Kam And Ray Have Their Say

The candidates tackle the issues

5 September 2008
kam

Moshe Kam

MEMBER GRADE
Fellow

EMPLOYMENT
Head of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Drexel University, Philadelphia

AGE
52

TOP IEEE PRIORITIES
Developing programs and publications for practicing engineers, expanding IEEE’s involvement in emerging technical fields, and improving IEEE’s public image

Our last issue introduced you to the two candidates for 2009 IEEE President-Elect by filling you in on some of their personal interests and background [June]. Now it’s time to get down to business and learn where Moshe Kam and Pedro Ray stand on the issues of importance to you and IEEE.

At the 20th annual Candidates Night on 24 June, Kam and Ray weighed in on such topics as their top priorities for the organization, alternate models for membership, public access to technical literature, and the future of IEEE Press. The IEEE Philadelphia Section hosted the event at The Inn at Penn, in Philadelphia.

Here’s what the candidates had to say in answer to questions posed to them by members in Philadelphia and via e-mail.

If you were IEEE President in 2010, what would be the top two priorities on your to-do list?

KAM My first priority would be to develop effective services for practicing engineers. Practicing engineers make up 60 to 70 percent of our membership, but we are not serving them that well. We’ve been facing this problem for quite a few years, and it’s time to solve it. We can do this by creating collections of practice-oriented papers and application notes from our archives, and by producing continuing education programs aimed at practicing engineers.

Next, I would expand IEEE’s technical scope. We cannot continue to rely on our traditional technical areas. We should get aggressively involved with new areas that intersect our traditional fields. For example, very interesting work is being done at the inter­section of electrical engineering, computer engineering, computer science, and the life sciences. This is work that IEEE must not only become part of but lead.

kam

Pedro Ray

MEMBER GRADE
Senior Member

EMPLOYMENT
Chief executive officer, Ray Engineers, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

AGE
48

TOP IEEE PRIORITIES
Developing an alternative membership model, publishing periodicals for practicing engineers, and developing another successful product to build on the popularity of IEL

RAY The first would be membership—coming up with a three-tiered model under which people can join IEEE. I would base it on different prices for different packages of IEEE products and services. The idea is for members to get more for their money than they’re getting now.

My second priority would be to work on the long-term financial health of the institute by developing another smash-hit product to go with IEL [the IEEE/IET Electronic Library]. IEEE is relying too heavily on this one product for its revenue.

Do you think IEEE should change to a different membership model?

RAY Of course. The one we have now has served us well, but I know our members are asking for a new one. We raise our membership dues every year to keep up with inflation, and members need to get something back for that money. The way to give back is to offer three tiers of membership, including, for example, packaging subscriptions to societies or IEL. We are now researching what the right packages should be.

KAM There’s another aspect to this, namely who our future members will be. We have ceased to be a society of just electrical and computer engineers. We should find ways to increase the breadth of our organization so that people engaged in advanced technology of all kinds see IEEE as their professional home. By this I mean, for example, information technology specialists, physicians who do biomedical research in areas close to electrical engineering, and teachers of science and technology. We should try to bring them into IEEE. Technology has applications that transcend the field of engineering. In order to continue to lead, we need to encompass more fields and encompass more professionals.

Do you support open access to IEEE’s information?

RAY No, I don’t. IEEE provides value in its published products. When someone buys something, that product has gone through a long process of peer review. Like any organization, IEEE must recoup that cost.

IEEE obviously needs to be part of the open-access movement to some degree—and our publications group is experimenting with it. But I do not believe IEEE should give away its intellectual property to everyone.

KAM To some extent we are providing open access already. You can find about 30 percent of  IEEE’s papers online right now because we allow our authors to publish their papers on their Web sites. This 30 percent fraction is pretty significant.

I agree with Pedro that we should not rush to open our library to everyone for free, but I want to caution that at some point we may be forced to do just that. In a few years, the subscription model we use now may no longer work. We need to acknowledge the very successful run we have had under the current model; but the success of the electronic library may eventually end, and we need to be ready for that day.

IEEE should have a plan to participate in open-access experiments, and to respond to emerging trends in that arena.

IEEE Press is a money-losing operation. Should IEEE discontinue it, outsource it, or continue to run it as a benefit of membership?

KAM By itself, the fact that IEEE Press is a “money-losing operation” does not concern me. We are a not-for-profit. Financially, we are supposed to have a positive bottom line overall, but not necessarily for each and every activity. Quite a few activities do not make money—for example, our participation in the accreditation of academic programs. No one expects that activity to make money. We work on pre-university engineering education, and again no one expects students who visit our educational Web sites to pay for them.

The future of IEEE Press has been discussed for a long time. We should weigh the prestige of the titles and the degree to which these titles are popular with our target audience. The goal should be to do the right thing by the IEEE name. If we are achieving this goal, it is fine to continue the operation even if it loses money. If we are not, then close IEEE Press down.

RAY As an IEEE Board member, I voted in the past to close it down, but this issue keeps surfacing. IEEE Press should not continue as it is. It should be outsourced. It’s a matter of printing the material where it can be done most efficiently.

How should we encourage young people to join IEEE?

KAM IEEE is already very active in this area through two main vehicles. One is the online portal Tryengineering.com, which introduces young people to engineering, and encourages them to go into engineering fields. The portal has been very successful. Last year its English-language version had 2.5 million hits.

The other vehicle is the Teacher In-Service Program (TISP), which has our volunteers working with middle school and high school teachers to show them how to bring engineering projects and engineering design into their classrooms. We are doing a lot with TISP, but we are not doing enough. We now work with between 1000 and 2000 teachers a year. We need to get corporate support so that we can reach 20 000 to 30 000 teachers a year.

RAY I don’t have a different answer. We should get behind those two programs and make them even more successful.

Is volunteer governance still a good idea for IEEE?

RAY It is, in the long term. It should continue to be a mix of volunteers and some professional governance. IEEE has tried to change its governance many times and has always failed. I think that no matter what I say, it will never change.

KAM Compared with other professional associations, IEEE is much more volunteer-driven and volunteer-governed. In spite of obvious shortcomings, such as not having paid staff people helping with every task, IEEE has been very successful—so successful that a couple of years ago someone calculated that it would cost IEEE between US $2 billion and $3 billion to replace all its volunteer force with professionals.

We have done pretty well with volunteer governance, and we are likely to continue to be governed by volunteers for many years. Overall, it has been a success story.

What do you see as the IEEE of the future, and as president, how would you influence that?

KAM The key to IEEE’s future success is to be at the forefront of technology. In the future, I foresee IEEE standing for more than just the “Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.” Rather, it will be the home of technologists and practitioners at the forefront of a variety of technical fields, including opto­electronics, nanotechnology, technology for medicine and health care, biotechnology—almost every technological discipline at the cutting edge. We will widen our scope so that we lead in all modern technologies.

The first step in making this happen is to open IEEE’s doors to all practitioners, scientists, researchers, and individuals who investigate natural and technical phenomena. We started doing this long ago in terms of our rules. [IEEE’s fields of interest once included only electronics, radio, allied branches of engineering, and the related arts and sciences. In 2005, the Board of Directors changed the rules concerning who can become a member by expanding IEEE’s technical scope to include engineering, computer sciences and information technology, biological and medical sciences, mathematics, physical sciences, technical communications, education, management, law, and policy.]

However, so far we have only changed the rules. We have not done much to let professionals in the new fields we recognize know of their eligibility to become members, nor have we done much to develop services that would attract them. A massive campaign is long overdue to explain to these technologists that IEEE is their professional home. We must act now to make sure that in the future we will be leaders in all emerging technology.

RAY I agree. Our name should be IEEE, and we should be the leader of all engineering—not just electrical engineering. A few years ago, I made a motion to the Board of Directors to take out the words “electrical and electronics engineers” from our name and just make it IEEE, but the motion was voted down. Our goal should be to cover all technical fields, not just the ones we are involved with now through our 38 societies. We aren’t focused enough on emerging fields.


FOR MORE INFORMATION: You can listen to an audio recording of the event by visiting the IEEE Election website. Also on the site is a set of questions from members posed by 2004 IEEE President Arthur Winston.

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