IEEE-USA Leaders

A Conversation with the 2020 IEEE-USA President-Elect Candidates

By Helen Horwitz

IEEE-USA is confronting some critical issues, so IEEE-USA InSight asked the two candidates for 2020 President-Elect for their views on how to best resolve them. Katherine J. Duncan and Brendan B. Godfrey responded to 10 key questions, and their replies should be helpful when you decide how you’ll vote after receiving the IEEE election ballot in August.

Tell us about yourself and your vision for IEEE-USA.

Kate Duncan: I have worked in defense, industry and academia and am currently a Visiting Research Fellow at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. I have been an IEEE volunteer for many years, most recently as Region 2 Director on the IEEE Board of Directors. In this position, I made decisions based on what I believed was best for the membership – instead of what seemed easiest, or what had simply been done in the past. My focus was member engagement and service to students, young professionals and women in engineering. My vision is to expand these ideas across IEEE’s U.S. membership, while also leading IEEE-USA’s continued involvement in government relations.

Brendan Godfrey: Now retired from a career of research management in government and industry, I am a full-time volunteer, principally for IEEE-USA but also for IEEE-Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society, the National Academies, Sandia National Laboratories, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Ars Lyrica Houston. I have led organizations with as many as 1,500 people and budgets as large as $500 million. My personal research centers on intense-charged particle beams, high-power microwave sources, and computational plasma methods. I am an IEEE Fellow and American Physical Society Fellow, and I hold a Ph.D. from Princeton University. I am committed to strengthening the IEEE-USA public policy program; increasing IEEE-USA’s visibility, accessibility, and reputation; and building upon the membership development and career enhancement initiatives of its current President and President-Elect.

What are your strongest personal traits from which your leadership of IEEE-USA stands to benefit?

Kate: I have experience working in government, a private corporate environment and academia. I have held various positions in my career from working as a bench scientist to managing technical programs. I have also held many leadership positions within IEEE, at the Section, Region and Board levels (Section officer, conference chair, Region director). My experiences within IEEE, as well as those within my working career, have given me the benefit of multiple perspectives. These experiences have allowed me to see a more complex overview of problems; and as a result, have also helped me to create diverse solutions.

Brendan: For 20 years, I served in Air Force laboratories, including as director of the Armstrong Laboratory and Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Earlier, I was a small business vice-president and board member, and a group leader at Los Alamos National Laboratory. My IEEE-USA involvement spans 10 years, most recently as chair of the R&D and Artificial Intelligence Policy committees, and then as Vice President for Government Relations. Extensive leadership in the public and private sectors has prepared me for leading IEEE-USA. I have the time and energy to perform well in a nearly full-time volunteer role. I understand the importance of focusing on key priorities, in order to accomplish them while in office. Integrity and transparency are important to me, as they are to other IEEE members.

What public policy priorities would IEEE-USA take on under your leadership, and why?

Kate: My two public policy priorities are immigration and federal research and development appropriations. As I traveled the United States campaigning for this office, I interacted with several foreign–born U.S. IEEE members. They discussed with me some of the difficult issues they face when trying to secure work in the United States. The second priority stems from federal R&D experience during the course of my career in government. R&D funds have been diverted to develop the Army Futures Command; additional funds will be diverted to support the Space Force development. Both immigration and federal R&D are critical issues for our membership. We need our foreign–born U.S. IEEE members to contribute to our development of science; and we need Defense R&D funds to support the technology developments.


Brendan: I would continue my practice of prioritizing public policy initiatives based on importance to U.S. IEEE members, and the probability of influencing government actions.  Having written the IEEE-USA Fundamental Research position statement, I am committed to increasing federal support for basic and applied research. Other critical issues include securing legislation to promote STEM diversity and eliminate sexual harassment; ending H1-B abuse, while increasing high-tech immigration visas; and assuring cybersecurity and digital privacy. Unexpected opportunities should also be pursued.  For instance, IEEE-USA is submitting an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court, defending the rights of inventors in disputes with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Although difficult, with limited resources, more could be done in collaboration with Sections to advocate important legislation at the state level.

What is your favorite aspect of your IEEE-USA involvement?

Kate: Volunteering has always been most rewarding for me. When I participate in IEEE-USA events, I enjoy taking part in the organizing committee. Being able to help the team to organize, and then witness the dedication of fellow volunteers who work so hard to put together the activities for all of our members is so satisfying. My favorite aspect of all is the day the activity finally comes to fruition. We get to see the level of engagement among the members who attend, and we share the satisfaction of both the volunteer organizers and the participants.

Brendan: My first interaction with IEEE-USA was Congressional Visits Day in 2010, and it provided me the opportunity to collaborate with other members in speaking to Congress for the science and engineering community. Since then, I have participated in several CVDs and urge others to do so, as well. In turn, CVD introduced me to the R&D Policy Committee — working with others as a member, and then as chair, to advance important IEEE-USA positions. I am particularly proud of my role in helping to convince Congress and the administration to remove severe restraints on conference attendance by federal scientists and engineers in 2012-2014. I have also enjoyed running for President-Elect, meeting outstanding leaders from all six U.S. Regions. These meetings helped me to understand better the financial constraints on Regions.

What is IEEE-USA’s most critical challenge? If you’re elected, what will you do about it?

Kate: In part, because of declining membership, IEEE-USA faces the critical challenge of reduced revenues. As others have pointed out, we face the danger of a day when IEEE-USA will no longer be able to provide vital member services. These services enable us not only to supply and retain the current membership, but also to attract new members. The fact that this situation will only worsen over time makes it essential for us to craft viable solutions now. If elected, I will continue the initiatives I undertook as Region 2 Director, working to enable the students, young professionals and women in engineering. These endeavors include developing workshops and conferences dedicated to programs relevant to their needs.

Brendan: Surveys indicate that U.S. IEEE members have only a vague knowledge of IEEE-USA and its activities. Enhanced visibility would increase utilization of IEEE-USA’s valuable career services, and expand its public policy advocacy successes. Volunteers are the lifeblood of IEEE-USA, and more volunteers would result from greater visibility.  Moreover, IEEE-USA can contribute effectively to the IEEE membership value proposition — only if members and potential members know about its contributions. While InSight and IEEE-USA social media are valuable in this regard, they reach only a portion of members. Articles could also be published in other IEEE magazines, more public policy talks given at conferences (as I did twice in June), IEEE-USA news distributed on the IEEE app as it develops, and discussions held on Collabratec.

How should IEEE-USA address the issue of declining membership?

Kate: I continue to support the concept of membership-created content. If we examine the model of the most successful social media, it becomes clear that user-created content generates a level of attachment and satisfaction unheard of as little as 30 years ago. We know that engineers are learners, builders and problem-solvers. We must make every effort to support the creation of programs that instill and reinforce that ethos, while supplying the simple gratification that comes from saying “I did that,” and sharing what has been done with others. We will need to support a turnkey system that promotes not only the endeavors of the membership, but promotes IEEE-USA through exposure and collaboration — by allowing outside entities to easily incorporate our programs into their curricula.


Brendan: Declining U.S. membership is an IEEE problem with serious ramifications for IEEE-USA and the U.S. Regions. All three must work together to solve it. Our current President and President-Elect are initiating programs to attract new members, re-enroll former members, and reach out to industry. I shall continue successful initiatives, and work with Region Directors, to identify promising new approaches. Local functions to attract and retain members are especially important, and IEEE-USA can support Region initiatives by providing speakers, videos, scripts, and publicity. IEEE should reallocate modest funds to Regions for membership development events. It also should adopt monthly automatic payment of dues by credit card — to accommodate Young Professionals who may find it difficult to pay a year’s dues all at one time.

What can be done to help IEEE’s U.S. members become more aware and engaged in IEEE-USA’s public policy activities?

Kate: It is crucial to include relevant public policy activities in the technically and financially sponsored activities that IEEE-USA champions. These yearly events provide a springboard for both our members and leaders to make meaningful connections with corporate leaders regarding various needs and concerns. This important work should be expanded and promoted to ensure a well- informed membership.

Brendan: Engaging IEEE’s U.S members in public policy is a key aspect of the larger challenge of increasing IEEE-USA’s visibility. Mutually beneficial partnerships can be formed with IEEE Societies — providing policy committees greater insight into technical issues and member concerns, while providing Society members effective access to the U.S. government. Section-level training in public policy is already underway, but more can be done. Public policy accomplishments and on-going activities can be publicized, not only on IEEE-USA’s website and social media, but also in IEEE and society magazines. Our alert system for informing members of important issues being debated in Congress can be utilized more often. Finally, members should be given convenient opportunities to provide feedback on public policy activities, through social media discussions and surveys.

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?

Kate: The Millennial Generation tends to consume information in different ways and to communicate optimizing the use of technology. It’s important that the value of the organization be made apparent to these members, because they will eventually take control. Those of us who have lived through the past 50 years have witnessed great technological change that has altered our perspective of the world. IEEE-USA has the ability and power of its collective to guide, educate and mentor this generation. We also should harness the foresight to allow them to change the organization, to position them to answer a similar question in the future.

Brendan: The Millennial Generation currently corresponds roughly to IEEE Young Professionals, and IEEE has a strong YP program. IEEE-USA has numerous volunteer committees that can provide learning and networking opportunities. The IEEE-USA Board’s dynamic YP representative has linked many YPs with policy committees. I have appointed a YP as chair of one of the policy committees. YPs can be particularly effective in dealing with congressional staff during Congressional Visits Day, where they also receive training and mentoring on how Congress really functions. Much more can be done to involve YPs in IEEE-USA activities, especially by providing leadership opportunities, making better use of micro-volunteering, and utilizing social media tools.  Videos highlighting how YPs can contribute on their own terms to IEEE-USA activities could help.

How can IEEE-USA improve employment opportunities for members and other U.S. technical professionals?

Kate: It is critical to collaborate with IEEE Member and Geographic Activities in their dialogues with industry leaders about what they want and need for their employees – both today and in the future. IEEE has presented metro area workshops focused on delivering relevant technical content to industry practitioners in different geographic locations. These events could be developed less expensively and more quickly to bring together industry professionals to consider their engineering concerns and technologies. IEEE-USA also needs to leverage the programs and content developed by MGA, the IEEE Educational Activities Board and the IEEE Technical Activities Board. The goal will be to help educate our members who work for industry on how to best respond to the changing pace of technology.

Brendan: IEEE-USA has several effective career services — such as the Salary Service, Consultants Network, Licensure Committee, and relevant webinars and e-books. It also advocates government support of entrepreneurship, intellectual property protection, advanced manufacturing, small business innovative research, technology transfer, workforce development, and immigration reform to bolster job opportunities. All of these services can be strengthened by increasing their visibility and participation — not only by members, but also by all who interact with IEEE through Xplore, Collabratec, etc. The career services programs, in particular, grow exponentially in value as more professionals utilize them. Additionally, IEEE-USA could work more closely with the IEEE Industry Engagement Committee and the Entrepreneurship program. In essence, IEEE-USA efforts can be magnified greatly by collaboration with other IEEE components, especially the U.S. Regions.

If you are elected, what do you hope to accomplish?

Kate: We must involve our U.S. IEEE members, in particular our student and young professional members, and work with them to develop programs related to IEEE-USA missions of government relations/advocacy and professional development. If we engage our membership, our products and services will have more relevance as we increase our membership numbers – and potentially, our revenue. I will promote not only the ideas set forth here, but encourage input from all levels of the organization, and I will continue to promote the concept of rotating as many members as possible through all levels of leadership positions — to create deeper involvement and continued organizational vitality.

Brendan: If elected, I hope to enhance government relations to provide a stronger voice in D.C. for our members; increase the visibility, accessibility and reputation of IEEE-USA for U.S. IEEE members; build upon membership initiatives of the current IEEE-USA President and President-Elect; and encourage gradual diversification of IEEE-USA committee membership to reflect that of IEEE’s U.S. members. When possible, I shall seek to establish stronger collaborations with other IEEE units. Additionally, as a member of the IEEE Board, I shall work with the U.S. Region Directors to identify and address IEEE issues especially important to U.S. members; explore alternative IEEE membership and financial models for a changing environment; and promote openness and transparency. My website at elaborates on my experience and summarizes my IEEE-USA goals.

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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