Board Shadow Program participant Celine Sarkisloo
Encouraging and inspiring tomorrow’s leaders: Board Shadow Program participant Celine Sarkisloo
Celine Sarkisloo was 14 years old when a deadly earthquake struck the Kerman province of southeastern Iran in 2003. More than 34,000 people died, and nearly 200,000 were injured. As she witnessed the devastation through her family’s television screen from a different part of the country, Sarkisloo saw doctors, nurses and emergency response crews working around the clock to save lives. The tragedy caused her to reflect on her dream of becoming an architect.
“Seeing all of that disaster was unbelievable,” Sarkisloo recalled. “Everybody was trying to help somehow. I was a kid, and I saw that people in the medical field were what they needed, but I also understood that preventing disasters before they happen is important. I realized that I didn’t need to be in the medical field to save lives. By becoming an architect or an engineer, I could still help my community.”
Six years later, Sarkisloo immigrated to the United States. She was touring the Los Angeles area on the day she arrived when the unique design of the city of Glendale Building and Safety Division structure caught her eye. “It was standing on a base isolator,” she said. “Seeing that building brought so much excitement and a lot of questions at the same time. That was the moment I decided to become a civil engineer instead of an architect. I didn’t know that four years later, I would be working in that very same building.”
Sarkisloo enrolled in college and applied for the engineering program. She earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in fire protection engineering. “With full-time school and full-time work, it wasn’t easy. It took me a while, but I did it.”
She was introduced to the world of building safety through a family member while she was at school and was intrigued. She soon found work as a student employee at an inspections office and received her first promotion after just a few months. Sarkisloo continued to seek out learning opportunities and asked mentors and colleagues to help her learn new skills, like issuing permits, which would allow her to interact with the public. When she graduated, she received another promotion.
The young girl whose career path was shaped by an earthquake in Iran 18 years ago is now a building code specialist II for the city of Glendale in Southern California. She is also the president of the Los Angeles Basin Chapter of the International Code Council. “I have been very fortunate to work with the best in our profession,” Sarkisloo said. “They really helped to shape my career. I made a promise to myself that I would pass along the favor to the next generation.”
One of the mentors who helped shape her career is Code Council Board Secretary/Treasurer Stuart Tom, who served as a building official and fire marshal for the city of Glendale for many years and is now the plan check coordinator for the city of Burbank in California. Sarkisloo laughed as she told the story of the phone call that led to her participation in the Code Council’s Board Shadow Program.
“I was studying for my finals when I got a call from Stuart Tom,” Sarkisloo said. “I have so much respect for him that when I picked up the phone and he said who was calling, my first thought was, ‘What did I do wrong?’ Tom explained the Board Shadow Program and said that he thought I would be a great fit and told me to take some time to think about it. I said, ‘No, I don’t need to think about it. I want to be a part of this program!’” Unbeknownst to her, Tom had already spoken with her supervisor and made sure Sarkisloo had permission to participate. “I was so excited,” she said.
As a board shadow, Sarkisloo attended the 2021 International Code Council Annual Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Although she has been an active participant with her local Code Council chapter for years, this was her first time attending the annual meeting and code hearings. “When I walked into the room on the first day, it was amazing to see hundreds of knowledgeable and experienced people from both public and private sectors,” she said. “Every single minute was beneficial to me. The thing that impressed me was that everybody there was trying to help us and teach us. It was very rewarding.”
Sarkisloo also appreciated the opportunity to connect with other board shadows from across the country. She said connecting in person helped establish lasting relationships, and now she has peers in the industry who are just a text or a phone call away. “I believe you need to be very passionate about your career to be part of such a program. You need to take it seriously and learn so you can bring the information back home and explain it to other people. Honestly, the amount of experience that we gained was unbelievable.”
As an emerging leader in the industry, Sarkisloo is already making good on her promise to help the next generation. She and her colleagues from the Los Angeles Basin Chapter of ICC visit local schools to talk about building safety and explain how to earn certifications through the Code Council. She believes that code officials must promote their profession and thinks more can and should be done to develop relationships that will help students see building safety as a potential career.
“I believe that if you teach all those technical aspects at early ages, you can uplift students’ confidence, which will allow them to have an easier transition from school to work,” Sarkisloo said. She hopes that more young people will consider a similar career path. And, for those who do, she has some advice.
“Do not be afraid. Just believe in yourself. Building safety can be very intimidating at first, especially for women. Remember that you have colleagues, friends and mentors who will help you get to where you want to be. Take advantage of any opportunities, responsibilities and challenges. Your future success depends on the hard work that you do every day.”
|To help facilitate inclusive, collaborative relationships between seasoned code professionals and emerging industry leaders, the International Code Council created its Board Shadow Program — part of its successful Safety 2.0 initiative — which provides an opportunity for emerging code professionals to “shadow” the Code Council Board of Directors at its annual conference and public comment hearings, to intercept and absorb information and experience real-time leadership as they observe their board mentors.
Now in its fifth year, the program provides an opportunity for the Code Council board to connect to diverse emerging professionals from different socio-demographic backgrounds and enables senior leaders to hear a different level of thinking to real-time issues facing young code professionals today. The board gets a much broader range of views on strategic, complex and critical issues, and a feedback loop of challenge, solution, development and learning is created. The program demonstrates the benefits of investing in future code development leaders and helps create a diverse pipeline of “ready-to-go” leaders who understand and are already contributing to the construction industry.