IEEE-USA in Action

2019 IEEE-USA Awards Honor Eight Members for Excellence, Service, Contributions

By Helen Horwitz

Not long ago, Phillip Neudeck of Cleveland was planning a trip to Oklahoma City. There, at the 2020 Region 5 Conference set to begin on 3 April, the longtime NASA electrical engineer and IEEE Senior Member would receive the 2019 IEEE-USA Harry Diamond Award.

Nominations for the 2020 IEEE-USA Awards are now welcome! NOMINATE NOW

Neudeck’s trailblazing work — leading a team that has advanced silicon carbide as a semiconductor material tough enough to finally allow exploring the hostile environment of Venus — would be recognized at the Conference.

So were the contributions and achievements of seven other IEEE members.

But in mid-March, the COVID-19 pandemic halted plans for both the Conference and the 2019 IEEE-USA Awards presentations — along with other IEEE in-person meetings, conferences and activities throughout the United States, and much of the rest of the world.

According to Susan Gilmore, who chairs the 2020 IEEE-USA Awards & Recognition Committee, presentation of the 2019 Awards will be rescheduled after IEEE has safely resumed normal operations.

She notes IEEE-USA’s Awards and Recognition Committee administers these prestigious awards; then the IEEE Awards Board and the IEEE Board of Directors approves them. IEEE-USA presents its awards and recognitions in three categories: professionalism, technical achievement and literary contributions.

“Each year, the committee receives many nominations for deserving individuals,” she says. “We encourage nominators who were unsuccessful in 2019 to resubmit their nomination packages for 2020.”

Here are the eight 2019 award winners IEEE-USA is honoring this year, for their excellence, outstanding service and contributions that further the objectives of IEEE-USA:

Emily Sopensky

Emily Sopensky, who died in September 2019, is being honored posthumously with the IEEE-USA Robert S. Walleigh Award for Distinguished Contributions to Engineering Professionalism. An IEEE Senior Member, and longtime volunteer in Central Texas and Washington, D.C., her service spanned decades and included IEEE-USA public policy and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology.

In 2007, Sopensky spearheaded the first IEEE RFID Conference, now an annual, global event. She also worked to address policy implications of RFID technologies in health care settings. IEEE and IEEE-USA recognized Sopensky with many awards, including the 2017 IEEE Technical Activities Board Hall of Honor and the 2009 IEEE New Technology Directions Committee on RFID Award.

Mina Hanna

Mina Hanna is the first recipient of the IEEE-USA John Meredith Professional Service Award. An IEEE Senior Member, IEEE-USA is recognizing Hanna for his “outstanding contributions to the advancement of artificial intelligence technology, policy and strategy on behalf of IEEE-USA.” Since becoming chair of the then-emerging Artificial Intelligence & Autonomous Systems Policy Committee in 2017, Hanna has advocated its recommendations on global platforms from Washington, D.C., to Dubai, establishing IEEE-USA as an AI thought leader. In addition, he co-chairs the Policy Committee of the IEEE-Standards Association Global Initiative on Ethics of A/I Systems — helping to establish successful collaborations between the two AI programs that boost their impact. Hanna is on the Editorial Board of IEEE Computer Magazine, published by the IEEE Computer Society.  He is also editor of “Policy Corner,” a column on data privacy, which he co-wrote. Readers have accessed the column nearly 14,000 times. [See also: Mina Hanna: IEEE-USA’s Passionate Advocate for Thoughtful, Ethical AI Policies]

James Mercier

James Mercier is the first of three members receiving the 2019 IEEE-USA George F. McClure Citation of Honor. Mercier’s nominator cited him for his “tireless devotion to making IEEE, industry professionals, students and academics better educated and connected.” Mercier is perhaps most visible in the Central Texas Section for his long-term role as workshop coordinator. The IEEE Life Senior Member almost single-handedly produces two popular workshops a year — generating significant revenue, while also ensuring that attendees keep up with their CEU credits.

A co-founder of the local IEEE Power & Engineering Society chapter, in 2011, Mercier pushed to incorporate the IEEE Power Electronics, IEEE Industrial Applications and IEEE Industrial Electronics Societies — eventually becoming known as IEEE (PI)2 Austin. His goal? To offer local members of all four societies a means to connect, participate in more professional activities, and continue to learn. The joint Chapter has since become a model for several others. [See also: James Mercier: Leading His Section and Chapters While “Under the Radar”]

Richard Toftness

Richard Toftness is receiving the 2019 IEEE-USA George F. McClure Citation of Honor for initiatives ranging from engaging students in IEEE activities to bringing IEEE leadership closer to grass-roots members. In 2016, the IEEE Life Senior Member founded, and still directs, the Engineer-in-Residence Program in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins. The IEEE High Plains Section partners with CSU to bring practicing engineers to campus to share their experience and knowledge with ECE students and be resources for career or technical advice.

In September 2018, Toftness also was project chair for the first IEEE Presidents Forum.  Streamed live from CSU over and Facebook, the event enabled IEEE leaders to converse with Sections across the United States about members’ issues and concerns. A technical innovator as well, Toftness was part of the Emmy- and Oscar-winning team that created the Phantom digital camera, which pioneered instant slow-motion replay. [See also: Richard Toftness: Advocating for Students and Grassroots Members]

Chan Wong

Chan Wong is receiving the 2019 IEEE-USA George F. McClure Citation of Honor for “significant sustained contributions in promoting professional development and fostering industry partnerships.” His nominator describes Wong as “a motivating figure for many new hires and young professionals with his unsurpassed passion and energy.” The IEEE Senior Member designed and manages Entergy’s Advanced Metering Laboratory in New Orleans; it measures and tests smart meters and Advanced Metering Infrastructure — among the utility’s key grid-modernization initiatives.

Wong is a very involved IEEE member, leading Section, regional and national programs. He founded the first IEEE-USA Future Leaders Forum; chaired IEEE-USA’s EVO19 Conference; and in 2017, he was the lead organizer for both a Utility Communication Architecture 61850 Joint Interoperability event, and an IEEE Power & Energy Society working group meeting on 61850 and digital communication. At Tulane University, Wong serves on the Engineering Board, and is IEEE Robotics Coordinator. [See also: Chan Wong: Inspiring Colleagues and YPs to Contribute and Innovate]

Philip Neudeck

Philip Neudeck is receiving the IEEE-USA Harry Diamond Memorial Award “for contributions to the development of silicone carbide integrated electronics and crystal growth technology at the NASA Glenn Research Center.” As the lead semiconductor electronic device engineer in the Silicon Carbide (SiC) Electronics and Sensors research group, Neudeck oversees the design, fabrication and testing of the first semiconductor transistors and integrated circuits to withstand thousands of hours at 500° C. and months of operation in the hellish Venusian atmosphere. They are the only known circuits that, if used in a lander, would permit learning more about the planet.

Also, regarded as an evangelist for SiC technology and its use in commercial applications, Neudeck has co-invented 15 United States patents on SiC electronics and crystal growth technology now regularly licensed to U.S. businesses. He is lead author of seven invited book chapters and six invited talks on SiC electronics technology, is a reviewer for many scholarly manuscripts, funding proposals and graduate theses, and regularly participates in SiC conference and symposia program committees. [See also: Philip Neudeck: Moving High-Temperature SiC Technology from the Lab — Eventually, to Venus]

Megan Culler

Megan Culler is being honored with the IEEE-USA Jim Watson Student Professional Awareness Achievement Award for her “tireless efforts to bridge the gap between students and professionals by demonstrating the value of continued membership within IEEE.” One of her endorsers for the Award said, “Megan could command an army with her motivation.” The IEEE Graduate Student Member was an active IEEE Student Branch leader at Texas A&M University (TAMU); and she helped plan many events to bring industry professionals to campus to meet and encourage the school’s more than 200 Student IEEE Members.

As Student Branch secretary for two years, Culler strengthened communications with the IEEE Houston Section, by attending Section meetings and inviting its leaders to TAMU meetings. She led the first IEEE-USA SPAx (Student Professional Awareness Experience) program. Called “Excellence Night,” it honored TAMU faculty who are IEEE Fellows and provided student-faculty networking opportunities. Culler graduated summa cum laude, was named a TAMU Outstanding Senior Engineer, is an IEEE Power & Engineering Society (PES) Scholar, and was the PES John W. Estey Outstanding Scholar for Region 5. [See also: Megan Culler: Her Motivation and Talents Inspire Other IEEE Student Branch Members]

Ralph Hogan

Ralph Hogan is receiving the IEEE-USA Award for Distinguished Literary Contributions Furthering Public Understanding and the Advancement of the Engineering Profession. The IEEE Life Senior Member led the IEEE Phoenix Section in a partnership with KJZZ, the local National Public Radio station, enabling members to convey to the listening audience how engineering and technology contribute to society. Under Hogan’s leadership, Section members met periodically with station reporters and used a Google Drive to offer story ideas of potential interest to KJZZ’s nearly 300,000 unique weekly listeners.

The result was a bank of 53 technology-oriented news briefs — each several minutes long and with an IEEE sponsorship message — that aired throughout 2017. Stories ranged from Navajo students learning coding to 3-D security at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. An IEEE Foundation grant helped to fund the stories.

According to a recent study, radio listeners’ interest in science, innovation and technology stories ties with education as the second most popular interest that news radio stations cover. Only stories on politics/public policy rate more highly. [See also: Ralph Hogan: Using “Quiet Persuasion” To Further Public Understanding about Engineering

Nominations for the 2020 IEEE-USA Awards are now welcome!

Nominate now to recognize professionalism, technical achievement, and literary contributions to public awareness and understanding of the engineering profession in the United States.


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.


Helen Horwitz

Helen Horwitz was an award-winning freelance writer in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.

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