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How volunteering connected me to my community, my profession, and my colleagues

July 24, 2019

By Zach Whitten

For Taylor, Arizona, the support of Engineers Without Borders helps keep the rodeo alive

Rodeos are a living connection to the rich history of the American West. The era of the American cowboy began in the 1800s and rodeos came on the scene in the 1880s. Today, that scene is alive across the Western US, with one of the Southwest’s largest and most entertaining rodeos taking place in Taylor, Arizona.

The rodeo is one of the largest economic drivers (if not THE economic driver) for the town of about 4,100 people, and it’s vital to the community’s identity. However, in recent years, powerful storms—and the resulting standing water at the Taylor Rodeo Park—have delayed or cancelled the rodeo.

I’m excited to be working in partnership with Engineers Without Borders (EWB-USA) and Community Engineering Corps (CEC) to engineer a solution and help riders and rodeo fans enjoy the festivities right on time in the coming years.

Too much water

It’s ironic that in Arizona, one of the driest states in the US, a sudden rainstorm can create problems, but that’s exactly what happens in Taylor.

During a significant rainstorm, the rodeo arena floods. Poor drainage keeps the standing water in the arena and makes it unusable for long periods of time. While rodeos can take place during rain, significant puddling of water makes the event unsafe.

Volunteers from Stantec are assessing the existing drainage system and surrounding grounds, developing alternatives to mitigate flooding of the arena, and working with the Town to pick the most feasible design. Finally, when that’s decided upon, we’ll work to bring it to 100% design documents.

Currently, we have preliminary conceptual plans we’ve presented to the town of Taylor, in conjunction with EWB. In the coming months, our team will work with the town to develop costs and outline a detailed plan for accomplishing the project. That’s when the real fun starts!

Why EWB and CEC?

As a company, we’ve supported EWB-USA for several years. While EWB is known for its efforts around the globe, CEC brings underserved communities and volunteer engineers together to advance local infrastructure solutions in the US. Formed in 2014, Community Engineering Corps is an alliance of EWB-USA, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the American Water Works Association. These volunteered engineering services successfully help underserved, local communities, directly tying to Stantec’s promise to design with community in mind.

Personally, working with EWB-USA, CEC, and the Town of Taylor has been inspirational.

One reason that I studied civil engineering was so that I would be able to provide a positive impact to the community. I loved the idea that something that I designed would benefit others. I think many of my engineering colleagues feel similarly.

Though my work through Stantec has always given me the opportunity to serve the community where the project will be built, it can be difficult to truly “give-back.” So, when the opportunity of providing support for an entire town such as Taylor, along with the support of Stantec was presented to me, it was an easy decision.

One of the most rewarding aspects of working on this project has been the appreciation that the Town of Taylor has shown. We have made multiple visits to the rodeo grounds and each time we are greeted by several town employees who are more than eager to help us any way they can. Their excitement and gratitude about the potential improvements to the rodeo is more than evident and has become a huge motivational factor. 

It is very rare to be able to interact with the people who will be benefitting from our work. In our day to day work, we often interact with public agencies, districts, associations—you name it. In this case, we are communicating (and partnering) directly with the Town of Taylor, Arizona—the town whose main economic driver is a rodeo with a flaw that we have the expertise, reach, and determination to help remedy.

Working with other Stantec employees from a variety of offices—Markham, Ontario; Ottawa, Ontario; Van Nuys, California for example—was fascinating. To have colleagues—most who have never heard of Taylor, Arizona—volunteer their time for this project makes me proud of my profession and proud of my coworkers. It’s what gets me excited to wake up every day and go to work.

Community impact

The Taylor Rodeo Park isn’t the only project where my colleagues are helping. Stantec is helping to pilot the integration of corporate teams to further the CEC’s goal of bringing underserved communities and volunteers together to advance local infrastructure solutions in the United States. As a company, we offer our time and resources to identify areas and communities that can use assistance. We identify the right experts, with the right background, who are the right fit for the project. And we come together as a team to make a difference in the community in a tangible and lasting way.

The future of EWB-USA is so exciting, and we are thrilled to be involved in it. We continue to see new growth and opportunities for our involvement with EWB, and that growth is matched by the maturation of how we partner to deliver projects that better serve communities across the globe. We’re increasing our impact and getting closer to our vision of a world in which every community has the capacity to sustainably meet their basic human needs.

As such, we are involved in two other meaningful projects in the Western US that we hope will serve as guideposts to keep engineering change where it’s needed most. We believe their success will continue and will allow us to reach out to more communities through this program.

  • Community Park – Holbrook: Stantec will support the Holbrook community in Navajo County, Arizona, to develop a donated parcel of land into a much-needed community park. Holbrook, an underserved community with many residents below the poverty line, has no recreational facilities within the town.
  • Water Supply – Salinas: In California’s Salinas Valley, several communities are served by groundwater wells contaminated by fertilizers, pesticides, and possibly inadequate onsite wastewater disposal systems. EWB-USA and CEC are working with the Environmental Coalition for Water Justice, which advocates for low-income communities to secure clean, safe, and affordable water.

Engineering our future

Simply put, this is special work. There are times in my job here that I take a step back and think about the real impact our work makes on communities and lives. Having the privilege to dedicate time and resources to help advance the life of a small, rural town embodies why I love doing what I do.

It’s about the people. It’s about the difference we make. And it’s about making the world a better place.

  • Zach Whitten

    As a project engineer, Zach uses his knowledge of drainage and flood control on his diverse project portfolio in transportation and water/wastewater infrastructure.

    Contact Zach
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