External Affairs Manager, Illinois American Water
Karen has over 20 years of experience in communications, public relations and corporate responsibility. She has worked for 11 years at Illinois American Water where she serves as the company spokesperson, leading strategic communication and community relations in the company’s 13 service districts.
Karen is enthusiastic about partnerships that benefit the community and customers of Illinois American Water. She led the effort to implement over 35 permanent pharmaceutical disposal programs across the state, including six in Peoria County, through a strategic collaboration between police departments, students and environmental leaders. This program has been recognized locally and nationally.
Through Karen’s collaborative spirit, she pioneered an employee engagement program at Illinois American Water, the Brand Ambassador Program, which has brought the company’s core values to life through community outreach and education. Both the pharmaceutical disposal program and brand ambassador program are model programs at American Water, contributing to enhanced company culture and environmental stewardship.
Karen’s work earned Illinois American Water the American Water Works Association’s Public Communications Achievement Award in both 2012 and 2018. She was also recognized with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce Trailblazer Award (2018), Unsung Shero Award presented by community-based programs It Takes a Village and Living to Serve (2018), the 25 Women in Leadership Award (2014 ) and Peoria’s Top 40 Leaders under Forty (2009). She volunteers with the Clean Water Celebration navigating committee, National Brittany Rescue and Adoption Network Canine Railroad, Alliance of Therapy Dogs and PAWS to Read.
Karen is a graduate of Bradley University. She and her husband Dr. Brad Cotton reside in Peoria, Illinois.