Careers

IEEE-USA Board of Directors Has Big Plans for 2014

By John R. Platt

Gary Blank feels a swell of emotion when he thinks about his new job as 2014 IEEE-USA President. "When this organization was formed about 130 years ago, 14 members stepped forward. When I look back at the names, including Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, I get goose bumps."

Blank, who takes great pride in his IEEE membership, is optimistic about his year as president of the IEEE organization unit charged with advocating on behalf of U.S. members in Washington, and helping members build satisfying, lifelong careers. "When the members elected me, I took on this responsibility very seriously," he says. "I’m very excited about this organization. I think we’re going to have a spectacular year."

One of Blank’s main goals for 2014 focuses on membership. International IEEE membership has soared over the past decade, but membership in Regions 1 through 6 has declined for each of the past 11 years. He’s determined to turn that around. "Membership development is at the top of my list," he says. He is certain that by the time the annual August membership reports come out, they will reflect the first positive U.S. growth in more than a decade. "We can do it this year. We’re going to get it done. If we can get a pattern going in the right direction, maybe we can have momentum after I leave."

Blank has a few strategies in mind to promote membership growth, including incentives for the 167 U.S. IEEE sections. Any section that sees a 5% membership growth over the next few months, he says, will be recognized at this May’s IEEE-USA annual meeting in Providence, Rhode Island. "If your Section grows by 5 percent or more, and if you attend this year’s Annual Meeting, I’ll invite you and all of the people who come from your section to a special presidential session and recognize you on stage," he says. "I want to get people excited about bringing in new members and retaining existing members."

Regarding existing members, Blank plans a special Member Retention Week for later in the year. "With the help of many like-minded members I’m going to be spearheading this effort to get as many people involved as possible," he says. The event will depend on other passionate IEEE members spreading the word about the values and benefits they receive from their membership. "I’d like to see the members communicating with other members," he says.

This communication ties in with his other main goal: educating current and potential members on the value of membership.  "In addition to all of the wonderful products and services offered by IEEE, perhaps the greatest value is something intangible. I would never have been able to accomplish what I did in my professional career without IEEE," says Blank. In particular, he looks back at his IEEE mentors and the many networking opportunities IEEE has provided for his success. "I wish I could talk to all of our members and young professionals about how IEEE can benefit their jobs and careers the way it did mine."

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Of course, IEEE membership also comes with quite a few quantifiable benefits, ranging from liability insurance to continuing education to discounts on new computers. "We have more than 200,000 members in the United States alone and they aren’t all looking for the same things. But we have so much to offer, there’s something for everybody."

Beyond Membership: Government Relations

Of course, this year won’t only be about membership. Another area in which Blank would like to educate members is the connection between IEEE and IEEE-USA. "We’re all part of IEEE," he says. "One of the main things IEEE-USA does, that no other part of IEEE has, is government relations. We’re here in Washington. We have registered lobbyists on staff and our member volunteers. This is very important — nobody else is doing that right now."

Tom Tierney, the incoming Vice President of Government Relations, sees 2014 as an important year. "As an election year, 2014 is expected to be another pivotal year for technology policy in the United States," he says. Key topics that he expects to see in the coming months include federal budget austerity, the balance between national security and right to privacy, intellectual property and the Copyright Reform Bill, software licensing and safety and immigration law.

"In addition to continuing to advocate for sound technology," Tierney says, "my primary interest is to revamp some of IEEE-USA Government Relations operations." He says his goals are to transform from a reactive role to become "an organization that seeds cutting-edge policy by identifying new, emerging issues; providing policy-makers with sound, credible-data-informed advice; and increasing our follow-up activities."

U.S. IEEE members play a key role here. "IEEE-USA is highly dependent on members’ subject matter expertise, and volunteerism is essential to helping maintain sound technology policy within the United States," he says. "Without their help, IEEE-USA is less capable and effective at advising policy-makers on what is indeed working well, when changes are needed, or the impact of their proposed legislation or regulation."

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Tierney recommends members sign up for the IEEE-USA SmartBrief email, which can help keep them informed about policy issues. "This is their gateway into not only what IEEE-USA is doing, but also what is happening on the Hill that might impact their work."

Communication Challenges, Awards and the Clinton Challenge

IEEE-USA will make some adjustments to the ways in which it communicates in 2014. "Things are changing so rapidly, we have to adapt," Blank says.

"We [will] have a new charter this year," says Karen Panetta, Vice President of Communications and Public Awareness. Part of that will involve combining the two IEEE-USA publications, Today’s Engineer and IEEE-USA In Action, so all member needs can be met with a single title. Panetta’s area will also focus on promoting the "outstanding products and services from across IEEE-USA’s program areas," including everything from the Salary Survey and Congressional Fellows Program to "all of the amazing work that our volunteers are doing on the Hill, lobbying for the interests of engineers and the industry, as well as intellectual property and entrepreneurs."

It’s an important role, Panetta says. "IEEE-USA is doing the heavy lifting for the entire nation on some of these really hot topics that are affecting government. Communicating this to our members — as well as hearing from them so we make sure we’re addressing their greatest concerns and their needs — that’s the task that keeps me up at night."

Panetta is also in charge of promoting IEEE-USA’s annual awards. "IEEE-USA has some fabulous awards to recognize professionals," she says. In addition to promoting professional and technical achievements, the awards also recognize the people who help to disseminate science and engineering to the general public. "We haven’t announced this year’s awards yet, but when we do you’ll see that they come from every facet of life, from teachers and government leaders to Hollywood writers."

Speaking of government leaders, Panetta is also spearheading a new program called App-E-Feat, a collaboration between IEEE-USA and the Clinton Global Initiative. The humanitarian challenge, which will be held as part of EWeek, aims to educate the public about humanitarian issues such as human trafficking, lack of education for girls, and healthcare information in third-world countries.

"What we’re going to do," Panetta explains, "is post some of the challenges faced by the nonprofits working with the Clinton Global Initiative. We’re going to put out a call for our members or student members to come up with ideas of how to use a mobile app to help humanitarian efforts. It might be an educational app or it might provide information or tracking on something." Younger students will also have the opportunity to submit a mock screen design instead of a working app. "We’ll have tools and software on our website for them to draw their design."

Panetta invites as many IEEE members as possible get involved with App-E-Feat. "We’re hoping it will be as successful as Future Cities," she says. "That is another IEEE-USA EWeek activity that has been around for 20 years now."

Professional Activities, Career & Member Services

Getting back to some of Blank’s themes, Will Kassebaum, Vice President of Career and Member Services, says his area has a simple goal: "We want to help our members be successful in their careers and serve the public by promoting engineering."

Career and Member Services embodies five committees: Employment & Career Services, the Alliance of IEEE Consultants Networks, Entrepreneurial Activities, Licensure & Registration, and K-12 STEM Literacy.  "These committees provide a host of services to members of our professions and to society at large," Kassebaum says. "Generally, the focus is to enhance the professional lives of our members and enhance societal benefit related to promulgation of engineering discipline and STEM awareness."

One big change in this area this year is the Alliance of IEEE Consultants Networks, which is now more like an affinity group that members can now join during their annual IEEE renewal. "With this change, IEEE-USA can reach out to consultants directly who join either as basic consulting members or those who join as professional consultants with an entry in the IEEE Consultant’s database," he says. "We expect this will lead to more consulting opportunities for members and higher awareness of the significant resources available to engineering consultants from IEEE-USA."

Like Blank, Kassebaum’s goal is to encourage people to join IEEE and learn about the resources available through IEEE-USA. "The array of services available to IEEE members is astounding," he says. "I encourage members and non-members to take some time to familiarize themselves with these services and take advantage of them."

Another area which members can use to boost their careers falls under the banner of Professional Activities. This includes the IEEE-USA annual meeting, speakers who can be invited to student branches, and professional support for local sections. These are all areas where the members who put in a little bit of work get the most value. "The great thing about IEEE is that it’s volunteer-driven," says Edward Perkins, Vice President of Professional Activities. "You can, by being a little proactive, find people to talk about any topic." Perkins says he wants more people to know about the PACE Network and the fact that student branches and sections can apply for funding to help make great events happen.

Everyone on this year’s board emphasized the value of the individual and collective membership in everything that IEEE-USA does, as well as the values that belonging to IEEE provides to professionals. Kassebaum, perhaps, said it best: "Professionals who are not part of their professional society –the IEEE — are missing out on the immense growth opportunities and services offered through the world’s most respected technical association. We all need to spread the word."

Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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