In this blog, we chat with ComSoc Young Professional Chair (2016-2017), Lola Awoniyi-Oteri, who is completing 5 years of volunteering for IEEE ComSoc. Lola is a Senior Staff Systems engineer at Qualcomm, working on systems research, design and standardization of 5G mobile handsets and networks. Prior to joining Qualcomm, Lola has worked at Texas Instruments (TI) developing chipsets for cellular handsets. Lola received a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering at Georgia Tech, and then M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University. She is the author/co-author of 37 U.S. approved patents and 149 worldwide patents.
Let’s hear from Lola!
Hi, Lola! Great to have you here! Thank you for your valuable time for this interview.
To begin with, could you share in brief about your journey with ComSoc YP? How you came to know about it, what you thought it was, and what made you think that you should get involved as well?
Even though I was aware that YP group existed within the IEEE, however, I knew very little about the mission and goals of the group or the benefits it offered. Therefore, I was not volunteering for IEEE ComSoc until GLOBECOM 2015 when a co-worker asked me to help organize the ComSoc YP event. It was a great opportunity for me to meet young, enthusiastic, and brilliant minds from all over the world. During this event, I gleefully observed engaging interactions regarding technical concepts and career navigation between YPs and seasoned wireless communications and networking veterans in attendance. This experience convinced me that I needed to get involved. Due to the success of the event, I was offered the opportunity to chair the committee which I gladly accepted. This was the beginning of my ComSoc YP adventures!
That’s how I got involved as well!! So, tell us more about your journey?
To speak the truth, the journey of volunteering with IEEE ComSoc was both exciting and challenging! An adventure indeed! This was because the ComSoc YP Committee became a Standing Committee shortly before my tenure started. Therefore, a new path was essential for the group, especially, with regards to membership. The organization had to develop a plan to increase member engagement and we were starting from a clean slate. Therefore, the committee proposed many initiatives and programs, launched a few pilots and monitored metrics to ensure the effectiveness of these initiatives.
At times, the team refined the same ideas for improved effectiveness and other times, we completely pivoted to totally different initiatives. Volunteers kept re-iterating through this process and the ComSoc YP conference events, regional events, and recognition of outstanding YPs emerged as some of the notable initiatives. Indeed, this tremendously increased membership and engagement among our members. We saw about a two-fold increase in attendance at most of our events, more engagement on ComSoc YP’s media outlets and more ComSoc YPs volunteering for projects by the end of our tenure. It felt awesome and something valuable that I was able to contribute!
That’s a remarkable achievement indeed! I am sure there’s a lot more to it. How did you manage these activities?
As you know, the YP events at ComSoc conferences offer tremendous networking opportunities for members. These events are typically kicked off with a reception, providing an opportunity for attendees to network with other ComSoc YPs, other ComSoc members, YPs from other societies, and corporate sponsors. Typically, domain experts in various areas of communications such as 5G, IoT, and machine learning are located throughout the reception floor to facilitate discussions related to the latest technologies in the field. At these events, networking based on areas of interest made it easy to form connections with people of similar technical interests, ultimately leading to technical collaborations and mentoring relationships. And that’s actually great!!
The photo I am sharing here shows some of the domain experts engaging with ComSoc YPs during the reception at IEEE GLOBECOM. Besides the reception, these events also featured interactive panel discussions with seasoned veterans in the field of communications, including accomplished experts from academia and industry leaders, discussing technical and career-related issues and challenges that are of interest to ComSoc YPs. Typically, the events conclude with a networking mixer co-sponsored by the IEEE YP affinity groups from sections and regions near the conference location. This gives ComSoc YPs the opportunity to meet and network with local YPs.
What were some of new ideas implemented by your team?
While reception-style events at conferences have been quite successful in offering networking opportunities and fostering collaboration among ComSoc YPs, it was evident that a significant population of our target demographics may not be able to attend these conferences. Therefore, ComSoc YP 2016-2017 Committee hosted and sponsored many local and regional events such as workshops, lecture series, and meetups to provide regional opportunities for ComSoc YPs who could not attend the conferences.
During my tenure, we prioritized recognizing outstanding ComSoc YPs by presenting them with the “IEEE ComSoc Best Young Professional” awards in academia, industry, and the startup community. These awards served the dual purpose of rewarding members with outstanding contributions as well as inspiring our membership to greater achievements. Typically, the award criteria are technical accomplishments and volunteering activities. These ComSoc awards which were well received by our demographics were presented to their recipients during the ComSoc Young Professionals events at IEEE GLOBECOM and ICC, ComSoc’s flagship conferences. I am glad to see that succeeding ComSoc YP Committees are continuing this tradition.
Talking about these events and your role as the committee chair, How well do you see your personal growth associated with ComSoc YP?
To be very honest, volunteering with IEEE ComSoc helped a lot! During the process, I was able to improve my technical skills through webinars and the conferences that I had the opportunity to organize and attend. I was also able to hone my professional development skills such as oral and written communication, leadership, project management and budgeting. In addition, I was able to build a global network as a result of meeting technically and geographically diverse people within ComSoc, across other societies, and the entire IEEE community. Some of the people I met through my ComSoc YP journey have become technical collaborators and personal friends, which is lovely!
I completely agree with you! By the way, how do you see ComSoc YP now and back then? Do you feel we are growing in a good way?
Yes, I firmly believe so! Our goal back then was to create a “technical haven” for ComSoc YPs by improving member engagement and creating opportunities for ComSoC YPs to thrive within ComSoc. Looking back, I see we created a significant momentum and framework that preceding ComSoc YP Committees have been able to leverage. The ComSoc YP group has grown tremendously since 2017. I am glad to see ComSoc YP membership growing, ComSoc YPs being more integrated within ComSoc and the ComSoc YP Committee and volunteers tackling more ambitious projects. Talking about which, I miss meeting up with YPs multiple times annually at conferences and our regional events. I also miss frequent interactions and planning sessions with the ComSoc YP Committee, volunteers, ComSoc leadership and staff.
Ah, beautiful memories! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. Would you like to add something towards the end of this conversation? Any suggestions or advice?
The ComSoc YP group is heading in the right direction so I will take this opportunity to congratulate the ComSoc YP team on a job well done. In addition, I will like to see Young Professionals more involved with the ComSoc technical committees. It would be great to see more ComSoc YPs involved in shaping the future of ComSoc.
For those interested in volunteering with IEEE ComSoc, I recommend joining the ComSoc YP without delay. For those who are members but not engaged, I recommend stepping-up their involvement. There are numerous volunteering opportunities for ComSoc YPs interested in serving on ComSoc committees, conference organizing committees, and organization committees for webinars, workshops, lecture series, paper competitions, ComSoc Young Professionals meetups, etc. These opportunities serve not only as laboratories to polish professional and technical skills, but also a means of increasing peer recognition and building a global network. Therefore, I encourage these individuals to take advantage of these amazing opportunities.
I had an awesome experience as the ComSoc YP Committee Chair for 2016 and 2017, and I can truly say an adventure awaits anyone considering being part of the ComSoc YP group. Join and volunteer today!