IEEE Rising Stars Conference Founder: Empowering Young Professionals


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Held each year in Las Vegas on the weekend preceding CES, the IEEE Rising Stars Conference is rapidly establishing itself as a model program for developing leadership, networking, and aptitude in navigating an organizational structure in technical students and young professionals. I spent the weekend observing the program and realizing the amount of vision and development that went into crafting this conference. Then, I turned to Michael Andrews to help explain it all. Andrews is an IEEE Senior Life member, serial entrepreneur, and founder of the IEEE Rising Stars Conference.

Nolan Johnson: How are you affiliated with IEEE Rising Stars Conference?

Mike Andrews: Well, I was actually the creator of the conference. When I was the director-elect for IEEE Region 6, I had this idea for a student and young professionals’ event. The idea behind the conference was to provide young people an opportunity to develop an appreciation of emerging technologies, and to be provided with professional tools that would greatly influence their future success. The conference was designed for the attendees to meet key influencers and thought leaders in fields of interest. The conference would also provide them with professional growth opportunities and encourage them to move into leadership positions—that is, provide them with the confidence and abilities to professionally “fly.” We tried for a long time to find a location, secure a venue, get a date for a conference, etc., which was a crazy task.

The challenge was that if you looked at the different university schedules, there are various educational systems including quarters, trimesters, and semesters. Some schools even go through the summer, so we could never come up with a consistent date or time. Finally, I ended up taking the bull by the horns. I said, “Here’s the conference we’re going to put together, and here’s where and when it’s going to be.” My successor, Tom Coughlin, and I were on the phone, talking about our frustrations about not being able to get a conference scheduled after working at it for a long time and trying to make all of the necessary considerations. So, we discussed our audience—young professionals—what we want them to do and developed a program that I had in mind, which was a combination of professional and technical features.

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One conversation led to another, and we said, “There’s CES in Las Vegas.” At the time, Tom was hosting the Storage Visions Conference, and I thought, “If we have a conference and there’s a professional and technical portion of it, the attendees would gather some working knowledge of areas in technology and information about how to communicate and network with other people successfully.” Skills such as what do you do after shake hands and introduce yourself to someone?

Since Storage Visions was on January 10 and CES was on January 12, I said, “Why don’t we do a conference on January 8 that provides our attendees with all of these tools and exposure?”  Tom responded, “Let’s invite them to attend Storage Visions at no cost. They could go to some of the sessions.” Our goal was that the Rising Stars attendees would have an opportunity to meet the technical professionals. Storage Visions included engineers who were very technical people, and they would have an opportunity to exchange technical ideas.

It’s part of the bridge. When you go to CES, most of the show is primarily sales professionals and technical professionals. There are a lot of different products, so we focused Rising Stars on young professional, providing them tools, exposure to technology, and interpersonal skills. We wanted young people to interact with technical professionals as well as sales groups, including the product piece of it. And it wowed people. Rising Stars, Storage Vision, and CES was a great combination to offer.

Johnson: You wanted to cover all of those phases that a technical engineering professional would need to navigate anyway.

Andrews: Absolutely. That’s where the inception of the bridge came from. We were looking for a good name, so when I came up with the Rising Stars name, it was one of those lo-and-behold moments; the vision came. I created the logo for it. If you look closely on the t-shirts, you can see the Franklin kite inside the stars.

Johnson: By golly. I see it now.

Andrews: And what was funny about that is when I designed it, we printed t-shirts with it, and the IEEE Brand Experience Department said no initially. But the first time I wore it to a board meeting and explained the logo and conference, everybody fell in love with it; it was something different. It was a complete departure for IEEE, and it worked. Tom has since relocated Storage Visions because of facility and timing issues. However, there are a number of our Rising Stars attendees that go to CES and some of them work in the IEEE booth at CES.

Johnson: I’ve run into a couple who have asked if I was staying for CES and if I would stop by the booth.

Andrews: As I said, it’s interesting, and the idea behind this all was to provide an experience for young professionals that would get them as excited about our industry as we were when we were young. It makes you think about where we were and the influencers we had. This year, we added a Connections Panel on the first evening. At a previous conference, I had a conversation with a guest panelist where we started talking our connections, how important they were, and how we wish we had access to more. The result was the creation of the Connections Panel. Do you remember James Burke and the book Connections as well as the TV series on PBS a million years ago?

To read the full article, which appeared in the April 2019 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.

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