Where do the candidates for the 2016 IEEE-USA President-Elect and Member-at-Large stand on the key issues? Their responses should help you decide how you’ll vote when you receive your ballot in August.
Candidates for 2016 IEEE-USA President-Elect
This year’s candidates are Keith Grzelak and Karen Pedersen.
Following are their responses to questions we recently posed to them.
Q: Tell us about yourself and your vision for IEEE-USA.
Keith: I’ve been an IEEE member for 23 years in the Region 6 Spokane Section. I have chaired policy committees, and I also served as the IEEE-USA Vice President for Government Relations, where I pursued members' interests in immigration policy, cybersecurity and intellectual property matters.
How IEEE-USA distinctly differs from IEEE is often forgotten. IEEE-USA should lead when working with U.S. government bodies and other organizations on matters that concern the IEEE membership; such leadership includes a commitment to retain IEEE governance safeguards that place member interests ahead of corporate interests, to allow even greater achievements. I envision IEEE-USA at the forefront in supporting U.S. STEM careers for individuals on a pathway to U.S. citizenship.
IEEE-USA's top priority should be service to our members. We must address our members’ challenges in maintaining steady and rewarding U.S. STEM careers. We should support STEM education and career development, including skills-retraining, networking and job searching. We need to work to safeguard U.S. STEM careers from erosion resulting from recent immigration guest worker visa policies.
Karen: I bring more than 35 years in the utility industry as an electric system planner and electric load/conservation research engineer in three large utilities. I am a licensed Professional Engineer in Iowa, Illinois and Massachusetts. I have testified before the Illinois Commerce Commission. I have been an IEEE member for over 40 years. I served four years on the IEEE-USA Awards Committee, four years as MGA Awards chair/past chair, and three years on the IEEE Awards Board. I have been Region 4 Director on the IEEE-USA Board of Directors, and chaired the IEEE Code of Conduct. I currently chair the MGA Metro Area Workshop Program focused on non-academic members. I was inducted into Eta Kappa NU in 1976, at Iowa State University.
My view of the future IEEE-USA is a younger, more diverse, more relevant organization; an IEEE-USA where there is opportunity for young professionals of all scientific and technical professions to grow as leaders.
Q: What are your strongest personal traits from which your leadership of IEEE-USA stands to benefit?
Keith: I am known as a leader who knows how to handle conflicting and difficult personalities, and I have a reputation for being the glue that keeps them together. I am results-oriented, and I adapt strategies based on feedback and observation. I have proven leadership skills from business and IEEE-USA to help drive policy, regulatory and business refinements that will enhance value to our members. I have the skills to show IEEE’s general membership that IEEE-USA members and volunteers are important partners in growing value and visibility of both IEEE and IEEE-USA. I’ve actively led in undertaking policy, regulatory and judicial actions that bring the interests of IEEE-USA members into consideration by policymakers when setting new laws, regulations and judicial decisions on issues of great importance to our members.
Karen: My peers recognized me for my tenacity and my ability to get things done.
The best example I can provide was gaining approval for a project that removed 1940s switchgear from a generating plant that served a major aluminum customer that required uninterrupted power. One thing that made it significant: it was the third time the project had been addressed.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of your IEEE-USA involvement?
Keith: I do not shy from questioning the actions of our boards and staff, when appropriate. IEEE is a New York State nonprofit, with well-paid staff, yet our board members are volunteers. I enjoy the challenge of continuing that tradition in an era where many nonprofit organizations are being diverted and derailed by corporate interests from their intended mission. It is essential to retain an autonomous board, and I revel in questioning every aspect of how IEEE operates to serve the public interest (and hopefully its members).
Karen: My favorite aspect about my IEEE-USA involvement was spending the past two years as a director on the IEEE-USA Board of Directors. As Director of Region 4, I led a dynamic team of volunteers. Region 4 volunteers met the challenges requested of them, and often were first to complete. So much more can be accomplished when working with a team like Region 4.
Q: What is IEEE-USA’s most critical challenge, and if you’re elected, what will you do about it?
Keith: Our most critical challenge is deciding whether we will continue to be a member-driven organization. If elected, I will work to ensure that IEEE and IEEE-USA remain member-driven and member-controlled. There have been recent attempts within IEEE to streamline our governance model, by proposing to change our Constitution, and move from a member-driven organization to a “nimble” organization that removes volunteers from key board positions. This plan calls for internationalizing public policy. However, our leaders on Capitol Hill are wary of advocacy that comes from international organizations. We must safeguard IEEE-USA’s advocacy position, so that Congress and U.S. government agencies will listen to our members’ concerns. If elected, I will work to retain and build an autonomous relationship between IEEE and IEEE-USA, so we can continue to be heard on Capitol Hill when speaking on important STEM issues, and when refining education, career and professional development activities relevant to our members.
Karen: IEEE-USA’s most critical challenge is staying relevant to the young professionals, and students soon to be young professionals. IEEE-USA’s average age is becoming older and older. We need not only to change this trend, but also to turn it around. As President-Elect, I would begin an effort to learn from young professionals what they need from IEEE-USA to succeed. I also would initiate a study of what experts say the employers of these young professionals need from IEEE-USA.
Q: How should IEEE-USA address the issue of declining membership?
Keith: We need to change what we do for our members, how we interact with younger members, and provide more relevant communications channels and services for those younger members. We cannot force STEM professionals to be IEEE members, we must give them value and a reason to join and stay as members.
Karen: IEEE-USA has a major opportunity to turn around declining membership by doing better what IEEE-USA does best: to focus on the career needs of industry engineers and scientists, and their employers, as well as young professionals. Another IEEE-USA strength is being our eyes and ears in government. This service is important service to the U.S. members.
Q: Is there a need to better understand the Millennial Generation to better meet their needs? If so, what are some of the changes IEEE and/or IEEE-USA need to make to address this changing demographic?
Keith: Our younger members are key to IEEE-USA's long-term success. Without them, we lose both relevance and membership. Since younger members interact in new ways, we need to communicate in new ways, using trusted collaboration tools and social media. We should foster exchange of members’ experiences, by boosting mentoring and networking opportunities, and rewarding our younger members for volunteering.
Karen: There is definitely a need to better understand the Millennial Generation--and the generation before, and after, the Millennials. Too many times, current and past leadership assumed that what worked in the past will work in the future. IEEE-USA needs to ask the Millennials and their employers what they need. IEEE does survey after survey--but many of those surveyed are the aging membership, so we measure the past, not the future. We need focus groups talking about the issues of the day, and what’s needed to succeed in a worldwide market.
Q: How can IEEE-USA improve employment opportunities for members and other U.S. technical professionals?
Keith: We need to lead on supporting STEM issues that contribute to an increase in STEM careers in this country, and we need to counter policy initiatives that detract from STEM job opportunities and salaries. Should fulfilling STEM careers be depleted in the United States, we will no longer draw in IEEE-USA members.
Karen: IEEE-USA is in the best position to help U.S. members improve their skills to meet an ever-changing market. IEEE-USA can improve its members’ employment opportunities by offering them opportunities for growth and leadership.
Q: If you are elected, what do you hope to accomplish?
Keith: IEEE needs to increase its stature with the public, while also making itself more relevant to STEM workers. We need to grow our public image through members, and lead on directing technology education and policy. IEEE-USA and its members are major contributors to the IEEE brand. IEEE-USA also needs to refine communications channels and media, when engaging our members and the public-at-large. IEEE-USA has an opportunity to grow members and enhance relevance with future generations of STEM workers, by delivering greater value to potential members, and by partnering with others. IEEE-USA actions should produce results that are monetized by our members, in the form of enhanced educational and career opportunities.
Karen: If elected, I would ask the younger generation what they need from IEEE-USA. I would also study the companies that employ those same engineers. This information is already available. From this information, I hope to move the resources of IEEE-USA to providing tools required of the future generation, including the Millennials.
Q: If IEEE’s U.S. members were an automobile, what would its characteristics be?
Keith: If we are truthful with ourselves, we are a rusty old Dodge--halfway stalled, without navigational aids, and that is why our membership is declining. We need to gear shift our organization, get a correct directional bearing and move. Membership will turn around, if we provide an organization relevant, and of benefit, to our members. Particularly among the younger generation, some STEM professionals want to work in smaller communities (thanks to the Internet), and walk or ride bikes to work. Some want to take public transit to work; others want to ride an electric car. There’s nothing wrong with an old Dodge--we just need to relate to the transportation diversity we now face. We cannot force younger STEM workers to join IEEE--we need to give them a reason to be members.
Karen: Like Mazda, rated one of the top ten vehicles in the past two years. Members are holistic, with a ground-up approach to engineering, with all major components designed to work together in efficient harmony. You get outstanding EPA-estimated highway miles per gallon and uncompromised driving performance. You can’t beat American made!
Candidates for 2016-17 IEEE-USA Member-at-Large
This year’s candidates are Wole Akpose and Dan Donahoe.
Here are their responses to questions we recently asked them.
Q: Tell us about yourself and your vision for IEEE-USA.
Wole: I am an electrical engineer, and the founder of 6igma Group. I have nearly 20 years of experience as a technology and business leader. I’ve been an IEEE volunteer since 2001, serving in section, chapter, affinity group, editorial, standards, region, IEEE-USA and MGA. My background includes executive leadership and board services, teaching and public speaking. As the premier umbrella organization for U.S. electrical and related engineers, and the key voice for members and advancing our profession, IEEE-USA can play a major role for our members, including how to protect and profit from the intellectual property generated by our members.
Dan: I have served IEEE as an active section member, on the IEEE-USA Career and Workforce Policy Committee, as an IEEE author, reviewer and presenter, as a long-term Associate Editor (for both IEEE Transactions on Components, Packaging and Manufacturing Technology and now for IEEE Access), as a conference chair (SusTech 2015), a technical society chapter chair, technical society Member at Large (CPMT), and on an IEEE Standards committee. My vision for IEEE-USA begins with the original, member-driven formation of IEEE-USA in the 1970s--to support career concerns-- because these concerns have resurfaced.
Q: Many members don’t understand what IEEE-USA is about and what programs, services and tools it offers them. How would you address this?
Wole: It is true that IEEE-USA remains rather opaque to many of our members, regardless of demographics. One reason is the sometime confusion about where IEEE ends and IEEE-USA begins. To do a better job, we must develop a strategic marketing plan that highlights the unique value of IEEE-USA, and rethink our current plans to make such value more actionable by members. There are significant opportunities in social media and big data to improve our understanding about members, and how to best serve them. We must be willing to invest in these strategies, without creating unnecessary silos.
Dan: I suggest “thinking like an engineer,” by asking the converse: IEEE is already a household name, so why don’t our members seek out IEEE-USA services? It seems obvious that the greater number of members do not sufficiently value these services. IEEE-USA originated from our members’ real-life, pocketbook issues. We need to refocus on those primary household issues, while still promoting the best IEEE-USA services that have evolved over 42 years.
Q: What is the most critical challenge facing IEEE-USA and, if you’re elected, what will you try to do about it?
Wole: The decline in U.S. members has continued for more than a decade now, despite the growth in some other U.S. professional organizations. While this downward spiral is an issue for all of IEEE, it is more so for IEEE-USA. There are many reasons for this decline, yet demographics do not explain it. IEEE-USA needs to redouble its efforts to meet members where they are, and perhaps continue to expand the tent further. As member-at-large, I will promote the use of data analytics to better understand this problem, and work to implement a plan to begin reversing it.
Dan: Our current challenge is jobs, jobs, jobs. The profession is under attack from multiple forces, and declining IEEE domestic membership reflects this stark reality. My own economic presentations have shown me that most engineers do not understand the causes of these issues, but engineers are supremely capable of understanding empirical economic data, when it is in front of them. Therefore, IEEE-USA should provide economic policy leadership--to peel this onion of policy miscues and propaganda for our U.S. IEEE members. IEEE-USA should march up the Hill to Congress--armed not just with polite policy statements--but with the knowledge that our rank and file membership is informed--and has fire in their bellies!
/Q: What do you think your main objectives should be as IEEE-USA Member-at-Large?
Wole: The primary focus of IEEE-USA should be how to add value to the professional lives and careers of U.S. IEEE members--whether in creating solutions that help enhance those careers, or deploying strategies that could help to open up new opportunities. IEEE-USA roles in career development and policy advocacy are essential to our members. As member-at-large, my main objective will be to help ensure the tools and the positions we take reflect the long-term best interest of U.S. IEEE members, and that we develop a more effective strategy for communicating value and delivering it to them.
Dan: My objective will be to perform the member-at-large role as outlined in the operations manual:
- Advise the IEEE-USA President and Board on matters of concern to members
- Serve the Board and Assembly by attending regular meetings
- Provide regular reports on all assigned tasks
- Assume responsibility for projects assigned by the President, OpCom, or Board.
I assume that many of my proposals will be assigned to me for implementation, planning (team forming), and I welcome that opportunity.
Q: If elected, how will you reach out to members?
Wole: Social media is a critical piece of modern communication, and we need to meet our members where they are, so we must up our social-media game. We must reinforce the “cool” in IEEE membership--and help ensure that members’ voices are heard--not just in substance, but also in practice. I understand social media, and will use it to enhance interaction and communication with members.
Dan: I am a rather prolific speaker and author. I will write articles on issues in IEEE-USA newsletters, as the editors allow. That said, writing alone does not make for effective, member-driven policy. Only face-to-face, in-depth discussions can outline empirical data, and coalesce ideas into action. I will visit Sections or Conferences to give presentations, as IEEE leaders request. Good policy originates from synergy, and practicing engineers are experts at both empiricism (understanding data) and the systems perspective (creating workable solutions).
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.