Spirit of service alive in alumni volunteers

As a Civil Engineering student in the late ‘70s, Arun Channan’s involvement ran the gamut from the Brute Force Committee and the Engineering Society, to the Concrete Canoe Competition, Cannon Guard, and Civil Club. One of his fondest memories is affixing giant Mickey Mouse ears to the SAC dome at three o’clock in the morning as a prank.

Now, as an alumnus, Channan (CivE 8T0) has volunteered his time to the Department of Civil Engineering for more than 20 years, organizing five-year reunions, as well as fundraising on behalf of CAMP Campaign and Skule Society. He believes his volunteerism is a direct extension of his student activities.

“Influencing the quality of education and student experiences in the Department of Civil Engineering is important to me,” Channan says. “I remember my own positive associations and I get a charge from seeing the Department’s achievements.”

Channan’s participation reflects alumni enthusiasm for the Department and is an example of the range of volunteer opportunities open to alumni and how these opportunities enrich the University of Toronto’s Civil Engineering community.

“We can make a difference in many ways, from running committees and projects to teaching,” says Channan. “Students and the Department benefit from our real-world experiences. We can share our different career paths, showing how civil engineering opens up many doors.”

It’s this real-world experience and familiarity with the Department that makes alumni contributions so valuable.

“Alumni volunteers are among the University’s best spokespeople,” explains Paul Cadario (CivE 7T3). “In Civil Engineering, they share a common commitment to the Department and our different backgrounds offer valuable outside perspective on the Department’s different initiatives.”

In addition to teaching, funding scholarships and creating the Cadario Facility for Integrated Learning, Cadario serves on several University boards and the Boundless campaign committee for the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. He has chaired the Civil Engineering Chair’s Advisory Board for the past three years and is quick to highlight the benefit of similar alumni involvement.

“We are a sounding board for the Department’s campaign and priorities,” he said. “We act as consultants for the Department Chair, bringing our day jobs’ perspective to teaching, research and advancement. Our knowledge of the Department is invaluable for the university in improving connections and building its profile.”

For example, Cadario facilitated the creation of a course on water issues, one of the Board’s current priorities, between Civil Engineering and the Munk School of Global Affairs, where he sits on the Master of Global Affairs external advisory board.

Alumni also get involved in causes that demonstrate their interests and skills. Sue Joel (CivE 6T5) began volunteering with the Department in 2010, when it established five scholarships in honour of the first five women to graduate from Civil Engineering, of which Joel was one. “I felt very honoured that the Department would do this,” she said. “It has been a real pleasure to renew my acquaintance with the Department through this initiative.”

Since then, Joel spearheaded the creation of a Class Album yearbook in celebration of her class’s 50-year anniversary in 2015, and she has recently joined the Engineering Alumni Association’s Alumni Awards Committee.
Engineering education is a key focus for Indi Gopinathan (CivE 9T6), who currently teaches a mineral economics class in the Lassonde Mineral Engineering Program. She draws on her mining industry connections to bring in guest speakers and deepen the level of expertise.

“Being involved has given me the opportunity to reflect on the value of engineering education to my career and to consider its role more broadly within our industry,” she said.

No matter the activity, alumni volunteerism fosters a lifelong attachment to the Department and its students.

“Once you get engaged, it’s really easy to ask, ‘How else can I help?’ and stay engaged,” said Cadario.