Dispatches From IEEE Members Around the World

Read how others are dealing with the pandemic

8 min read

Kathy Pretz is the editor in chief of The Institute, IEEE's member publication

IEEE members, how has your life changed because of the coronavirus? Share stories and anecdotes about your personal or professional situation with other members. Let them know about the adaptations you and your colleagues have made, unusual experiences you've had, and how you are coping with the new rules of social interaction. Send your dispatches to The Institute's editor in chief Kathy Pretz, at k.pretz@ieee.org, for possible inclusion here.

Staying Connected With the Help of IEEE

Rituraj Soni
IEEE Member

Dispatch Received: 30 June

Man with headphones on sitting at a computer.Member Rituraj Soni stayed connected with others by participating in IEEE hackathons, webinars, and virtual conferences.Photo: Rituraj Soni

I am an assistant professor in the Computer Science and Engineering Department at the Engineering College Bikaner, in Rajasthan, India. It is really a proud feeling to be an IEEE member. I joined IEEE in March 2020, and since then, it has really helped me contribute my best [efforts] to the field of academia.

The last school semester started in December 2019 and after the winter vacation, classes were going at an excellent pace. The coronavirus pandemic reached India the last week of January and soon spread across the country. The university's administration called for a lockdown in March. Therefore, the classroom lectures stopped, and that was for the welfare of everyone.

The university instructed the faculty to start communicating with students through Google Classroom. It also decided to put some online lectures on YouTube to complete the syllabus. That was a good idea. Although it was our first time posting video lectures, I tried my best to make good videos for the students.

Since the semester had begun in December, up to 80 percent of the syllabus was completed before the lockdown. The remaining 20 percent was covered through notes, presentations, and video lectures in the lockdown period. All the assignments and online exams were conducted successfully the last week of May.

As an IEEE member, I participated in the IEEE COVID Move Online Hackathon Challenge for teams of students from India to work on innovative solutions to unmet needs and problems due to the sudden outbreak of COVID-19. It washeld from 30 March to 2 April and organized by the IEEE India Council in collaboration with India's IEEE Hyderabad and Bangalore sections.

Our team, TeamSaviour, which included one faculty member and three students from the Chandigarh Group of Colleges (CGC), in India, proposed an automatic food dispenser that can cook daaland rice [a lentil dish] in separate compartments. The Automatic Contactless Food Dispenser can also provide food to the needy without direct intervention from humans. I mentored this team with Dr. Tanvi Arora, an associate professor at the CGC College of Engineering, in Mohali.

The food dispenser will be helpful in shelters where large numbers of people are quarantined while they recover from COVID-19. We were among the top teams out of the 59 that participated in the hackathon.

The certificate of appreciation and participation in the IEEE hackathon motivated our team and encouraged us to give more input to solutions of how to solve this pandemic.

The hackathon was preceded by a webinar given by Dr. D. R. Srinivas, a Bengaluru-based senior consultant physician, and Dr. G. K. Goswami a Delhi-based officer for the Indian Police Services. It was great to learn and interact with them as well as Dr. Abhishek Appajee and Dr. Amit Kumar. The talks they delivered on the issue of COVID-19 were excellent and were based on the need of the hour.

During this pandemic, it was only due to my membership in the renowned organization, IEEE, that I could participate in such a hackathon and contribute to the betterment of society. It not only gives me satisfaction but also encourages me to give more than 100 percent of myself to social welfare.

We were excited to take part in the second such event, IEEE COVID Move 2.0, which invited individuals and teams from industry, academia, and startups to participate. The teams were asked to solve one of the challenges identified by experts from the medical, biotechnology, biomedical, law enforcement, and economics fields. The outcome was to be a design that was scalable. The event was held 17 to 19 April and organized again by the IEEE Hyderabad and Bangalore sections, along with the Pune and Utter Pradesh sections.

Our same team, renamed Technocrats, proposed an idea called Elude Examination. The idea of the system is to automate the social distancing guidelines issued by the Indian government with the help of a webcam and facial recognition software. This system would be used for university students on campus. We were among the finalists. The event was also another great learning experience. Again, it was a privilege to listen to the talks given by people who are experts in their field.

My IEEE membership also enables me to participate in flagship conferences such as ICASSP [International Conference on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing] 2020, which was held virtually from 4 to 8 May. Along with free registration, I listened to some excellent presentations from various academicians. Moreover, my membership also allows me to access the conference proceedings. The knowledge I gained from this conference will help me to disseminate the same things to my students and research scholars.

Along with this conference, I have attended several webinars, such as Signal Processing for Flood Forecasting in India presented by Ami Wiesel, a professor of computer science and engineering at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It gave insight into how people from different parts of the world are working collaboratively.

Another webinar , Strategies for Effective Delivery of Online Engineering Courses: Best Practices, Tips, and Toolkits, delivered by Babak D. Beheshti, dean of the College of Engineering and Computing Sciences at New York Institute of Technology, gave me ideas for how to [better] conduct online classes.

I have applied a few techniques to my teaching style. These include using the secure video conference software program, Cisco's Webex, and the open source video creation software program, Open Broadcaster Software. I also creating timed quizzes in Google Classroom to assess the performance of my students.

I am also busy writing a book chapter for Elsevier on the topic of generative adversarial networks. The access to the IEEE Xplore Digital Library during this pandemic will help me to put together ideas for this chapter.

In such a small period of time, from March to May, I was able to contribute to the academics and welfare of my students in new ways through online teaching, quizzes, and assignment submissions .

This experience will surely encourage me to do my best in the coming days. With this motivation, I will continue my connection with the outside world through online methods with the world in this lockdown situation.

The times are tough as we cannot go to our jobs, go outside, or do other activities, but we are blessed that we are safe. The coronavirus will surely be a blessing in disguise. The only phrase I believe is appropriate in this situation is, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

Stay home, stay safe.

Stranded Far From Home, But Closer To Her Students Than Ever Before

Bozenna Pasik-Duncan
IEEE Fellow

Dispatch Received: 27 March

Bozenna Pasik-Duncan teaching a University of Kansas class from her daughter's California home on April 7, 2020.Bozenna Pasik-Duncan, a professor at the University of Kansas, teaches one of her classes remotely from her daughter's California home.Photo: Dominique Duncan

I'm a professor of mathematics at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. I'm also a courtesy professor of electrical engineering and computer science and aerospace engineering there. And I'm a proud IEEE Life Fellow.

My university's spring break began on 6 March with a trip from my home in Lawrence, Kan., to New Orleans for an in-person-meeting of the IEEE Women in Engineering Committee of which I'm a member and also was its 2017-2018 global chair. The weekend meeting was fantastic. I returned to Kansas on Sunday night, 8 March, ready to enjoy the remaining few days of the break by taking a trip with my husband to visit our daughter, Dominique and her pug Bruno, in Santa Monica, Calif., as well as attend a workshop at UCLA.

The first coronavirus warnings had caused many of my university colleagues to stay in Kansas while on break, but I was so excited about attending the High Dimensional Hamilton – Jacobi Partial Differential Equations workshop held from 10 to 13 March at UCLA's Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics. Also, my husband, who grew up in the city, loves going back to Santa Monica and visiting UCLA.

Universities in Los Angeles were already beginning to close when we arrived.

Nevertheless, we enjoyed taking long walks with Bruno. I also looked forward to having a cup of coffee every morning and ordering scrambled eggs for Bruno at our favorite neighborhood coffee shop and being waited on by its friendly staff. On Saturday morning, 14 March, the shop was closed, and on its door was a note that one of the employees had COVID-19.

My husband and I were scheduled to fly back home on Monday, 16 March, but getting on an airplane was already considered risky by that time. I became tremendously concerned that I might have been exposed to the novel coronavirus and decided to self-isolate and not fly back to Kansas. My husband, also a professor in my department at the University of Kansas, was determined to return home because the semester was scheduled to start that Monday, but I was torn because I didn't want to be separated from him.

I'm also an investigator in the Dynamics and Control Program at the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Also that Monday, the program officer wrote a note to all the investigators in his program that said: “All, if you could please tell me the impact of the virus on your research and on your teaching, I would really appreciate it. I believe we need this information for the Air Force."

I shared with the program officer that my husband would be flying back to Kansas in a few hours but I could not fly, and I could not stop him from flying, so this became a serious situation. Two of our colleagues who do medical research responded with: “Don't fly." Our daughter, an electrical engineer and an IEEE senior member, works at the University of Southern California Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute at the university's Keck School of Medicine. Her colleagues recommended, “No flying for your parents." My husband finally canceled the flight.

On 17 March, the university announced that all instruction would be online for the remainder of the spring semester and that instructors are now required to teach classes remotely. On top of this, on 19 March, California's governor issued a statewide shelter-in-place order.

Unfortunately, I didn't bring any textbooks or lecture notes with me. With only an iPhone and an old laptop, I began teaching probability and statistics to 40 engineering students using Zoom video conferencing. This new real-life problem created the best motivation for analyzing data, modeling data, estimating, and testing our research hypotheses. We didn't need textbooks or my lecture notes. My favorite five C's: curiosity, creativity, connections, communication, and collaboration became powerful, beautiful, and exciting tools in learning probability and statistics while dealing with this unknown phenomenon.

This situation can serve as the best motivation and inspiration for students to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as well as data science. I have no doubt that this will be the most successful and most memorable course I have taught during my almost 50-year scientific career. This new passion of creating approaches to teaching and learning in a very scary and dangerous environment allows my students and me to overcome fear and tremendous difficulties.

This new situation also brought memories of the stories my mother and grandmother shared of how they survived two World Wars in Poland. My mother's husband was one of the first people killed in a concentration camp. My mother, my 8-year-old sister (who later died as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear accident), and my grandmother survived. I grew up in Radom, 60 miles from Warsaw, and heard stories from my teachers about their best strategies for teaching while fighting for their lives.

When my students, who are seniors and ready for graduation, told me that they feel depressed that they won't have a traditional university graduation at the scheduled date, I shared my story of having my wedding in New York City without my mother or any member of my family in attendance because they were unable to get a visa to travel to the United States. In those days, there was no option for remote interaction.

I shared with them my mother's words of wisdom: Always try to turn something negative into a positive. I always credit my students with making me happy that I live in this country, but I needed to hear in these special and scary circumstances: “We love you, professor."

Although physically scared, spiritually I feel like the happiest person on Earth. I feel blessed to be with my daughter, and having amazing food prepared by extraordinary Italian cooks who deliver it. I cannot stop thinking of my family and friends in Poland, and thousands of my IEEE friends from all over the world in countries affected by this pandemic. I hope that, like my mother and grandmother, I will survive, and I hope that this COVID-19 nightmare will be over soon.

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