Volunteers Making a Difference: Leah Jamieson

2007 president has always looked outward

9 July 2012

read Photo: Purdue University

Another article in a series that profiles IEEE volunteers who have had a significant impact on our organization.

It’s fitting that the volunteer we feature this month is IEEE Fellow Leah Jamieson, the new president of the IEEE Foundation, the organization’s philanthropic arm. Jamieson this year replaced Richard “Dick” Gowen, the foundation’s longest-serving president, who was profiled in this series, in February.

Like Gowen, Jamieson is a former IEEE president, having served in 2007—the second woman elected to the position. Other posts have included vice president of IEEE Publication Services and Products, vice president of IEEE Technical Activities, president of the IEEE Signal Processing Society, and the founding chair of several committees. She is an eminent member of IEEE-HKN, the institute’s honor society.

When The Institute asked Jamieson, an IEEE member for 37 years, what she considered her most important contributions, she pointed to two initiatives she championed: putting IEEE at the forefront of new multidisciplinary technical areas and raising IEEE’s public visibility.

“When I was vice president of Technical Activities, we questioned how to build IEEE’s presence around a technology that by its very nature spans multiple societies,” she says. “We needed a framework for doing that through our conferences, publications, standards, and educational materials.”

Regarding IEEE’s public visibility, she says: “With technology becoming so integral to everything that happens in the world, there was the challenge of raising the public’s awareness of the roles that technology, engineering, and computing play in everyone’s quality of life.”

SPANNING TECHNOLOGIESWith ever more members working in areas such as the smart grid and electric vehicles, Jamieson realized that a process was needed for building interdisciplinary research communities among IEEE’s 38 societies and 7 technical councils.

“Our structure sometimes got in the way of our ability to move quickly into new areas,” she says. “However, some IEEE societies had developed effective vehicles for exploring new areas that spanned societies. We needed to share those models throughout IEEE.”

We also needed to ensure that IEEE’s presence was visible to the outside world so that we would be viewed as the place to go for trusted information in emerging areas, as well as in our established ones,” she continues.

That realization led to the revitalization in 2004 of the IEEE New Technology Directions Committee, since renamed the IEEE Future Directions Committee.

Jamieson helped launch a framework to accelerate IEEE’s entry into emerging fields. Working groups, each chaired by an expert in a given technology, were formed and dedicated to nurturing that technology and organizing activities around it, such as conferences and newsletters.

IEEE’s efforts in smart-grid technology is an example of such successful cross-disciplinary collaboration, according to Jamieson. “The smart grid cuts across a lot of societies,” she points out, “but the framework for focusing on it was not creating an IEEE smart-grid society but making it an IEEE-wide effort.”

Emerging areas the committee is now working include cloud computing, electric vehicles, life sciences, and green information and communications technology.

MORE VISIBILITYJamieson says she also felt IEEE had not been positioned as the voice of the profession. To that end, she began discussions with the IEEE Board of Directors on a difficult task: making IEEE a household name. Those talks led to the Public Visibility Initiative, a multimillion-dollar five-year communication program launched in 2008 that seeks to raise the organization’s global visibility and improve the image of the engineering profession.

“The goal is to increase the public’s understanding of how engineering, computing, and technology benefit humanity,” Jamieson says.

After her term as IEEE president ended, she became the founding chair in 2008 of the IEEE Public Visibility Committee. Over the years, the committee has attracted news coverage in all 10 of the countries it targeted: Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Newspapers such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, International Herald Tribute, the New York Times, and Deccan Herald of Bangalore are among those that have run articles in which IEEE experts have been quoted.

Six months ago, the committee had an exhibit at the International Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, the world’s largest consumer technology show. The exhibit, designed to increase visibility and raise awareness of IEEE and the engineering profession, delivered messages about IEEE products and services. Among the activities at the booth were the first such interviews conducted by Public Visibility Initiative staff members with IEEE technical experts, who discussed technology trends. The interviews were featured in April in “IEEE Experts Predicted What to Look for in 2012.”

More recently in RCR Wireless, Senior Member Carlos M. Cordeiro explained the challenges and opportunities presented by Wi-Gig, which offers 10 times higher speeds than today’s Wi-Fi. The latest IEEE Insights blog entry at Forbes.com was written by Norman Augustine, IEEE Life Fellow and retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, who discusses why engineers should get involved in government.

FOUNDATION’S FUTURENow, as president of the IEEE Foundation, Jamieson plans to expand the organization’s work by revamping its finances to “allow IEEE philanthropic projects to reach their full potential,” which may take years.

“IEEE has wrestled with how to fund large-scale, humanitarian activities and preuniversity education outreach programs,” she says. “The foundation has a role to play—perhaps serving as the core financial model for these activities.

“Philanthropy through the IEEE Foundation can expand IEEE’s reach into activities that don’t inherently generate revenue,” she continues. “The foundation can have a very strong partnership with IEEE to help it advance some of the outward-looking activities that it would like to embark upon.”

CAREER BUILDERWhy has Jamieson been so dedicated to IEEE? She gives several reasons. IEEE has supported her career in many ways, she says, not least through the organization’s traditional strengths: offering quality conferences and highly regarded peer-reviewed journals. It has, for example, given her an outlet for publishing her research. Now the dean of engineering and a chaired professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Ind., Jamieson has authored more than 175 papers Her work focuses on speech analysis and recognition, the design and analysis of parallel processing algorithms, the application of parallel processing to digital speech and image and signal processing, and engineering education.

She also points to IEEE’s sense of kinship: “Over the years, I worked with colleagues who have become my friends and who have become part of my community.”

Perhaps most important, however, she says, IEEE has helped with her professional development. Through her leadership roles, she has acquired skills that she says would have been unattainable at her university, “at least not on the same scale or with as much forgiveness.”

And, in addition to contributing to her “global perspective,” IEEE helped her understand budgets and to work with people in building a vision. “I learned a great deal that has become part of my professional persona because of the opportunities at IEEE,” she concludes.

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