WICE: Promoting the Role of Women in Communications Engineering: Interview with Octavia Dobre, Chair of the WICE Standing Committee

By Octavia A. Dobre - Chair of WICE Standing Committee and Stefano Bregni - Vice-President for Member and Global Activities
Stefano Bregni and Octavia A. Dobre

This is the fifth article in the series started in November 2016 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 six MGA Directors (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 Octavia A. Dobre, Chair of the IEEE ComSoc Standing Committee on Women in Communications Engineering (WICE). Octavia is a Professor and Research Chair with Memorial University, Canada. She is the Editor-in-Chief of IEEE Communications Letters, and has served as editor and senior editor for other prestigious journals. She also chairs the ComSoc Signal Processing for Communications and Electronics Technical Committee and has served as an officer for other technical committees, as well as technical co-chair of symposia at various conferences.

It is my pleasure to interview Octavia and offer her the opportunity to outline her current activities and plans for ComSoc WICE.

Bregni: Hello Octavia! This is the second time I have the opportunity to interview you for the GCN, after our first article in 2015, to present the activities of the IEEE ComSoc WICE Standing Committee. I am particularly glad I again have this chance. True equal opportunities for women in our field of engineering is one of the five strategic directions I have set in ComSoc Member and Global Activities, as I indicated since the beginning of my first term as Vice-President. Therefore, your Committee is key to this goal. Would you recall how it developed in the last years?

Dobre: I have been the WICE Chair since 2014, when it became a Standing Committee of ComSoc. In almost four years, the committee has been growing and its activities have been increasing significantly. It has a very active website (http://wice.committees.comsoc.org/) and Facebook page, as well as a very large number of subscribers to the mailing list.

It is a vivid committee, which organizes a significant number of activities to promote the visibility and roles of women communications engineers and to provide a venue for their professional growth. Certainly, any ComSoc member is welcome to the WICE events.

Bregni: What about the Board working with you on organizing the various WICE activities?

Dobre: WICE has seven positions on the Board, e.g., industry liaison, student activity coordinator, publicity chair, WIE committee society coordinator, as well as five members-at-large and a representative to the ComSoc Student Competition. The WICE members in these positions are very active, organizing various events and supporting other WICE initiatives.

Bregni: What is the most significant event organized by WICE in the last year?

Dobre: In December 2016, we organized the Third Women’s Workshop on Communications and Signal Processing in conjunction with GLOBECOM 2016 in Washington, DC, USA. It was a fabulous event, with well known speakers from industry and academia, such as Prof. Andrea Goldsmith (Stanford University), Monique Morrow (CISCO), Dr. Antonia Tulino (Nokia Bell Labs), Dr. Peying Zhu (Huawei), and Dr. Grace Wang (National Science Foundation).

In addition to technical talks, there were discussions focusing on the role of women in the IEEE and IEEE ComSoc, as well as panel discussions to address questions regarding career development in both industry and academia. The panel was led by Prof. Katie Wilson (Santa Clara U.), and the invited panelists were Dr. Sheila Hemami (Draper Labs and IEEE VP Publications), Prof. Muriel Medard (MIT), Prof. Elza Erkip (NYU), and Dr. Antonia Tulino. The workshop attracted 54 attendees, from Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, India, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Turkey, UK, and US.

Bregni: What other recent initiatives run by WICE can you briefly highlight?

Dobre: WICE presents three awards annually. In 2016, they were presented at the WICE workshop to Prof. Elza Erkip (Outstanding Achievement Award), Prof. Shalinee Kishore (Outstanding Service Award), and Prof. Urbashi Mitra (Mentorship Award).

In 2017, starting with WCNC, and continuing with ICC and GLOBECOM, we are organizing various panels led by WICE members. An example of such a panel is “How to encourage young women in Communications Engineering – best practices and experiences,” which was led by Profs. Ana Garcia Armada and Meryem Simsek at WCNC, and supported by Intel.

ComSoc student members also participate in the organization of these events, being provided with travel grants. The WICE organizers serve as mentors for the students as well.

In 2016, WICE also presented the first Child Care Grants to the IEEE GLOBECOM 2016 attendees, who were IEEE ComSoc members and brought small children to the conference or incurred extra expenses in leaving their children at home. We hope this program will continue at the IEEE ICC and GLOBECOM conferences, and extend to others, such as IEEE WCNC.

Bregni: Oh, be sure that the Child Care Grant program is among my priorities as VP-MGA. As you remember, we had to push strongly and spend a considerable effort to make it real, solving non-trivial practical and legal issues. I will do my best to make it a permanent program in ComSoc MGA also in the future.

This is the fourth and therefore last year of your two terms as WICE Chair. Is there any special remark you wish to make?

Dobre: As my two terms as WICE chair come to an end in 2017, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude and appreciation to the entire WICE Board, the organizers of the WICE Workshop, as well as to other colleagues and friends whom I worked with over the past four years. Without their contributions and support, WICE would not be the amazing committee that is today.

I would also like to thank you, Stefano, the ComSoc President, as well as the ComSoc staff for your steady support. My wish is that WICE will continue to thrive, and thus, contribute to the growth of our Society.