Another article in a series that profiles IEEE volunteers who have had a significant impact on our organization
Not too many people know more about the workings and operations of IEEE than Director Emeritus Theodore (Ted) Hissey. Known to many younger volunteers as “Uncle Ted,” he has devoted ample time to the organization for the past six decades, serving on its Board of Directors, technical committees, and societies, mentoring young professionals, and taking on just about any activity IEEE’s top leaders ask him to.
Hissey, an IEEE Fellow, traces his relationship with the organization to the late 1940s, when he chaired the student chapter of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, one of IEEE’s predecessor societies. At the time he was studying power engineering at Pennsylvania State University, in University Park, and pursuing a bachelor’s degree in power engineering.
He volunteered first with AIEE and then with IEEE throughout his 43-year career at Leeds and Northrup (L&N), a maker of electrical measurement instruments and control and power systems. Being involved with IEEE gave him a priceless opportunity, he says, to network and stay current as technology progressed.
PAVING THE WAY
After graduating from Penn State in 1948, Hissey joined L&N as an applications engineer in electric power systems and automation. Starting in 1952, he covered a fairly large territory, from the Midwest to the Rocky Mountains, but later, his job would take him even further. In 1962, Hissey began spending several weeks each year on electric power automation applications in China, Iceland, Ireland, India, South Korea, and Taiwan, to name just a few countries where he worked. He also spent a great deal of time in Brazil helping engineers control and stabilize their growing power grid, which though smaller than is similar to the one in the United States. He retired in 1991.
Following his graduation, Hissey became reacquainted with AIEE when Nathan Coln, an AIEE volunteer and L&N executive, asked him to get involved with the 1952 AIEE Power Conference, held in Chicago. “I was a monitor at one of the sessions, which basically meant I was a gofer and had to help set up and support the many presentations and meet speakers’ equipment needs,” he says. “At APC I networked with a lot of people in, and associated with, the power industry—even some of L&N’s competitors in the electric power system control field.”
From then on, he was hooked. He soon joined a number of technical and standards committees, and helped establish their conferences around the globe. Hissey’s work took him to more than 50 countries, where he befriended many engineers. These contacts helped Hissey and L&N take on several international projects. One, for example, involved setting up telemetry systems for Aramco, a national oil and natural gas company, in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. This led to several computer control projects for the Saudi Arabia power grid.
“As the years passed we went from using electromechanical equipment to electronics to solid-state and then to analog computers, and finally to digital computers and high-speed digital data-acquisition systems,” he says. “Organizing and attending global conferences, networking with engineers, and having access to the latest technical research really helped me keep up as hardware and software evolved. IEEE paved a road for me throughout my working life.”
PAYING IT FORWARD
Around the time Hissey retired from L&N, he decided to devote most of his free time to volunteering for IEEE. In the early 1980s he served as president of the IEEE Power Engineering Society and Division VII director, and in the early 1990s he was IEEE treasurer. In 1994 Hissey was appointed acting IEEE executive director, a staff position, until Daniel Senese was hired in 1996 to take on that full-time job. For his service, Hissey was named director emeritus. He also served as 1997 vice president of the IEEE Foundation.
He now focuses much of his efforts on facilitating partnerships and establishing joint awards with other technical societies in IEEE Regions 8, 9, and 10. But Hissey says his real passion is organizing outreach events for students and mentoring less-experienced volunteers through the IEEE Young Professionals group (formerly IEEE Graduates of the Last Decade). “I seek out and mentor ambitious young professionals and encourage them to seek higher-level positions within IEEE to bring their fresh and innovative ideas into the organization,” he says.
Hissey has a wealth of information to pass on. “I always stress the importance of developing ‘extra’ skills like public speaking, organizing and leading meetings, and preparing and presenting technical papers,” he says. “I tell young people they’re in a different world today than when I started out in the late 1940s. In those days, companies were more supportive of their employees; their professional development was a priority. Now, young professionals often have to learn these skills on their own.”
Volunteers in Region 9 (Latin America) were so grateful for Hissey’s assistance that they created the IEEE Theodore W. Hissey Award. It’s presented annually to members in the region whose support of students or of the IEEE Young Professionals program has made a significant impact. “Ted’s support of these groups has been outstanding—he’s motivated them not only to improve their professional skills but also continue their involvement with IEEE,” says Francisco Martinez, former Region 9 director and current chair of the IEEE Admission and Advancement Committee.
Hissey has helped high-level volunteers as well. “I first met Ted at an IEEE Board of Directors meeting in 2007, when I had just begun serving as Region 10 [Asia and Pacific] director-elect,” says Yong-Jin Park, a professor of computer science and engineering at Waseda University, in Tokyo. “Since then, he’s kept in contact with me and shared words of wisdom from his many years of volunteering.”
Adds Fanny Su, executive director of the IEEE Asia-Pacific Operations Centre, in Singapore, “Uncle Ted treats IEEE as his extended family. He is an exemplary volunteer and a wonderful mentor, always warm and caring to those who work with him.”