Contact: Paul Cocke, WWU Office of University Communications, (360) 650-3350
BELLINGHAM – Gov. Chris Gregoire has appointed Karen Lee, who has more than 20 years’ experience working in senior management positions in business and government, to Western Washington University’s Board of Trustees.
“We are delighted to learn of Karen Lee’s appointment to the Board of Trustees. Her exceptional leadership will foster Western’s commitment to academic excellence and strong service to the State of Washington,” said WWU President Bruce Shepard.
Lee’s term on the Board of Trustees is effective immediately and ends in September 2016.
Western Board of Trustee Chair Dennis Madsen lauded Lee’s breadth of experience and knowledge.
“Karen Lee’s understanding of the workings of both business and government will be invaluable to the trustees as we support the many talented people who make Western such a very special place,” Madsen said.
Lee said she is looking forward to serving on the Board of Trustees. “I am familiar with Western’s strong reputation for academic excellence and look forward to working with the distinguished trustees and the entire Western community,” Lee said.
Lee is the CEO of Seattle-based Pioneer Human Services, one of the nation's largest social enterprise organizations. Since its founding in 1963, the nonprofit organization has served over 100,000 people through an integrated array of services including housing, employment training, treatment, counseling and re-entry services.
Lee also served as commissioner of the Washington State Employment Security Department from 2005 to 2010. As ESD commissioner, Lee oversaw a cabinet-level state agency with a $680 million biennial budget, 2,800 employees and more than 70 offices around the state. ESD successes under her leadership included: paying record levels of unemployment benefits during the recession, while also continuing to implement performance improvements; revamping the agency's approach to serving job seekers to be more personalized and more consistent across the state; operating the most successful shared work program in the country, which saved more than 22,000 jobs in Washington during the worst part of the recession; and investing in significant technology upgrades to improve agency efficiency, as well as improve service to taxpayers and job seekers. One of these investments was Virtual Hold technology that helped reduce telephone wait times for unemployment-insurance claimants from nearly an hour to just minutes.
Lee grew up in a military family that moved frequently to locations in the United States, Germany and Korea. After her father was promoted to brigadier general, the family settled at Fort Lewis near Tacoma. She graduated from the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, served as an officer in the U.S. Army for nearly five years, then returned to the Northwest to attend the University of Washington law school. In addition to a JD, she also earned an MBA from the University of Washington. She worked at the Seattle law firm of Preston, Gates & Ellis (now K & L Gates) and Puget Sound Energy, where she ultimately oversaw its natural gas operations.
The Covington resident is a member of the Washington State Bar Association, president of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, past president and trustee of the University of Washington Alumni Association, and former Board member of the Cascade Land Conservancy. She previously was named one of the "40 under 40" honorees by the Puget Sound Business Journal.