Karisa Vlasek loves what she does.
Her work at OPPD “fuels her soul.” Vlasek wears two hats. One role is to research, write and help secure grant funding for various projects and initiatives. The other role involves community outreach.
“I am so proud to say I work for OPPD,” Vlasek said. “This is not just a job for me. I get to wake up every single day with an absolute eagerness to get to work and make a difference. I have to have a passion for my job or it is a deal-breaker.”
Last year, much of her work dealt with the effects of 2019’s historic flooding and helping OPPD with recovery and hazard mitigation. Vlasek spent countless hours working with FEMA on asset recovery related to the event.
She is working on other projects this year, and making a big impact for the utility and its customers.
As OPPD’s coordinator for Grants & Stakeholder Outreach, Vlasek has helped secure three grants this year totaling more than $1.2 million dollars. The grants will help fund the Electric Vehicle Charging Program, a Battery Storage Pilot, and the Income-Qualified Energy Efficiency Pilot Program.
Vlasek said the flood work last year was important, but she is glad to be back working on other projects. Of course, with COVID-19, the work is now done from home until it is safe to return to more normal office conditions.
“During a non-disaster year, I find, write, and administer grants for OPPD,” she said. “Along with the grants for OPPD, I help connect the communities we serve by finding grant opportunities for them.”
She also supports OPPD’s stakeholder events as part of teams that engage the public when the utility has large projects, such as a transmission lines or new generation additions.
Prior to to OPPD, Vlasek worked at her alma mater, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO).
“My family and I are huge supporters of all things UNO including athletics,” she said. “We are season ticket holders to every sport, both men’s and women’s.”
At UNO she started working on grants while in graduate school and then worked as a grant administrator in the NASA Space Grant Office/Aviation Institute to get funding from NASA. Her husband, now an instructor in the Aviation Institute, shares her love of all things Maverick.
“Everyone knows we are huge UNO sports nuts and everybody knows I’m a UNO Maverick through and through,” she said. “We enjoy watching student-athletes excel in their respective sports, academically, and in the community. These student-athletes set a great example to our 13-year old daughter. She keeps my husband and I busy with club volleyball.”
She said leaving UNO was a hard decision, but she was intrigued by the prospect of working at a public utility. And she saw a chance to put her background in environmental science and public administration to good use.
She knew the OPPD opportunity would be a chance for professional growth. Coincidentally, one of the first projects Vlasek worked on after coming to OPPD in 2008 was researching pandemics for the utility’s Business Continuity Plan.
“I had to do presentations around the district about the Spanish Flu of 1918 and I read John Barry’s 546-page book (‘The Great Influenza’) and it was absolutely terrifying,” she said. “Flash forward to 2020 and COVID-19. I could never in my wildest dreams imagine that we would have a pandemic like we are experiencing now. It is completely surreal.”
Vlasek said she enjoys working on grants because she is “always thinking how the funding can help save customers money. Grants often allow OPPD to pilot innovative projects we maybe could not justify without that grant support.”
The stakeholder outreach work is rewarding because it lets her help the OPPD customers have their voices heard.
“OPPD has such a diverse geographical area, from urban to rural,” Vlasek said. “So we keep in mind that we may need to reach out in different ways, or use different tools, but ensuring every customer who wants to be heard is able to is very important to me and a core value of the International Association of Public Participation Professionals, (IAP2), of which OPPD is a member.”
Vlasek said her work is so satisfying because she knows she is making a difference in her community and in the lives of those who live here.
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