As new technologies become increasingly omnipotent in our everyday lives, Rakesh Kumar, IEEE Fellow and former President of the IEEE Solid-States Circuits Society says the IEEE must focus on not only people who create new products, but on those who use them, as well. “What’s going on in the field today? Look at the smartphone. Everybody has to have one, but if you ask people, ‘Do you know what it takes to make this work?’ they have no clue.”
“People are glued to their cell phones, yet they don’t want to do electrical engineering; they want to do mobile apps. They don’t realize that electrical engineering is the current and future backbone of technology. I think what we need to focus on is the average individual out there, as well as the engineer.”
Kumar caught on early, boasting a particularly long history with IEEE, and a dedication to ensuring that the organization progresses toward a successful future. While Kumar has held many roles during his 40-year-long career in the semiconductor industry, and taken on numerous IEEE leadership positions, he fondly recalls his first encounter with the IEEE, while still an undergraduate student in India.
“I was introduced to the IEEE by my professor who had just returned from the United States, and who encouraged us to go read the IEEE Journal of the Solid-State Circuits Society,” Kumar says. With a hint of reminiscent laughter in his voice, he continues, “I still remember exactly what that article was, 45 years later.” Born into an engineering family with strong ties to associations (Kumar’s father was a civil engineer, and Fellow of the American Society of Engineers), Kumar followed suit, becoming a student member of the IEEE with the ultimate goal of one day becoming an IEEE Fellow.
After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Rochester in 1974, and entering the semiconductor industry, Kumar became involved with the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society, eventually holding numerous leadership roles, including Treasurer and Vice President positions. In 2012, Kumar was elected President of the Society, a position which would ignite his commitment to improving IEEE’s offerings to reach a broader audience of members.
“We were a very strong society with a very solid community, but our membership was declining,” Kumar says. “During my presidency, we had a global reach-out around the world with some very solid results. The membership began to increase again, and we also increased our number of chapters.” By reevaluating its audience and offering membership benefits and services tailored to them, the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society strengthened its reputation with an entirely new community of engineers.
It was this “very fulfilling” model that served as catalyst for Kumar’s increased endeavors within the IEEE, and passion-driven mission to broaden the horizons of IEEE Technical Activities. While expanding chapter growth within his own society, Kumar began to interact with Member & Geographic Activities (MGA) volunteers, playing a role in Sections Congress 2011. This year, he was selected to chair the IEEE Sections Congress 2014 Ad-Hoc Committee within Technical Activities.
As collaboration with MGA was a major component of the success of Kumar’s home society, Kumar insisted on supporting this year’s IEEE Sections Congress event with a renewed sense of pride. Building on the benefits in which MGA and Technical Activities have resulted in the past, IEEE societies and technical councils put forward a reinvigorated presence at the recent Amsterdam event. As Kumar states, “I want to do whatever I can to try to enhance visibility of what Technical Activities does, and what it could be doing for our membership. That’s what prompted me to devote the energy to support IEEE Sections Congress.”
Spearheaded by Kumar and the 2014 Sections Congress Committee, the event provided increased visibility for IEEE societies and society leadership through presentations focusing on Technical Activities, community-building, and Future Directions initiatives. Additionally, there were sixteen Ignite presentations, designed to illuminate Technical Activities areas such as chapters, distinguished lecturers, conferences, and IEEE society social media tactics. Technical Activities also sponsored a lounge and exhibit area, and hosted an inaugural reception. Kumar championed the collaboration at the core of the initiative: “It’s been a great team effort.”
Kumar insists that IEEE has the unique ability to evolve at the rate of technology and reach an entirely new audience of engineers, just as the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society did several years ago. The key to this is re-evaluating the benefits that IEEE societies and councils offer, while strategizing to engage new markets, and forming partnerships with other entities, both inside and outside of IEEE.
“When you look at the average engineer out there a number of years ago, the reason to join IEEE and, IEEE societies in particular, was to receive publications and be published in them,” Kumar states. “I think that whole perception has changed and the reasons I would say today for someone to join an IEEE society is not just to become part of the community that publishes papers, but also for professional development and for networking.” This is why he considers Technical Activities’ newly revamped offerings at this year’s IEEE Section’s Congress to be paramount to the future of IEEE.
“Technology is moving so rapidly that any field of engineering is covered by the IEEE, and the average engineer moving through the industry today will likely go through 5-7 career changes. Where better to be involved as an electrical engineer?”