‘Changing communities. Changing lives’ - Marking Volunteers Week in Australia

‘Changing communities. Changing lives’ - Marking Volunteers Week in Australia

19th May 2020

As a membership organisation that is led by members, supports members and serves society, volunteers are the lifeblood of the Institution.

Without our member volunteers, we simply couldn’t fulfil our obligations as a qualifying body or a learned society. Their enthusiasm and drive to help fellow members, the chemical engineering community and wider society is palpable.

While their efforts and activities are appreciated by the Institution all year round, as part of IChemE’s Strategy 2024, we are working to further improve the volunteer experience to ensure the membership remains a vibrant and thriving community. This is one of President Stephen Richardson’s top priorities, and that’s why during at the end of 2019, he initiated a two-year programme to improve support for and better recognise volunteers.

Allyson Woodford

Name: Allyson Woodford

Job title and organisation: Operations Manager, BP Refinery Kwinana, Western Australia

IChemE role: Immediate Past Chair for Board of Australia

Bio: I have a Bachelors degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Queensland and work in oil refining. I have volunteered with IChemE on a number of members groups, boards and councils for the past 20 years. My most recent role was as Chair of the Australian Board and as a Trustee. My favourite roles were always being part of the magic of the international conference Chemeca held in Brisbane, working with the late great Don Nicklin in 2005 and my friends Alasdair Beveridge and Kathy Hirschfeld in 2013.

You volunteer in many capacities with IChemE, can you tell us what your roles involve and particularly how are you supporting members and chemical engineers in your local community? 

Volunteering with IChemE for 20 years in one form or another I have done everything from being the student representative, to taking meeting minutes and organising large international conferences. The connections I have built across industries and academia have helped me to shape not only topical and relevant technical programmes that appeal to the members, but also provide the Australian member perspective when sitting on late-night Trustee calls with the UK.

In my leadership roles as a State Group Chair, Australian Chair and as a Trustee it was important that I represented the voice of the member when deciding on how to move the organisation forward via different programmes and strategies. This involved attending regular Board and Trustee meetings (both virtually and in person in the UK) as well as working closely with Peter Slane, IChemE Director, Regions. I gave keynote speeches at conferences and dinners and used my portfolio to raise the profile of IChemE within the wider chemical engineering community. I engaged with and listened to the members at every opportunity: technical presentations; conferences; student engagements and even informally in my own workplace.

The members of IChemE are an ambitious design of engineers and their vision only becomes a reality thanks to our volunteers. I am honoured to be both a Fellow and a volunteer of IChemE and my long history in these roles helps me appreciate every single person involved from our local member groups to our staff and our Trustees.

Lots of work is being done by many volunteers at IChemE (with the support from IChemE employees) to turn physical courses and meetings into virtual ones. Why do you think it’s important to continue sharing knowledge and support chemical engineers in their professional development to help change communities and change lives during the coronavirus pandemic? 

Around the world right now, engineers, scientists, researchers, manufacturers and health professionals are working round the clock to scale up tests, personal protective equipment and medicines to combat the coronavirus. Why is process safety vital in the global response effort? 

Just like the virus, process safety never sleeps. Risk is inherent in any system we create and/or interact with. We have already seen in India a chemical plant shutdown due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions experiencing problems on start-up that lead to people losing their lives in their own homes. Now more than ever is the time to step back and ensure that we understand any new risks we might introduce when we make plans to operate in this new pandemic-induced environment. Focussing on process safety will always save lives.

Why do you volunteer with IChemE and what do you find rewarding about your volunteer roles?

(Warning: cliché ahead!) I have always volunteered because of the people I meet and the ability to be creative. Truly, the teams I’ve worked with over the years have always been diverse and we’ve created amazing ways for our members to engage with IChemE and each other. The friendships I have forged through volunteering are lifelong, international and incredibly rewarding.

In fact, my most rewarding volunteer experience was co-creating Chemeca 2013 alongside my friend Alasdair Beveridge. Our annual pilgrimage to Chemecas all over Australia and New Zealand had inspired us to find a way to bring academics and industry together to address the grand challenges faced by society. We decided to take a different approach and introduced expert panels, big picture conference sub-themes, opened with an all-female executive panel session and even had a plenary delivered by a zero-gravity crystal growing astronaut! Working with our esteemed conference chair Kathy Hirschfeld, it took us countless hours of influencing chairs, universities, sponsors, speakers, students and ultimately ticket holders. It was all worth it in the end, and it was probably the best conference we’ve have ever been too (no bias here!).

The volunteering community within IChemE is strong and welcoming. Why not get in touch with your local member group? I know that every member has a good idea just waiting for a committee to help make it a reality!

Stuart Chia

Job title and organisation: Director of Sherpa Consulting

IChemE role: Volunteer with the IChemE Safety Centre (ISC) on the project ‘Improving Process Safety Education in Undergraduate Education’

Bio: I graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelors degree in Chemical Engineering and with a Masters in Engineering Studies. I have been involved in process safety and risk management for the process-related industries for the past 25 years.

My role at Sherpa Consulting is to provide technical support to our fabulous team (mostly chemical engineers), developing management systems and risk support to our clients, as well as developing our own business development, and training and mentoring our graduate chemical engineers.

Tell us about your volunteer role with the IChemE Safety Centre’s undergraduate projects – what does this role involve and how do these projects help chemical engineer students?

This is a really good question. My role involves many different things, such as helping to frame, write and review the IChemE Safety Centre (ISC) project-related materials for its ‘Improving Process Safety Education in Undergraduate Education’ project. I have been involved with the project since its inception in 2016. There have been two phases. The first phase was the development of the publication Learning Outcomes: Improve Process Safety in Undergraduate Engineering. The second phase, which we’re in currently, is focused upon bridging the industrial training between university and industry.

I am fortunate to collaborate with other volunteers from academia, industry representatives and regulators; all of us drawing on our experiences to share with undergraduates. Our other main goal is to make sure the ISC resources are practical to help make the transition from study into industry as easy as possible.

How does your role as a volunteer support other aspects of your life, including your career and professional development?

My role as a volunteer is extremely rewarding as I believe it is so important to interact with undergraduate chemical engineering students and facilitate that spark for process safety. It’s awesome to watch that ‘light bulb moment’ in a lecture theatre when students understand risk concepts.

At Sherpa we are a gender diverse company and it is wonderful to see the increased interest of women in process safety careers. Through ISC, my team and I have been able to share our learning experiences, which hopefully will be able to help shape the importance of process safety in the future.

Why do you choose to volunteer with IChemE and what do you gain from volunteering?

I volunteer with IChemE as I believe it is really important to give back to the community by promoting process safety as well as connecting with the next generation of chemical engineers (and future ones when we have presented at high schools); especially considering we were once in their shoes.

This opportunity also allows my team at Sherpa to help facilitate discussions surrounding application of risk management in engineering. Finally, it has been great to connect and collaborate with other amazing ISC volunteers and a shout out to recognise their contributions too!