Board Shadow Program participant Rachel Patterson
Encouraging and inspiring tomorrow’s leaders: Board Shadow Program participant Rachel Patterson
When Rachel Patterson describes her role as a code enforcement officer for a local police department, she focuses on the importance of community and connection. So, it’s no surprise that the catalyst for her discovering this career path that she loves so much was a personal connection.
Patterson was 19 years old and working as a manager at a sporting goods store when she befriended a family who shopped there regularly. One day, a few years into their friendship, the couple pulled her aside and asked, “Would you ever consider changing your career path?” They explained that they owned a contract code enforcement company and provided contractual services to municipalities and metro districts, among other things. Patterson had made an impression on them, and they wanted to hire her.
“I went home that day and looked it up,” she said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is actually really neat!’ I quit my job the next day and went to work for them.”
It didn’t take long for Patterson to realize that she had found her calling. After getting her start in the private sector, she moved to the public sector and eventually worked her way to a code enforcement officer position. Today, Patterson works for the Town of Erie Police Department in Erie, Colorado, and has more than 14 years of experience in code enforcement.
“You don’t necessarily grow up thinking you’re going to want to be a code enforcement officer,” she said. “When I realized how much I loved what code enforcement was and what it can do for a community, I fell in love. I eat, breathe, sleep and dream about code enforcement.”
Patterson’s passion for her career has not gone unnoticed. She was invited to speak at the 2021 Women Leaders in Code Enforcement Symposium, which led to her meeting Cecilia Muela and Pete Roque, two code enforcement industry leaders who recognized her potential and took her under their wing. When Muela called her and told her about the International Code Council’s Board Shadow Program, Patterson knew right away that she wanted to participate.
“She said they would love to recommend me for this program, and I just felt so honored and truly excited,” Patterson said. “I went home and completely devoured the ICC website to learn more, and then I waited every day to get the call from Kris Bridges, who ended up being my board member.”
The Board Shadow Program — part of the Code Council’s successful Safety 2.0 initiative — helps facilitate inclusive, collaborative relationships between seasoned code professionals and emerging industry leaders. It 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 connects the Code Council board to a diverse community of 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 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.
As a board shadow, Patterson attended the 2021 International Code Council Annual Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“It was unbelievable,” she said of the experience. “Understanding how things truly work and where they start is an amazing, beautiful process. I was so honored to be there.”
One of the highlights for Patterson was attending the code hearings, where she testified for a code change proposal. She said she was nervous about getting up in front of everyone to speak but was grateful for the opportunity to participate.
“Knowing that something you’re doing is potentially saving a life is exhilarating. It’s unbelievable to be in a position where you get to make choices and decisions that affect the next 50 years of codes,” she said.
Another highlight for Patterson was connecting with and learning from other industry professionals, from her fellow board shadows to the moderators and Code Council Board of Directors. She remarked on how generous everyone was with their time and expertise and said she immersed herself in conversations to learn as much as possible while she was there.
“It was eye-opening to see that there are other folks out there in the world that truly believe in what we do,” she said. “Being around like-minded people was the most incredible experience ever.”
While she was at the conference, Patterson had the chance to discuss one of her favorite topics — getting youth involved in building safety and code enforcement. And by youth, she doesn’t mean high school or college students. Patterson wants to connect with students while they are still in elementary school.
“Getting kids to understand the importance of why we do what we do will foster more interest in this career going forward,” she said. “If we don’t reach out to kids, they’re never going to understand and know what we do. We say all the time, ‘No one grows up wanting to be a building official or a code enforcement officer,’ but I’d like to change that.”
Patterson and Roque are currently developing an animated series for children, similar to Bob the Builder and Handy Manny. It stars a fox named Fiona who talks about code enforcement concerns and complaints. Patterson develops the scripts and cuteness factor, while Roque handles the dubbing and program logistics. The two are also collaborating on a coloring book.
“Kids are the future, and if we’re not giving them the tools to be successful, then we only have ourselves to blame for not having people interested in our industry,” Patterson said. “We need to foster the amazingness of the youth out there today.”
For anyone considering a career in building safety or code enforcement, Patterson advises:
- Know why you are choosing this career path. “With code enforcement and building safety, it’s truly a passion. You have to want better for the world. If you have the mindset that what you’re doing is potentially saving someone’s life, it’s such a fulfilling thing.”
- Focus on creating connections within the community. “My motto, my vision, my mission is ‘I create, enhance and maintain quality of life and safety standards within the community. It’s really all about how you can connect with your community.”
- Be willing to try new things. “Don’t be afraid to move on. You have to remember that this industry is forever growing and changing, and that means that you have to grow and change and be willing to adapt and pivot.”
- Be your best self in every situation. “I truly believe that integrity is in everything you do every day. It’s how you carry yourself, how you address folks, how you dress, it’s everything. Integrity is not just doing the right thing. It’s doing much more than the right thing.”
Patterson is an enthusiastic ambassador for the industry and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. In addition to the children’s series she is working on with Roque, she hosts regular podcasts for code professionals and partners with Roque and Muela to provide free industry resources at codeenforcementeducators.com. She was also elected to the ICC Colorado Chapter Board of Directors and will teach a course at this year’s Women Leaders in Code Enforcement Symposium. Patterson has found her passion in life and is following it.
“I am still as in love with my job today as I was yesterday as I was the very first day that I started doing this,” she said. She is also still friends with the family who started her down this career path all those years ago.”
|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.