The Role of Diversity in Honoring Pioneering Engineers

IEEE Awards Program continually strives to recognize contributors from all fields of expertise around the globe

18 January 2017

I’ve been a member of the IEEE for more than 50 years and for the past decade have enjoyed being involved in its Awards Program, serving first on selection committees and then on the Awards Board itself. The program, which administers dozens of medals, recognitions, and technical field awards (TFAs), is an outstanding effort by a highly capable staff and hundreds of great volunteers. While I knew such awards were very prestigious, I soon realized that the program benefits all of us in other ways as well: It recognizes role models and preserves the rich history of our profession.

With more than half of IEEE’s 400,000-plus members from outside the United States, diversity is one of its real strengths. But how can we identify candidates for IEEE awards from among all those who have given us the tremendous progress we have seen?

To ensure that appropriate award recipients are selected, the selection committees themselves must be diverse—in geography, expertise, and gender. For example, each seven-person TFA selection committee should have no more than three of the committee members from the United States; at least one female member (but strive for more); and at least one representative each from Region 10 (Asia and Pacific), Region 8 (Europe, Middle East, and Africa), and Region 7 or 9 (Canada or Latin America).

An ongoing review of the selection committee volunteers is conducted to make sure they are appropriately diverse. Selection committee volunteers all contribute in essential ways to the process and as role models for other engineers.

A second way to ensure diversity is to nominate people for awards. Both IEEE members and nonmembers may submit nominations for the majority of IEEE awards, and award selection committees encourage people to submit nominations. After the recipients are identified by the selection committees, the recommendations are reviewed by the Awards Board and approved by the IEEE Board of Directors before they are final.

Women account for 10.6 percent of IEEE members—up from about 7.5 percent in 2000. This presents a real challenge when seeking out candidates to nominate for IEEE awards. There is also a low number of nominations being submitted for candidates residing outside of the United States.

We continue to look for ways to deal with such challenges, and you can help by nominating or encouraging award nominations of inspiring luminaries in the profession.

We can expect a continuing string of innovations from coming generations of engineers. The Awards Program is playing an important role in encouraging these engineers by recognizing the pioneering role models who have gotten us where we are today.

Kensall D. Wise was the 2016 chair of the IEEE Awards Board.

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