A Novel IEEE Workshop Showcases Jamaica’s Engineering Community

Top leaders discussed tech careers and STEM education

5 min read
Four men sit in chairs and hold speaking microphones while sitting on a stage.

IEEE Jamaica Section Chair Christopher Udeagha [far left] leads a panel discussion on engineering opportunities in the island nation.

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The IEEE Jamaica Section is acting as a catalyst to engage and inspire the island nation’s next generation of engineering and technology professionals. The section held a first-of-its-kind workshop in January at the University of Technology in Kingston. The event attracted more than 200 participants.

Students and members met with IEEE leaders, government officials, university professors, and industry executives. Through the power of storytelling and the strength of IEEE’s mission, the One IEEE event connected participants to each other and to IEEE by showcasing the vibrant engineering community in Jamaica. Participants explored engineering and technology careers, academic pathways, and how IEEE can support them at different stages of their journey.

A row of teenagers with laptops and notebooks sit in theater seating.Students from several local schools and universities participated in the event.Bonanza Producciones

Section Chair Christopher Udeagha and IEEE Region 3 Director Eric Grigorian initiated the event, hosted by the university’s president, IEEE Member Kevin Brown. IEEE Senior Member Fawzi Behmann and staff from the IEEE Communications Society promoted the workshop to section and society chapter members.

Marie Hunter, IEEE managing director and the event design lead, and David Stankiewicz, event design and production manager for IEEE Conferences, Events, and Experiences, partnered with the section and region to design the workshop.

Preparing students for the future

Sophia Muirhead, IEEE executive director and chief operating officer, kicked off the event. During her keynote address, she stressed that the path to achieving professional success is paved with continuous learning, collaboration, and the pursuit of innovation.

A smiling woman in glasses and an IEEE lanyard speaks into a microphone IEEE Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer Sophia Muirhead.Bonanza Producciones

Having enough engineers and retaining graduates is critical for Jamaica’s continued technological development, Brown said. He discussed the importance of getting young people interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and preparing them to enter degree programs in the four fields. Brown also discussed the need to “support and build out Jamaica’s STEM higher education institutions.”

A smiling woman with short hair and glasses Jamaica’s Minister of Education and Youth Fayval Williams.Bonanza Producciones

Students require knowledge and skills to compete in a rapidly evolving global workforce. IEEE Member Fayval Williams, Jamaica’s minister of education and youth, discussed the need to start preparing students for future jobs that will require them to collaborate with others, be innovative, and offer solutions. She said the country plans to launch STEM schools that integrate science, technology, engineering, and math subjects because “that’s where the magic happens.”

One way IEEE can help is through its TryEngineering program, which offers resources for students and teachers.

Ways to engage engineering students

From agriculture to security, there are many career paths available to robotics graduates, said Lindon Falconer, an IEEE senior member. Falconer, a deputy dean at the University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica, shared information about the theoretical and practical knowledge, coursework, and extracurricular activities that can prepare students for robotics careers.

A group of nine people smiling while wearing IEEE lanyardsIEEE Senior Member Lindon Falconer (4th from right) with some of the students from the University of the West Indies IEEE student branch who won trophies at the robotics competitions held at IEEE SoutheastCon. Bonanza Producciones

Contests are one way to get students interested in the field, he said. Over the years, the university’s IEEE student branch successfully participated in IEEE SoutheastCon competitions to gain hands-on technical experience. The students have fared well, placing third in the hardware competition in 2016 and 2018, winning the 2017 student paper competition, and garnering third place in the 2019 open hardware contest.

“The path to achieving professional success is paved with continuous learning, collaboration, and the pursuit of innovation.”—Sophia Muirhead, IEEE executive director and chief operating officer.

Team Robotics Jamaica spoke about its road to success in taking the gold in the Engineering Documentation category at last year’s FIRST Global Challenge, held in October in Singapore. The team credited IEEE Member Donovan Wilson, president of the Union of Jamaican Alumni Associations (USA), for assisting with the win.

To give students a glimpse into real-world robotics applications, organizers brought in IEEE Member Michelle Jillian Johnson, an associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Pennsylvania. Johnson, who is from Jamaica, discussed how she decided to develop therapies and assistive robotics for individuals with disabilities after her grandmother had a stroke.

Many careers are full of twists and turns. Terence Martinez, executive director of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society, shared how his winding career path led him from childhood aspirations of becoming a doctor to working in industry and then to his current role at IEEE.

Readying students for the workplace

If students have never met an engineer, imagining themselves on an engineering path can be challenging. They often don’t know what kind of jobs are possible with an engineering degree or what a career in a field such as telecommunications involves. Speakers from Digicel, Flow Jamaica, Microsoft’s Azure for Operators, and Symptai Consulting answered students’ questions.

A smiling young woman smiles while holding a microphone IEEE Member Juleen Gentles.Bonanza Producciones

How can students channel their talents and personal interests into satisfying and impactful careers? When addressing such questions, IEEE Member Juleen Gentles shared how her family’s farming legacy, her passion for health and wellness, and her engineering background led her to a career developing technologies for the agriculture and medical fields.

Leadership and critical thinking are skills built to last a career. IEEE Region 1 Director Bala Prasanna emphasized that honing networking, communications, and conflict resolution skills can help students stay resilient.

Nancy Ostin, director of the IEEE–Eta Kappa Nu honor society, spoke about how becoming an HKN member can help a student acquire leadership skills.

Technology shifts, evolving industries, and changing jobs can alter career paths. Nevertheless, Grigorian said, students, working engineers, and even retirees can rely on IEEE as their “professional home.” He discussed how joining the organization offers invaluable mentorship and educational opportunities at every level.

The importance of volunteering

Many members are interested in giving back to their community. IEEE can help them find volunteer opportunities tailored to their interests and schedules.

One such resource is EPICS in IEEE. The service-learning’s program manager, Ashley Moran, explained how Engineering Projects In Community Service enables volunteers worldwide to use their technical skills to improve their community.

A group of four people sit in chairs and hold speaking microphones while sitting on a stage.From left: IEEE Region 3 Director Eric Grigorian, IEEE Region 1 Director Bala Prasanna, EPICS in IEEE Program Manager Ashley Moran, and IEEE-Eta Kappa Nu Director Nancy Ostin discuss their programs.Bonanza Producciones

Prasanna discussed how volunteers can get involved with the IEEE MOVE initiative, which provides communications and power solutions to first responders and victims of natural disasters.

IEEE conferences are great places to exchange ideas and learn about the latest innovations, and volunteers who help run them can pick up valuable leadership skills. Fred Schindler, vice president of IEEE Technical Activities, shared his personal journey to find his “home at IEEE.” He said volunteering with the IEEE MTT-S International Microwave Symposium helped him build his professional network, hone his financial and management skills, and learn to be more adaptable.

To close out the workshop, Todd Johnson, an IEEE member and principal director of energy at Jamaica’s Ministry of Science, Energy, Telecommunications, and Transport, painted an inspiring picture of the country’s vision to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

“Reaching this vision,” Johnson said, “is going to require all of us working together to harness the immense potential and innovative spirit of our people—which we see in this room here today.”

He called on participants to use the workshop as a “springboard to unleash your creativity, your ingenuity, and your passion for building a better tomorrow.”

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