When most people pay it forward, they do something helpful for someone else – because of a good deed someone did on their behalf.
Then there’s John Paserba.
He has been paying it forward to thousands of engineering students and professionals since shortly after entering the working world more than 30 years ago. But he’s also quick to acknowledge that – starting with his sixth-grade science teacher – many people have done good deeds for him along the way.
This past April, Paserba received the Robert S. Walleigh Engineering Professionalism Award at IEEE Region 3 Southeastcon in Huntsville, Alabama. Now an IEEE Fellow, Paserba received the award “for significant and sustained contributions to engineering professionalism and IEEE Student Member engagement.”
The Vice President of the Power Systems Group of Mitsubishi Electric Power Products Inc. (MEPPI) near Pittsburgh, he enthusiastically credits the caring, inspiring educators and engineering professionals who helped him – and who continue motivating him to pay it forward.
“I got my introduction to electricity thanks to Mr. Swick, my sixth-grade science teacher, who included simple, but interesting, experiments with connectivity in our classroom,” he recalls. “That inspiration went dormant for me until I was a high school senior, and a recruiter from Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, gave an inspirational talk on the institution’s EE program. After some investigation, I knew that was the place and program for me.”
At Gannon, then-Professor Jerry Selvaggi told five promising sophomores – Paserba among them – that if they chose Gannon’s electric-power concentration and maintained their grades, he would ensure they got full scholarships to study for their Master’s degrees at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.
“Today, Dr. Selvaggi is 97 years young,” says Paserba. “I’m still in touch with him; and the four of us who accepted his proposal, plus many more of his past graduates, recently funded a scholarship in his name at Gannon.”
Also while at Gannon, this year’s Walleigh Award recipient joined the IEEE Student Branch, but he was a “casual participant” until his senior year. That’s when Dr. Mehmet Cultu, then the Branch Counselor, encouraged Paserba to enter the Student Branch Paper Contest sponsored by the IEEE Erie Section.
“Writing, preparing, presenting, and as it turned out, winning the contest was a great experience,” says Paserba. “From there, I took part in the IEEE Region 2 Paper Contest in Dayton, and this was a turning point in my career – and without exaggeration – in my life. Not only did I enjoy that event enormously, but I also learned that IEEE is so much more than a university club. I decided that I wanted to only work for a company that supported IEEE publications and participation.
“The IEEE Student Member experience literally changed the trajectory of my career,” he goes on, “as best shown by the wonderful opportunities I‘ve had at my two employers and in IEEE.”
After graduating in 1988, he joined General Electric in its Power System Energy Consulting business in Schenectady. Paserba proudly notes he wrote the first 23 of his nearly 60 published papers there.
A few years later, as he grew to realize how his IEEE Student Member experiences had influenced his career, Paserba decided to get involved and “give back to an organization that had given me so much.” He went at it with gusto:
- He joined the Student Activities Committee (SAC) of what is now IEEE Member and Geographic Activities (MGA).
- He got involved with the IEEE-USA Student Professional Awareness Conference (S-PAC) program.
- And he joined the Power System Dynamic Performance Committee (PSDP) of the IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES), which he’d belonged to since his student years.
Since then, John Paserba has been paying it forward through a multitude of activities and leadership positions too numerous to list here. To help support IEEE Student Members’ career goals, he has served in various leadership posts with the MGA Student Activities Committee and currently is an Industrial Representative. He has also been chair of IEEE-USA S-PAC. A popular speaker at IEEE-USA S-PAC events, Paserba has spoken at more than 40 universities on engineering professional awareness and career management topics.
Paserba credits IEEE Life Senior Member Jim Watson with mentoring him on fine-tuning his presentations on how students can take control of their own careers, as they transition to professionals. “I’d been giving this talk for four years when Jim heard it, and he told me it needed work,” Paserba says. “He helped me redo what I call, Managing to Manage Your Career, and we’ve also done dozens of student workshops together.”
During one of his earliest meetings for the PES Power System Dynamic Performance (PSDP) Committee, Paserba offered to take meeting notes after Prabha Kundur, the chair, asked for a volunteer.
“He liked my notes so much that he invited me to be on a sub-committee, then to serve as secretary,” Paserba remembers. “I was available to do something – and that made all the difference.”
He credits Kundur, an IEEE Life Fellow who died last year, as another of his mentors. Paserba served on PSDP working groups and task forces; as well as eight years in leadership offices, including as chair, and on other PES committees. He also has been a member of the Executive Committee of the PES Governing Board. Paserba’s publications contributions include the editorial boards of IEEE Transactions on Power Systems and Power & Energy, the society magazine. As the current Associate Editor – History, he writes a regular history column.
Paserba has been active since 1994 in CIGRE, the Paris-based global organization concerned with high-voltage electricity. He was honored in 2012 with the Distinguished Member designation for his many contributions.
Closer to home, since 2008, Paserba has taught a graduate course at the University of Pittsburgh, although his recent promotion, with its heavy travel and meetings requirements, may temporarily force him to step aside.
Despite his professional responsibilities, IEEE and his devotion to helping Student Members remain top of mind for him. As a senior executive, he consistently supports his company’s policy of providing IEEE and IEEE Society membership as an employee benefit, along with financial support to attend IEEE conferences, committee meetings and IEEE Standards events.
The late Robert Walleigh, himself a devoted and dedicated IEEE member, undoubtedly would be delighted that John Paserba has received the prestigious award named for him.
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: https://ieeeusa.org/volunteers/awards-recognition/
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.