August 2016

Featured Article

The ECE Research Community: Moving Forward!

By: Stella Batalama, Ashlee Gardner, Sheila Hemami, John Janowiak, Clem Karl, Steve McLaughlin, Chika Nwankpa, George Pappas, William Sanders, Daniel Stancil

An earlier article in the ECE Source (February 2016) has discussed a major movement going on within the ECE academic community, including a strategic workshop which took place January 20-221, 2016 that was focused on the future of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) as a discipline.  The workshop was extremely successful and energized all 50 department heads in attendance.

That workshop lead to a major follow-up at the annual ECE Conference & ECExpo, which, in 2016, had a record attendance of more than 400 ECE leaders.  The January workshop was summarized (based on the NSF workshop report) and disseminated to all ECE leaders before the annual conference in order to provide appropriate context for the conference discussions.

The discussions in the ECEDHA Conference dominated the agenda of the conference and occurred in four separate events.  All sessions (include videos) can be found on the ECEDHA conference website (http://www.ecedha.org/conferences/2016-ecedha-annual-conference-and-ecexpo/2016-conference/2016-schedule)

Plenary Panel Session: 

During the plenary panel, the initiative leaders as well as the NSF program managers Sankar Basu, NSF CISE, and Samir El-Ghazaly, NSF Engineering, summarized the findings of the January workshop.  At the end of summary, the following question was posed to the broader community: “What do you see are the two greatest challenges facing ECE departments in the next 20 years?”

The plenary room was configured in roundtables, and each table texted one response to an automated system that collected all feedback.  The feedback received by the broader community was very well aligned with the feedback we received at the January meeting in Atlanta.  This was a wonderful confirmation that the broader community is very well aligned with the objectives identified at the January workshop.  At that point, the conference attendees could choose to attend either the branding breakout session or the community breakout session.

Branding Breakout Session:

The branding breakout session started by briefly introducing the ECE department chairs to some of the existing efforts that have been developed by some of the larger ECE programs.  A marketing firm presented its experience working with one of the large ECE programs and the process it uses to enhance and develop a brand.

Feedback was collected by all breakout session attendees and there was general consensus on several fronts.  First, there needs to be better sharing of media, videos and materials that programs are willing to make available to all ECE programs.  Two immediate next steps were identified:  i) continue the development of a website where various kinds of media are available for use by all programs, and ii) draft the request for proposals (RFP) that will be sent to interested branding and marketing firms encouraging them to submit and propose a plan that will help the ECE community shape its branding effort. 

Community Breakout Session:

The community breakout session started by briefly introducing the ECE department chairs to an existing and very successful model, the Computing Research Association’s Computing Community Consortium (CCC).  It is worth mentioning that department chairs who attended the January workshop had an additional opportunity to learn about the activities of CCC by Elizabeth Mynatt, CCC Chair who was invited to give a keynote address.  After this brief discussion, the breakout session attendees were posed the following questions:

  1. How strongly do you support the development of a community building organization for ECE?
  2. What organizational models should we use for the ECE Community organization?
  3. What is the relationship of the ECE Community Organization to NSF, other government agencies, NAE, IEEE, industry, and CCC?
  4. Would you consider a progressive rate structure for ECEDHA membership to support this effort?

Feedback was collected by all breakout session attendees and the level of agreement and enthusiasm was astonishing.  In summary, all attendees strongly supported such an organization, and everyone thought that a CCC-like model, suitably adapted for ECE needs, is a good starting point for this effort.  Perhaps more impressive is the fact that department chairs agreed to consider changing their ECEDHA dues to a more progressive structure in order to support such an effort, assuming that the benefits are clearly spelled out.  This will have enormous impact on how ECEDHA is resourced in order to expand its mission towards a more outwards, public facing organization.

Moderated Discussion:

The moderated discussion around the strategic shaping of ECE clearly dominated the ECEDHA conference not only intellectually but also from a conference organization standpoint because the format of the discussion was much more active and community driven (plenary breakouts, regular breakouts, electronic feedback) as opposed to traditional keynote conference presentations.  During the last day of the conference, there was a town hall-like meeting where unresolved issues or points that were not satisfactorily addressed in the breakouts were brought up for additional discussion.

One clear recommendation that emerged through the moderated discussion was that the branding and community efforts, although related intellectually, they should be distinct efforts organizationally.

Following the spirit of our approach, new efforts are being seeded, in the areas of ECE education, and diversity.  Long term, these efforts will result in the community becoming much more active and proactive in addressing these grand challenges. 

We now summarize our successful ECE engagement efforts which capture the needs of the broader ECE community.  

ECE Research Community Engagement Summary: 

  • There is unanimous support and enthusiasm among ECE department heads to pursue an organization focusing on ECE visioning and research community development.
  • ECE community and branding efforts would be distinct efforts.
  • ECE leaders agree in principle to a progressive rate fee structure to partially fund community and branding efforts with clearly identified benefits.

Stay tuned for further developments!

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