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Partnering or volunteering? The choice is simple

Volunteering is one thing, but being a long-term partner in the community is crucial to the success of the engineering profession and our future

Marc Pearson presenting scholarship checks to two students from John Overton High School in Nashville, Tennessee.

By Marc Pearson, Principal, Project Manager (Nashville, Tennessee)  

I often struggle to adequately describe how rewarding it is to support local community organizations. There’s a big difference between one-time volunteer events or sponsoring a fundraiser and establishing a long-term partnership. My story involves a seven-year journey that I wouldn’t change for anything.

In 2010, my colleague Steve Field was contacted by LP Building Products (LP). One of LP’s vice presidents was working with Stantec staff in Canada and heard we had a Nashville, Tennessee, office. LP’s corporate headquarters (and the VP’s home) are in Nashville, so he contacted us and talked about a partnership his firm has with John Overton High School. Overton offers four “academies” of study, one of which is engineering. Once he described the academy structure and how we could be involved, it seemed like a natural fit. We were happily recruited to participate.

Our first step seven years ago, was joining Overton’s Engineering Academy Advisory Board. The Academy’s goal is to get students career-ready, and unlike many programs, it focuses on things outside of typical college preparation. It aims to provide students with real-world skills. I’m still an advisory board member today, and we meet quarterly to discuss new curriculum, teacher needs, or new pathways (e.g., we recently added an HVAC program). Additionally, I advise the teachers about promoting “softer skills” like professionalism, determination, and dedication—things that aren’t covered in textbooks. 

The Stantec team volunteering at Overton High School during the annual Stantec in the Community event.

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We also began offering job shadow opportunities. Four or more times per year, we invite 10 to 15 Overton students to our office to experience life as a professional consultant. We divide the students into teams, present a real problem, and ask the groups to design a solution. Each team then presents their designs to a panel of office leadership, and we challenge them with questions to initiate further discussions and guide them to consider solutions in different ways. We even award a “project contract” to the winning team, just like a real scenario. 

We’ve also hosted several “externships,” where we host Engineering Academy teachers at our office for three or four days and offer a detailed look into what we do so they can integrate that into their curriculum. Most recently, we focused on the topic of “branding” and winning work in the professional services world. We described what it takes to win projects in a competitive environment. We also teach about emerging trends and provide case studies. Our mission is to take the students’ education and training beyond textbooks and into real world scenarios.

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Last year, we began an ACE Team at Overton. Have you heard of the ACE Mentor Program? I had, but I only knew of it in passing—it is a corporate volunteer initiative at Stantec. Overton approached me about starting a team, so I jumped at the chance. By the end of the school year, I awarded two of my students with scholarship checks. It was one of the most fulfilling moments of my professional career. 

Additionally, because of our Overton partnership, we’ve been invited to participate in Metro Nashville Public School’s city-wide high school career fair. Each year, they host a daylong event for all Nashville freshman to explore career opportunities. We set up a booth and talked to students about opportunities in engineering. We’re participating again this year on Nov. 14; officials anticipate more than 7,000 students will attend.

Marc Pearson presenting at during the Metro Nashville Public School’s career fair.

Why is our partnership with Overton successful? For me, it’s the relationships. We truly care about Overton, and I’m personally invested. I know the teachers and students by name. The kids ask my advice on so many subjects—colleges, careers, resumes, and life in general!

I’ve been fortunate to have excellent mentors throughout my education and career, and it’s made an enormous difference in my life. Through this school partnership, I’ve become a mentor to many kids, and for me, that’s the real reward. These students are the future of our industry and our community. Many of these students will stay in Nashville, find jobs, and start families here. That’s what our community needs—consistent, strong mentors raising up other good, strong mentors that give back.

My goal is to see this partnership model thrive in our industry. If every profession and every firm invests their time and energy into local partnerships or organizations consistently, we’ll see amazing results. And, after all, our future depends on it!

Marc specializes in geographic information systems and information management in support of a variety of environmental-related services.

That’s what our community needs—consistent, strong mentors raising up other good, strong mentors that give back.

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