President Elect Candidates: An Insider's Look

A look at the personal sides of the candidates

8 June 2009

With the annual IEEE election coming up in August, it’s time to get to know the candidates for 2010 President-Elect: J. Roberto B. de Marca, Moshe Kam, and Joseph V. Lillie. To help acquaint readers with the three, The Institute explored their personal sides. We’ll cover their positions on important IEEE issues in our annual coverage of the Candidates Night Q&A in the September issue.

marca DE MARCA

De Marca, an IEEE Fellow, has been a faculty member since 1978 at Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro, where he has held several leadership and administrative positions, including associate ­academic vice president. He is the founding president of the Brazilian Telecommunications Society and a member of the Brazilian National Academy of Sciences. He has held various visiting positions at universities and industrial laboratories in Asia, Europe, and North America. He served as 2008 vice president of IEEE Technical Activities.

kam KAM

Kam heads the electrical and computer engineering department at Drexel University, in Philadelphia. An IEEE Fellow, he has taught and conducted research in detection and estimation, robotics, and control at Drexel since 1986. Lockheed Martin, Motorola, and Honeywell have supported his research, as have the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, the Naval Surface Warfare Center, DARPA, and the Army Communications–Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center. He founded and ­directs the university’s Data Fusion Laboratory, and he heads its Center for Excellence in Information Assurance Education. He was vice president of IEEE Educational Activities from 2005 to 2007 and currently serves as a member of the ABET board of directors.

lillie LILLIE

Lillie, a senior member, has 35 years of experience in telecommunications engineering and management. He held several positions at BellSouth Telecommunications facilities throughout Louisiana from 1973 to 2002, including design engineer, planner, district support manager, engineering manager, and planning manager. When he retired in 2002 from BellSouth he was a member of the Louisiana BellSouth State Staff providing engineering and construction support in Louisiana. In 2003 he joined NorthStar Communications Group of Birmingham, Ala., as director of corporate quality, and in 2005 he returned to BellSouth (now AT&T) to work on restoration projects following Hurricane Katrina. He continues to provide engineering support to AT&T in Louisiana on a part-time basis. He has held various IEEE positions, including 2008 and 2009 vice president of Member and Geographic Activities and director of the IEEE Foundation.

Why did you go into engineering?

De Marca Primarily because of my father, who was a civil engineer and owned a construction company. However, I soon realized I was attracted to modern technology fields—eventually my choice was telecommunications—that relied more heavily on math.

Kam There are two reasons. The first is ideology. My family strongly encouraged me to work in a productive field such as engineering or manufacturing. The second reason is individual taste. Since an early age I have been fascinated with radio and radar, which I saw at my father’s workplace. I knew I wanted to play with those magic boxes when I grew up. I still do.

Lillie When I was a child I went on service calls with my dad, who was an electrician and an appliance repairman. I’ve always been amazed at how things work. Studying engineering was a way to learn how to figure things out.


Favorite childhood memory?

De Marca Braving the high waves and bodysurfing at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. My parents were very anxious for me to be on safe land again.

Kam Seeing the painting The Great Last Judgment for the first time. My parents took me to Munich one summer and left me for a few hours to wander around the Alte Pinakothek museum. I sat in front of this monumental painting of Rubens for more than an hour trying to understand it.

Lillie Building things. I have three brothers and three sisters. The seven of us would tear apart junk appliances such as washing machines and refrigerators and build toys out of them. It was like playing with a giant erector set. The best thing we built was a go-kart. The neighbors were amazed.

How would you describe your personality?

Lillie Outgoing.

De Marca An excellent observer, persistent, with firm opinions but willing to listen (and I am very good at it, too).

Kam Very focused and determined, yet deliberative and patient.


What are your hobbies?

Lillie I collect various items of the three wise monkeys: hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil. I have almost 800.

Kam Visiting art museums and church treasury museums. I recently spent two days at the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. Two years ago I spent two weeks in the treasuries of historical churches­ in Portugal.

De Marca My most time-consuming and gratifying hobby is being an IEEE volunteer, but I also enjoy walks on the beach, watching sports, and going to concerts.


If you were stranded on an island, what one thing would you want to have with you?

Kam A solar-powered iPhone with truckloads of good books stored in its memory, including the Bible, Homer, Dream of the Red Chamber, Dead Souls, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Lillie A solar-powered laptop with Internet access.

De Marca I’m assuming that I am stranded alone and that the island has no electric power, so I would have to give priority to survival. I would like to have a Crocodile Dundee–size knife.


Favorite type of food

Lillie Anything with Tabasco.

De Marca Italian—I guess everybody in IEEE knows that.

Kam Vegetarian massaman curry [above] as prepared by the Sawadee Thai Restaurant in Salt Lake City.

Most important engineering breakthrough of the past 125 years?


Lillie The computer.

planeDe Marca IEEE volunteers do a lot of traveling and spend a substantial amount of time using e-mail. These activities are related to two of my favorite engineering accomplishments that have dramatically changed how we live and do business: commercial aviation and the Internet (and its underlying worldwide telecommunications infrastructure). Since I had to pick one, I chose commercial aviation. The diversity of engineering fields that gave contributions to the current level of commercial aviation is amazing: mechanics, electronics, materials, logistics, reliability, etc.

Kam The alternating-current transformer by William Stanley Jr. in 1884. This technology allowed mass urban—and then rural—electrification, and it led to great improvements worldwide in human welfare, health, and economic well-being.


Favorite movie

De MarcaThe Man Who Knew Too Much (when I was a child I was a Doris Day fan). Although if I were allowed to name a second movie, it would be Gladiator.

Kam Rashômon [above]. I must have seen it 50 times.

Lillie Serendipity.

Why did you join IEEE?

Lillie When I was an under­graduate student I noticed a sign in the engineering building that announced the IEEE student branch was taking a trip to the Houston Space Center, a five-hour drive. You had to be a member to go, so I signed up. I think the dues were US $15. It was the best $15 I ever spent.

De Marca When I was an undergraduate, my professors introduced me to IEEE publications, and I was profoundly impressed by the caliber of the authors and editors. I decided I should join the organization that was able to attract so many luminaries. That was 38 years ago. Now I am extremely proud to be an IEEE Fellow and running for the highest office of the same organization I was in awe of as a young man.

Kam I joined IEEE just as soon as I was admitted to become an electrical engineering student. I held the simple belief that every professional must belong to the professional society that corresponds to his or her field of interest. It was the most natural and straightforward thing to do. I believed in this when I was 16, and I believe in this now.

First job

Lillie I’ve been told that I worked with my dad since I was able to walk, but my first real job was when I was 12. I sold candy at a movie theater and ran the projector.

De Marca Preparing the weekly payroll envelopes at my father’s construction company. I was probably 10 years old when I started. My compensation was not much, but I felt very important.

Kam I was given the specifications to build a strobe light for an aircraft from scratch and get it to flash reliably. I was given three weeks and all the money I needed for parts. The deadline was 8 a.m. on a Tuesday, and it finally started flashing properly at 7:45 that morning.

Most memorable career moment?

Lillie In 1982 I was part of a team of what was then South Central Bell that deployed the first fiber-optic cable in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee. We used the new fiber-optic technology to solve a problem that traditional technology could not. We didn’t know much about fiber optics at the time, other than that the cables were very small. Of course, now the technology is used all over the place.

Kam As an entry-level communications engineer, I solved a technical problem that allowed about 50 of my colleagues to move from a very hazardous work environment to work remotely in a safe location. The solution I developed was not groundbreaking; it was a straightforward application of a textbook formula. Still, I was in awe of the indirect impact the formula had on the well-being of so many people. Suddenly engineering had a human face, and all the stuff I had read for school had a totally different purpose. I was glad I had paid attention.

De Marca Being elected president of the IEEE Communications Society in 2000.


What’s something others might not know about you?

De Marca I collect art.

Kam I sing choral music. I was a second bass with the Philadelphia Choral Society in the 1990s, and now I sing with the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia.

Lillie I was named the 1989 International Cajun Joke Telling Contest champion. The competition is an annual event in Louisiana. Contestants are each given 10 minutes to present good, clean, Cajun humor.

If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?


Kam Helen Suzman—the South African anti-apartheid activist and politician and one of the most courageous women to have ever lived. I met her once but unfortunately will not have the opportunity to dine with her again. She died this year. I miss her.


De Marca Given this very special opportunity by The Institute, I called a favorite restaurant and tried to reserve a table for three. The guests I had in mind were a Brit whose first name was Winston and an Italian born a few centuries ago in the city of  Vinci. However, the restaurant had strict no-smoking rules, so I decided to go for a party of two and focus my undivided attention on the amazing personality and genius of Signore Leonardo.


Lillie Neil Armstrong. I’ve always been fascinated with space exploration. When I was a kid the space program was just getting started, and I was glued to the TV.

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