Fifty Years of Recognizing Extraordinary Accomplishments

IEEE Fellows are pioneers in research, industry, and education

15 January 2014
Photo: iStockphoto

Share and Print

The work of IEEE Fellows has touched just about every aspect of our lives. Their handiwork can be found in cellphones, video games, the Internet, and medical devices. Fellows have also started up some of the world’s best-known companies, made major changes in EE education, served in top IEEE leadership positions, and—no surprise—even had some IEEE medals and awards named after them.

About 10 000 IEEE Fellows have been elevated since the program began 50 years ago in 1964 to recognize those who have demonstrated extraordinary records of accomplishment in IEEE’s fields of interest. IEEE’s program is the successor to those run by IEEE’s two predecessor societies­—the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) and the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE), which merged in 1963 to form IEEE. Put on hold during that transition year, the program began anew in 1964 with 10 elevations.

Fellows are IEEE senior members who have contributed in an important way to the advancement or application of engineering, science, or technology and have provided significant value to society. But there is a limit to how many can be named: No more than 1/10 of .1 percent of the total voting membership can be elevated in any one year.

“They are the crown jewels of the organization,” says Panos Papamichalis, 2014 chair of the IEEE Fellow Committee and himself a Fellow. He was elevated in 1999 for “contributions to the development and implementation of efficient digital signal processing (DSP) algorithms.” (Read his blog about what being a Fellow means to him).


The membership grade of Fellow first appeared in 1912, when it was added as an amendment to the AIEE’s constitution. That year the organization revised its membership structure and established the grade of Fellow for those engineers who had “demonstrated outstanding proficiency and had achieved distinction in their profession.” Fellows had to be at least 32 years old and have at least 10 years of experience. (IEEE dropped the age requirement.)

When IRE established its Fellow grade in 1914, the requirements were modeled on those of the AIEE: Much of the wording in the relevant amendments to the IRE constitution is identical. Many electrical engineers, members of both the AIEE and the IRE, were Fellows of both organizations.

Other practices that the two organizations shared were the methods for elevation and the issuance of citations declaring what each Fellow had accomplished. Back then, members nominated themselves for elevation to Fellow grade. However, the application had to be accompanied by recommendations from five Fellows who had paid their dues and were members. (This last requirement still exists.) Applications then had to be approved by the Boards of Directors of the individual societies.

In 1939, the IRE changed its procedure so that members had to be invited to become Fellows by its Board of Directors, a policy IRE maintained until the merger. In 1951, the AIEE adopted a similar by-invitation-only policy.

IEEE, however, changed this policy. Prospective nominees now have to be nominated by someone, and between five and eight references have to assess the nominee’s contributions. (To learn the criteria, see “Steps to Become an IEEE Fellow.”) The IEEE Fellow Committee then reviews the nominations and recommends those for elevation to the IEEE Board of Directors, which makes the final determination.

Another practice not lost in translation to IEEE is the citation that’s issued describing a Fellow’s accomplishment. IRE began issuing them in 1942, the AIEE followed suit in 1952.


FellowCooper Martin Cooper, an IEEE Fellow, developed and was the first person to make a call from a handheld cellular mobile phone. Photo: Rico Shen/Wikipedia

The list of IEEE Fellows reads like a Who’s Who of engineering pioneers. There’s Martin Cooper (1976), who invented the handheld cellular mobile phone, and the inventor of the home console for video games, Ralph H. Baer (2013). Leonard Kleinrock (1973), Robert E. Kahn (1981), and Vinton Cerf (1988) are credited with helping to develop ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet. Thelma Estrin (1977) was one of the first to apply computer technology to health care and medical research. Fujio Masuoka (1995) invented flash memory, and Mitsumasa Koyanagi (1997) devised the stacked capacity cell, the dominant cell design for dynamic random access memory.

The first woman to be elevated to IEEE Fellow was Jenny E. Rosenthal (1966), recognized for her achievement in spectroscopy, optics, and mathematical techniques and their application to electronic engineering. The class of 2008 Fellows set the record for the most women (27) elevated in a single year.

Some Fellows founded what came to be very well-known companies, such as Bose (Amar G. Bose, 1972), Intel (Robert Noyce, 1966, and Gordon Moore, 1968), and Qualcomm (Andrew J. Viterbi, 1973, and Irwin Mark Jacobs, 1974).

Fellows also have changed the face of engineering education. Mildred Dresselhaus (1979), a professor of electrical engineering and physics at MIT, was recognized for her work to enhance women’s opportunities in engineering education. John L. Hennessy (1991) was the first engineer to be named president of Stanford University. He has created a university with an interdisciplinary approach to addressing global concerns. He’s also known as the inventor of the reduced instruction set computing (RISC) processor. Another university president, Hean-Teik Chuah (2014), leads Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, in Malaysia. It’s ranked one of the top universities in Asia and has received awards for the quality of its engineering program.

FellowSloan In 1993 Fellow Martha Sloan became the first female president of IEEE. Photo: IEEE

It’s not surprising that Fellows have held IEEE’s highest volunteer office, that of president. The first IEEE Fellow to serve was John J. Guarrera (1974). Martha Sloan (1993) was the first woman to hold that office. Nearly every IEEE president in the 21st century has been a Fellow.

Because of the significance of their contributions to engineering, several Fellows have even had medals named after them. These include the IEEE James L. Flanagan Speech and Audio Processing Award (first awarded in 2002), the IEEE Masaru Ibuka Consumer Electronics Award (since 1987), and the IEEE Koji Kobayashi Computers and Communications Award (since 1986).

To mark the 50th anniversary since IEEE created its Fellow program, The Institute will feature other prominent Fellows in articles throughout the year.

Visit the IEEE Fellow site to see the names of the newly elevated class of 293 Fellows.

If you know of an IEEE senior member worthy of being named an IEEE Fellow, consider nominating him or her for the 2015 class.

Learn More