Moshe Kam IEEE President
Appointment of Dr. Moshe Kam to Dean, Newark College of Engineering
3 April, 2014

ENGINEERING AS A LIBERAL ART: an address to the Edinburgh International Cultural Summit (The Debating Chamber, Scottish Parliament; Edinburgh, Scotland; 14 August 2012)
14 August, 2012

Comments during the dedication of an IEEE Milestone on the World’s First Reliable High Voltage Power Fuse, 1909 (3 August 2012, Chicago, IL, USA)
3 August, 2012

Comments at the Dedication of the IEEE Milestone Mainline Electrification of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, 1895 (21 June 2012, Baltimore, MD)
9 July, 2012

Comments at the installation of the Iota Lambda Chapter of Eta Kappa Nu at the University of Hong Kong (13 January 2012)
13 January, 2012

Comments at the Unveiling of the IEEE Milestone on the Apollo Guidance Computer, Cambridge, MA
13 December, 2011

Roger Pollard (1 June 1946 - 3 December 2011)
4 December, 2011

As 2011 draws to a close...
3 December, 2011

Member Letter – U.S. Hurricane Irene/Floods
10 September, 2011

Message to IEEE Volunteers and Members in Japan
14 March, 2011

It Is About Value (Not About Price)
11 February, 2011

A Small Miracle in Hyderabad
27 January, 2011

So you are traveling a lot, eh?
17 January, 2011

How Should We Proceed with IEEE’s Humanitarian Efforts?
1 January, 2011

IEEE and Haiti
20 January, 2010

A Most Impressive Quasquicentennial in Hyderabad
7 January, 2010

My New Year Resolution - Seeking Less Experienced Volunteers
2 January, 2010

Mail about IEEE Spectrum article - Powerless in Gaza
26 December, 2009

The list of new IEEE Fellows is out
15 December, 2009

In praise of three tough guys from Trinidad
25 November, 2009

Who will be the 50th President of IEEE?
23 November, 2009

Smart Grid and Standards Search - the Board of Directors approves new initiatives
22 November, 2009

Globalization and Music - a Visit to the IEEE France Section
12 November, 2009

Moshe Kam elected IEEE 2010 President-Elect
7 October, 2009


My New Year Resolution - Seeking Less Experienced Volunteers

Senior IEEE volunteers often nominate or appoint other volunteers to committees and task forces. It is an important duty, because good appointments can help a committee become functional and productive. Conversely, even one bad appointment can derail an otherwise functional group into a series of diversions and arguments to the point that nothing ever gets done.

The appointment process can be very complex, especially if the appointment is for a key Institute-wide position such as candidate for IEEE President or Chair of the IEEE Strategic Planning Committee. Most appointments are, however, simpler to make and get approved. One person or one committee proposes the appointment; unless there is strong opposition from a relevant party, the appointment is made. In this article I refer to these “simpler” appointments, usually for membership in a committee (not a Chair position), the kind of which are made several hundred times every year.

Here is my main point: I think that in the last few years we have erred quite dramatically on the side of selecting for IEEE committee membership the “tried and true” more seasoned volunteers. In other words, we have shown very strong preference toward individuals who served IEEE before, those who have a lot of past service, and already “know the ropes.” By going in this direction, we guaranteed that committee members are experienced, but have also blocked the path of many new emerging leaders to meaningful influence in IEEE. I am not sure this was terribly good for us.

Some committees show good blend of the ‘old’ and ‘young’ (this is not in terms of chronological age, but in terms of years of service as volunteer). In others, the same members serve again and again, sometimes for periods that may extend for as long as a decade. Often these semi-permanent members show up in different years as representatives of different organizational units.

For example take the imaginary Ned Faithful, who served, say, on the Terminology Committee in 1998 and 1999 (names and committee titles are, of course, fictitious). In those years Ned was the representative of the Capital Letters Board on the Terminology Committee. In 2000 and 2001 Ned still served on the Terminology Committee, but this time as representative of the Alpha-numeric Symbols Board. In 2002 Ned was “on vacation” – he did not appear on the roster on the Terminology Committee (in fact he served instead on the Acronyms Committee in 2002, where he had six years of prior service). However, Ned quickly made a strong comeback and served on the Terminology Committee in 2003, 2004 and 2005 as the representative of the Penmanship Board… And he came back in 2006 and 2007 when he served simultaneously on two other Boards… You check the roster in 2010, and guess what… Faithful Ned is there again, twelve years later, this time as the representative of the Vocabulary Council… It has been eight years of service on the same committee already, and you feel that if you came back in 2020 or perhaps even 2030 you may still find Ned right there, making motions and discussing tactics… Barring a Force Majeure, he will be there for as long as he wishes to serve and for as long as there is a Terminology Committee…

I have nothing against seasoned volunteers. I am one. I hope that I am still effective even after more than two decades of service on various IEEE Boards and committees. Moreover, we need seasoned volunteers. We need them for their experience, institutional knowledge, institutional memory, dedication, and in many cases – abundance of energy and willingness to give IEEE seemingly-limitless amounts of time and effort.

And yet… we also need the “less experienced.” These are volunteers who have been with IEEE in a responsible position for a shorter number of years, say 4-6; perhaps came from a Board of Governors of a (technical) Society or an Executive Committee of a (geographical) Section; perhaps served as student leaders or coordinators of a GOLD (Graduates of the Last Decade) activity. These less-experienced volunteers often represent different demographics than the senior cohort, and they bring with them a breath of fresh air to our otherwise routine discussions. They tend to question our assumptions more often, they are often much more likely to offer new ideas, challenge the status quo, and propose high-risk high-payoff new initiatives.

One more thing.  I would like to see student leaders on some major committees where their views can inform the rest of us.  I really believe that student members, espeically graduate student members, should have a larger presence in our leadership and committees.

My New Year resolution is therefore to do all I can to promote the participation of new leaders in our committees and forums. There is some risk involved – some of the new participants will not fit, and some may even disappoint. This risk is however much less serious than the risk we face now, through over-reliance on the older guard. We risk dearth of new ideas, increased resistance to change, neglect to take into account new trends in the profession and in the marketplace. I prefer the danger of having some ineffective new leaders, as long as many others in the new leader league help us rejuvenate the Institute, force us to re-examine old axioms, and lead us to new experiments, products, services, and modes of operation.

It is time to be a little bolder.

Moshe Kam ( ) ECE Department, Drexel University, 3141 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
The opinions expressed on this website are the opinions of the author and not necessarily the opinions of the IEEE