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How volunteering opens doors and creates opportunity

Marissa Koop reflects on the great honor of being recognized by the Urban Development Institute, twice!

Marissa Koop is an urban environmental planner and volunteers with a number of Urban Development Institute (UDI) chapters, including UDI Alberta, UDI Calgary, and UDI Edmonton. This June, Marissa was awarded with the UDI Calgary Exceptional Service award and the UDI Alberta Making the Difference award. We asked Marissa to reflect on her work at UDI.

My experience volunteering began about 10 years ago with UDI Calgary. A co-worker asked me to give some time to the organization when changes in natural areas policies were being negotiated. Because my work is fairly specialized (I work with assessing and integrating natural areas within an urban context), I was drawn into a number of different task forces and working committees. As wetland policy changes started being discussed at a Provincial level, one of my clients suggested that I be the Industry representative on the Provincial Working Group. Since then, I’ve been nominated as the Chair of the UDI Alberta Environment Committee, and have spent the last 6 years actively involved in policy discussions with the Province. Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I’m not good at saying “no” to interesting wetland policy discussions, and so I continue to volunteer my time to address issues that affect our industry.

Volunteering has really opened my eyes to the other side of the table. Not only have I got to know a lot of really amazing people, I have also learned a lot about policy implementation goals from other perspectives. I have connected with representatives from academia, conservations groups, First Nations, various levels of government, and other industries such as oil and gas, forestry, and peat mining. If you sum up all of our conversations, I think that you can distill them down to one common principle: we all want sustainable development. It may look a bit different, but we are all after the same end goal. 

One of the UDI achievements that I’m really proud of was the first “Women in Development” session at the annual UDI Alberta Conference. We had a sold out crowd, and our two panelists (including Nancy MacDonald from our Edmonton office) had a frank and honest discussion about the challenges and opportunities facing women in our industry. There was so much positive feedback, and channels of honest and open communication have opened up that weren’t there before.  I’m constantly amazed at the talent pool that’s drawn into our industry, and I really want to encourage and empower the women who rise to the challenges of the work that we do.  In fact, the “Women in Development” session was so popular that we are hoping it will become an annual part of the UDI Alberta Conference. There is even talk about starting local “Women in Development” groups, where networking and knowledge sharing can continue on a regular basis. The future is bright and promising!

Receiving the awards was a great honor and an even greater surprise! I am thankful to have been part of the good work UDI has produced over the past few years, particularly in regards to advancing wetland policy in the province. Being part of UDI and growing Women in Development is extremely rewarding, and means more than any kind of personal recognition. 

Marissa Koop with her awards

I’m constantly amazed at the talent pool that’s drawn into our industry, and I really want to encourage and empower the women who rise to the challenges of the work that we do.

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