Europe, Middle East, Africa Region: Interview with Christos Verikoukis, Director of the Europe, Middle East, Africa Region

By Christos Verikoukis - Director of the EMEA Region and Stefano Bregni - Global Communications Newsletter Editor in Chief, Vice-President for Conferences

This is the sixth 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 Christos Verikoukis, Director of the Europe, Middle East, Africa (EMEA) Region.

Christos was born in Thessaloniki, Greece. He received his Master Degree from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and his Ph.D. from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Spain. Currently, he is a Research Director (R4) at the Telecommunications Technological Centre of Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain. He is a co-author of four books, 140 journal papers and more than 200 conference papers, as well as three patents in different areas of wireless communications. He is currently coordinating three research projects funded by the European Commission in the areas of 5G and 6G, while he is involved in five more projects. He is currently the founding Associate Editor-in-Chief of IEEE Networking Letters, a Member-at-Large of the Globecom/ICC Technical Content (GITC) Standing Committee, and a member of the IEEE ComSoc Board of Governors as EMEA Region Director. He was an officer of the Communications Systems Integration and Modeling (CSIM) Technical Committee and Vice-Chair of the IEEE Comsoc Technical Committees Board.

Personally, I have been working with Christos on various tasks in ComSoc for several years already. I have always admired his terrific working power and ability to manage many tasks in parallel without losing track or missing deadlines, coupled with his integrity and vision on how ComSoc should serve Members. Now, let us start the interview and discover what’s going on in the EMEA Region, which is also my Region.

Stefano: Hello Christo! We might begin our interview by outlining the main characteristics of the EMEA Region.

Christos: It is a pleasure also for me to be interviewed by you. The EMEA Region covers a vast geographic area stretching from Cape Town, South Africa in the South, Lisbon, Portugal, in the West, through Hammerfest, Norway, in the North, to Vladivostok, Russia in the East. The Region includes 52 ComSoc Chapters, which enroll about one quarter of the ComSoc members worldwide. Chapters provide a local connection for our society members. Their activities include talks organized within the virtual Distinguished Lecturer Tour (vDLT) frameworks, social events, workshops, seminars, special events, etc.

Stefano: Which are the main difficulties in the implementation of activities in the EMEA Region because of the pandemic and how you overcome them?

Christos: As you know very well, the main tool for connecting the local chapters with renowned experts on telecommunications and networking topics is the Distinguished Lecturer Program (DLP) and the Distinguished Speaker Program (DSP). Given the travel restrictions in 2020, in collaboration with the other Regional directors and the Member Services Board (MSB), we converted it to a virtual Distinguished Lecturer Tour (vDLT) framework.

The new vDLT is coordinated by Saud Althunibat from Jordan. We worked very hard to establish this new tool and we managed to organize 10 vDLs talks in our Region, hosted by nine different Chapters. The virtual nature of the talks provided an opportunity also to Chapters with a low number of members, such as those in the Middle East and Africa, to organize such events and all our members to attend the talks.

Stefano: The Distinguished Lecturer Program (DLP) and the Distinguished Speaker Program (DSP) are particularly appreciated by our Members. During my previous term as VP for Member Relations, we increased the budget allocated to these programs, in order to allow more and better DLTs in all Regions. What is your perception of these Programs for ComSoc? Do you think they are important? How are they organized in the EMEA Region?

Christos: DL and DS Programs are useful elements to bring worldwide experts closer to our members. As I previously said, we successfully adapted the DL program to the COVID restrictions, and the EMEA region organized the highest number of vDLs. Our experience from the organization of the vDLs is that our members highly appreciate these talks and actively participate.

For the post-Covid time, we are planning to use the same methodology as in vDLs and serve as the liaison between DLs and Chapters. Our DL coordinator will send emails to both DLs and Chapters to identify common interests and encourage DLs to also visit Chapters with low ComSoc membership.

Organizing physical talks gives the chance for networking and socializing among members and the opportunity for ComSoc to advertise its activities. It is an excellent event to hire new members. We are planning to use unspent budget and available surplus to organize as many DLs as we can.

Stefano: When you started your term of service on the Board of Governors as EMEA Director, did you know it was so time consuming as you have discovered later? What is the most difficult challenge that you have been coping with so far?

Christos: As you know, I have served ComSoc in different volunteer positions and for many years. So far, the devoted effort was relatively small. However, working as EMEA Director and offering services to 6,000 members requires a very serious commitment. The most challenging topic at the beginning of my term was to update the data bases and the emailing lists with the Chapter Chairs and the current members. We wanted to make them aware of all ComSoc activities, to increase the level of interaction and collaboration among the Chapters, and to growth the number of members in our area.

We want all our members to equally receive our services and open ComSoc to the society. After a year of hard work, we are able to interact with all Chapters and all our members in the Region receive our announcements. We are proud to see an increase in the number of members in the EMEA region. We are happy to see EMEA Chapters to co-organize vDLs and apply for ComSoc grants. Moreover, our members actively participate in our initiatives and send us useful feedback to improve our services.

Stefano: The EMEA Region Board assigns Awards to recognize outstanding contributions by its most active members. May you describe EMEA Awards in some detail?

Christos: Our Awards program is coordinated by Luca Foschini from Italy and includes the EMEA Young Researcher Award and the EMEA Region Distinguished Service Award.

In 2020, the winner of the Best Young Researcher Award was Weizhi Meng, TUD, Denmark, while the winners of the Outstanding Young Researcher Award were Yuanwei Liu, Queen Mary, UK and Madhusanka Liyanage, University College Dublin, Ireland. The EMEA Region Distinguished Service Award was granted to Mohsen Guizani, from Qatar University, Qatar. We opened the call very early, with clear criteria per award, in order to give enough time to the applicants. We also organize two selection committees, one per award, with worldwide qualified experts to evaluate the applications. Every year, we also deliver the Chapter Achievement Award to recognize the most active Chapter in the Region. In 2020 the Swedish Chapter received this Award.

Stefano: Which are the new initiatives you introduced during the first year of you term?

Christos: During 2020, we devoted significant effort to close the gap between industry and academia in our Region and to engage people from industry to actively participate in our activities. We introduced two new tools, the Industrial webinars/panels and the industry students’ panels.

Our Industry-Academia cooperation coordinator Diomidis Michalopoulos from NOKIA Bell-Labs in Germany did an excellent job and we hosted webinars from experts from Telefonica I+D, NVIDIA, ORANGE and NEC. Moreover, an industrial panel on verticals over 5G was organized by Telecom Italia with the participation of experts from companies like Telefonica, Enel-X, Neurogames and LiveU. Our members saw interest in these webinars and we had a big audience at each event.

In collaboration with our Membership Development coordinators Marwa K. Qaraqe from Qatar and Mustapha Benjillali from Morocco, we implemented the second activity, the industry-students panels. We organized diverse panels of industry professionals (telecom operators, manufacturers, app developers etc.) to provide valuable feedback on student research. Students presented their work to panelists remotely, and the panelists judged their work based on industry interest, real problems, existing standards etc. This opportunity provided students with “real feedback” from prominent industry members and enabled them to adapt their work to current and future needs of the market.

From the received applications we selected 28 projects from students from 15 Countries in the EMEA Region. We organized three panels with experts from NOKIA, NEC, EXFO, Samsung, ORANGE, CITRIX and NVIDIA. Both students and industrial experts were very enthusiastic and encouraged us to continue for this year as well. As a small award, all students were granted with a one year complimentary IEEE and ComSoc membership.

Stefano: Among the many activities that you are now running in the EMEA Region, what will be the highlight of 2021?

Christos: First, we will continue with the VDLs, the Industrial talks, and the industry-student panels. For next July, we are organizing the first IEEE International Mediterranean Conference on Communications and Networking (MeditCom 2021) in Athens, Greece, as a hybrid in-person/online conference ( MeditCom will be held annually in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. With MeditCom, ComSoc aims at engaging local IEEE Sections, ComSoc Chapters, and possibly Sister Societies, from all Mediterranean regions, including Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Malta, and Cyprus.

In conjunction with MeditCom, we are also planning to organize a co-located Regional Chapters Chairs Congress. The aim of the Congress is to facilitate and encourage sharing, feedback, and networking among Chapter Chairs, staff, and ComSoc officers.