Where Durrani and Michel Stand on Top IEEE Issues

The 2014 president-elect candidates discuss priorities and IEEE’s future

7 June 2013
06Cand Photo: Darren Carroll

With the annual IEEE election right around the corner, do you know whom you will choose for 2014 IEEE president-elect? To help you decide, The Institute asked the candidates, who were nominated by the IEEE Board of Directors—Fellow Tariq S. Durrani [right] and Senior Member Howard E. Michel [left]—to weigh in on important IEEE issues. The ballots will be be mailed out in August.

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 headed its electronic and electrical engineering department from 1990 to 1994. Durrani was deputy principal of the university from 2000 to 2006.

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

In 2010 and 2011 Durrani was vice president, IEEE Educational Activities, and in 2003 and 2004 he was vice chair of technical activities for Region 8. 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 also the IEEE Communications Society region director for Europe, Middle East, and Africa from 2009 to 2011.

Michel is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Massachusetts in North Dartmouth. His research interests include artificial neural networks and distributed-intelligence sensor networks. Michel is also a consultant to the U.S. Navy on embedded instrumentation and system architecture.

He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994 as an engineering manager. During his Air Force career, he was also a pilot and a research engineer, launching seven satellites and directing launch-base tests of booster, satellite, and range hardware. Michel supervised two launches in the People’s Republic of China and helped develop engineering processes for mission-critical Defense Department computer systems.

He was vice president, IEEE Member and Geographic Activities (MGA), in 2011 and 2012 and Region 1 director in 2008 and 2009. Michel was the 2009 and 2010 chair of the IEEE Public Visibility Committee, and he served on the IEEE-USA Board of Directors in 2008 and 2009.

The following responses to The Institute’s questions were submitted via e-mail and are presented with minimal editing.

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

DURRANI: My vision for IEEE is:

  • A worldwide, irresistible magnet that draws professionals, practitioners, academics, and students to its fold—through excellent opportunities and services.
  • A home for life for the engineering and technology community and indeed for individuals from cognate disciplines, thus leading to membership retention and growth.

Beyond this, I want IEEE to be seen as:

  • The trusted international resource for sharing and advancing knowledge through excellent publications and conferences.
  • The leader in setting the pace for technological advances and for maintaining global visibility and adoption of IEEE standards.
  • An authoritative source of independent advice on technology policy and developments, called upon by decision makers worldwide.

IEEE should make a real difference for our members and for society, all around the world. To achieve this we must make transformative advances that will deliver a transformative impact in all aspects of our work as members, volunteers, and staff.

This vision will be delivered—if I am IEEE president—by giving strategic directions, establishing effective teams and task forces, and overseeing implementation of initiatives focused on meeting specific goals.

MICHEL: IEEE will be the platform for an integrated web of knowledge. While not abandon­ing our current publishing and conference activities, we need to provide an individualized, real-time way to communicate inform­ation, not just for academics but also for all professionals working in our technical areas.

This platform needs to work across our technical disciplines and allow people working in a multi­dimensional “problem space” to find answers and contribute solutions in a manner they are comfortable with.

I want IEEE to be the respected portal—and our members the respected experts—for all discussions in our technical areas. We can accomplish this by taking the lead with other associations and developing partnerships with other organizations and companies.

If elected, what would be your top two priorities?


  • To provide products and services for working engineers to give them the opportunity for career sec­urity through career growth, as we now do for academics.

With respect to career security, nobody can give you job security, but IEEE can provide professional networking, continuing education, and platforms (both physical and virtual) where engineers can interact and stay current. IEEE volunteers can learn and practice soft skills. We should do a better job using the IEEE Technology Time Machine event [a symposium for emerging technologies] to guide practicing engineers on new growth opportunities.

  • To create an integrated web of knowledge (as I described in my response to the previous question).

DURRANI: My priorities would be:

  • To provide members with opportunities to realize their full potential by delivering effective products and services for enhancing their skills base. Thus, ready availability of resources for continuing education and professional development in support of lifelong learning will be a high priority—​initiatives that I had promoted as vice president, IEEE Educational Activities.
  • To seek greater engagement with industry. To achieve this, I would establish a panel of chief executive/technology officers to advise IEEE on strategic issues. Encourage practitioner-driven and practitioner-oriented products and services.

All this reflects a strong commitment to ensuring that through its activities, IEEE contributes to the enrichment of members’ lives and the advancement of society.

What new benefits should IEEE offer its members?

DURRANI: In these turbulent times, there is a compelling need for IEEE to support career development of its members. Thus, the increased and integrated provision of continuing education and professional development of skills, as well as related opportunities, is a key benefit that should be enhanced.

Another benefit should be 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 additional model for publications is customer-needs driven and user focused.

We should also encourage multilingual pub­lication in IEEE journals and magazines, initially through technical translations, to serve members worldwide and open new markets for IEEE products.

And we must drive toward affordable member rates worldwide through new membership models and progressive benefits.

MICHEL: IEEE currently offers more than 100 benefits. As vice president of MGA, I looked at survey data on what our members want. While many members wanted more benefits, a significant number thought we had too many. But not all benefits are available everywhere. We need to bring all our benefits to all our members within the limits of local laws.

I think the real answer is that we need to do a better job of advertising what we currently offer and concentrate on improving the benefits that members say are of highest value but poorest in delivery. We need to focus on improving them while not impacting delivery of our highly rated products. Benefits that fall into that category are professional networking, continuing education, and online career resources.

In which technical areas should IEEE be more involved?

MICHEL: IEEE should take the lead in big data, including remote sensing and health care data. The world is awash with data that is not useful as information or in providing knowledge. We “own” the technology components; we need to take the lead in bringing technologies together to harness this data so we can advance technology for humanity.

We also need to look at areas that blend our traditional core competencies with technologies that traditionally belonged to others, such as biology, nanotechnology, and green technologies.

DURRANI: There are two roles that IEEE plays in terms of areas of technology development. First, it offers support, dissemination, and popularization. Second, IEEE is very good at identifying emerging areas of technology and their benefits and nurturing these by bringing to bear the key assets that IEEE has in its members—in the form of information, knowledge, and expertise. In this case, the two abiding principles of IEEE are important: “Advancing Technology for Humanity” and “Engineering the Future.”

Thus, in the pursuit of these principles, I would advocate that IEEE advances technologies that have a transformational impact through new knowledge, sustained economic growth, jobs, and prosperity worldwide.

Hence, I would suggest focusing on clean and green technologies and renewables, the big-data revolution, energy-efficient computing, cybersecurity, contributing to world health and well-being, and food science.

Is it important to attract more women to engineering?

DURRANI: The answer is an emphatic “Yes.” Women offer an important, rich, and diverse perspective. They bring added creativity, enhanced performance, and innovation to a team. In addition, in several countries there is a dire shortage of engineers, and to meet this demand there is a need to attract more women into the engineering profession. If we do not tap the majority of the world’s population, engineering will miss out on a huge talent pool.

IEEE has a role in taking the lead to increase women in engineering through the IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) group. I have been a fervent promoter of the cause of women in engineering and technology. Some of my research with colleagues at the University of Strathclyde is concerned with women’s career issues. For more, please read an article I coauthored, “The Glass Ceiling: Is It a State of Mind?” [WIE Newsletter, October 2012].

Working with WIE, I will encourage the establishment of a high-level IEEE prize for the “Outstanding Woman Engineer of the Year,” who will act as a role model and catalyst for women engineers.

MICHEL: Yes. To paraphrase Glenn Ellis, 2007 U.S. Professor of the Year, engineers literally create the world that we live in. This is too important a task to leave to a subset of society and, in my opinion, any subset. Our greatest strength as a society is our diversity.

In some countries, engineering lacks gender diversity. Other parts of the world lack ethnic and religious diversity. We should work to attract a full representation and full participation of all the people of the world. This must be a top priority worldwide, and IEEE should lead the way.

What can IEEE do to help its unemployed members?

MICHEL: IEEE currently provides career security for academics and researchers through our conferences and journals. For long-term solutions, we need to do the same thing for practicing engineers. By creating a suite of products such as the Smart Tech Metro Area workshops [which focus on cutting-edge technologies] for practicing engineers, our members can add to their skill sets and become more valuable as engineers. In the short term, we should make sure every unemployed member knows about the services that we currently provide, such as the IEEE Job Site.

DURRANI: In these turbulent times, there is a compelling need for IEEE to support the career development of its members. Thus, increased and integrated provision of continuing education programs and professional development for new skills and related opportunities are key benefits that should be enhanced.

IEEE-USA has imple­mented important initiatives to support unemployed members through specific programs, such as those launched by former MGA Vice President Barry Shoop, including the Smart Tech Metro Area workshops. Similarly, job fairs at IEEE conferences and new ways of supporting the networks of consultants are vehicles to be explored.

The establishment of a panel of industry experts, as I proposed in the response to the second question, would bring greater industry engagement with the additional benefit of direct advice to support engineering careers.

How can IEEE retain student members after graduation?

DURRANI: Student members are the lifeblood of IEEE; the future of the organization depends on them. It is clear that IEEE needs to improve its value proposition to students after graduation—through greater engagement, networking opportunities, improved career guidance and support, and through enhanced vehicles for professional development, as well as considering reduced membership fees upon graduation from school.

We should also look at the overall membership fee structure. I believe there can be a gradually escalating fee structure as members advance in their careers. These approaches need to be tested against robust financial modeling of the options available and an associated strong business case.

MICHEL: IEEE loses 75 percent of our undergraduate student members and 50 percent of our graduate students after their first year of membership. As vice president, MGA, I charged our Student Activities Committee and Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD) committee to come up with a 12-year road map—specific products and services to deliver in each of a new member’s first 12 years—to transition new student members into senior members.

I envision IEEE partnering with universities and local industry, probably at the section level, to provide students with networking, résumé writing, and interviewing skills, followed by one-on-one mentoring programs for junior engineers.

We should have a program to let our GOLD members learn and practice soft skills and obtain continuing education—after all, our technologies advance so rapidly that half of what we learned five years ago is dated. Our GOLD members may want to mentor recent graduates and take leadership roles in IEEE activities.

The idea is to provide the network and skills recent graduates need to succeed professionally and get them to see true value in IEEE membership.

Does IEEE need to expand its global reach? If so, how?

MICHEL: Global reach is a vague concept. IEEE had, for the first time in 2011, more members from outside the United States than from within. We have members in 184 countries and offices and staff in 6 countries. Currently, more than 50 percent of our IEEE Xplore digital library downloads are from Asia. Three-quarters of our conferences are held outside the United States.

Does that mean we can’t be more global? No.

As president, I’d look for opportunities to expand our ability to impact public policy and public sentiment with respect to our technical areas of interest. But we need to think globally and act locally; we need to involve local volunteers.

Additionally, I would look to grow membership in countries where we have the greatest potential for growth and increase our influence in standards development and educational accreditation.

DURRANI: To maintain its role as a global organization, IEEE needs to expand its reach both in terms of depth of activity and breadth of vision. This is as true in North America as it is in other parts of the world.

There are two approaches that IEEE needs to take. In some countries, we need to reinforce our presence and attract more members as well as support existing ones through improved and attractive services. In others we need to establish a key role for IEEE.

A key role could be as a provider of independent, authoritative, unbiased and nonpartisan policy advice to decision makers—on areas of technology growth and development and on issues of policy and strategy related to the core competencies and expertise of IEEE members. Emerging economies of the BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India, and China] countries and others, such as South Africa, Turkey, Indonesia, Colombia, and Vietnam, are a case in point.

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