Awards & Recognition

2020 IEEE-USA Awards Honor Nine Members for Excellence, Service, and Contributions

By Helen Horwitz

Thanks in large measure to Mark Soffa, who coordinates a summer STEM camp for the IEEE Philadelphia Section, 25 youngsters not only got to attend camp virtually this past summer, but they also had an inspiring experience that motivated them to continue learning about technology.

Nominations for the 2021 IEEE-USA Awards will open 1 April 2021!

Since 2015, the Life Senior Member has used his talents — cultivated while developing courses for IEEE members — to create a series of workshops for Camp Adonai, a summer camp in northwest Philadelphia for underserved children 8-13 years old. For 2020, Soffa purchased smart-car robotic kits, with a grant he’d obtained.

Last summer, after the pandemic forced the camp’s board to cancel in-person programs, Soffa and his educator colleagues had to switch gears. The result was a highly successful, virtual learning experience that surpassed expectations, and inspired a virtual workshop in the fall.

The summer camp ran four days a week for eight weeks, with two instructors to guide the eager, homebound youngsters. They created the robotic cars they built in an Arduino development environment—demonstrating such robotic capabilities as complex motion, line tracking, remote control, obstacle avoidance, and Bluetooth control (via cell phone).

The virtual campers were so enthusiastic that they completed building the robots faster than anticipated. To recognize their work, and as a bonus, the children were taught graphical programming, using the accompanying app. One camper programmed his robot to retrieve snacks from the kitchen.

Then, after the announcement that Philadelphia public schools would remain closed in the fall for in-person instruction, Soffa led the planning for a follow-up eight-week virtual workshop on Saturdays. This time, some 30 children attended.

To honor this STEM education achievement, Soffa, along with instructors Kai A. Flowers and James Joseph Talley Montgomery, are receiving the 2020 IEEE-USA Special Board Citation. It recognizes the team “for creating and implementing this innovative STEM education model during COVID-19 restrictions.”

However, formal recognition will have to wait. For the second consecutive year, IEEE-USA will conduct its Awards presentations virtually this summer. Last year, the IEEE’s COVID-19 precautions scuttled the 2019 honors, scheduled for April 2020, during the 2020 Region 5 Conference. All IEEE in-person meetings, conferences and events remain cancelled throughout the United States, and much of the rest of the world.

IEEE-USA is honoring eight other IEEE members, as well as a government leader and a school superintendent, in the 2020 IEEE-USA Awards and Recognitions.

Susan Gilmore, who chaired the 2020 IEEE-USA Awards and Recognition Committee, notes the Committee administers these prestigious awards. Then, the IEEE Board of Directors approves them. IEEE-USA honors accomplishments in three categories: professionalism, technical achievement and literary contributions.

“The IEEE-USA Awards and Recognition Committee strives to find the most deserving candidates every year,” Gilmore says. “So many individuals are doing great work in their communities, and in their specialty. However, oftentimes, the folks who are so generous with their time and their talents go unrecognized for their achievements.

“Thanks to all of the 2020 nominators for recognizing their fellow members,” she continues. ”I encourage every member to consider who in your circle is deserving, and then visit the IEEE-USA Awards and Recognitions page to nominate them.”

Here are the 2020 recipients IEEE-USA is honoring this year—for their excellence, outstanding service and contributions furthering IEEE-USA’s objectives:

Christopher Sanderson

Christopher Sanderson is receiving the IEEE-USA John Meredith Professional Service Award. An IEEE Senior Member and IEEE-HKN member, IEEE-USA is recognizing Sanderson “for exceptional leadership, and creation of programming for the professional development of IEEE’s U.S. members.” Currently the South Area Chair for Region 5, as well as Houston Section Chair, his nominator describes him as a vital resource for professional development. As a host of talks on leadership and standards, as well as a coordinator and champion for professional development, Sanderson has arranged engaging presentations and forums across all of Region 5.

Within the Houston Section, Sanderson helped to develop and enhance the novel Continuing Education on Demand (CED) program; it provides practical industrial power application topics to enhance the daily activities of the practicing electrical engineer. To help members confront the challenges of the pandemic—in 2020, Sanderson and his support team created and introduced more than a dozen new online professional development talks. Topics range from The Internet of Things to conducting a job search during disruptive times. Sanderson’s marketing plan included reaching out to non-IEEE technical organizations, and inviting them to participate and promote the meetings.

John Tague

John Tague is receiving the 2020 Harry Diamond Memorial Award “for exceptional leadership and achievements in research and development for the U.S. Navy’s technology enterprise.” The leader, since 1998, of the Undersea Signal Processing Program at the Office of Naval Research (ONR), Tague manages the development and delivery of advanced sonar signal processing algorithms to submarines, surface ships, aircraft, and wide-area passive surveillance sensors. Over the past 15 years, the program has delivered more than 70 advanced algorithms to the Navy, resulting in the complete refurbishment of submarine sonar systems that have changed how the Navy operates its submarine force.

An IEEE and IEEE-HKN member, Dr. Tague is also a leader in engineering education. He implemented a basic research program that has advanced statistical signal and array processing. The program also has generated many theses and dissertations, as well as highly cited papers. At ONR, he has sponsored the work for 140 academic scientists, students, post-doctoral students, and underserved high-school students; many former students continue to work on defense-related projects in industry and academe. His leadership in funding and mentoring the next generation of scientists and engineers has earned the respect of senior naval leaders, as well as the broader signal processing community.

Michael Andrews

Michael Andrews is the first of two members receiving the 2020 George F. McClure Citation of Honor. An IEEE Life Senior Member and IEEE-HKN member, IEEE-USA is honoring Andrews “for leadership promoting engineering professionalism and IEEE member engagement to students and young professionals through the development of the Rising Stars conference and numerous educational initiatives.” Although Andrews has served IEEE and its members for many years, through almost every IEEE operating unit, this nomination recognizes several of his more recent efforts, including the Values-Based Web Site Design project, as well as the IEEE Rising Stars Conference.

The purpose of the redesign program is to enhance the linkage between social media channels and three IEEE websites — the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology, the IEEE Technology and Engineering Management Society, and Region 6. The improvements simplify the pages, while also providing meaningful stories and impactful images of what each IEEE entity values — encouraging active participation with as many stakeholders as possible.

The driving force behind the IEEE Rising Stars Conference, Andrews also mentors the young members of the organizing committee in developing confidence-building professional skills.

Zafar Taqvi

Zafar Taqvi is receiving the 2020 George F. McClure Citation of Honor “for his enduring dedication in promoting professional activities — through contributions to member engagement; for inspiring and mentoring members; and for increasing IEEE visibility in industry.” Since helping to found the IEEE Galveston Bay Section in 1983, so area NASA engineers would have access to IEEE-related opportunities, this Life Senior Member has worked to build and expand local member engagement. Taqvi also has contributed through leadership positions within the Section, and in numerous Section Society Chapters.

Also known for his global collaborative efforts, Taqvi has been a popular keynote speaker, as well as invited to deliver tutorials and participate in seminars for many years around the world. In 2020, he served IEEE in leadership positions that ranged from National Engineers Week and the Section Consulting affinity group, to Region 5 History Chair and a member of the IEEE-USA Committee on Transportation and Aerospace Policy.

Azad Madni

IEEE-USA is honoring Azad Madni with the 2020 IEEE-USA Entrepreneur Achievement Award for Leadership in Entrepreneurial Spirit. Madni founded and is CEO of Intelligent Systems Technology, Inc. (ISTI), which specializes in modeling and simulating technology for complex systems engineering, education and training. Founded in 1994, ISTI grew 1,588% in its first five years. He is the creator of model-driven storytelling, a transdisciplinary approach that integrates model-based engineering with interactive storytelling in virtual worlds to enhance stakeholder participation. The federal government, aerospace and automotive companies have sponsored Madni’s research in these areas. Madni is also Executive Director of the University of Southern California’s Systems Architecting and Engineering Program, and Professor of Astronautical Engineering.

An IEEE Life Fellow, Madni also is known for his longtime efforts to help aspiring entrepreneurs and students — especially from under-represented groups. According to one of his endorsers, he has mentored both engineering and business students in best practices—whether it’s writing a business plan, developing financial forecasts, or creating the proverbial 30-second elevator pitch. Many of Madni’s former students have become successful entrepreneurs.

Shilpita Biswas

Shilpita Biswas is receiving the 2020 Jim Watson Student Professional Awareness Achievement Award “for sustained leadership increasing IEEE’s visibility with industry, growing student membership, and organizing professional development events.” Previously Graduate Activities Chair of the IEEE Student Branch at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe, she is serving this year as Student Branch president.

Praised by her nominator for “working incessantly” on behalf of ASU’s graduate student community, Biswas is no less enthusiastic in her efforts for undergraduates.  She organized a LinkedIn networking virtual session, in collaboration with IEEE-Eta Kappa Nu; has represented IEEE in several virtual events; and enrolled a striking 457 members in the student branch. At present, 11 out of its 19 board members are undergraduates. Biswas has also reached out to ASU’s online students; one of them currently is on the board of the student branch.

Stuart Wecker and Christine Busch are being honored with the 2020 IEEE-USA K-12 STEM Literacy Educator-Engineer Partnership Award. Wecker, an IEEE Fellow, is Executive Director of the Arizona Science Lab (ASL); and Busch, Superintendent of Schools for the Tempe Elementary School District, have worked together for eight years to provide STEM workshops to more than 18,000 students in grades 4-8 throughout Greater Phoenix. The IEEE Phoenix Section sponsors ASL, and IEEE volunteer members largely staff it. ASL offers four-hour, project-based workshops that give students a window into the world of STEM—with emphasis on scientific principles, social relevance, experimental demonstrations, and hands-on engineering project construction activities.

Arizona Science Lab began more than 12 years ago, after several Phoenix Section members attended IEEE’s former Teacher In-Service Program (TISP), and launched a program to teach STEM material directly to students. Today, ASL has its own physical space; the IEEE Foundation funds it; and local companies provide volunteer support. A research project conducted by Arizona State University faculty and graduate students has shown that the ASL workshops significantly influence students’ perceptions of engineering and STEM fields.

Karen Panetta

Karen Panetta is receiving the 2020 IEEE-USA Award for Distinguished Literary Contributions Furthering Public Understanding and the Advancement of the Engineering Profession. IEEE-USA is honoring her “for co-authorship of the book Count Girls In, which serves as an inspiration for youth to pursue technology careers, and for lifelong commitment to STEM literacy.”

An IEEE Fellow and IEEE-HKN member, Panetta is Dean for Graduate Education at Tufts University School of Engineering. She is widely known for her years of contributions promoting the engineering profession and encouraging students to pursue STEM disciplines. Count Girls In: Empowering Girls to Combine Any Interests with STEM to Open Up a World of Opportunity is the direct result of co-author Katianne Williams’ involvement in Panetta’s Nerd Girls program. Williams earned her engineering degree under Panetta’s tutelage, and went on to study journalism. The two met every week for a year to develop the volume—designed as a guide to help parents incorporate STEM themes into their children’s daily lives. The result connects students’ own passions to engineering to inspire a love of learning and innovation.

Andrei Iancu

Andrei Iancu, Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), is receiving the 2020 IEEE-USA Award for Distinguished Public Service. IEEE-USA is honoring Iancu “for his outstanding work updating patent regulations benefiting IEEE’s U.S. members, by clarifying and strengthening intellectual property protection and reducing administrative hurtles.”

In nominating Director Iancu, Ron D. Katznelson, who chairs IEEE-USA’s Intellectual Property Committee, cited his “extraordinary, very timely, significant and consequential contributions to U.S. innovation policy—by his PTO regulatory actions, guidance and initiatives that benefit the engineering profession and the U.S. innovation economy, as a whole.”

Congratulations to all the 2020 recipients of IEEE-USA Awards and Recognitions. Nominations for 2021 will open on 1 April. To nominate deserving members, go to:

Nominations for the 2021 IEEE-USA Awards opening soon!

Beginning 1 April 2021, you may submit nominations 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. 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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