Awards & RecognitionIEEE-USA in Action

James Peterman Receives Watson Award for Student Professional Awareness Contributions

By Helen Horwitz

The world of engineering can be very small indeed.

In 1983, when James Peterman was president of the IEEE Student Branch at Tennessee Tech (TTU), he co-chaired the first IEEE Student Professional Awareness Conference (S-PAC) at the university. Jim Watson was one of the speakers.

This past April, 36 years later, Peterman received the Jim Watson Student Professional Awareness Achievement Award at IEEE Region 3 Southeastcon in Huntsville, Alabama. Watson was one of his endorsers for the nomination.

Now an IEEE Member, Peterson received the award “for sustained leadership and active contributions to the IEEE Student Professional Awareness Program and student activities.”

Then as now, S-PACs — which have since been renamed Student Professional Awareness Experiences (SPAx) to reflect the expanded variety of the offerings — teach and inspire engineering students. The events stress the importance of developing non-technical skills that can help young engineers advance in their careers.

“The S-PAC program is, without question, one of the most successful programs within IEEE,” says Charles K. Alexander, who nominated Peterman for the Watson Award. “Its incredible success is due to a small group of IEEE volunteers, of whom Jim Peterman is one. Over the years, he has focused on a variety of activities to help students learn what they will need to be successful, as well as encourage active, lifelong IEEE membership.”

Like Jim Watson, Alexander — who is an IEEE Life Fellow as well as 1997 IEEE President — has known Peterman since his college days. Alexander was a department head at TTU when this year’s Watson Award recipient was an undergraduate.

“When I joined IEEE as a student member in about 1980, you couldn’t miss it in engineering school,” recalls Jim Peterman. “TTU had a strong, IEEE-oriented faculty, and virtually all of them participated. This created tremendous excitement and buzz about IEEE.

“Then, when I became president of the Student Branch in 1983, we already had a legacy of a strong student branch with strong, effective officers, and we increased membership that year to about 360 very active members,” he says.

The S-PAC held at TTU was one of the very first anywhere, with nearly 400 students who attended from throughout the College of Engineering — a record that longtime S-PAC volunteer leaders say still stands. (Peterman modestly points out that one big reason for the event’s success was that his co-chair was the son of the engineering school’s dean at the time!)

This year’s recipient of the Watson Award traces his continued zest for working with students to two factors: the importance that he, personally, places on continuing education; and the “high level of enthusiasm” he senses in young people. “Hearing and seeing kids dream big about their careers motivates me,” he says.

Since graduating in 1985 with an M.S. in Electrical Engineering, Peterman has earned his MBA from Regis University in Denver. Currently director of product security in Oracle’s Communications Global Business Unit in the Raleigh-Durham area, he leads a team that helps to assess the security of emerging technologies, and formulates security strategies for virtual and cloud-based environments. Besides several years of supporting Region 3 Student Branch activities, he served for five years as the Region 3 S-PAC coordinator, helping many Student Branches to execute successful S-PACs. Since 1990, he has been on the S-PAC National Speakers list.  Peterman is a popular speaker on topics ranging from the importance of continuing your education to what to expect from a first job.

Adding that the interactions between the students and the speakers who appear at these events demonstrate the value of lifelong, active membership, Peterman says, “Our presence and our involvement demonstrate how IEEE provides effective technical and professional resources that can positively affect professional careers.”

“Above all, I encourage students and recent graduates about the importance of being engaged with IEEE, and involving yourself in S-PAC and SPAx. It’s a great way to serve the profession.”

The purpose of the Jim Watson Student Professional Awareness Achievement Award is to recognize IEEE members who volunteer their time and share their professional experiences with students to encourage active, lifelong IEEE membership. An IEEE Life Senior Member, Jim Watson had a 36-year engineering and management career with Ohio Edison.

A firm believer in the importance of helping students understand the value of IEEE in their careers, he founded Watson Associates after retiring. Watson has spoken to thousands of students at almost 200 schools, in the United States and abroad, about how their involvement with IEEE can help to enhance their professional skills within an engineering education. Established in 2011, the award that bears Watson’s name honors his IEEE service and contributions to the profession.

Seeking Nominations for 2019 IEEE-USA Awards 

IEEE-USA is now accepting nominations for 2019 awards — recognizing excellence, outstanding service and contributions in furtherance of its objectives. The deadline to nominate is 15 September. For a full list of awards and for more information on how to nominate, visit:

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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