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Volunteer Week Spotlight on Ellen Onstad

By Peter Kray posted 04-19-2022 04:56 PM


Happy National Volunteer Week! To celebrate the occasion, CSI would like to give a resounding round of applause to all our current and past volunteers. All week, we are putting the spotlight on CSI members who go the extra mile for their colleagues and the built community at large.

Today’s spotlight is on Ellen Onstad, CSI, CDT®, who shares thoughts on the importance of introductions and what it means to have a stake in an organization

How did you first decide to volunteer, and what is your area of expertise?

Shortly after joining CSI’s Portland, OR Chapter, I was asked to write a summary of the dinner presentations for The Predicator, our chapter newsletter. That got my feet wet in volunteering. A few months after that I was nominated for and elected to the Portland Chapter CSI Board. I started becoming more involved with new member orientation, the program committee, and the library/history committee.

Over the years, I continued working on those committees and added the golf tournament and region conference committees. I am not sure I have a particular area of expertise, but I have learned over the years how important it is to make introductions. I enjoy being able to introduce members and guests, and to the amusement of those around me, often introduce people who already know each other.

Why is the work you do as a volunteer important to you?   

A chapter does not run smoothly with one or two people doing the bulk of the work. Pretty soon they get tired, move on, or stop returning calls. It is true that 20 percent of people seem to do 80 percent of the work. Sometimes getting more volunteers is as simple as asking others if they would step up to do a small portion of a larger job.

Volunteering brings me joy, it helps to keep the chapter active and engaging, and it also brings a sense of accomplishment when a program or activity goes well. If people have a stake in an organization and are active in it, it’s been my experience that it’s more likely to thrive. Some of the lessons I have learned from volunteering have assisted me in my career, and I know the connections I have made from CSI will continue for many years.

What impact have other volunteers had on your career?   

My parents have long been supporters of CSI and volunteered on various committees over the years, including at our local CSI chapter, the Northwest Region and at the Institute level. It is through them that I got involved, and with their encouragement I joined various committees and the chapter board. They have shown me the importance of volunteering to help others, working toward betterment of our community, and continuing to do our best for the organization.

Other volunteers have become friends, which sounds very simple but true. When I changed careers a few years ago, many committee members reached out and offered their support. Others forwarded job leads. And others offered to stand up for me as professional references. Through volunteering, I have been honored to get to know many members of the organization very well. We have grown together, learned together, supported one another through life’s ups and downs, and remain truly good friends.

How might other AECO professionals volunteer in their community, and why might you encourage them to do so?   

Volunteering on committees has given me the opportunity to meet a variety of people from all aspects of the industry. I would encourage new AECO professionals to volunteer. Start off by doing something bite-sized, working towards leadership (if that is their goal) or assisting in other aspects of the organization, which can be very rewarding. Within the AECO community, there are many different organizations that are in need of volunteers. Start by finding something that you enjoy or an activity that appeals to you. Do a little research and see what fits with your expertise. Also, the more people you know, the more opportunities you will find to volunteer. Sometimes it is as simple as asking what you can do to lend a hand.

Favorite book?

Right now, my favorite book seems to be the Project Delivery Practice Guide. I still think of it as the CSI Manual of Practice because I am constantly using it as a reference for work and when preparing to teach the CDT® class at my office. Of course, when I go on summer vacation and am lying on the beach, that is subject to change.


Over the years I have always said gardening is a hobby, but right now it is a wish. I have not been able to dig in the dirt and get my hands dirty lately. So, my current hobby is taking walks in Champoeg State Park along the Willamette River with my husband. My other hobby is collecting long, formal dresses. I have almost all the colors of the rainbow, and I am always looking for more.

You’re invited to learn how to become a CSI Volunteer or opt in to the CSI Volunteer Pool to easily apply for opportunities that are a match for your interests and availability.

1 comment



05-10-2022 07:46 PM

Favorite book: PDPG. Now there's a true CSI volunteer!