Sections Congress: Inspirational Volunteers

IEEE's triennial meeting brought together leaders from around the world

29 August 2011

Today IEEE wrapped up yet another successful Sections Congress—a triennial gathering of IEEE members and volunteers from around the world. Held in San Francisco, the event attracted more than 1200 members who attended keynote speeches by inspirational engineers and breakout sessions that covered areas such as networking skills, how to hold a webinar, ways to engage members in your section, and financial management for IEEE sections and chapters. Also covered were how to develop humanitarian technology projects in your section, conduct conferences, use social media to get local members more involved in IEEE activities, and much more.

This was my second Sections Congress, and as with the last one, I found that one of the most valuable aspects for attendees seemed to be the chance to meet and network with each other. It’s not every day you get to meet volunteers from around the world who share your passion for all things IEEE, and Sections Congress is the perfect place to do just that.

SC2011 Photo: Ania Monaco

But it’s more than just networking, I realized. Such events are where members get to see old friends and make new lifelong ones. At the opening ceremony, on 19 August, I had a wonderful conversation with a former Region 3 director who told me about the countless friends he looks forward to seeing. As he spoke about them, two walked by and they shared a friendly hello. It’s not every day you get to see such friends, who often live thousands of miles away. But it was as if they picked up right where they left off—perhaps at the last Sections Congress in 2008 in Quebec.

I met so many volunteers who are passionate about their IEEE work—which is truly done for the benefit of humanity. One volunteer from Canada whom I met before a breakout session told me about her humanitarian work providing power to rural areas of Haiti. She pointed out that IEEE should focus on implementing such humanitarian projects not just in developing countries, but everywhere natural disasters strike.

As she spoke about the project, which we wrote about in April, her eyes lit up. I think it is here that IEEE shines the most: in the inspirational dedication of its members who work to help those less fortunate. Engineers—and especially IEEE members—have a unique opportunity to do that.

Perhaps the most exciting part of my trip was interviewing Vint Cerf, a tech legend who wears many hats, including IEEE Fellow and Google vice president and chief Internet evangelist. I’ve been working as a journalist for about 7 years now, but I have to admit that occasionally I get to speak with someone so important that I can’t help but get a little nervous and intimidated before the interview. This was one of those cases. I was going to speak with one of the founding fathers of the Internet, afterall! But Cerf couldn’t have been more kind and humble. It was such a pleasure and honor to interview him. Check out a video of the interview at

One of my best memories of Sections Congress was what happened right after Cerf finished his keynote speech during the General Session on 20 August. After sharing not just his technical expertise, but also a very moving story about his wife’s cochlear implant, he stepped off the stage, only to be met by a seemingly endless line of members. There must have been about 100 people lined up to shake his hand, thank him for all he’s done, get an autograph, and take a picture with him. Each time the line was about to come to an end, more people lined up. But Cerf patiently waited and met with every single one. Cerf is more than just an Internet pioneer—he’s also a true gentleman, one who remains humble despite his incredible achievements and recognitions over the years. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the members—some of them students—who shook Cerf’s hand would go on to do groundbreaking work, inspired by meeting one of their heroes.

Speaking of incredible achievements, the annual IEEE Honors Ceremony was held later that night, a video of which you can view here. also has loads of other footage from Sections Congress, including engaging presentations by Sehat Sutardja, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Marvell Technology Group; and Grant Imahara, who has applied his electrical engineering background to special effects in movies including “Star Wars: Episode 1-The Phantom Menace,” and “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” as well as the Discovery Channel series “Mythbusters.”

At the end of the Congress, volunteers voted on the top recommendations for improvements they’d like to see IEEE make. Here are the top five.

Were you at Sections Congress? Share your story below.

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