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How Philanthropy Became This IEEE Member’s Cause

Bob Dent is New Jersey's 2021 Outstanding Philanthropist

4 min read
Photo of an older man in a blue checkered shirt and a black jacket.
Alice Dent

You don't need to be a millionaire to be a philanthropist. Many philanthropists are working-class people with a passion for charitable causes. Bob Dent, who had a 40-year career in the power industry, is one of those individuals.

The IEEE life senior member has donated to many causes, including the IEEE History Center, IEEE Smart Village, and IEEE REACH.

Dent is a member of the IEEE Heritage Circle and the IEEE Goldsmith Legacy League. The Heritage Circle acknowledges members who have pledged more than US $10,000 to support IEEE programs. Legacy League members have pledged money to the IEEE Foundation through a bequest in their will, trust, life insurance policy, or retirement plan.

For his generosity, Dent received a New Jersey Outstanding Philanthropist Award this year from the state's chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. The award recognizes achievements of citizens and organizations dedicated to making New Jersey a better place.

"What better way than to help the organizations that you think should live on," Dent says about his decision to set aside money from his estate to support the IEEE Foundation.

He had a long career in the power industry before he joined the staff of IEEE. He retired in 2007, and now he volunteers for the organization.

FROM UTILITIES TO IEEE

When Dent was a youngster, he knew he wanted to work with numbers. His father, who sparked his passion, was an accountant. It was a neighbor, however, who introduced him to electrical engineering.

"I thought that it was a good way to merge science and math," he says.

Dent attended Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., where in 1966 he earned a bachelor's degree in engineering. When he was a senior, he joined the school's IEEE student branch. He says he and one of his fraternity brothers were looking to spruce up their résumés and thought that listing IEEE would help them get job interviews.

He landed a position with United Illuminating, an investor-owned utility in Connecticut now part of Avangrid. He worked there for three years and says he "got a real good taste of what electric utility work and working in an engineering department would be like."

He moved to New York City in 1969 and worked for Gibbs and Hill Engineering, a construction and consulting firm. While there, he earned a master's degree in computer science in 1976 from Pratt Institute. Dent worked for the company for eight years.

In 1977 he joined the New York Power Authority's engineering department in Manhattan. In 1983 the department moved north to White Plains. He decided to get a second master's degree—this time in electrical engineering—at the Polytechnic Institute of New York, now the New York University Tandon School of Engineering, in Brooklyn. After earning that degree, he stayed on to earn a master's degree in management, which he received in 1987.

In 2002 an opportunity to work for IEEE opened up. Dent joined the organization as executive director of the IEEE Power & Energy Society. He says it was the capstone of his career.

VOLUNTEER WORK

Dent's volunteerism started when he joined the IEEE PES New York Chapter. He became its chair in 1983 and six years later became chair of the IEEE New York Section.

In 1990 he was appointed chair of the IEEE PES publications committee and held that position for two years. He continued to move up the volunteer ladder, eventually becoming president of IEEE PES in 1996.

He says that after his term ended in 1997, he thought he was done with leadership positions in the organization. Then a friend asked him to run for vice president of IEEE Technical Activities. He served in that position in 2000.

"I kind of dropped out of volunteer work from 2002 to 2007, but got back into it after I retired," he says. In 2012 he became chair of the IEEE PES history committee, and five years later was appointed chair of the IEEE Milestone subcommittee.

He was elected the 2019–2020 president of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology and was a member-at-large for the IEEE Technology and Engineering Management Society at the same time.

"I was always happy to get involved," he says.

GIVING BACK

Dent's first philanthropic contribution was to the IEEE history committee. He says the committee attracted him because it documents the history of technology and the history of IEEE.

"I think they do a lot of good," he says.

He donates to IEEE Smart Village, a program that brings electricity—as well as educational and employment opportunities—to remote communities. Smart Village is one of the donor-supported priority initiatives of the IEEE Foundation. When Dent first heard about the program, he said, he felt that it had a noble purpose.

He started donating to IEEE REACH after he learned it helped teachers create lesson plans for middle school and high school students so they could understand electrical engineering and how technology works.

Dent also gives to IEEE Eta Kappa Nu, IEEE SSIT, and a few non-IEEE programs including the New York Botanical Garden and Stevens Tech, his alma mater.

"Bob is a champion in providing funding opportunities in avenues of monthly giving, matching gifts, leadership giving, and planned giving," says the nominator for the Excellence in Philanthropy Award. "Bob gives back in so many different ways—both to New Jersey and globally—through his support of the IEEE Foundation."

"It's nice that somebody thought that I deserved to be recognized," Dent says. "It means to me that my philanthropy has been appreciated."

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