Leading by Example

AutoPlugIf asked how a Penn Engineering faculty member divides her time, one might guess that her day is spent at the front of the classroom, advising students, grading problem sets or pursuing the next big breakthrough in the lab. While this is all true, a typical day often includes many additional unseen responsibilities such as writing grant proposals, polishing journal submissions and involvement in outside professional organizations.

Penn Engineering faculty are not just participants in professional associations like the American Society of Gravitational and Space Research, the IEEE Solid State-Circuits Society, or the Computing Research Association, they are highly sought after when these organizations are looking for leaders.

"It is not only a reflection on the excellence of our individual faculty members when they are asked to fill these roles," states Vijay Kumar, Nemirovksy Family Dean of Penn Engineering. "It elevates the reputation of the School and increases the visibility of our programs for engineers and aspiring engineers across the U.S. and the world."


At the Helm

Susan Davidson, Weiss Professor in Computer and Information Science, currently serves as Chair of the Computing Research Association (CRA) Board of Directors. The CRA is home to more than 200 organizations active in computing research and works to enhance innovation by joining with industry, government and academia to strengthen research and advanced education. As Chair, Davidson provides general supervision for initiatives and affairs of the CRA. This involves anything from activities related to booming enrollments, data science and making the case for computing research to legislators, to how to develop better connections between academia and industry.

Portonovo Ayyaswamy, Asa Whitney Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, is a Governing Board Member of the American Society of Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR). The ASGSR brings together a diverse group of scientists and engineers representing academia, government, and industry with interests bonded by a common issue: how living organisms and physical systems respond to gravity. Governing Board member duties include managing the business, functions, programs, and activities of the ASGSR, meeting with government officials and other policy-makers, and establishing and fostering representative publications.

In addition, Ayyaswamy is also the Editor of ASME's Journal of Heat Transfer.

Jan Van der Spiegel, Professor in Electrical and Systems Engineering, is President of the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society. With over 9,000 members around the world, the Society focuses on all aspects of integrated circuits including design, implementation, testing and application of circuits and subsystems for communications, computing, healthcare, as well as closely related topics in device technology and circuit theory. As President, Van der Spiegel works to make sure that the goals of the society are fulfilled, with a particular focus on member benefits, the health of the Society’s publications and annual conferences.

Networked Benefits


Professional organizations like those led by Davidson, Ayyaswamy and Van der Spiegel serve several important functions to members. They provide opportunities for collaboration, not only in research but in best practices and policy-making; they can increase the visibility of research occurring at less-prominent institutions; and they can pool the resources of several members to achieve objectives that otherwise would not be realized if operating alone.

"The CRA is an invaluable resource for the computing research community," states Davidson. "It produces the Taulbee Survey, which provides information on doctoral graduates in computer science, as well as demographic data for faculty. It creates influential best practices papers, provides advocacy for computing research, develops resources for engaging undergraduates in computing research, and organizes programs for mentoring women at various levels and runs studies to evaluate the impact of diversity programs."

Involvement in professional societies not only enriches individual participants, it also allows members to pass this benefit on to their students and colleagues at their home institutions.

"As a professor, I find the ASGSR to be a treasure trove of up-to-date-information," notes Ayyaswamy. "As a long-time consultant to NASA, I have gained significant knowledge in areas closely related to the activities of ASGSR, and I am able to share that knowledge with others and vice versa. Most importantly, I am able to discuss many aspects of theses exchanges in my interactions with undergraduate and graduate students at Penn."

"My role on the board raises the visibility of computer science at Penn, not just to those on the board but to the community as a whole," notes Davidson. "It provides me with invaluable connections to leaders in a variety of research areas and gives me a broad understanding of what issues the field as a whole is facing, and how other institutions are managing them."


Giving Back


When asked why they would choose to accept such responsibilities on top of the commitments they already have to their students and colleagues at Penn, a call to service is a unanimous response.

"I think it is important to use my experience to give back to the professional society that has helped me and many other engineers with their careers," explains Van der Spiegel. "It is not the easiest path, but I feel rewarded when I am able to make a difference."

"What the CRA does is tremendously important to the computer science research community," echoes Davidson. "Although the Association has staff members, it relies on researchers in academia and industry to volunteer time for oversight and guidance, so this is a form of service to my community. The reputation of the School and the University is tied to our recognition as engaged leaders in our fields, so to the extent that faculty feel drawn to such a position and are willing to put in the time to be effective, it is very important."

"Active participation in ASGSR requires some time, but it is time well-spent," states Ayyaswamy. "The Society offers a unique forum, and it enables the learning and understanding of the latest advances at the cutting edge of research in related areas. I have learned a lot during ASGSR interactions and have shared them with our student body – the value of that in stimulating and guiding the intellectual development of our students is immense."

Return to News Features