IEEE depends on volunteer members for many things, including organizing conferences, coordinating regional and local activities, writing standards, and deciding on IEEE’s future.
But because the organization can be complex, many members don’t know what resources and roles are available to them, and they might need training on how to lead groups. That’s why in 2013, the IEEE Member and Geographic Activities board established its Volunteer Leadership Program. VoLT, an MGA program, provides members with resources and an overview of IEEE, including its culture and mission. The program also offers participants training to help them gain management and leadership skills. Each participant is paired with a mentor to provide guidance, advice, and support.
Program specialist for IEEE’s Volunteer User Experience Stephen Torpie and long-time volunteer and Life Member Marc Apter discuss the benefits of the VoLT program with visitors to the exhibit booth at IEEE Sections Congress.Stephen Torpie
VoLT, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, has grown steadily since its launch. In its first year, the program had 49 applicants and 19 graduates. Now nearly 500 members from all 10 IEEE regions and 165 sections have completed the program. This year the program received 306 applications, and it accepted 70 students to participate in the next six-month session.
“When I first got on the Board of Directors, I didn’t realize all the complexities of the organization, so I thought it would be helpful to provide a broad background for others to help them understand IEEE’s larger objectives,” says Senior Member Loretta Arellano, the mastermind behind VoLT. “The program was developed so that volunteers can quickly learn the IEEE structure and obtain leadership skills unique to a volunteer organization.
“IEEE is such a large organization, and typically members get involved with just one aspect and are never exposed to the rest of IEEE. They don’t realize there are a whole lot of resources and people to help them.”
Soft skills training and mentorship
Before applying to VoLT, members are required to take 10 courses that provide them with a comprehensive introduction to IEEE. The free courses are available on the IEEE Center for Leadership Excellence website.
Along with their application, members must include a reference letter from an IEEE volunteer.
“The VoLT program taught me how expansive IEEE’s network and offerings are,” says Moriah Hargrove Anders, an IEEE graduate student member who participated in the program in 2017. “The knowledge [I gained] has guided the leadership I take back to my section.”
Participants attend 10 to 12 webinars on soft-skill topics such as communication, leadership, and stress management. VoLT also trains them in IEEE Collabratec, IEEE vTools, IEEE Entrepreneurship, and other programs, plus the IEEE Code of Ethics.
“IEEE is such a large organization, and typically members get involved with just one aspect and are never exposed to the rest of IEEE. They don’t realize there are a whole lot of resources and people to help them.” —Loretta Arellano
Program mentors are active IEEE volunteers and have held leadership positions in the organization. Six of the 19 mentors from the program’s first year are still participating in VoLT. Of the 498 graduates, 205 have been a mentor at least once.
VoLT participants complete a team project, in which they identify a problem, a need, an opportunity, or an area of improvement within their local organizational unit or the global IEEE. Then they develop a business plan to address the concern. Each team presents a video highlighting its business plan to VoLT’s mentors, who evaluate the plans and select the three strongest. The three plans are sent to each individual’s IEEE region director and section leader to consider for implementation.
“The VoLT program helped me to reaffirm and expand my knowledge about IEEE,” Lizeth Vega Medina says. The IEEE senior member graduated from the program in 2019. “It also taught me how to manage situations as a volunteer.”
Each year, the program makes improvements based on feedback from students and the MGA board.
To acknowledge its anniversary, VoLT offered an exhibit booth in August at the IEEE Sections Congress in Ottawa. The event, held every three years, brings together IEEE leaders and volunteers from around the world. Recent VoLT graduates presented their team’s project. Videos of the sessions are available on IEEE.tv.
This article appears in the March 2024 print issue as “IEEE Volunteer Training Program Turns 10 .”