North America Region: Interview with Fawzi Behmann, Director of NA Region

By Fawzi Behmann - Director of the NA Region, USA and Stefano Bregni - Global Communications Newsletter Editor-in-Chief, Director Conference Operations

This article continues the series of nine interviews to the Officers of the IEEE ComSoc Member and Global Activities (MGA) Council, which is published every month In the Global Communications Newsletter.

In this series of articles, I introduce the Vice-President and the six Directors on the MGA Council (namely: Member Services, Industry Outreach, and AP, NA, LA, EMEA Regions), as well as the two Chairs of the Women in Communications Engineering (WICE) and Young Professionals (YP) Standing Committees. In each interview, one by one they present their sector activities and plans.

In this issue, I interview Fawzi Behmann, IEEE ComSoc NA Region Director.

Fawzi Behmann is the founder and president of TelNet Management Consulting Inc. in Austin, Texas since 2009. He has held a variety of leadership positions in the areas of communications and networking, and specializes in positioning disruptive technologies, such as IoT, AI, and 5G, in developing smart ecosystem solutions in key markets. He co-authored the book Collaborative Internet of Things for Future Smart Connected Life and Business (Wiley). 

Fawzi is a Senior Member of IEEE, a ComSoc Distinguished Lecturer, and he is on the IEEE ComSoc Board of Governors as Regional Director for North America (2020–2021, 2022–2023). He is or has been a voting member of the IEEE Conferences Committee (2022–2023), General Chair of IEEE WCNC 2022, Chair of the Smart City Summit (2019), and Genentech of Smart Cities (2018) and Advanced Technologies in Healthcare (2017). Fawzi is Chair of several joint Chapters and co-chair of the IEEE SA Interdisciplinary Framework and a contributor to the IEEE Future Networks Initiatives.

Stefano: Hello Fawzi! Would you like to begin by introducing the North America Region to our readers? What are the main challenges? What are the most important activities that are run in the North America Region in these two years under your leadership as NA Director?

In North America, we currently have 95 chapters over 7 regions R1–R7 representing close of 1/3 of ComSoc membership. This brings opportunity for sustainable growth. Key areas focus are:

  • Improve value and services to our members (working in industry and/or academia).
  • Engage with industry through conferences, technical webinars and educational series, articles, and this newsletter.
  • Explore industry engagement with Bell Labs adding value to our products and services.
  • Student leadership conference outreach, ComSoc school series, student elevation campaign, special focus on students with specific initiatives, and collaboration with the respective sections.
  • Engage in mentoring trial/pilot creating mentoring opportunities and continue with recognition of our members. During the period January–July 2022, there were over 140 events (technical presentations, seminars, workshops, others) that were held, hosted. supported by 442 chapters.
  • Empower Chapters identifying their funding needs, recognition of exception achievement by applying for ComSoc chapter achievement and NAB exceptional services awards, sharing ideas of best practices, draw support from standing communities on specific initiatives, collaboration with other chapters, and explore the sister/partner approach matching successful Chapters with ones who need help, creation of a Chapter community for discussion and interaction, and overall support from regional reps to get results.

Stefano: This year, the ComSoc volunteers of the Austin Chapter, your Chapter, have organized one ofthe most important ComSoc conferences: the IEEE Wireless Communications and Networking Conference 2022 (WCNC 2022). Would you please present it and share some details?

The NA Region had the opportunity to organize and host two conferences in Austin, TX in 2022:

  • Student Leadership Conference (April 9, Austin Fairmont), Chair Larry Horner
  • IEEE WCNC 2022 Conference (April 10–13, Austin Hilton), General Chair Fawzi Behmann.

Student Leadership Conference

Nearly 70 registered students attended from 12 universities and 5 nations. Many students commented on how much they learned and appreciated the opportunity. Thanks to the Organizing Committee chaired by Larry Horner, including ComSoc staff and volunteers.

IEEE WCNC 2022 Conference

This 23rd International Wireless Communications Networking Conference (WCNC) was held in Austin for the first time. It was held in a hybrid format, with 832 in attendance, over 50 percent virtual. The theme of the conference was “Boosting Verticals into Wireless Orbit.” It was a 4-day event starting with a Tutorial & Workshop on Day 1 followed by 3 days of a multi-track conference that included technical paper presentations, industry panels, keynote speakers, exhibits, and many networking opportunities.

The program included a compelling technical and industry program with 361 papers, 12 tutorials and 11 workshops, 9 keynote speakers, 12 industry panels, 2 executive forums, dialogue with industry leaders, a startup forum, 7 industry presentations, 11 Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze, and a hybrid platform for physical/virtual exhibits. The conference covered the most exciting topics in wireless communications and networking.

Social and networking activities included a welcoming reception, wine and cheese, and an appreciation dinner and conference banquet preceded by a jazz networking hour.

The Plenary session included participation by the Mayor of Austin and ComSoc President Sherman Shen.

Special thanks go to the Organizing Committee members for their diligent and passionate work and support form IEEE Communications Society staff and volunteers from various universities and local industries.

Stefano: The Distinguished Lecturer Program is one of most appreciated programs of ComSoc. The NA Region has a tradition of DL tours. With the pandemic, many tours were organized virtually using teleconference platforms. Would you please tell us more?

Fawzi: At the beginning of the pandemic, the NA region took the lead and worked with ComSoc and other regional directors defining the VDL program, process, and details, and training that enabled launching the VDL program in Q2 2020. Today, the program has been scaled to accommodate 51 DsL, each offering multiple topical areas made available to over 220 Chapters worldwide. Currently, the NA region serves 95 Chapters, and it was important to expand the support to Chapter Chairs by assigning four VDL area coordinators for R1–R7. This was announced and became fully operational at the beginning of 2022.

Several steps were added to simplify, enrich, and launch VDL sessions using resources such as multiple topical offerings offered by DLs and a request form to be filled by Chapter Chairs. The VDL event date is then defined in vtools and used for promotion/registration and tracking. Zoom and WebEx are used to execute the event, and post-event feedback is typically issued. These VDL events are leveraging a multi-host feature (built into vtools), allowing the primary Chapter Chair to accommodate other Chapters to host and promote the event. This allowed in some cases having 30 Chapters co-host a VDL event — saving energy for the DL to make one presentation, bringing in diverse Chapters to interact with the DL via a Q&A period. Typically, recording is enabled and slides are made available. For the period of January–July 2022, there were 16 VDL events supported by 80 chapters (16 prime hosts and 64 co-hosts).

As the health situation with COVID-19 improves, we are encouraging DL Tours. We do see VDL continuing for some time. The concepts of VDL and DLT are similar. The concept of co-hosting in VDL is similar to DLT in taking responsibility and hosting the DL in their cities.

One key variation is that the DL travels physically from one city to the next with coordination of hosting chapters and VDL/DLT coordinators. Financially, each Chapter will have their share in covering expenses hosting the DL in their city, and ComSoc will cover the overall travel expense to cities. Finally, DLTs allow much more face-to-face interaction and networking with the DL.

Stefano: Any more activities and initiatives in the NA Region that you would like to present to our readers?

Fawzi: I can mention a few of them.

Chapter Health Check and Enhanced NA Regional Website

Chapter Health Check, introduced to the NA region two years ago, identifies a variety of activities and initiatives that Chapters can create and strive to deliver greater value to their Chapters and community. Regional reps use Trello to track and follow up on health check activities. We are adding access and training to Chapter Chairs as well Standing Committee leaders.

A NAB enhanced website provides a platform for sharing regional highlights, news, activities, outstanding accomplishments, as well as integrating all 95 Chapters’ vtools-based activities. For example, one can navigate, view past, present, and planned events, sign up for any event, enable collaboration among Chapters (e.g. with a simple message, a chapter chair can engage with another chapter to participate or co-host an event).

Fostering Relationship with IEEE-HKN

In 2022, ComSoc had an opportunity to co-sponsor the IEEE-HKN Experience Conference in June 2022. NAR director and DL Fawzi Behmann was invited to present to graduating students on June 10 an encouraging/inspiring message of unleashed opportunities for graduating students under the title “The Future of Smart Ecosystem Empowered by IoT Collaborative Technologies.” The session was interactive and lasted for two hours. This initiative will open the door for interaction between HKN and ComSoc Student Chapters.

NAB Chapter Survey

NAB has formed a committee to prepare, issue surveys, and collect feedback from Chapter Chairs, regional reps, and Standing Committee members regarding their plans, aspirations, and needs for the coming months. The survey will help us to check the pulse of chapters and their needs and for the NAB to explore introducing and discussing other opportunities such as career fairs, STEM, GCN, ComSoc 2023 School Series, and training (Trello, Chapter website, social media), regional roster and record management, and others.

The survey was issued late June/early July with tactical plan (mini RCCC) addressing immediate needs.

Regional Efforts/ComSoc

As NAB collaborated at the Global CCC event (called MVRC — Membership Value Research Congress) in 2021, our plan is to re-engage with GCCC as a community focused activities in Q4 of 2022.

Stefano: Any more remarks you wish to make?

I take this opportunity to thank NAB Leadership team for their hard work and teamwork, other regional directors, MGA Council, and Members Service Board for their leadership and guidance, and ComSoc staff for their dedicated support.

Group photo at WCNC 2022: the Mayor of Austin and President of IEEE ComSoc, Leaders of WCNC 2022 and WCNC Steering committee members. Left to Right: Peying Zhu, Luis M. Correia, Brian Modoff, Ali Ghrayeb, Mayor Steve Adler, Fawzi Behmann, Sherman Shen, Jeff Andrews, David J. Love and Carles Anton