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IEEE President's Column: Amid Global Uncertainty, IEEE Steps Up

In a year of unprecedented challenges, IEEE’s essential efforts continue

4 min read
Photo of Toshio Fukuda
Photo: Christie’s Photographic Solutions

THE INSTITUTE As 2020 draws to a close, I look back on my year as IEEE president and marvel at what have been 12 world-changing, paradigm-shifting months. Throughout this period one thing became quite apparent: IEEE is more than just our technical conferences, publications, and standards. IEEE is a vibrant, engaged, international community growing every year and contributing more diverse, insightful, and essential work than ever before. This year our community has come together in new ways, faced the challenges of a global pandemic, and emerged even stronger.

The year demonstrated the impact that professional engineers and technologists have had on society. We have witnessed amazing engineering developments and important medical and technological breakthroughs. We have stayed connected and engaged, leveraging computing and communications to allow critical work to continue while keeping individuals and families safe. The challenges and changes we have witnessed in local communities, across nations, and around the world confirm that the work of professional engineers, technologists, educators, young professionals, and students preparing for technical careers will continue to be in high demand and have a great impact.

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank all of you who proudly call yourselves IEEE members. Your enthusiasm in being members, in joining together in virtual communities, participating in our webinars, writing for our journals, and moving our professions forward is greatly appreciated. We will continue to look for ways to improve IEEE’s products, our communications, and our advocacy. We will also continue to engage the public, policymakers, and the news media about the important work that you and your colleagues do each and every day.

I want to acknowledge the many volunteer leaders who have served on the boards of our major committees, sections, societies, and councils and thank all who agreed to dedicate their time to the work being done by our regions, chapters, and branches. As a whole, there were thousands of volunteers at all levels this year who said “yes” when asked to serve. The profession owes all of you a debt of gratitude for your efforts.

Finally, I would like to recognize our professional staff from around the world and thank them for their efforts in continuing to successfully meet the challenge of supporting our mission and our members while working under unique circumstances.


Despite the loss of face-to-face opportunities and interaction, this year IEEE became more vital than ever. IEEE operations not only continued but also intensified to meet the increased need for access to technical resources; the need for swifter dissemination of pandemic-related papers; a seamless transition to online platforms for conferences and events; and, perhaps most importantly, embracing new ways to connect and communicate.

Our membership has remained strong, our resources were in high demand, and we worked to increase the public’s understanding of the key roles that our members play in society around the globe.

In response to the pandemic’s challenges, we learned even more ways to use technology to work smarter and to reach wider audiences by engaging them how and where it worked best for them. For example, the Region 10 Students, Young Professionals, Women in Engineering, and Life Members virtual congress held this fall attracted more than 10,000 online participants. Instead of the conventional full-day model, the congress was held for shortened periods of time over 16 days. This provided more flexibility for members to participate from numerous time zones and still fulfill their own professional and personal commitments.

The International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems pivoted to an on-demand conference, moving beyond constraints of time and space to provide a platform to view prerecorded videos of the more than 1,400 technical talks and 60 tutorials. This enabled participants to easily access content, anywhere, anytime, and with any device.

Personally, by participating in so many virtual events, I have been able to attend more IEEE activities and engage with more IEEE members around the world than ever before, despite the pandemic.

It has been quite an interesting year to be IEEE president. Navigating the post-COVID meeting and conference environment will require adaptability, flexibility, and innovation. IEEE has a great opportunity to develop new models for virtual and hybrid events that provide participants all the benefits of IEEE’s cutting-edge technical content.


Another promising development for IEEE is the ongoing evolution of its role within the field of continuing professional education and lifelong learning. It is imperative that IEEE be one of the driving forces within the area of professional development—taking advantage of the latest online platforms and our unique worldwide volunteer community, which can provide a local-content perspective from almost anywhere on the planet. Throughout 2020, we dedicated time, energy, and expertise to this important topic.

Action plans have been developed to create IEEE Academies on artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and the smart grid. The IEEE Academies will provide members new and unique value, as they will be able to take training with a more thorough learning pathway. They will also combine resources such as eLearning courses, webinar recordings, videos, and articles about a key subject of interest together with new materials and take learners through a guided journey that better ties these concepts and materials together. Our volunteer educators-in-chief are building these educational products that IEEE can offer to raise the caliber of professionals in these fields.

In this year of unprecedented challenges and uncertainty, I’ve had the remarkable opportunity to witness IEEE’s mission—advancing technology for the benefit of humanity—in action by our members, who are making significant improvements throughout society. That, in my opinion, is one of the primary benefits of being part of a global community such as IEEE. Together, IEEE members have changed our world—and we will continue do so every day.

A future of promise and possibility lies ahead for IEEE. We will continue to build that future together. I thank you for helping us progress during this extraordinary year.

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This article appears in the December 2020 print issue as “Amid Global Uncertainty, IEEE Steps Up.”

IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

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