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Cotton Karen 19 Edited

29 Dec, 2020

Veteran Member Spotlight: Karen Cotton, CPSM, LEED AP

Anne Morris

Member Spotlight  
Blog Types

Read time: 2 minutes, 39 seconds

For this month’s veteran member spotlight, we spoke with Karen Cotton, Knowledge Manager at HITT Contracting. Find out why Karen stays engaged with SMPS and what drives her approach to our industry.


Name: Karen Cotton

Company: HITT Contracting

Title/role: Knowledge Manager

Alma Mater(s): Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pa. Current town: Leesburg, Va.

Family/pets: Husband Jeremy, sons Shane (age 10), Nolan (age 8), and Roman (age 7)

Favorite DC-area restaurant: Blue Ridge Grill in Leesburg, Va.

Favorite DC tourist destination: National Gallery of Art

Favorite travel destination: Paris

Favorite book – business and/or pleasure: The One Thing You Need to Know by Marcus Buckingham

Food you always crave: Popcorn and/or peppermint bark

Favorite celebrity/brand to follow on social: Biceps After Babies (fitness and nutrition)

Favorite app: Peleton

Favorite movie: Aladdin

When I’m not at work you’ll find me: Chauffeuring kids to soccer and basketball practice

Dream job: Pianist

Let’s Get To It……

What got you into the AEC industry and what keeps you here?

There’s something magical about building! Growing up, I was fascinated watching new homes be built in my neighborhood and exploring those construction sites (not a very safe activity for a child, looking back on it). This prompted me to study civil engineering / construction management in college, and 20 years later I’m continually inspired to work in the AEC industry and support my firm in building new things.

When and why did you first join SMPS, and what keeps you coming back?

I very reluctantly joined SMPS in December 2010 at the urging of my boss (DC Chapter Past President Alison Carney). This introvert had no interest in networking, but she insisted it would be good for me and my career. She was right! I’ve made connections and friendships by attending events and serving on committees, plus found mentoring and training that has shaped my career.

What advice do you have for our newer SMPS DC members about getting the most out of their membership?

Put in the effort: sign up for events you’re not sure about, volunteer for the committee that might be a stretch on your time. You never know when you’ll learn something new or meet someone who will have an impact on you if you don’t put yourself out there. Engaging in SMPS is a worthwhile investment in yourself and your career—opportunities await you!

What has been your favorite SMPS DC or SMPS event?

Attending Build Business 2017 in Indianapolis and 2018 in San Diego plus the 2019 Pinnacle Experience in Denver. Really enjoyed learning and meeting new people! Thanks to HITT for providing me the opportunity to participate in these events.

Do you have your CPSM? If so, why did you get it and how has it impacted your career?

I passed the CPSM exam in May 2019, a goal I’ve had for years and a proud accomplishment! Since I didn’t study Marketing in college, I was curious to learn about the different facets of Marketing, Business Development, and Communications. It has helped me gain a more well-rounded perspective and exposed me to new topics I wouldn’t have otherwise learned about.

What part of the SMPS mission to Advocate, Educate, and Connect most resonates with you and why?

Both Educate and Connect! I have an insatiable curiosity. A day without learning or meeting someone new is like a day without water for me. SMPS is the perfect remedy for my need to connect and serve others by sharing what I’ve learned.

What is your favorite SMPS DC memory?

Teaching “Navigating Career Changes Like a Boss” with Susan Dawson (who I met at Build Business 2017 in Indianapolis). Not only did I learn a ton from reading the book The First 90 Days and collaborating with my fabulous friend Susan, but it has also led to additional speaking opportunities and people reaching out to me for advice!

Best work-related advice you’ve ever gotten?

Always say YES to opportunity –John Tarpey, retired CEO of Balfour Beatty Construction.