It's Been Three Years: Time for Another Sections Congress

IEEE is gearing up for the 2011 Sections Congress

6 January 2011

Plans are under way for the IEEE 2011 Sections Congress, taking place from 19 to 22 August at the San Francisco Downtown Marriott Hotel. Held every three years, the congress provides the opportunity for leaders of IEEE's regions, sections, and chapters to network, exchange ideas, and voice their opinions on ways to improve the organization.

"Empowering the Member to Create the Future" is the theme of this year's congress. Participants will share ideas and, at various sessions, learn how to maximize their volunteering efforts and build leadership skills. Delegates to the congress also get to vote for initiatives they want IEEE to implement.

At the last congress, in 2008, portions of the breakout sessions were available later on IEEE.tv; this year some of them will be broadcast live.

"The entire weekend will focus on the development of the member, and the impact local section and chapter leaders can have in contributing to the value of IEEE membership," says Dan Toland, manager of IEEE's Member and Geographic Activities, the area sponsoring the event.

VOTES SPUR CHANGE
The congress traditionally serves as a forum for members to discuss their ideas about the direction of IEEE, and vote on a list of recommendations for the IEEE Board of Directors to act on. One recommendation made in 2008 led to changes in the congress itself: It asked that changes be more quickly implemented.

To that end, MGA will review recommendations and receive backup material prior to the congress, Toland says. "We are also considering implementing online voting this year so that organization officers unable to attend the event can still vote for the final recommendations going to the Board."

On the last day of the meeting, delegates vote to assign a priority level to each recommendation. The votes are tallied, and the results—announced at the closing ceremony—are delivered to the Board of Directors for implementation. Reports on the progress of each recommendation are posted on the Sections Congress Web site.

MAKING PROGRESS
Recommendations made at the 2008 Sections Congress spurred several initiatives, all but one of which are in some stage of implementation. That one proposal, which asked IEEE to give its members a number of free downloads every year from the IEEE Xplore digital library, was rejected for financial reasons.

In response to a request for more affordable, flexible subscription options to IEEE Xplore, the Member Digital Library Basic was launched in September. It offers three full-text article downloads per month for a monthly fee of US $15.

Additionally, IEEE section and chapter leaders asked for online tools that would help them fulfill their duties. In response, the IEEE Center for Leadership Excellence was established in 2009. The center contains training materials to build professional skills and acquaint newly elected leaders with the basic goals and tasks of their positions. Five online modules were introduced last year, and 15 more are set to launch this year.

Volunteers also requested online tools that would assist them with such administrative tasks as planning a meeting, creating a calendar of events, and posting blogs. They also wanted an affordable, secure Web site that would allow them to accept small payments online for local events. In response, vTools Meeting was launched. And Web-in-a-Box—aimed at helping volunteers easily create and maintain their section's Web pages—is in the works.

Delegates at SC 2008 said members, especially students in developing countries who do not have credit cards, need flexible payment methods for paying dues, regardless of location. In response, IEEE last year launched the Rupee Project pilot program, which allows student members in India to pay their membership dues in local currency. The program was deemed successful and will be extended to the 2012 renewal cycle. Similar programs for students in other countries are under consideration.

Additionally, to encourage student members to become full IEEE members, the Loyalty Program was launched in March. It provides free access to five IEEE eLearning online tutorials to first-year, full-grade members. Toland says the program achieved moderate success when offered to encourage those who were in arrears to rejoin. This year, beginning in October, IEEE plans to extend the program to first-year full-grade renewing members and offer them free access to 10 tutorials.

Another concern brought forward at SC 2008 was that many member benefits are available only in Regions 1 through 6. In an effort to implement similar benefits across all regions, the IEEE Job Site has been expanded to include postings for jobs in Australia, India, and Singapore. Additionally, several IEEE discount programs have become available to more IEEE members. The Dell Employee Purchase Program, for example, allows IEEE members to receive discounts on Dell products in 48 countries. The Alamo and National car rental companies offer a 15 percent discount to members in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa and a 20 percent discount to members in the United States, Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The IEEE Financial Advantage Program includes a range of discounts on products and services for the home, school, and office.

This year IEEE plans to implement and promote IEEE-USA Webinar and eBook access for all IEEE MemberNet users. Rules in different countries, however, as well as IEEE's ability to negotiate on behalf of 200 000 members in the United States versus a smaller concentration of members in other parts of the world, makes it difficult to provide equal benefits globally, Toland says.

MEET AND GREET
Based on feedback from previous events, this year's Sections Congress program has been modified to include more time for attendees to interact with each other. Two 30-minute breaks are scheduled on both Saturday and Sunday so attendees can talk with their colleagues without missing a speaker or a training session, and a 90-minute networking session is scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

In addition, all attendees are invited to the IEEE Honors Ceremony, which is being held in conjunction with the congress on 20 August. Plus, IEEE has organized a trip for attendees and their guests to the Computer History Museum, in Mountain View. The museum holds one of the world's largest collections of rare computers, as well as photographs, games, documents, software, and other artifacts surrounding the history and evolution of computing and its impact on humanity.

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