Organizing an IEEE Student Professional Awareness Conference

Tips for holding a successful event

6 May 2011

When I became chair in January 2010 of the IEEE student branch at Khulna University of Engineering Technology (KUET), in Bangladesh, I wanted to have a great impact and introduce innovative activities. But how was I to do this? Surprisingly, it didn’t take long for an answer to fall into place.

While on Facebook later in January, I came across the IEEE student branch at the University of Engineering & Technology, Lahore, Pakistan, and found it was organizing a Student Professional Awareness Conference (S-PAC). Engineers at such conferences provide career guidance to IEEE student members. Curious, I contacted the event’s organizers and also searched the Internet to find out more about S-PACs. I found a description on the IEEE-USA site but the information was geared to the United States. So I turned to IEEE Region 8 director Marko Delinar and IEEE Regions 7-10 S-PAC coordinator John Passerba for guidance on how to organize an S-PAC in my country.

My student branch also contacted Mohammed Maroof Raza, chair of the 2010 IEEE S-PAC at the University of Engineering & Technology, Lahore, and Saqib Munawar, section student representative of the IEEE Karachi Section. Their advice was invaluable and our branch decided to hold its own S-PAC—the first in the IEEE Bangladesh Section. We knew it would be difficult, but we were happy to be the first to hold such an event.

Our student branch held planning meetings with 40 student volunteers and six faculty members every weekend in May. We wanted our first S-PAC to be special. We came up with the theme “Dream Beyond,” and a focus on topics that could help engineering students in their careers, whether in research, starting a business, or merely finding a job.

But it was tough getting funds and speakers from our local companies , and getting international speakers seemed even tougher. Around that time I became a member of the IEEE Education Society Students Activity Committee, which connected our branch with speakers from its Distinguished Lecturer program. The committee also would supply funds for the speakers’ travel expenses.

But we were still having trouble getting local sponsors. The big breakthrough came when Microsoft Bangladesh became a sponsor and offered to help fund the event.

We wanted to get students from other IEEE branches to attend, but it was difficult because KUET is far from other schools in the section. To reach other students, we made use of the Bangladesh Section’s Global Integrated Network of IEEE (GINI) initiative. GINI is a network of students that aims to encourage communication among student branches of an IEEE section or region by holding joint meetings and other activities. We invited members of GINI as well as section volunteers to watch a 3-minute video we made outlining our S-PAC plans that we posted on our website.

The presentation described two contests we would hold: a tech blogging competition sponsored by Microsoft Bangladesh, in which students would be judged on how well they wrote on technical topics dealing with Microsoft’s tools, and an ethics contest where teams of students would defend positions on an ethical issue related to engineering. We were also able to offer US $600 in prizes for the ethics contest.

Bangladesh Section chair A.B.M. Harun-ur Rashid, student activities chair of the section Jumanah Shireen Khan, and several student branch chairs were so impressed with our website presentation that the section decided to provide some funding. And Rashid even helped us finalize the list of speakers.

Next, we set up a Facebook page and created two more promotional videos to spread the word to other students about our contests and the S-PAC.

The event was held from 3 to 5 December at our university. It featured 14 technical presentations followed by discussion sessions. The speakers covered such topics as innovation, CMOS, nanoelectronics, professionalism, Windows Phone 7 application development, and making the transition from engineering to management. Nalin K. Sharda, a professor of computer science and multimedia at Victoria University, Australia, was the keynote speaker. His brilliant talk on creativity and innovation was inspirational. We also had panel discussions focusing on various career paths for students. IEEE Bangladesh Section vice chair M. Aynal Haque was the chief guest at the closing ceremony. And besides the two contests, we also had a wonderful cultural program about our Bangladeshi heritage that ended the event on a high note.

The event was quite a success. We had more than 500 people from our university as well as 70 from other schools, some of whom traveled hundreds of kilometers to attend. In fact, we generated so much interest that we had to stop taking registrations when it looked like we would run out of room.

My volunteer team and I had to work day and night for four days before and during the event, but in the end we were all happy with what we accomplished. Our student branch counselor Md. Rafiqul Islam and the head of the computer science and engineering department, K.M. Azharul Hasan, who helped us organize the S-PAC, were always on hand to lend their support.

Although at first we struggled to collect funds, in the end we managed to collect more than $7000 from all our sources. I gained great management experience but the best part was working with the other volunteers. We hope we helped the students who attended get a better idea about the career paths available to them.

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