April 26, 2018

“The best classroom and the richest cupboard are roofed only by the sky,” said British educator Margaret McMillan in 1925. 

Science shows us that time spent outdoors improves short-term memory, restores mental energy, relieves stress, improves concentration, and enhances thinking and creativity. That’s why Otak believes in creating spaces to promote outdoor education for our children.

On Friday, April 20, Washington Elementary in Vancouver, Washington, opened its first community garden. Otak architects and engineers were on hand to celebrate with the school community after helping to design and construct the garden.

The fifth-grade students at Washington Elementary School expressed a desire to create a school community garden after reading an article on urban gardening. The students appealed to their visionary principal, Kirsten Copeland, who found a way to fund the project and move it to reality. 

Over the next five months, fourth-grade teacher Melissa Hendy led a planning committee, which fleshed out a vision for an outdoor learning environment. The school enlisted Melissa’s husband Allen, a civil engineer at Otak, to manage the project and direct construction. Landscape designer Maggie Daly laid out the garden and prepared the project estimate, and Tim Leavitt (director of Otak’s southwest operations) helped with construction. The Otak team also helped secure donations from local businesses and provided guidance to the principal on getting the project started and constructed.

“The Otak team, led by project manager Allen Hendy, helped lead the design of this project. The team took great care to provide student voice throughout the design process,” said Principal Copeland. “The Otak team listened to the key elements students wanted and embedded those elements into the final design layout. Their efficiency allowed us to take an idea from concept to reality in less than 8 weeks – just in time for planting. Washington Elementary couldn’t have done this project with this level of quality without them.”

On March 3, we joined students, staff, donors, neighborhood volunteers, and community partners to install 13 raised beds—one for each class and one for the onsite Boys & Girls Club, which will maintain the garden during the summer. The students plan to grow onions, leeks, peas, broccoli, tomatoes, and other vegetables and fruits. 

We joined the community again on April 20 for the official dedication and opening ceremony. Watch the time lapse video to see the garden grow from start to finish. 

“One of the reasons Vancouver is a great place to be is because of local corporate citizenship,” said Tim Leavitt, who is also the former mayor of Vancouver. “This community is a better place to live, work and play because companies like Otak support local initiatives and provide incentives for staff to get involved with personally meaningful and important local causes. It’s quite rewarding for both the community and our employees!”

Thanks to Melissa Hendy, the school now has a curriculum to use with the garden as an outdoor learning space. We look forward to seeing the garden come to life in the coming months.

After Hours | Community | Engineering | Fun | Landscape Architecture | Sustainability | Make a Comment | View Comments (0)
   April 23, 2018

We were excited to have strong Otak representation at the 2018 Women in Leadership Symposium on April 19. Organized and hosted by Women Leading Water, a nonprofit that provides women in the water business with personal and professional development tools and opportunities, the symposium had record-breaking attendance.

Otak not only sponsored this annual event, but water resources engineer Tammi Connolly also led the symposium planning team. A Women Leading Water board member, Tammi has been on the symposium planning team for several years, finding the planning to be just as rewarding as the main event. Liz Gilliam, Morgan Clay, and Julie Jensen also attended this year’s symposium at the Water Resources Education Center in Vancouver, Washington.

The symposium began with a keynote presentation by JaNell Cook, HDR’s west region director, who imparted her insights on how to lead with authenticity. Our HR director Julie Jensen shared her “Top 10 Things to Succeed in Business” and participated in the Organizational Transformation Panel, where panelists discussed how they are creating more diverse and inclusive organizations. Attendees also learned about engineering leadership and how to wing it when plans go awry.

During the interactive Cultural Competence Workshop, participants learned how communication styles can cause tension between coworkers or within a team. Being aware of others’ styles may keep information flowing and help individuals to feel supported by their teammates. During one breakout session, participants identified their communication styles and discussed the strengths and challenges of each style. 

Beyond learning leadership skills, participants had an excellent opportunity to network with other women from both public and private organizations at all stages of their careers. The symposium hosts work to provide an atmosphere that is open and nonjudgmental, allowing participants to speak freely about their experiences and goals. This open communication leads to shared stories, inspiration for solutions and alternatives, and a shared understanding that we are not alone in our career journeys. 

Community | Corporate | Engineering | Water | Make a Comment | View Comments (0)