Region 8 Congress Prepares Students to Face Future Challenges

Nearly 300 gathered in Belgium to attend workshops, socialize with other members

6 October 2010

IEEE students and members from throughout Region 8 gathered at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium to discuss ways to build membership and exchange ideas about future engineering challenges. Nearly 300 people, including more than 230 students and 30 members of Graduates of the Last Decade, attended the 2010 Region 8 Student Branch and GOLD Congress, held from 4 to 8 August. They came from more than 40 countries.

Every two years, student branch members and recent graduates in their region hold a congress as a venue for sharing technical, social, and professional experiences. The branch, which hosted the event, enlisted several prominent IEEE leaders as well as industry representatives to speak to the technical challenges ahead, as well as how to make a successful transition from student to young professional engineer.

"The central topic of the congress was the worldwide technological challenges that engineers will have to solve to shape the future," says Jef Beerten, chair of the branch. "I think we all agree that IEEE can take a lead role in tackling these problems."

During Thursday's welcoming ceremony, several prominent IEEE members, including 2009 IEEE president John Vig and 2010 IEEE president-elect Moshe Kam, discussed programs IEEE offers to equip students with the skills for facing challenges as engineers, and ways to build active student branches. On Friday and Saturday, attendees could participate in a number of workshops, plenary sessions, and panel discussions.

Student workshops focused on sharpening such skills as interviewing and leadership techniques, as well as event organization and management. IEEE volunteers presented ideas on how to build student branches and increase student involvement in IEEE. A plenary session for GOLD members explored IEEE programs aimed at benefitting humanity, including the IEEE Presidents' Change the World Challenge, the IEEE webinar series on humanitarian projects developed by members, and the work of the IEEE Foundation. In another session, GOLD members were encouraged to brainstorm ways to attract more industry members to IEEE.

Volunteers from IEEE Women in Engineering held a session that covered issues facing young women in the field. Other student workshops addressed the balance between family and career and ways to keep up to date with technology.

"We tried to provide a mix of lively discussion and inspiring talks by IEEE officials and industry representatives, balanced with workshops that focus on branch events, and professional skills," says Valentijn De Smedt, the chair of the congress.

A professional activities summit held on Saturday included workshops that aimed to build attendees' professional skills, including management, leadership, and problem-solving tools necessary for success in the workplace.

"An engineer must be able to do more than run calculations and develop fancy programs," De Smedt says. "We have to work in teams, we need to understand what customers need, and we must be able to share our knowledge with others."

Attendees got the chance to pose questions to 2011 president-elect candidates Gordon Day and Joseph Lillie about their plans for the organization. Students submitted questions via e-mail before a debate between the two, which was moderated by Pilar Molina Gaudó the Region 8 vice chair for membership activities, and Dirk Van Hertem, membership development officer for the IEEE Benelux Section.

Georges Gielen, chair of the IEEE Benelux Section, moderated a panel discussion on "Engineering for the 21st Century" that included IEEE volunteers and industry leaders from Microsoft and ICsense, an IC design company in Leuven. Speakers discussed the role that young engineers will play in developing technology to solve problems including overpopulation, global warming, and bringing electricity to areas where energy demands are increasing but resources are lacking.

Kam and Bert Gysen, manager of the energy technology unit at VITO (the Flemish Institute for Technological Research), delved deeper during a plenary session on alternative energy sources and smart grids into the challenges of providing affordable energy.

"It was interesting to see how the viewpoints of large and small industry players differ," Beerten says. "However, they all agree that technological progress will only be made through research."

IEEE Fellow John Cohn, IBM's chief scientist for design automation, spoke of how to boost the overall image of engineering so it is relevant and appealing to younger generations. Dressed in an iconic multicolored robe, Cohn played a rap video he created entitled "Engineering Paradise." He then suggested that attendees organize a student competition to create a similar video that could encourage youngsters to consider careers in engineering.

In a contest sponsored by Microsoft, students demonstrated their creativity by submitting homemade commercials that advertised their favorite Microsoft products. The winners received their choice of an HD2 smart phone, by HTC Corp., or a Microsoft Xbox 360.

The Region 8 Student Activities Committee presented several awards, including the IEEE Darrel Chong Student Activity Award for exemplary involvement and activity, which went to the student branch at Princess Sumaya University for Technology, in Amman, Jordan, as well as the Region 8 Larry K. Wilson Student Activities Award for extraordinary leadership, given to Serkan Baydin of Bilkent University, Turkey. The student branch at Leuven received an award to mark its 50th anniversary.

The congress wasn't strictly all business. A formal dinner on Thursday evening was held at an upscale restaurant, and there was a barbecue on Friday on the university campus.

The congress closed with a multicultural event on Saturday evening. Students shared their country's traditional food, drink, and music, while dressed in traditional garb, and decorated their tables with their nation's flags, symbols, and other paraphernalia.

On Sunday, attendees were invited on a tour through Brussels. Participants sampled pain à la, a popular Brussels pastry, and visited historical sites, including the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Roman Catholic parish church that dominates the Brussels skyline.

"The 2010 IEEE Region 8 [student branch] Congress proved to be, once again, a very rewarding, perfectly organized, and memorable event," says Eva Lang, the region's chair of student activities. "It was the best congress I've ever attended, and I've been to quite a few."

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