Sections Congress Breaks Attendance Record

Almost 1100 attendees made it the biggest congress ever

5 December 2008

The 2008 IEEE Sections Congress was one for the record books: almost 1100 attendees made it the biggest congress ever. Among the featured events were core track training sessions that explained the transition from the Regional Activities Board to the Member and Geographic Activities (MGA) Board, more than 60 training seminars, the IEEE Honors Ceremony, and a panel discussion in which IEEE presidents reflected on how they first became involved with the organization. The congress was held from 19 to 22 September in Quebec City, with the theme “Celebrating Volunteer Achievements Worldwide.” Coincidentally, the city was also celebrating—this year marks the 400th anniversary of its founding.

A triennial gathering of section leadership sponsored by MGA, the congress was hosted by the IEEE Quebec Section and Region 7, which published a commemorative brochure that detailed the region’s 25-year history and distributed it to all attendees. The members who came—almost 200 more than the 2005 congress—represented 89 countries. The delegates—section chairs and other section officers—represented 293 sections. They met to sharpen their leadership skills, enhance their knowledge of IEEE, network with each other, and most important, recommend ways to improve IEEE.

SECTIONS CONGRESS PROGRAM A major focus of the congress was to give attendees a clear understanding of the goals of the transition to Member and Geographic Activities, covered in the core training sessions. Section chairs learned the importance of their role as leaders in the MGA transition and what they can do to engage and inspire members’ participation in IEEE. This message was reinforced throughout the four-day program.

Delegates selected a series of training sessions to attend to learn the essential information needed to run a section. These sessions emphasized the importance on the increased focus on engaging members and ways to get members more involved in IEEE, recruiting new members, collaborating with other sections and regions on holding joint events, and tips for enhancing leadership skills.

The material presented at the congress was organized into three tracks—membership, section management, and section and chapter activities. The membership sessions included topics on the benefits of membership, ways to increase society membership, and methods for growing section/chapter membership.

The sessions on section management covered ways to boost attendance at meetings, financial management tips for geographic units, and how to establish affinity groups. Two sessions that were heavily attended and highly rated covered vTools, which are online resources volunteers can use to manage their sections, and provided media training for section leaders, which explained what types of events are most likely to generate media attendance, tips to interest journalists to write about an event, and how to handle reporters’ questions.

During the section/chapter activities sessions, attendees learned how to develop relationships with local industry, create awards programs to recognize members, and get student branches more involved in section activities. Suggestions included sending personal invitations to students asking them to attend section meetings, volunteer for IEEE’s Teacher In-Service Program (TISP) workshops, and help with organizing science fairs. The TISP workshops provide teachers with the basics of engineering and offer them projects to incorporate technology in the classroom.

Senior Member Ramalatha Marimuthu, founder of the IEEE Madras section’s Women In Engineering (WIE) affinity group and Region 10 WIE coordinator, spoke of a community outreach program organized by members. The Section WIE group launched the Sangamam project, which is geared to youngsters in rural areas and encourages them to study engineering. Members travel to local villages and organize competitions in which students work on electronics projects. Members also set up workshops that feature presentations from engineers about their careers and explain how technology can be used to benefit society. Sangamam also focuses on teaching women to be more tech savvy by training them to use computers.

In addition to the sessions, attendees had an opportunity to learn more about IEEE programs and activities by speaking with the 42 exhibitors.

INNOVATORS AND PRESIDENTS More than 1300 people, the largest number ever, attended the IEEE Honors Ceremony on Saturday evening. IEEE President Lewis M. Terman presented 22 awards at the ceremony, including the Medal of Honor to Life Fellow Gordon E. Moore, cofounder and chairman of the board emeritus of Intel Corp. To read more about the ceremony, go to “IEEE Honors the People Behind Everyday Technologies,” November 2008.

At the Presidents Panel Session, held for the first time, nine IEEE presidents from the past, present, and one future president talked about why they joined IEEE and how their IEEE membership and participation in IEEE activities helped their careers. Several joked about being strong-armed by a boss or professor to join IEEE and later being grateful for the push.

“A year after I started my job, I asked my boss what I should do to stay current in the technologies our company used,” recalled Life Fellow Wallace Read, 1996 IEEE President. “Expecting a long answer, I was surprised when all I heard were three words: ‘Join the IEEE.’ Unless I did just that, I might be out of a job,” he said, laughing. “I took his advice and it has paid off.”

IEEE Fellow Cleon Anderson, the 2005 IEEE President, says his professor told him he had to join IEEE if he wanted a successful career in electrical engineering. “IEEE membership gave me my professional network,” Anderson says.

Noted Fellow Leah Jamieson, 2007 President, who also owed her involvement to one of her professors: “Being a member has connected me with some of the legends in my field, and it has given me a sense of belonging to the research community,” she said.

KEYNOTE SPEAKERS The featured speaker at the opening ceremony on 21 September was Senior Member Ibrahim Gedeon, chief technology officer of Telus Communications, in Burnaby, B.C., Canada. He urged IEEE to improve its relationship with industry by focusing on innovation. He suggested it could do this by publishing more journals on cutting-edge technologies and creating awards for students who complete innovative projects. The featured speaker during the closing ceremony was Senior Member Denis Poussart, a professor of electrical engineering at Laval University, in Quebec. Poussart discussed the need for a renewed awareness in the social aspects of science and technology and ways of fostering new forms of multidisciplinary education and research.

RECOMMENDATIONS Delegates had another important duty at the Sections Congress: to recommend ways to improve IEEE. They compiled a list of 21 ways IEEE could better serve members’ needs and voted on what they considered to be the 10 most important. Their No. 1 recommendation was that every member should get a certain number of free downloads each year from IEEE Xplore. Other recommendations in the top 10 included creating a print and multimedia handbook for section leaders that explains their duties, and increasing the number of affordable and smaller subscription packages for IEEE’s digital libraries. To read the top 10 recommendations, visit “Ten Suggestions for Improving Services,” December 2008. The MGA Board is responsible for working with other IEEE organizational units to handle each recommendation.

FEEDBACK All delegates were asked in a survey to provide feedback, and almost 50 percent did so. More than half gave a positive satisfaction rating saying they were “extremely” satisfied and 90 percent were “more than” satisfied. The majority—85 percent—said they were likely or very likely to contribute to changes in their section based on what they learned. Almost 95 percent of the respondents noted that the opportunity to engage and build relationships with other volunteers in IEEE is an “important or extremely important” function of this event.

“I was overwhelmed by the delegates’ enthusiasm and commitment to IEEE,” says Steering Committee Chair Paul Fortier, an IEEE senior member.

The 2011 Sections Congress will be held in San Francisco. For more information about the 2008 congress, including videos of presentations, visit http://www.ieee.org/sc2008 or http://www.ieee.org/ieeetv.

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