Q&A: The 2013 President-Elect Candidates

Where de Marca and Durrani stand on important IEEE issues

7 June 2012
05Cand Photo: Ron Newkirk

You’ll receive your ballot in August for the annual election. To help you learn more about the candidates for 2013 IEEE president-elect, IEEE Fellows J. Roberto Boisson de Marca and Tariq S. Durrani [shown left to right], The Institute interviewed them in February at the IEEE Meeting Series in Phoenix.

De Marca has been a faculty member since 1978 at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, where he has held several leadership positions, including associate academic vice president. He also held visiting appointments at universities and industrial laboratories in Europe, Asia, and North America. Twice he served as scientific consultant with AT&T Bell Laboratories.

De Marca was also scientific director of the Brazilian National Research Council and served on the advisory committee of Finep, the largest Brazilian funding agency for R&D and innovation. He was the founding president of the Brazilian Telecommunications Society and is a member of both the Brazilian National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. He has received several awards, including the IEEE Communications Society’s Donald W. McLellan Award, its Harold Sobol Award, and the IEEE Communications Society/Korea Information and Communications Society Globalization Award.

De Marca has served IEEE in several capacities, including vice president of  Technical Activities in 2008, president of the Communications Society in 2000 and 2001, Division III director from 2004 to 2005, IEEE secretary in 2006, and chair of the Humanitarian Technology Challenge Committee from 2008 to 2010. He is now chair of the Future Directions Committee.

Durrani is a research professor in the electronic and electrical engineering department at the University of Strathclyde, in Glasgow. He joined the university as a lecturer in 1976, and from 1990 to 1994 he headed its electronic and electrical engineering department. Durrani was also deputy principal of the university from 2000 to 2006.

He is a Fellow of the United Kingdom’s Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 2003, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II “for services to electronics research and higher education.”

Durrani has held several high-level positions within IEEE. In 2010 and 2011 he was vice president of IEEE Educational Activities and vice chair of Technical Activities for Region 8 in 2003 and 2004. He served as president of the IEEE Engineering Management Society in 2006 and 2007 and president of the IEEE Signal Processing Society in 1994 and 1995. He was founding chair of the IEEE Periodicals Review Committee in 1998 and 1999.

The following are the interviews with the candidates. You can listen to the interviews in our podcast section.

What would be your top two priorities if elected?

DE MARCA: I would like to lead IEEE into the next decade. The first priority is to guarantee that IEEE will have a leadership role in new technologies and in fostering and sustaining global innovation initiatives.

The second priority is to develop benefits and services, including more online networking and learning opportunities, that will allow members to perceive IEEE as essential in their career development and professional success.

DURRANI: I see the role of IEEE as providing members with opportunities to realize their full potential by delivering effective products and services for enhancing their skill bases. In this context, continuing education and development is a key element to support lifelong learning.

The second aspect is greater engagement with industry and encouraging practitioner-driven and practitioner-oriented products and services. I plan to establish a panel of chief executives and chief technology officers to advise IEEE on strategic issues for effective engagement with industry.

All this reflects a strong commitment to ensuring that through its activities, IEEE contributes to the enrichment of lives and advancement of society, leading to progress and transformation for the future.

Why do you feel you are the best candidate?

DURRANI: I have had a wide-ranging and unique leadership experience within IEEE and outside. This has prepared me to take up the reins and responsibilities at the helm of IEEE. This experience has been gained through intimate working knowledge of most of the IEEE main boards. I’ve been the president of not one but two keynote IEEE societies: the IEEE Signal Processing Society and the IEEE Engineering Management Society. The IEEE Signal Processing Society has given me technical depth, and the other, management breadth.

I’ve also been regional director of the IEEE Communications Society. I served on the Technical Activities Board for eight years, the Publication Services and Products Board for six years, and several years on the Awards Board and IEEE medal committees. I’ve been vice chair for Technical Activities for Region 8, and most recently I was vice president of the IEEE Educational Activities Board.

I have grassroots experience working with chapters, sections, and my region—Region 8. Having traveled extensively around the world, I have a clear understanding of the needs and motivations of IEEE members. I’ve negotiated for and helped establish two IEEE medals: the Jack Kilby Medal in Signal Processing and the James Clerk Maxwell Medal, with the Royal Society of Edinburgh, for the recognition of leaders in their subject areas. I’ve been a member of the IEEE Conferences Committee and a general or executive chair of some of the flagship IEEE conferences.

Just taking into account the positions I’ve held within IEEE, I’ve gained a deep understanding of the workings of IEEE. In addition to all this activity, in my professional life I’ve been deputy principal—the second-highest position—at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, one of Europe’s leading technical universities. This has given me experience in leadership, strategic management, and resource planning and delivery. I’ve held high offices in other professional organizations and learned societies, including vice president of one of the oldest and most distinguished, the national academy of Scotland: the Royal Society of Edinburgh. And I’m a Fellow of several organizations.

I work closely with industry and government at the highest levels. I’ve held some eight directorships in public, private, national, and international organizations, ranging from small and medium enterprises to large corporations. I spent quite some time in the United States and currently hold visiting appointments at two prestigious universities: Princeton and the University of Southern California. I have worked in Europe for most of my career and have advised governments and professional organizations in the Asia-Pacific region.

DE MARCA: There are several reasons. I have had a very diverse and successful experience as an IEEE volunteer and, similarly, a diverse professional career where I held positions in academia, industry, and government.

In IEEE, I served four years on the Board of Directors and participated in the activities of four major boards, as well as the Awards Board. I also led the initial development of IEEE’s Humanitarian Technology Challenge program. I have unique experience in fostering activity in new technologies, both inside IEEE as chair of the Future Directions Committee and in my country, Brazil, where I held government leadership roles in this area.

In every volunteer position I held, including president of IEEE’s second-largest society [the IEEE Communications Society] and as vice president of IEEE Technical Activities, I made things happen; I made concrete contributions for the good of IEEE.

Finally, in life, I have cherished acquiring international experience in diverse cultural sensitivity. I have lived for periods of time in six IEEE regions, and therefore I have a unique world view of IEEE.

What new benefits do you think IEEE should offer members?

DE MARCA: One of the top five recommendations of the 2011 IEEE Sections Congress was that there should be recognition of a member’s longtime association with IEEE. And I would extend that to significant volunteer work. This recognition should be in tangible benefits that reward loyalty and dedication to the organization. I will seek to implement programs that could offer, for example, discounts and access to information and registration for career-enhancing webinars and other IEEE products.

IEEE must also focus on developing educational programs, and that goes back to my priority, too. It should allow members to stay current and involved with their careers and also be perceived as having value by their employers. These programs, to be successful, must be developed in partnership with industry. I’ll use my extensive contacts with global industry leaders to help implement these new programs. However, it’s also true that if IEEE wants to be relevant to industry, it must continue to be the authoritative source of information presented in a way that’s suitable for the different audiences it must reach.

DURRANI: I think in these turbulent times, there is a compelling need for IEEE to support career development of its members. The increased and integrated provision of continuing education and professional development, skills development, and related opportunities is a key benefit that should be enhanced. The IEEE Educational Activities Board has a major role to play through the provision and extension of e-learning. So that’s one benefit.

Another aspect is mass customization of technological information: offering members information products constructed from the whole range of IEEE publications, customized to their needs and suited to their requirements. This is an additional model for publications, one that is customer-needs driven and user-focused.

I feel a very important benefit for a global organization is to encourage multilingual versions of our journals, serving members worldwide and opening new markets for IEEE products.

And a further benefit is to look toward driving affordable member rates worldwide through new membership models and progressive benefits, such as providing career support for GOLD [Graduates of the Last Decade] members through a virtual network of mentors.

Another interesting and important aspect is to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship within the IEEE by establishing an innovations academy to support the IEEE global talent pipeline that turns innovative products into entrepreneurship.

Past presidents have supported IEEE’s expansion in places like Africa, China, and India. What else do you think IEEE can do to be more global?

DURRANI: The IEEE, as you know, has members spanning some 160 countries. Our aim should be to provide everybody with a similar range of expanding benefits. I think it is important that the IEEE consolidate its position in Africa, China, and India. We should establish strategic alliances with global organizations that have missions aligned to the IEEE. I’d like to mention three: UNESCO, World Federation of Engineering Organizations, Engineering for Change, and a fourth, the Royal Society of Edinburgh for Humanitarian Activities.

Let me share my views with you on this. In Africa we have only just started identifying opportunities. Earlier in February, IEEE President [Gordon] Day signed an MOU [memorandum of understanding] with UNESCO. I had the good fortune of orchestrating this relationship. The objective is to work together to support specific initiatives in Africa aimed at sustainable workforce development and capacity building by focusing on engineering education.

As Madam Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, mentioned at the MOU signing ceremony, help and cooperation of the IEEE is needed in Africa. She stated that to meet the needs of sub-Saharan Africa alone, over two million engineers and technicians are required—an immense challenge.

You mentioned India. Here we have just started establishing interesting and innovative initiatives. The recent signing of the contract with the All India Council for Technical Education, an advisory and statutory body, will offer engineering students of any Indian university access to [IEEE] Xplore products. This is a major initiative for supporting IEEE activities in India.

Traveling around the world, particularly in India, I found Indian industry eager and willing to work with the IEEE, to share its development roadmaps, and keen to seek IEEE support for capacity building and training of its engineers.

Having said all that, over the last 10 years the membership of the IEEE in terms of senior grade in India has remained somewhat static, roughly in the range of about a thousand or more, while the student membership has grown from about 8500 10 years ago to 25 600 in 2011. So clearly the IEEE has its work cut out there. There’s an associated issue of student retention.

In China, a country of over one billion people, with graduates of some 70 000 engineers each year, we have only 7521 IEEE members in China in 2011. A lot of work needs to be done there in terms of membership development and provision of services. So we have our challenges.

You mentioned other areas. Clearly Brazil is an avenue we’d like to explore. But let me bring something different to the table. If we look towards global opportunities, clearly the world’s most populous countries are China, India, and the United States. And the fourth most populous country is Indonesia, with over 247 million people and an average age of 28 years—a strong democracy, a very stable economy, a country willing to make investments in higher education, broadband investments. It has immense natural resources. Having worked with senior government officials there, I know that there is immense enthusiasm and opportunity to work with the IEEE.

Within the same vein, the IEEE has made investments in support staff and this is paying off. I know of effective IEEE offices in China, Hong Kong, India, Japan. They are making an impact, though much remains to be done. Clearly greater regional staff presence is a worthy objective for the IEEE. So my take on globalization is that we need to offer services and products, and we need to build on our investments there.

One other aspect that I keep coming back to is that multilingualism is something the IEEE needs to pursue with vigor.

DE MARCA: IEEE in recent years has, indeed, made important strides towards becoming a truly global organization. However, there is more to be done. There has been a clear shift in innovation development demographics, and IEEE must be able to engage in activities and technologies dispersed all over the world. It’s important to give [members] opportunities to rise within IEEE ranks to leadership positions. IEEE can only try for the future if it can embrace the talent of these individuals across the globe. To be truly global, IEEE must offer a full range of services and benefits to all its members, regardless where they live. IEEE must continue to increase its physical presence in different regions of the world. It seems to be that opening offices in Region 8, with Europe, Middle East, Africa, as well as South America, is the next step in this direction.

Which new areas of technology do you feel IEEE should focus on?

DE MARCA: As chair of the IEEE Future Directions Committee, I fostered the creation of coordinated activities in the smart grid, cloud computing, and electric vehicles. Going forward, I strongly believe IEEE must be a major player in technology related to the confluence of electrical engineering and medical sciences, such as neuroscience and brain-machine interface. Another area that IEEE must take leadership is in all aspects of smart living. This includes smart grid, energy-efficient ICT (information and communication technology), as well as improving the living conditions of the elderly. These two major areas are human-centric and very much aligned with the IEEE motive of advancing technology for the benefit of humanity.

DURRANI: There are two roles that the IEEE plays in terms of areas of technology. It offers support, dissemination, and popularization of technologies. The other is that the IEEE is very good at identifying emerging areas of technology and their benefits, and in nurturing these by bringing to bear the key assets that the IEEE has in its members in the form of information, knowledge, and expertise.

In this case, two abiding principles of the IEEE are important here: advancing technology for humanity and engineering the future. Thus in pursuit of these principles, I would advocate the IEEE progress in areas of technology that have an impact in terms of new knowledge, sustained economic growth, jobs and prosperity worldwide. In this context I would suggest focusing on first, clean or green technologies and renewables, and second, cyber security.

Let me illustrate the importance of this by making a specific point. The U.S. holds about 2 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves. What that means is that even if we drilled every drop of oil out of every single one of the reserves offshore and onshore, it won’t be enough to meet the long-term needs of the U.S. On the other hand, the U.S. consumes about 25 percent of the world’s oil. Thus, for its own economy and for sustainable growth, investment in renewables, clean and green technologies is an imperative.

These technologies have the potential of creating an untold number of jobs and new businesses. I’d like to see the IEEE to be the lead source and a repository of knowledge on this subject. Thus, a platform where the subject is nurtured, and for the IEEE to be the national home for activities related to the areas of clean and green technologies, including carbon capture and renewables, such as wind, wave, tidal, and solar power.

The other area is that of cyber security. It goes without saying that we are vulnerable to weak cyber infrastructures and susceptible to cyber attacks. Work in the area is developing, and it is clear that over a period of time the activity and the associated industry is poised for immense future growth. This is a multidisciplinary area where members from cognitive disciplines within the IEEE and outside with widespread knowledge and expertise can work together to address large-scale and emerging issues on the subject.

Having identified these areas, I think it’s also very important that the IEEE maintains and announces its global presence in areas such as the smart grid, cloud computing, green technologies, life sciences, technology management, energy, and transportation.

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