The Candidates Take On Top IEEE Issues

Roger Pollard and Peter Staecker vie for 2012 IEEE president-elect

7 June 2011

In August, IEEE members will receive their ballots for the annual election for 2012 IEEE president-elect. To help you choose between candidates Roger Pollard and Peter Staecker [left to right], The Institute asked them to weigh in on important IEEE issues. Some of the questions were submitted by IEEE members. Here, in their own words, are the candidates' e-mailed responses.

What would be your top two priorities if elected?
POLLARD The top priority for IEEE is full globalization, living up to our claim to be the world's largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity. We need to support our global community of members with equal access to IEEE services, career benefits, scholarships, and other resources as well as opportunities to participate in activities, to volunteer, and to receive awards and recognition wherever they happen to live. Furthermore, we should work to expand our technology base and take the lead in new topics which overlap or support our traditional disciplines.

STAECKER "Advancing Technology...": IEEE advances technology through its publishing, conference, standards, and educational businesses. Our product offerings provide focused professional value to members, volunteers, and customers. To serve the unique demands of each group, we must continue to invest volunteer, staff, and financial resources in these areas to improve the quality and increase the coverage of our product offerings.

"...for Humanity": IEEE will have maximum effect by choosing opportunities with sustainable technical solutions to the problem of improving the living conditions of locally disadvantaged segments of the population. These solutions must scale through replication to benefit increasingly larger populated areas. We must identify local members and volunteers who can act as champions for these activities and communicate their achievements and benefits to neighboring communities.

The impact of technology on our lives increases daily. IEEE has the capability and mandate to translate our professional articles for the layperson, creating a technically informed and technically curious public.

What do you see as the IEEE of the future, and as president, how would you influence that?
STAECKER IEEE 2027 will be:

  • The globally trusted source of technical knowledge for practitioners, educators, and researchers.
  • A respected provider of educational training for students and professionals.
  • A collection of collaborative technical/humanitarian communities with common values and vision.

I would encourage strategic thought and tactical initiatives—with success metrics and deadlines—to build consensus and progress toward the above and/or related common goals shared by the whole of IEEE. With a 15-year time horizon, the key to success is continuity of purpose and succession planning.

POLLARD All of the world's major challenges—which include providing for sustainability, the energy needs of future generations, urban infrastructure, life sciences and health care, advancing communications, and information technology—are multidisciplinary. IEEE's future is to be the home for technical specialists in all of the increasingly wide range of technologies that will be the solutions to these problems. We already include engineering and computing, but we must make members from other disciplines—especially the life sciences, which are inherent in the big societal challenges—feel at home in IEEE. As president, I would work to build the necessary global collaborations between the technology areas and with other like-minded organizations to help people find ways to solve the pressing problems of the future.

In which technical areas should IEEE be more involved?
POLLARD It is impossible to predict the emerging technologies of the next few years; we have seen large growth in opto- and nanoelectronics, robotics, medical and biological technology, energy, communications, and computing. The challenge for IEEE is to use its resources to respond quickly to support the initiation and sustainability of new activities and to nurture communities working in new technical areas.

STAECKER We are engaged in life sciences, the smart grid and its collection of energy source alternatives, and cloud computing. Through committees such as Future Directions (a committee under Technical Activities), we will formally identify more emerging fields in technology and computing. Our search toolkit should include an understanding of the grand challenges put forward by academies of engineering and science.

What new benefits do you think IEEE should offer?
STAECKER We must reengage and retain the practitioner by offering practical content that supports improvements in technical skill and technique each day and by recognizing the achievements and contributions of individual practical excellence to the same extent that we recognize academic excellence.

We must continue to improve the way we help members deal with career transitions in our increasingly mobile society, including continuing technical education, interpersonal and communication skills needed on the job, leadership training, and project management.

And we must continually reduce the cost of these member benefits to increase member value.

POLLARD We must recognize that members have needs that will differ as their careers develop and that IEEE needs to provide a full range of benefits. So we must continue to expand our support for technical information, networking, continuing education, and professional and career development. It is essential that we provide the widest possible range of benefits and offer members the opportunity to access those products and services they need at a particular time. We can maximize the value of membership by offering the freedom to decide which IEEE activities they wish to pay for and participate in, and we should offer a choice of additional benefits that accrue with length of membership.

Should IEEE's membership model be changed?
POLLARD The IEEE membership model has been evolving. We now offer low-cost e-membership in countries where incomes are low. I have recently been leading an initiative to introduce a new multitier membership model. Most people join IEEE because of their technical interests, and membership in a technical society always comes high up on their list of priorities in every survey. The plan is to include membership at a basic level in a single society of your choice included with every IEEE membership. Members can join additional societies at the basic level or upgrade to an enhanced level with additional benefits and services. The objective is that every member will have a geographic home (their region and section) and a technical home (a society).

STAECKER It is important that the member model adjust to track changes in member needs and desires. We already know from member surveys, however, that members have distinctly personal views of member value. So if we embark on changes to the member model, we (senior volunteers) need to have some principles for proceeding. These include:

  • Do no harm. Don't drive the members away just for the sake of doing experiments.
  • Study methods of simplifying the offerings (and standardizing prices) from the IEEE side.
  • Strive to provide personalized features and benefits to each member at minimal costs.
  • Be relentless in measuring effectiveness and recustomizing as necessary. Listen to your tweets; think like Amazon.com.

What can IEEE do to attract more students to engineering?
STAECKER Begin outreach programs (using members and/or volunteers) at all preuniversity levels by exposing young students to the thought process and allure of science and technology. Continue and expand the Teacher In-Service Program [in which IEEE volunteers assist teachers in incorporating engineering lessons in the classroom] and teacher-engineer partnership programs in the schools. Encourage increased linkage between our Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD) members and university student branches and student branch chapters to smooth the transition from student to technology as a profession.

POLLARD Through TryEngineering.org, IEEE exposes preuniversity students to engineering and provides information and resources. We also encourage volunteers to work with schoolteachers helping to bring real-world engineering into the classroom through projects. We need to do a great deal more to harness the energy of our members (especially GOLD members and students) to provide role models and mentoring. The future of our profession depends on attracting the best and brightest; children need to be shown before their teen years that engineering is an exciting and rewarding career. At an early age, many children are being made aware of the global issues of the environment, energy, and sustainability, and they want careers that will help find solutions to the world's problems. We need to work to communicate that the answers lie in the development and application of the technologies that are supported by IEEE.

Should IEEE offer members free access to the IEEE Xplore digital library?
POLLARD The revenue from the IEEE/IET Electronic Library (IEL) delivered through the IEEE Xplore digital library represents a substantial proportion of IEEE income and is a major element in keeping membership dues at a reasonable level. IEEE already offers members access to IEEE Xplore articles at a fraction of the cost, and we should continue to develop low-cost member access models that will not result in increasing membership dues.

STAECKER Nothing free is sustainable. Free downloads of our intellectual property to any segment of the technical community imperil our customer business model. However, this question continues to be studied. IEEE Spectrum is experimenting with an offering that will periodically create a layman's version of an article from the IEEE Xplore database and is considering offering a free copy of the IEEE Xplore source article as part of the package. While the current single IEEE Xplore article member price is US $10, additional package discounts are being considered. Member prices have dropped considerably for IEEE Xplore articles and will continue to trend down.

How can IEEE improve the volunteer experience?
STAECKER Through outreach and mentoring from the nominations and appointments committees and senior volunteer leaders to help new volunteers discover their goals, and to explain the dynamics and degree of difficulty for the different paths. As the volunteer mentee progresses in leadership experience and lateral movement through different parts of the organization, the connection with mentors should continue to be available. Most of these thoughts are captured on the position descriptions of members of the IEEE Board of Directors but should be codified in procedures at the grassroots levels of the organization.

POLLARD One of IEEE's biggest assets is our volunteers, whose energy and enthusiasm are key to making all our activities vibrant and relevant. The opportunity to volunteer and participate is one of the most compelling reasons to join IEEE. I have always found volunteering to be the most rewarding part of my IEEE membership. It has allowed me to be a part of many successful conferences and other activities, and it has given me the opportunity to meet and work with other highly motivated volunteers from across the globe. However, we must improve the volunteer experience by providing better training and mentoring, and we must work hard to reduce the bureaucracy.

What do you consider IEEE's greatest strength and weakness?
POLLARD Our greatest strength is our people: our members who contribute their technical skills to publish and review papers, organize conferences, and serve as volunteers in every capacity in partnership with our highly professional staff. Our biggest weakness is that we are responding too slowly—both in terms of embracing and supporting the development of new technologies and their communities and in changing our organization to meet the needs and wants of our members.

STAECKER From outside to inside, the observer sees the IEEE brand, representing our intellectual property, conferences, communities, and their core values. The next layer is the staff/volunteer partnership that delivers its products, services, and public-imperative mandates. At the core are the members, our greatest strength. The members join for different reasons but share the appreciation for a central technical home from which they draw professional benefits and through which they join a network of more than 400 000 people with similar analytic curiosity and aptitude for technology and its applications. They deliver the volunteers.

Weakness: A volunteer organization such as IEEE that has short term limits for its leaders suffers a discontinuity of consensus and sometimes even purpose or core values at the beginning of each year. This, in turn, reduces agility in moving from discussion to consensus to implementation.

Does IEEE need to expand its global reach? If so, how?
STAECKER In order to fulfill our public imperative to advance technology for humanity, IEEE requires global relevance, namely the diversity of talent, opinion, and culture.

To be successful globally, IEEE must be successful locally. This requires networks that are rich in geographical diversity. Conversations will be initiated by the social media generation—our young professionals who are student members, graduate student members, GOLD members—collaborating with seasoned local business people, entrepreneurs, and practitioners. This collective has the diversity of skills, culture, and experience that will direct technology to humanitarian purpose locally and interact with similar locales to replicate their successes globally.

POLLARD IEEE is long overdue to "walk the talk" on globalization. Technology is transnational, and technologists are highly mobile. We must offer our products and services to meet needs across the world but accommodate local needs with, for example, information (not least of which is the IEEE website) in multiple languages and open local offices where appropriate to serve our members.

How can IEEE use social media to engage members?
POLLARD The emergence of social media and professional networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) in the last five years or so has transformed society and the way we work. Many of our members already contribute to online communities using social networking tools, and there are already many groups carrying the IEEE logo, although without any official connection with IEEE. This activity is a natural fit with one of the most significant values of IEEE membership: a vast network of technical peers. This is an opportunity for us to engage members using an activity in which they are already participating and forms a loose structure that complements IEEE's existing geographic and technical structure. IEEE should find ways to support members' use of the social media and develop policies which encourage information sharing, trust, and professionalism.

STAECKER The easy answer is: Just ask a GOLDie; they know the mechanics, they know the members, and they know about engagement. Recent polls conducted by IEEE show significant increases in people joining IEEE:

  • to participate in local IEEE activities
  • to network with others in the profession
  • for continuing education
  • to enhance stature within the profession, and
  • to remain technically current.

Social networks such as Facebook that have large IEEE populations offer easy opportunities to engage members on these issues and obtain useful feedback on other concerns they might have.

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