Tell us about your community involvement/community service: I did a lot before I had Kennedy and had to cut down to a few favorites. Junior Achievement teacher for seventh and eighth grade, WRPS STEM Champion (specifically STEM Like Me!) and secretary of the YMCA Board of Directors.

What word best describes you? Daring

What is your biggest flaw? I can be

very judgmental. Due to reviewing rules and regulations I can expect that others know what I know. I often have to slow down and remind myself to teach and explain so that when I am talking to others we are on the same page.

What is your biggest pet peeve? When someone comes to me with a problem and no solution. I love to fix issues, but I do not want to fix everyone’s issues!

What do you do to relieve stress? Go up to our cabin on Sacheen Lake. Being away from cell service and just having our little family together is priceless.

Dream vacation? I love Australia and would love to take my family there when Kennedy is older.

Favorite book? “Atlas Shrugged”

Favorite movie? “The Usual Suspects”

Favorite band? Zac Brown Band

Favorite gadget? Coffee maker

Favorite website? Zillow.com

Favorite thing to do in the Tri-Cities? Walk on the bike path. I love that it is right next to the water and goes for miles.

What thing would people be most surprised to learn about you? I stutter. Most people can’t hear it, but I catch on certain words or phrases. My husband kindly finishes sentences for me when he can tell the word gets caught. At work I’m able to recover, but I still know I just stuttered and I usually blush.

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