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Volunteering with the ICE: there’s a role for everyone

18 December 2023

Brenda O’Loan, ICE Northern Ireland chair, explains why she volunteers with the ICE and how it shaped her career.

Volunteering with the ICE: there’s a role for everyone
Brenda O’Loan highlighting the importance of the role of STEM ambassadors at the ICE NI Early Careers Network (ECNet) conference.

I’ve had the great pleasure of volunteering with the ICE for all of my career, and I can only recommend the experience.

I’ve gained far more than I’ve put in, from great friends to sound career advice and professional and personal development.

I warmly encourage my fellow members of the institution to consider ways to begin or continue their own involvement in a rewarding environment.

Early beginnings

My appetite for volunteering began early, when I became an ICE student representative on the Graduates & Students (G&S) Committee (now called Early Careers Network, or ECNet) in 1990 for the University of Ulster.

I was involved in organising the ICE dinner dance as well as other events for early career colleagues.

This included things like a study course, joint site visits with other institutions and the five-a-side football tournament.

As many early career volunteers discover, you find yourself asked to take on other roles and so I became the honorary secretary followed by chair of the Northern Ireland (NI) G&S Committee.

This led to joining the national G&S Committee and becoming its secretary, along with a position on the NCE Editorial Board.

Natural next step

Having enjoyed the experience, a lot of which helped develop skills in other areas of my career, I joined the ICE NI main committee in 1999 once I became professionally qualified.

First, as press officer and then undertaking other roles, including honorary secretary and chair of the NI commerce and contracts special interest group.

Eventually I was honoured to represent NI on the ICE Council.

I was able to debate and influence some of the big issues facing our institution, such as member engagement, graduate membership and the impact of Grenfell on our profession.

As a result of enjoying such an extended period of engagement and opportunity, I was invited to return to the NI Committee as vice chair in 2019 and I’m now the chair.

I get to work closely with industry leaders who are some of the best and brightest people I know, coming together to create solutions to the challenges we’re facing.

There are so many ways to get involved

There’s so much important work at the ICE, often behind the scenes, which is led by members volunteering.

You can find a way to be involved no matter how much or how little time you have to spare.

One of the best ways to dip your toe in the water is to become an ICE STEM Ambassador, helping to spread the word about civil engineering to the next generation.

ICE NI chair 2023-24, Brenda O’Loan, with STEM ambassadors and attendees at a recent event for the Time is Running Out exhibition.
ICE NI chair 2023-24, Brenda O’Loan, with STEM ambassadors and attendees at a recent event for the Time is Running Out exhibition.

Professional Reviews

Beyond the NI region, I’ve also been engaged with wider ICE activity as a professional reviewer.

This led to involvement with the ICE’s Standards Panel and my current role as co-vice-chair of the Professional Reviews Panel.

Being a professional reviewer is one of the best ways I stay involved, especially as my career has evolved.

I’ve been doing this for over 10 years now and can honestly say there isn’t a Professional Review where I don’t learn something.

It’s fantastic to get an insight into the various sectors colleagues work in, the interesting and valuable work being done, and to see how peers are leading the way on major issues, like decarbonising infrastructure.

Becoming a reviewer

If you’re professionally qualified, I encourage you to consider becoming a reviewer – our institution needs more people to come forward to support in this vital way.

We’ve been delighted to see big numbers of candidates coming forward for review, since this will ensure the continued excellence of our profession.

But we need to do our bit by coming forward to assess the candidates and ensure they meet the high standards we require.

So, what next?

My ICE journey to date has been a privilege.

It’s offered me the opportunity to take up roles that I recognise come with a great responsibility to the profession and wider society.

The roles have given me a vast array of experiences and opportunities that not only allow me to help nurture future talent but also have shaped me and my career journey.

I’ve made many friends along the way, given and received much valued advice and now have the ability to ‘pay it forward’ by supporting others.

And, although still in the early stages of my year as chair of the NI Committee, I will certainly be keeping an eye on opportunities for future volunteering roles yet to come…

My journey with the ICE isn’t over yet!

Get involved

  • Brenda O'Loan, regional director at AECOM