Q&A With Kam and Ray

Learn about the personal sides of the IEEE President-Elect candidates

6 June 2008

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Each June The Institute profiles the IEEE President-Elect candidates to introduce them to our readers. Typically we cover their biographies, particularly their professional careers and history with IEEE. But this time, The Institute wanted to learn about the more personal sides of Moshe Kam and Pedro Ray, including their hobbies, hidden talents, and favorite memories. We’ll cover their stance on various IEEE issues in our annual coverage of the questions and answers from Candidates Night in the September issue. First, however, let’s start with the basics.

Born in Jaffa, Israel, IEEE Fellow Moshe Kam is head of the electrical and computer engineering department at Drexel University, in Philadelphia. He has taught and conducted research in detection, estimation, robotics, and control at Drexel since 1986, and he founded the university’s Data Fusion Laboratory. IEEE’s vice president of Educational Activities from 2005 to 2007, Kam decided to run for President-Elect because “IEEE faces considerable challenges and opportunities, and I hope that my experience as a long-time volunteer will help IEEE meet these challenges wisely and energetically.”

Pedro Ray, a senior member born in Havana, is president of Ray Engineers, one of the largest engineering design firms in Puerto Rico. He is also owner and president of several companies dedicated to the development of commercial and residential real estate. He was IEEE’s vice president of Regional Activities (now known as Member and Geographic Activities) in 2006 and 2007. A candidate in last year’s election, Ray decided to try once more because “a lot of good friends persuaded me to run again. I came in second. Hopefully this year I’ll win.”

bookFAVORITE BOOK

Kam: The Debt to Pleasure, by John Lanchester.

Ray: Nonfiction books about business and politics, such as The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, by Alan Greenspan.

WHY DO YOU RENEW YOUR IEEE MEMBERSHIP EACH YEAR?

Kam: IEEE is the most important, interesting, and influential association of electrical and computer engineers, as well as of other professionals such as computer scientists, biomedical engineers, and physicists. The information and networking benefits that I get make the membership dues seem very inexpensive.

Ray: I enjoy the people, and I like being part of the IEEE community. I cherish the relationships I have built with other members. Being an active member also is a way of giving back to society.

THINGS YOU ENJOY DOING ON THE WEEKEND

Ray: Spending quality time with family and friends.

Kam: Going to used-book shops. Every visit yields another find. Although, after discovering I own all four translations of Fathers and Sons, there is now a temporary moratorium on Ivan Turgenev.

bbWHAT GADGET CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

Ray: My BlackBerry. I can’t leave home without it.

Kam: The picture-in-picture feature of some television receivers. It makes watching so much more efficient.

DO YOU HAVE A MOTTO?

Kam: Mine was spoken in 1857 by a George Eliot protagonist: “Any coward can fight a battle when he’s sure of winning; but give me the man who has pluck to fight when he’s sure of  losing. That’s my way, sir; and there are many victories worse than a defeat.”

Ray: Honesty, hard work, and perseverance—if you apply all three, you will succeed no matter what.

MOST MEMORABLE IEEE EVENT

Kam: In 2007, the Educational Activities Board brought together more than 100 leaders of student branches from six countries for two days of training in Piura, Peru, on how to work with middle-school and high-school teachers. When I saw the sea of enthusiastic young volunteers eager to help with preuniversity engineering education, I could not be prouder—of them, of the EAB, and of IEEE.

Ray: Each of the IEEE honors ceremonies. Seeing all those visionaries is the most humbling experience and makes me feel very small. You think you’ve accomplished a lot until you see what they’ve done. It makes me very proud of IEEE.

vacaFAVORITE VACATION SPOT

Ray: Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

Kam: Montreal.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?

Ray: Seeing the results of my hard work. I’m in a creative field, and when we set out to build something it’s very rewarding when we finally see the finished product.

Kam: A student or a colleague telling me how a class I taught or an activity I organized positively affected this person’s life. An engineer I met recently in San Diego told me how a conference I organized in 1987 persuaded him to change his field of interest, go back to school, and start a small company. That company is not small anymore; today it employs more than 200 people and does innovative work for federal agencies and private clients. I live for such moments.

jobsIF YOU WEREN’T AN ENGINEER, WHAT WOULD YOU BE?

Kam: A chemist, because chemistry was my second favorite subject in high school.

Ray: A doctor, because it’s another profession that helps society.

HOBBIES

boatRay: Skiing and yachting. There’s nowhere to ski where I live, so I travel to Colorado. I love doing the double-diamond courses [the most difficult]. Being surrounded by the fresh air up in the mountains is great. With yachting, I love the feeling of the sea and being surrounded by nature.

musicKam: Music, especially choral music. I sing second bass with the Mendelssohn Club, a Philadelphia chorus I joined about a decade ago. Before that I sang with the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia. Both groups are dedicated to the art of choral singing and also serve as preservers of important cultural heritage. I remember in particular a performance of Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast in 2000 in Philadelphia. It was the most intense and exhilarating public event in which I have ever participated. Everybody—the chorus, conductor, audience, and even the ushers—was deeply moved.

WHAT WERE YOU LIKE AS A CHILD?

picsKam: A habitual reader who devoured whole libraries of novels, dictionaries, encyclopedias, poetry, and history books during every waking moment. I was happiest when I was home sick from school and could spend time in my parents’ library.

Ray: I was very shy and fascinated by math. However, I’ve changed through the years, and I’m not so shy anymore; I’m an explorer. I’ve dedicated my life to traveling the world to immerse myself in other cultures. My next trip, to Africa, will be to donate supplies for clean drinking water.

WHAT’S THE MOST CHALLENGING IEEE PROJECT OR ISSUE YOU HAVE TACKLED?

Kam: Without a doubt, getting www.TryEngineering.org online. It is a multilingual portal for young people (ages 8 to 18) and their teachers, school counselors, and parents that IEEE created with the help of IBM and the New York Hall of Science. The portal introduces them to engineering and aims to motivate students to consider it as a career.

The project was expensive and complicated because it had to serve many different school systems and offer multiple languages, while being attractive to the target audience. The volunteers and staff members who worked on the project had to raise a lot of money, work with many organizations, develop and adapt large volumes of high-quality content, and move it all from concept to launch in nine months. The portal attracts more than 60 000 visitors each month and is considered [by many educational organizations] to be the premier pre­university engineering portal online.

Ray: When I became treasurer in 2003, IEEE had gone through two years of financial losses, so we were really in the hole. My goal was to turn that situation around. The first meeting on the finances was very tough because I had to convince everyone that we could do it. And I was this young new guy trying to make everyone listen to me. But I got their attention. I was very strict and asked everyone to cut back their groups’ spending. It worked in the end. In my two years as treasurer I added US $40 million in reserves, and our budget was balanced.

bbHIDDEN TALENT

Kam: Writing poetry. I published some poems years ago and am still working on poetry translations, mostly of Walt Whitman.

Ray: Playing basketball. I don’t want to sound like a pro, but if anyone wants to challenge me, I’ll be glad to go one-on-one!

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