SME Speaks: The Value of Volunteering
In the spring of 2003, after working in design and manufacturing in industry for six years, I began my current position as a research engineer at the Manufacturing Research Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). Shortly after I started, I asked myself: "What things do I need to do to be successful in this position?" Georgia Tech's vision is bold: "Georgia Tech will define the technological research university of the 21st century, and educate the leaders of a technologically driven world." So, how does each faculty member and researcher contribute to this vision?
The three main avenues are through teaching, research, and service. My role as a research engineer did not involve teaching classes, so my focus lay in the areas of research and service. My research goals were clear, as it was my job to facilitate several projects already in motion within my group, the Precision Machining Research Consortium (PMRC), and work on ways to expand our research program.
However, what about service? I asked myself, "What can I do to 'give back' to the field of manufacturing?" A colleague of mine, a former Georgia Tech SME student chapter faculty advisor, suggested that I get involved with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. As is so often the case with SME members, he used his SME contacts to get me in touch with the right people, and the next thing I knew, I was sitting in an SME Atlanta (Chapter 061) executive committee meeting. At the meeting, I was asked to be the treasurer for the chapter. After a year, I moved on to chair-elect, and have since moved into the chair position.
I have come to learn that the original motivation for many people to become volunteer leaders in SME is, at its root, very similar. In my case, I originally got involved as an SME volunteer because I knew that it would help me in my career. It allowed me to provide service to my profession—something that Georgia Tech encourages. When I meet other SME volunteer leaders from all over the US and throughout the world at SME meetings and conferences, the conversation often turns to "why did you become a volunteer leader in SME?" Many times, volunteers say that they knew that it would benefit their careers as well. Different people often cite specific examples of how they thought it would help them, such as developing business skills (i.e., sales, marketing, human resources), expanding their network of professional contacts, or developing an attractive line item for their resume.
But, in my opinion, the more intriguing portion of the conversation begins when either of us offers up the reasons why we have continued as SME volunteers. We often talk about what I call the positive side effects of becoming an SME volunteer, which I believe are a direct result of becoming more engaged in SME activities. Some examples I've heard are, experiencing the positive feelings that come from helping kids learn more about the manufacturing profession, developing a deeper understanding of the value that SME can provide to us and the members of our chapter, developing a newfound respect for what it takes to put an event together, and also, how many people are willing to lend a hand to make it happen.
Finally, we meet so many different people, with different backgrounds, from different industries, and from different parts of the world, that the "cool factor" is omnipresent, whether it relates to the latest cutting-edge technology in automation systems, what is happening in the world of micromachining, or even what are some of the best vacation sites in Italy.
The opportunity to become more engaged in SME, however, isn't reserved only for volunteer leaders. In fact, I would encourage anyone to become an SME volunteer, not only so they can enjoy the benefits and positive side effects mentioned above, but also to enable them to engage our members in SME activities so that they, too, can further benefit from all that SME has to offer. When our members become more involved and take advantage of what SME has to offer, they become better at what they do, while building long-lasting relationships with their peers. Their careers are boosted, the company that they work for reaps the benefits of a stronger-performing employee, the manufacturing workforce as a whole is improved, and SME benefits through the improved knowledge base of its members.
As for me, as a volunteer leader, I believe that Georgia Tech benefits from my service as a volunteer because as I develop, I hope to make a stronger contribution to the mission of the Institute. After all, isn't that how I got started on this path? In business, it seems that one of the most commonly used buzz phrases is "win-win." Through volunteering with SME, I think we can modify this phrase to say that "everybody wins."
SME Member Supports DARPA Challenge
To simply say that SME student chapter faculty advisor Ernest L. Hall, FSME, PhD, PE, CME is a dedicated educator, mentor, and volunteer leader would be an understatement. Hall, who is Paul E. Geier Professor of Robotics at the Center for Robotics Research, University of Cincinnati, (Cincinnati) is also the director of the university's Center for Robotics Research. Advancing the practical use of robotics and inspiring his students are his great passions. Hall demonstrated this commitment recently when he donated his entire $10,000 Microsoft "Made in Express" Contest grand-prize winnings to support the activities of the UC Robotics Center—more specifically, the team's efforts in this year's robotics competitions, including the DARPA Urban Challenge.
In April 2006, Microsoft launched its worldwide "Made in Express" Contest. The goal of the contest was to see what people could do with Visual Studio Express and SQL Server Express—software now available free to hobbyists, students and others pursuing noncommercial purposes. Hall described what he would do with Visual Studio Express. A standout from the start, Hall's video, blog, and robotics project drew even greater attention during the final stages of the contest, when Web site visitors had the opportunity to vote for their community favorite among the 12 finalists. On September 19, Hall was surprised by a knock at the door. Microsoft arrived at UC to present Hall with the grand prize of $10,000, complete with balloons, cameras, and giant check. With the UC students in mind, Hall quickly donated the entire prize winnings to establish the Urban Challenge Fund, to support the activities of the Robotics Center.
The students will be putting the funds to good use. Relying on 14 years of experience in autonomous ground vehicle research, the Cincinnati Bearcats team will participate in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge 2007. The Urban Challenge will feature fully autonomous ground vehicles conducting simulated military supply missions safely and effectively in a mock urban area. In the final event, on November 3, 2007, at an undisclosed location in the western US, robotic vehicles will attempt to complete a 60-mile course through traffic in less than six hr, operating under their own computer-based control. To succeed, vehicles must obey traffic laws while merging into moving traffic, navigating traffic circles, negotiating busy intersections, and avoiding obstacles. Safe operation in traffic is essential to US military plans to use autonomous ground vehicles to conduct important missions.
The Cincinnati Bearcats team is comprised of faculty and students, as well as a consortium of industry team members and sponsors, including the National Automotive Center of the US Army TACOM, Applied Research Associates, Control Think, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, and Little Tikes. According to Hall, students from a variety of areas are engaged with the competition. "We now have student teams from electrical and computer engineering working on the motor control and sensors. Others from mechanical and manufacturing engineering are working on the steering, brakes, suspension, and chassis systems. Still others from computer science, aerospace, and industrial engineering are working on the all important software." You can follow the Bearcats' progress at www.robotics.uc.edu.
Hall's one-on-one coaching and mentoring of students is legendary at UC, where he also serves as faculty advisor of SME Student Chapter 145, and engages students in robotics study beyond the classroom. For instance, he nurtures an ongoing dialogue among his students each Friday, when they convene in the UC Robotics Lab for a pizza lunch and discussion.
Hall looks to today's youth and sees the future of robotics technology, and where their inventiveness will lead us. While judging a FIRST Lego robot contest recently, Hall noticed a sign in one of the middle school classrooms. He describes how its message struck him as timely for the Cincinnati Bearcats team: "It is better to do our best than to be the best."
Remembering—and Thanking—Member Volunteers
Since SME was founded in 1932, the Society has been led by 75 distinguished presidents. These highly regarded industry and academic leaders have hailed from diverse backgrounds, each contributing his own unique set of experiences and leadership skills to SME. But there are many, many other leadership roles within the Society that have been filled by hard-working, dedicated volunteers over the years. While some of these roles have been visible through national, regional, and chapter levels, many are behind the scenes, through committee work and grassroots SME activities. The Society is grateful to the many thousands of members who have volunteered their time and expertise to SME. Thank you.
This article was first published in the April 2007 edition of Manfacturing Engineering magazine.