• culmegan


Updated: Jun 7, 2020

After leaving Texas A&M, I was eager to explore the options to remain connected with IEEE. I quickly signed up for the UIUC IEEE newsletter, but found that the majority of their events were catered towards undergrads (as were most of ours at Texas A&M). However, I also quickly learned that the graduate students in the power group were all involved and passionate about the IEEE PES IAS PELS student branch. The PES branch helped host weekly seminars with guest speakers and student presentations, monthly socials for the graduate power group, and, as their flagship event, the annual IEEE Power and Energy Conference at Illinois (PECI).

What is PECI?

PECI, started in 2009, was the first IEEE conference run by students and for students of its kind. Run entirely by student volunteers, the conference encourages younger grad students, and even undergrads to submit papers and posters, although it is not limited to only submissions from students. In addition to the technical presentations, PECI believes that hosting social and industry connection events during the conference are an important part of helping students network, exposing them to industry, and seeing how current research topics are applied in practice.

For PECI 2020, we hosted social board game night at the conference hotel venue. We had a technical workshop hosted by PLECS for power electronics modeling. And to share some of our community efforts, we set up tours of the local MTD (Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District) Facility, where they shared with our attendees their efforts solar energy generation, electric buses, and other state-of-the art technology. We also offered a tour of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Building (ECEB) on campus, which is fitted with a variety of energy-saving technologies. Along with our technical program tracks in controls, power system modeling and dynamics, converters, power system operation, machines and drives, inverters, and economic operations, these supplementary events helped make our program a well-rounded and inviting set of events.

Here's a video showing some of the highlights from the first day of the PECI 2020 conference.

My PECI Role

I was excited to join the PECI 2020 committee, although I wasn't sure how I would best be able to contribute. I had a lot of experience with my undergrad IEEE branch, even helping plan career fairs, hackathons, and industry tours. However, I had never helped plan a highly focused academic conference. Ready to help where I could, I first signed up to be part of the publicity committee. Our job was to promote the call for submissions through IEEE channels and campus channels. Admittedly, some of this work sometimes fell to the lower end of my to-do list, especially as the main publicity coordinator had a lot more experience and solid connections already in progress. I found that I received few replies from student organizations when I reached out for their help in promoting the call for submissions.

Despite slow progress on the publicity front, I continued participating in general planning meetings. However, by the beginning of the spring semester, I found a new place to put my efforts that I was really able to take charge of and feel like I was contributing. We realized in January that the registration mailbox had been largely unattended over the previous few months, and many of our authors had questions, particularly those from abroad who needed letters to support their applications for visas. I got right to work answering questions, issuing visa letters for approved authors, and working with our website coordinator to resolve issues in the registration portal.

As the day of the conference drew closer, I ensured that all of our accepted authors were registered, that all faculty who wanted to attend were registered, and continued efforts to encourage undergrads and graduate students to sign up. On the day of the conference, I made sure that all of our attendees had nametags ready for them, set up check in sheets and trained my teammates on how to use them, and helped welcome attendees throughout the day. In addition to volunteering throughout the event, I got to attend some amazing presentations by our keynotes and authors, listen to sage advice from our alumni panel, and watch student poster presenters pitch their projects to a room full of faculty, students, and professionals.

What's Next?

I am proud of my role in PECI 2020, and I hope so use my experience from this year and my role in various other organizations to help make PECI 2021 a success! I hope that we can reach out to more industry professionals and motivated speakers to be keynotes for next year. I hope that we can start an early and intense marketing period to recruit more submissions, with a special emphasis on undergraduate poster presentations. Conferences are a great opportunity for professional networking, and I think it's important to give that opportunity to as many students as possible.

I think one of the most important parts of having a successful conference is having engaged and passionate volunteers. It's hard to motivate people who don't believe in a project, but active and encouraging leaders can help. If I have the opportunity, I hope that I can be a part of this leadership. I hope that my experience planning events and my passion about the opportunities that attendees and authors will find at academic conferences will help me be the kind of leader and teammate to push PECI 2021 to even greater heights.

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