The perks of being a volunteer
Shengdi (Sharon) Chen (BASc ’18) shares the opportunities and benefits of her many volunteer experiences
I graduated from Waterloo’s environmental engineering program in 2018. During university, I developed my passion for giving back to my community and helping others around me.
I implemented many sustainability initiatives on campus as part of Sustainable Campus Initiative, the student sustainability service. The initiatives include a second-hand clothing program that diverted textile waste from the landfill and an electronic-waste recycling program.
Today, I am a Designer (Engineer-in-Training) in the Conveyance group at WSP, a global engineering consultancy. I model wastewater infrastructure to assess its capacity and optimize design of sewer upgrades; I safeguard public safety and property through the mitigation of urban flooding; and I ensure that municipal sewers operate as expected, without a detrimental impact on our natural environment as a result of overflow. I love that I am using my skills to improve the built and natural environment. I also love that I am able to solve problems in systems of various sizes, from small urban developments to big municipalities.
After graduating from university, I looked for ways to serve my community and develop my interpersonal skills. I think it is our responsibility to be an active member of our local community and to create a lasting, positive impact on society. I’m grateful for the many volunteer opportunities that have come my way so far, each one bringing new skills and knowledge.
In 2018, I started volunteering for the local chapter of Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO), the licensing and regulating body for professional engineering in the province of Ontario. At PEO York Chapter, I stepped in as deputy communications director in 2018 and was elected to the board in 2019. I increased public engagement with the chapter through social media stories, volunteer spotlights and transformation of the website. Through this role, I learned digital marketing skills that I may not have gained otherwise.
To respond rapidly to COVID-19, I offered my own expertise in digital communications to deliver value to our members in a digital setting. It is important to support both the engineering and broader community during times of economic hardship and job loss. In addition to our regular programming, the chapter ramped up other efforts to help our members and the community during the pandemic.
I am currently the Awards and Recognition Director for PEO York Chapter. I lead a team of 10 volunteers in the planning of the Engineering Project of the Year Award and the creation of a new award for engineering research projects. These awards recognize the engineering achievements of companies within the Greater Toronto Area, raise awareness about the engineering profession, and connect the local companies to local talent.
To improve the profession for future engineers, I also volunteered for a number of 30 by 30 initiative committees. 30 by 30 is a national initiative to increase the number of newly licensed female engineers to 30% by the year 2030. I also co-organized the 2019 Engineering Symposium, a conference focused on artificial intelligence and the internet of things that featured over 20 panelists and 100 attendees. These volunteer opportunities also allowed me to expand my network beyond my work life and develop my organizational skills.
SHENGDI (SHARON) CHEN, Volunteer
I think it is our responsibility to be an active member of our local community and to create a lasting, positive impact on society.
In June 2020, I organized fundraising for the Richmond Hill Community Food Bank, raising $3,420 in 3 weeks. In July 2020, I also held a three-hour resume writing workshop for more than 50 attendees, where I shared insights on what employers look for when reviewing candidates.
In 2021, I was thrilled to receive the prestigious 2021 G. Gordon M. Sterling Engineering Intern Award for Leadership Development from Professional Engineers Ontario. It is gratifying to know that I am on the right path for growth. Within the next five to 10 years, I want to take on additional responsibility within the chapter and PEO, and volunteer for additional community organizations. My next step is to volunteer for an environmental cause within the community.
The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is centralized within our Office of Indigenous Relations.