From Participant to Volunteer to Leader: Matt Smith on the IEEE Rising Stars Conference


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Matt Smith is one of the volunteer organizers for the IEEE Rising Stars Conference. As if that’s not enough, Matt also is an example of the impact this program can have on a young professional. In this interview, Matt provides an overview of the programs and what the conference strives to create for the attendees.

Nolan Johnson: Can you start by telling us about yourself, and how you’re affiliated with the IEEE Rising Stars Conference?

Matt Smith: I’ve been a member of the IEEE for six years. I started in 2013 volunteering at my university student branch. The first time I became involved with Rising Stars was as a participant in 2014, which was held at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was the first Rising Stars Conference and was quite a bit different than what we have today. There weren’t as many attendees, and not nearly as many speakers. The tracks were a little bit different; we’ve learned a lot over the years, so the program has evolved.

When I attended the first Rising Stars Conference, I was inspired by what I learned and all of the networking that I was able to do. I made new friends and met contacts that made the beginning of my career in engineering a reality.

I wanted to give back, so I spoke with the organizers and offered to volunteer. I volunteered for a year as a regular volunteer, then I was asked if I’d be interested in serving as vice chair. I said yes. Last year, I chaired the conference; this year, I’m co-chairing to help support our efforts, and it has taken off.

Johnson: Clearly this is something you’re passionate about.

Smith: Absolutely. Every year, I feel compelled to give back after everything I’ve gained from my involvement with the Rising Stars Conference. I can never seem to even the score.

Johnson: That’s usually when it’s working right.

Smith: For some background, it has been four or five years since the first IEEE Rising Stars Conference. Before I came to the Rising Stars Conference, I was working on my engineering degree online because there was no local university in Montana where I’m from; there weren’t a lot of opportunities. I applied to the one or two places available. They said they weren’t hiring, so I started asking, “How can I market myself?” I received an e-notice when I joined the IEEE that there was an opportunity to do just that. I came to the conference and met the conference organizer, Mike Andrews, who helped set me on the path for success professionally and through volunteering for the IEEE.

In the junior year of my degree program, I thought, “I need to start getting some real experience,” I asked Mike if he knew anywhere I should apply. Mike made a recommendation to reach out to a contact in Arizona. I reached out to him when I happened to be in Arizona for a vacation, and they said, “Come down for an interview.” I actually got the job through networking.

If it wasn’t for the Rising Stars Conference and applying what I learned there, I don’t think I would be where I’m at today in my current job. It has been amazing how much of a difference the conference has made on my life and enabled me to progress and succeed. By applying what I’ve learned at Rising Stars Conference, I was also nominated and selected for employee of the quarter. I attribute a lot of that to what I learned at the conference.

Johnson: There are approximately 350 students and young professionals in the conference right now experiencing their own version of that same story.

Smith: Yes, and one of the big things for me being in Montana, which is pretty low income, I couldn’t afford to fly to these types of events. So, when I learned I could volunteer and get funding to come to this event and support it, it really empowered me. I would encourage anybody that can’t afford it or thinks it's not possible, just reach out to us. Let us know that you want to help and what you’re passionate about, and we’ll try to make it happen.

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

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