Interview with Fawzi Behmann, NA Region Director

By Stefano Bregni, Global Communications Newsletter Editor in Chief, Vice-President for Conferences, and Fawzi Behmann, Director of the NA Region, USA

Stefano Bregni
Fawzi Behmann

This is the fourth article in the series of eight, started in December 2020 and published monthly in the IEEE ComSoc Global Communications Newsletter, which covers all areas of IEEE ComSoc Member and Global Activities.

In this series of articles, I introduce the Vice-President and six Directors on the Member and Global Activities Council (namely: Sister and Related Societies; Membership Services; AP, NA, LA, EMEA Regions) and the two Chairs of the Women in Communications Engineering (WICE) and Young Professionals (YP) Standing Committees. In each article, one by one they present their sector activities and plans.

In this issue, I interview Fawzi Behmann, Director of the NA Region.

Fawzi brings 35 years of industry experience to IEEE and ComSoc with great energy and passion in serving the organization, members and community. Fawzi’s academic background was in Canada with Bachelor in Science, honors in Mathematics with Distinction (Concordia University) followed with Master in Computer Science (University of Waterloo) and Executive MBA (Queen’s University). Fawzi worked with service providers (Teleglobe Canada), equipment vendor (Nortel Networks) and semiconductor (Motorola/Freescale) supply chain. Fawzi’s contribution was in development of Telecom Network Management system, Network edge and core product releases, and strategic marketing of SoC for communications and networking product line. Currently, Fawzi is the president of TelNet Management Consulting Inc. founded in Texas 2009. Fawzi has over two decades of volunteered services to IEEE MGA and ComSoc along with other societies and Future Initiatives. He spoke as keynote at IEEE conferences and as IEEE Distinguished Lecturer at many cities worldwide. He received Awards from ComSoc, NA Board, IEEE USA, MGA R5 and R5 Central Texas Section.

Stefano: Hello Fawzi! Let us begin our interview by presenting general information about the North America Region of the IEEE Communications Society.

Fawzi: The IEEE ComSoc North America (NA) Region covers US and Canada, where US has 6 regions (Region 1 through Region 6, from East to West) and Canada is considered as Region 7. A region has on the average 9-18 ComSoc Chapters of a total of 94 Chapters. The 7 Regions represent over 10,000 ComSoc Members, about one third of ComSoc membership worldwide.

In terms of demographics and from the membership profile, we find that the top two regions with highest concentration of high tech industry and education are located in the west coast of US in regions 6 as well as in the north east of US in region 1. This is also is reflected by the highest concentration number of IEEE Fellow and Life Fellow. The membership profile shows that the top regions with highest number of students (Graduate and Undergraduate) reside in regions 6, 1 and 7. Also, it is interesting to note that North America region represents the highest concentration of Life and Life Senior Members worldwide.

As for governance, the North American Region has a Board consisting of a Director (myself), Vice Chair, Secretary, seven regional representatives, VDL/DLT/DSP coordinator, all as voting members. Then we have the Past Director, 8 Standing Committees and 4 advisors. Like other regions, we have our own North America Policy and Procedures.

Stefano: Would you like to tell us how it was for you to begin working as NA Region Director?

Fawzi: Certainly, this was an exciting and welcoming opportunity for me. On one had I had been Vice Chair for the NAB for 4 years (2016-2019) and also as DLT/DSP coordinator for two years (2014-2015), but on the other hand, I also completed two major activities at the MGA level one as Central Texas section chair (over 4,000 members) and as R5 Conference committee chair (29 sections).

Thus, I was excited to apply best experience and practices at this new level. One can add that being Chair for multiple chapters (at the grass root level) gave me great experience serving and understanding our members and their needs and bring what is relevant. What has helped is having attendees to fill out a feedback form after each meeting and reading and acting on information provided.

Clearly, in preparing for the task ahead I consulted with Merrily Hartman as NAB advisor and who ran NAB previously. We had a deep dive into the ComSoc & NAB P&P and that helped me to understand the governance and structure. Being familiar with P&P on the MGA side helped me to be an example building bridges between chapter chairs and local section for some key activities such as membership recruitment, student’s activities and industry outreach programs and others.

My first task was to establish leadership team, and define NA mission and key priorities. These were defined in the Director’s message posted on NAB website. The mission statement for 2020/2021 is to “be relevant and inclusive” to our members, communities, and society. Some of the early initiatives was introducing vitality checklist in February 2020. The list contains 12 checkpoints or possible activities per quarter. Some of the activities may be repeated in some quarters such as membership development, and leveraging VDL. Others activities may occur less frequently such as applying for awards, chapter questionnaire, student activities and industry outreach, career fare and others.

As we got the vitality checklist off the ground, I formalized thee structure of the standing committees increasing the number to 8 committees, each with specific mission of leading and helping act as mentor to chapter chairs in some of task and objectives (e.g. membership development).

Stefano: What are the initiatives you started as NA Region Director, which you believe are of highest interest for our readers?

As a regional Director, reaching out to our members was important, for example asking Chapter Chairs to apply for fund or award. But I found out certain percentage of Chapter Chairs are not getting my message. This issue was highlighted to MGA council and process was put in place. I also introduced 3 motions to MGA Council relate to introduction and standardization of Chapter Vitality checklist, improvement of chapter award application and metrics and transforming board website to communication portal providing interactivity, aggregation of vtools meetings and tracking tools for chapter vitality.

As the year started, we were hit with the pandemic of Covid-19 and beside encouraging and helping chapter chairs to move to virtual for their meeting, I volunteered to help transform the DLT/DSP to a virtual format (VDL). This process was completed with some pilots in Q2 before going to full operations for Q3 and Q4. This program was highly utilized in NA region.

The other initiative was membership development. We have started initiatives by membership development standing committee and launched series of activities leveraging the VDL program by promoting membership and highlighting key benefits. For example, a promotional video on membership would start playing while people assemble around virtual platform before thee start of VDL. Then after the lecture or just prior to the Q&A we would have a few slides promoting joining IEEE and ComSoc. We also ask if attendees wish to receive additional material.

Stefano: are there any special needs of ComSoc members in North America? How was your effort to identify them through your first year of as Director?

Fawzi: We held 4 board meetings in 2020, which helped to establish dialogue with the Board members. After the first meeting, we decided to increase the meeting duration from one hour to two hours to allow for more discussion. Because of the sheer number of vitality checklist across all chapters, we have explored and introduced Trello as a productivity tool to enter and track activities at the chapter, regional and board level. This is intended to save many person hours over a span of a year.

Among the other needs was to revise the criteria for the NA Exceptional Service award and make it clearer, simpler and measurable. A revised criteria was developed and approved by the awards standing committee.

We have conducted mid year a Chapter survey for all Chapter Chairs. This helped capture key help areas, suggestions as well as contribution opportunities. Among the areas where help needed: Training on advanced features of vTools and OU Analytics, Help with virtual format in holding meeting and VDLs, marketing collaterals, support with chapter website, help plan outreach program, help organize event for students and collaboration with other chapters and provide contribution to GCN.

These items were further analyzed and incorporated in to RCCC – Regional Chapter Chair Consortium that was held virtually on Dec. 5 and 6 covering over 18 sessions with 50 person in attendance each day. RCCC provided opportunities to network with ComSoc leaders, training, ideas for outreach & collaboration and opportunities for sharing best of practices from chapter chairs. RCCC was very successful that chapter chairs expressed interest to have mini RCCC during the year. During RCCC, three awards were announced for NAB Exceptional services during 2020.

Stefano: Did you start any activity specially aimed at Students?

Fawzi: In region 5, I had one hands-on IoT outreach project on Air Quality monitoring that was completed in Q2 2020. The project consists of 4 student team, lecturer, faculty advisor and IEEE host. Project demo and presentation was part of senior design day held by Texas State. Students expressed great satisfaction from the project.

In Q4, an outreach student competition was introduced. Four teams of a total of 9 students have participated with the task that each team write a paper on technology and potential applications as a part of community outreach. Winners were announced in December and Awards were delivered.

There has been effort to create a new ComSoc student chapter. Such efforts will continue in 2021.

Stefano: Next year, the IEEE Wireless Communications and Networking Conference (WCNC), that is one of the most important conferences in the whole ComSoc Portfolio, will take place in the USA, right in your Austin Chapter. You are serving as General Chair of WCNC 2022. Would you like to share something with us about the preparation activities that you and the Executive Committee are organizing?

Plan has started preparing for Wireless Communications and Networking Conference (WCNC) that will take place in Austin in April 2022. This international conference will provide technical and industry programs, keynote speakers, exhibits, networking opportunities. Under discussion is having program for entrepreneurs and start-up.

Both the conference applications and MOU were signed. The contract negotiation for hotel and space is progressing. The organization committee is in place and technical tracks and co-chairs have been defined. Patronage program and activities have started and the first keynote speaker has been secured.

We are working towards building strong conference program and content with distinguished speakers highlighting the progress of 5G and collaborative technologies and the plan ahead.

There are several opportunities for help, please send me a note to f.behmann@ieee.org if you like to contribute.

Stefano: Would you like to share any more recent news with the readers of GCN?

Fawzi: Although we all have been hit hard with the Pandemic Covid-19, NA region has persevered and in fact, have become more efficient and resourceful. Chapters participated and leveraged the power of VDL program and conducted 59 sessions in the second half of 2020. Regarding membership, we start see positive results membership retention and acquisition of new student members. The decline we experienced in membership since 2017 is now being reversed.

I’d like to thank Ricardo Veiga, Membership Services Director, for his guidance and leadership and fostering collaboration with other regional directors. I also thank Nei Kato, Vice President MGA, for giving me opportunity to present at Opcom regarding preparation, and execution of ComSoc VDL and chapter chair roaster update. I’m appreciative being part of BoG and opportunity to engage and co-chair in the Industry Re-engagement at the retreat.

BIG thanks to Dr. Vincent Chan for his vision and strong leadership and for the great new team on board for marketing & membership, conferences and industry and the great collaboration between staff and volunteers. Finally, I’d like to thank you Stefano for such dedication and specially evolving GCN to be the tru