Volunteers Develop Management Skills

Volunteering can be a very rewarding activity. Hear what some members had to say about their experiences

6 January 2011

Thousands of IEEE members start their terms in office this month, having been elected or appointed to serve on boards and committees. IEEE receives the benefit of their free time and expertise, but what do the volunteers get out of the experience? Far more than you might imagine, according to members queried by The Institute.

Volunteers pick up leadership and organizational tools, learn to manage others, hone their networking skills, broaden their perspective of the engineering field, and expand their professional contacts. One even says his volunteer activities helped him land a Fulbright scholarship, an educational exchange program of the U.S. government. All agree volunteering is a valuable experience.

Senior Member Gim “Soon” Wan, a senior design engineer at Vicor, in Andover, Mass., held several IEEE positions over the years, including chair of the IEEE Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD) committee, IEEE Nominations & Appointments member at large and, most recently, the Region 1 membership chair. He was responsible for many things, including strategic planning, organizing annual meetings, leading discussions, building consensuses, mentoring new volunteers, and planning budgets. And he puts those skills to use at Vicor, which designs and manufactures modular power systems and their components.

“I’m applying the strategic planning skills I acquired to develop new product concepts and designs, and to resolve circuit design issues,” Soon says. “I also apply what I learned about managing a group of volunteers from around the world to my own employees, and I’m able to boost their motivation, morale, and dedication to their tasks. And using my mentoring skills, I’ve encouraged my team members to develop and succeed.”

IEEE Member Danica Kragic, professor of computer science at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, in Stockholm, has been active in the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (RAS). She is associate editor of IEEE Transactions on Robotics and an editorial board member of the International Conference on Robotics and Automation. She is responsible for recruiting others to review articles and conference papers, as well as ensuring the peer-review process meets IEEE standards. And as a member of its administrative committee, Kragic helps decide how to run the society.

“Being involved with different IEEE boards and working closely with senior researchers who sit on those boards has been tremendously helpful in my work,” she says. “Leading meetings and achieving consensus in a multifaceted group is a challenge but even more so in academia, given the different areas of expertise.”

She says the skills acquired from her volunteer duties will be especially important when she begins a term this month as vice dean of the university’s School of Computer Science and Communication.

Another RAS volunteer, IEEE Member Carol Reiley, is a Ph.D. candidate at the Johns Hopkins University Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robotics, in Baltimore, where she works on surgical robots. As the society’s student activities chair, she devises programs to get the 1500-plus student members more involved with the society. That includes social activities, leadership and educational workshops, and mentoring programs, many of which take place at the society’s conferences.

“Students have different needs from members,” Reiley says, “so it’s important to have a student serve on an IEEE board in order to bring new ideas to the table.”

She recently developed a mentoring program in which student members shadowed conference chairs to learn about their responsibilities. The students also identified current problems facing robotics, the hot new fields, and future challenges. More than 100 student members participated at three of the society’s conferences.

“Volunteering takes you away from just sitting at the computer, and it helps you understand the impact of your work and how IEEE operates,” she says. “Plus, you get a chance to network with prominent researchers in your field you wouldn’t meet any other way.

“I’ve also learned what tasks must be done to organize something on as large a scale as a conference.”

Member Salomón Herrera has been volunteering for IEEE since he was student branch chair at the Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral, in Guayaquil, Ecuador. He went on to hold other positions in Region 9, including student activities chair and most recently chair of the region’s GOLD committee. He has been responsible for boosting membership, setting up new student branches, and organizing working groups. He says he has learned how to delegate work to others, as well as how to negotiate different points of view, raise funds, design promotional materials, and use social networks strategically to promote and disseminate ideas. Herrera is a project coordinator with Ecuador’s Dirección Nacional de los Espacios Acuáticos, the country’s maritime authority, also in Guayaquil.

“As a software developer, I’m always proposing new ideas, developing new projects, leading meetings, negotiating requirements with customers, and promoting teamwork—all skills I picked up from my volunteer duties,” he says. “And when I’ve been assigned to oversee major projects, IEEE has given me the confidence to take them on.”

He also has acquired a solid list of professional references—which helped him when he was applying for jobs, he adds.

As chapter organizer for the Argentina Section, IEEE Member Sergio Baron recently formed a joint chapter of the IEEE Electron Devices and Solid-State Circuits societies. His duties include organizing events, such as the Electron Devices Society’s biannual meeting in Region 9, and he was treasurer of the Communications Society chapter in Argentina.

Until recently, Baron was a lecturer and researcher in the engineering department of Universidad Nacional de La Plata in Argentina. He took a leave of absence from the university late last year after winning a Fulbright scholarship.

“All the skills I acquired during my IEEE volunteer experience have been paramount in fulfilling my day-to-day duties,” he says. “My organizational skills improved a lot, and speaking in front of audiences of different nationalities became normal for me.”

With the Fulbright scholarship he is pursuing his graduate studies in the United States at the University of Maryland, in College Park. There, he is a researcher at the school’s MEMS Sensors and Actuators Laboratory in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“I can attribute this honor in part to being involved with IEEE and to the experience and skills I acquired,” he says.

IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

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