IEEE could not exist without its volunteers. After all, nearly 18 000 run every aspect of the organization. They serve in big and small ways: from guiding sections around the world, managing conferences, establishing student branches, and reviewing manuscripts to deciding on IEEE’s future. But because there are so many ways to serve, IEEE can be an overwhelming place for newer volunteers. Often, they don’t realize just how complex the organization is, what resources are available to them, or how their role fits in with all the rest.
Because of that, the IEEE Member and Geographic Activities (MGA) Board made “modernizing the volunteer experience” one of its top goals in 2013. To accomplish this end, it developed the Volunteer Leadership Training program for members who have some volunteer experience in the organization and eventually want to move up to more senior positions. The nearly six-month-old VOLT program, launched in June as a pilot program, provides that all-important overview of the organization and its resources and then offers sessions on a host of management skills.
HELP FOR THE ASKING
“IEEE is so vast, which is great, but typically members get involved with just one tiny aspect and are never exposed to all it has to offer,” says Senior Member Loretta Arellano, the mastermind behind VOLT. “They don’t realize there are a whole lot of resources and people to help them.”
Arellano chairs the VOLT Ad Hoc committee under the MGA Board and is a member of MGA’s Geographic Unit Operations Committee. She has held numerous IEEE leadership positions, including council chair, section chair, division director, region director, and society president. She was also a member of the IEEE Board of Directors from 2001 to 2002 and again from 2007 to 2008.
“When I first got on the board, I didn’t realize all the complexities of the organization,” she continues, “so I thought it would be helpful to provide a broad background for others to help them understand IEEE’s larger objectives.”
And, notes VOLT Program Manager Maria Schneider, the skills participants can learn will “carry them throughout their professional journey and career with IEEE. We see them as future officers in positions of leadership.”
Forty-nine people responded to the call that went to IEEE regions, sections, and chapters looking for members who had about two years of experience as an IEEE volunteer, were interested in eventually holding higher positions, and were able to commit between four and six hours a month to the program. For the pilot, 21 participants were chosen from eight IEEE regions. They included chapter and student branch chairs, and treasurers. Each was paired with a mentor, a senior volunteer who had experience serving on IEEE boards. Participants were organized into five culturally and regionally diverse teams, according to Schneider.
“My motivation for participating was to learn about my new role,” says Member Hassaan Idrees, who had been recently appointed chair of the IEEE Karachi (Pakistan) Section’s Student Activities Committee. “It is a tough job, and I needed immense guidance and networking skills to do justice to it. Thanks to VOLT, I was able to have great interaction with IEEE members that I wouldn’t have thought possible. I now have a bond with volunteers from around the world and have learned from their experience.”
When Member Ryan Musgrove became more active in his local section, he felt he needed to know more. He had been serving as the Oklahoma City Section’s vice chair since 2012 (and this October was appointed interim chair of the section’s Graduates of the Last Decade Affinity Group, which he helped to establish). Not familiar with everything IEEE had to offer, he was, he realized, “not as effective as I could be. I thought VOLT would be a great opportunity to learn more about IEEE and its available tools.”
He continues: “I was well aware that IEEE is a worldwide organization, but I didn’t realize it has so many volunteers in so many sections in so many parts of the world.”
The VOLT pilot includes a weekly hour-long live webinar session, which was recorded for those who couldn’t attend in person. One session each month included overviews by staff representatives from the IEEE Operations Center, in Piscataway, N.J., of the various organizational units, their structure, their role within IEEE, and the resources they each made available to volunteers. Other sessions dealt with IEEE’s products and services, such as the IEEE Center for Leadership Excellence, a repository for all the organization’s leadership and volunteer training materials, and SAMIEEE, an online database that breaks down membership statistics section by section. Homework was assigned every other month, with a final team project due in November. Optional “how to” demonstrations gave students an opportunity to tell the others how they had put what they learned to use.
SAMIEE, in particular, was a hit with both Idrees and Musgrove. Idrees found it “an incredible way to discover the many features of the IEEE geographic and member database, and it has helped me ever since. I have developed an efficient local database for sharing information quickly with our members.”
Both Idrees and Musgrove say they have already applied the skills they learned to their professional lives.
“My time-, people-, and activity-management skills have all improved over the past few months,” says Idrees. “And this has made me a better leader, locally and globally.”
A representative from each of the five teams will make a presentation on their final projects via WebEx remote conferencing to a forum of MGA directors during the IEEE Meeting Series, being held in November in New Brunswick, N.J. The projects dealt with identifying products and services provided by IEEE’s organizational units and finding ways to leverage them for a greater effect at the local level.
“This will be a good opportunity for the VOLT participants to be exposed to the MGA Board and a chance for the Board to see the effects of this pilot,” says Arellano.
The pilot VOLT sessions wrap up in December. However, preliminary results of the pilot’s effectiveness will be presented to the MGA Board in November. The board will decide what happens next. According to Arellano, it could continue VOLT in its present form or modify it to include volunteers with more or less experience.
Feedback from participants like Musgrove shows the program is making a difference.
“The information offered by the program will definitely benefit me in both my IEEE volunteer positions as well as in my professional career,” he says. “It was worth signing up for; it has been a great learning opportunity.”