# Oral-History:Charles Alexander

Charles Alexander was born in Amherst, Ohio. He was interested in mechanical engineering at a young age, rebuilding cars and working on farm machinery. He went to undergraduate school at Ohio Normal (now Ohio Northern) in electrical engineering, going on to Ohio University for his masters and doctorate. Graduating in 1971, Alexander took the path of an educator, teaching briefly at Ohio University then moving on to Youngstown State. Throughout his career, Alexander has taught at Tennessee Tech, Temple University, Cal State Northridge and Cleveland State. Alexander has also been very involved in the IEEE, joining as a student before the merger and being highly active in the student branch. His involvement in student activities got him into the larger Institute, serving on the Student Activities Committee and the Educational Activities Board. Alexander has also served as editor of IEEE Transactions on Education, Region 2 Director, on the Board of Directors and VP of US Activities Board. In 1997 Alexander served as IEEE President and he is an IEEE Life Fellow.

In this interview, Alexander discusses his career as an educator, but mostly details his involvement with the IEEE. Alexander credits his involvement with professors at Ohio University with helping him with his later IEEE networking – a very important part of IEEE membership. He also talks about his student activities, particularly his ability to help groups grow membership numbers, something which helped to catch the Institute’s eye. He also discusses his campaigns for Region 2 Director and IEEE President. His term as President-Elect and President are also covered, including the amount of travel required. Alexander also talks about various colleagues at the IEEE including Dan Senese, Irv Engelson, Tom Suttle, Wally Read and John Guarrera.

CHARLES ALEXANDER: An Interview Conducted by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, 6 August 2009

Interview #516 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Inc.

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center, 445 Hoes Lane, Piscataway, NJ 08854 USA or ieee-history@ieee.org. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Charles Alexander, an oral history conducted in 2009 by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, Piscataway, NJ, USA.

## Interview

Interview: Dr. Charles Alexander

Interviewer: Sheldon Hochheiser

Date: 6 August 2009

### Background and Education

Hochheiser:

It is the afternoon of the 6th of August, 2009. This is Sheldon Hochheiser of the IEEE History Center. I’m here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with Charles “Chuck” Alexander, past president of IEEE. Good afternoon.

Alexander:

Good afternoon, sir.

Hochheiser:

If you don’t mind, I’d like to start with a little bit of background,

Alexander:

Okay.

Hochheiser:

So we can put things in context. Where were you born and raised?

Alexander:

Amherst, Ohio, about 30 miles west of Cleveland.

Hochheiser:

Alexander:

My father was an insurance salesman. My mother was a schoolteacher, newspaper reporter, and she had her own professional music group.

Hochheiser:

Were you interested in technology and science and gadgets and things like that growing up?

Alexander:

Yes, in a lot of different ways although I did some electrical stuff, my initial interest was in the area of mechanical engineering things. I took apart cars and restored them. I actually have rebuilt and customized seven different cars in my lifetime. I also ended up working a lot on the farm. I spent half of my life on the farm, growing up, so I was driving tractors and working with all kinds of machinery there.

Hochheiser:

How did you select a college to go to?

Alexander:

My grandmother, actually, had gone to Ohio Northern (Ohio Normal at the time), and my parents took me for a trip down there, and really enjoyed it, and I said, hey, maybe I can go here, and get a good education.

Hochheiser:

Did you go there with a particular field of study in mind?

Alexander:

Actually it was one of these weird things. I tell people in a lot of my presentations that when I was four-and-a-half years old, I was a math genius and was doing all these kinds of great things, got into college after attending high school for two years, and got out of college in about two years, and then went on and got my graduate degrees, and then I laugh, and I said, the reality is, it was nothing like that. In fact, if you go ahead and take a look, when I graduated from high school, the last thing I wanted to do was go to college. Now, my parents were very smart. And they said, Charlie, you can do two things. You can either go to college, or go out and get a job. Which is it? So I did the math, and I said, okay, if I’m taking 19 hours in school, multiply 24 times seven, subtract 19, that isn’t too bad. But if I go out and work, I’m going to be working at least 40 hours a week, so you know, maybe going to college isn’t so bad after all! So I went to college because I didn’t want to work.

When I got to college they asked me what area did you want to study, and I was pretty much a fun-loving guy. I did all the neat things that a jock would do, and not a serious student. But I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a major. And somebody said, well, are you good in math? Not necessarily did I like math, but am I good in math. And I said, sure. And he said, well, if you want to make money, and you’re good in math, you need to be an electrical engineer. So by chance I happened to fall into a career path that turned out to be the most exciting thing I could’ve ever done. I can’t imagine any career that would’ve given me more excitement, more satisfaction than to do that!

Hochheiser:

So once you started down the path to electrical engineering at Ohio Northern, when did you discover you really liked it?

Alexander:

Hochheiser:

And you succeeded.

Alexander:

Yes. [Laughter] I got very lucky!

Hochheiser:

[Laughter] Somehow I suspect some hard work was involved as well as luck.

Alexander:

Eh, a little bit.

Hochheiser:

[Laughter] So anything particularly notable about your electrical engineering education at Ohio Northern, once you got into it?

Alexander:

I really am very excited about one of the top undergraduate schools in the country, Ohio Northern, and it is typically listed in the top 50 undergraduate schools, in the country, and fairly high up on that list. And it is because the faculty members take individual interest in the students. And even though I was really a bad student, they spent enough time with me to help me over that rough spot, and although there are faculty members at Ohio Northern who were very surprised that I even graduated, let alone go on, go off to graduate school, but it was that close personal attention, the kind of hands-on stuff—again, that became very much an important part of what I did in the IEEE to help students do better, and help the working engineer do better.

Hochheiser:

Okay. So you earned your bachelor’s at Ohio Northern.

Alexander:

Yes, yes.

Hochheiser:

And then am I correct that you continued directly to a master’s at Ohio Northern?

Alexander:

No, at Ohio University.

Hochheiser:

Oh, you switched to Ohio University, excuse me.

Alexander:

Hochheiser:

What sort of things were those?

Alexander:

Well, I learned how to type, even. I suffered through having somebody else type my master’s thesis, to the point where I knew I had to learn to touch-type. Obviously, in this day and age, being able to touch-type isn’t a bad thing to have, especially if you write a lot of books and other things.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Alexander:

I was able to do research, my own research, and I ended up with, as a graduate student, working on a $60,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, and this was back in the late sixties, which would’ve been a whole lot more today, if you go ahead and look at the real dollars. And I was surrounded by a whole bunch of graduate students and faculty members who allowed me to learn and, and, again, stuff that helped me with the IEEE, I did this through networking a lot. Networking with fellow students, networking with faculty members, networking with faculty members outside the College of Engineering, Math and Physics, and stuff like that, so it was very, very exciting. Hochheiser: What was your dissertation on? Alexander: Well, my master’s thesis was a very interesting one. It was on designing and making a digital cash register. And this was in the era when digital stuff was just coming on board. In fact, actually you did it with large-scale circuits. Large-scale integrated circuits is basically what was used. Then the doctoral dissertation, I got way off onto a real wild tangent, and I started working with nonlinear systems. So my dissertation was actually in the area of system identification using quasilinearization. And probably four people in the country could have understood that dissertation. Which was not bad, because I was able to go ahead and get through my dissertation defense very easily, with virtually no problems at all. ### Joining the IEEE Hochheiser: Did you join IEEE while you were a student? Alexander: Ah, an excellent question, because this is one of the things that I later on used to become a good student. And it was in my freshman year when I was at Ohio Northern. And that was during the time, just a couple years before the merger with IRE and AIEE to create IEEE, and as a freshman they strongly encouraged us to join AIEE. The thrust of their approach was that as a practicing professional, you needed to have this. And it wasn’t the technical content, it was the professional aspects of it that said hey, this is important to you. And this was the beginning of the process for me to realize that even if you’re an incredibly technically focused individual, you need to have this organization, this professional organization, that will allow you to go ahead and have those professional connections, especially the networking stuff, that will help you build a very successful career, and that has been one of the things that I have been expounding on and pushing for over the last 40-some years. Hochheiser: Was there a student chapter at Ohio Northern then? Alexander: Yes, there was. It’s always been a very strong chapter, one of the more active ones within Region 2. Hochheiser: And were you active in the chapter when you were a student? Alexander: Yes. It was funny, because when I returned to Ohio Northern as the Spotts Lecturer, back in ’97 when I was president, I asked the secretary of the student branch to stand up, and I said, now, you realize that that is the job I had prior to becoming president of the IEEE. So you’re started off on the right track, followed by lots of laughter from the audience. And it was great. Being involved in an organization like that brought a lot of not just being in the classroom, but being part of a professional educational process. Hochheiser: And did you continue to be active while you were a graduate student at Ohio University? Alexander: Yes, and I also learned what you can do to become a very large student branch, and to be very active, and have a lot of members. Although I wasn’t as active in the IEEE at that point as I could’ve been, I was asked to be the advisor for Eta Kappa Nu. And, that is where I learned all this. Hochheiser: While you were a graduate student? Alexander: Yes, while I was a graduate student. And it was a major part of the experience base that I received, something that I would not normally have received at other schools. I learned how to take a branch, or a student organization from having very poor attendance to having an average of 95% of the members there at every meeting. In addition, this student organization was so active that it was ranked, by Eta Kappa Nu, as one of the top four student groups in the country at the time. And it was that experience which also built into the process, for me, to help start building strong IEEE student branches at all kinds of different schools. ### Teaching, Student Activities and Youngstown State Hochheiser: So you finish your—you finish your dissertation and your doctorate. And then how did you find your first job? I believe you were at Youngstown State, initially. Alexander: Well, it was interesting. I graduated in ’71. Hochheiser: Right. Alexander: And took a position at Ohio University as an assistant professor for a year. Hochheiser: Was this a temporary appointment, or—? Alexander: They wanted it to be permanent, but I had three job offers at that point, and chose to go somewhere else, just to receive more experience. Hochheiser: Sure. Alexander: But I was also graduating during a time when Boeing was leaving Seattle as an important part of the recession being experienced all over the country. There was a sign on the outskirts of town that said, will the last one out please turn out the lights. It was a bad time for people to get jobs, and one of the jobs I applied for, there were 600 applicants and 60 of which basically had my credentials. What set me apart were those extra things that I learned how to do as a graduate student, so that even when my colleagues were having a hard time getting offers, I had three very nice offers. And two of them, Ohio University and South Dakota School of Mines or, excuse me, Youngstown State, was at the associate professor rank, so I was only assistant professor for a year. Hochheiser: Just for the one year at Ohio University. Alexander: Well, and that, and all the other things that I had done as a graduate student. Hochheiser: Right. Alexander: So, again, it was this complete engineer kind of thing, looking at all of the things that a person needs to do to be successful. Hochheiser: At what point did you decide that the career you wanted was that of an academic rather than one of the many other ways one can be employed as an engineer? Alexander: First of all, I never had a career as an academic. And let me explain that in a second. When I graduated from high school, I really, seriously, wanted to take a look at three different kinds of jobs that I could have. One would be a farmer, another would be a minister, and another one would be an engineer. And then I realized that my calling probably was to be an engineer, because then I could go ahead and bring a lot of my beliefs, and bring it into a lot of the actions that I take. And so I chose the engineering route. And how best to help people change than to go ahead and be a teacher! And so I got into teaching so that I could help create leaders for the future. And then that is what has happened for my career. And it is very exciting. So I always had to be an educator. Hochheiser: Ah-ha. Alexander: But I also had a lot of talent for research, and it’s one of the real strengths of my background. So then not only did I love teaching, I also loved to do research, and I always believed that research for engineers is what is called “engineering research.” You are actually referring to applied research, not the theoretical stuff. And so, I worked with the Air Force and the Navy, all kinds of industries and companies, doing a lot of real world engineering, while at the same time being a university professor. So I have helped design manufacturing processes, created all kinds of new things that had not been created before, even designed a system to be able to test solid-state filters that would go on atomic warheads for missiles on aircraft carriers. And that happened very early in my career, just after I earned my master’s degree. So it is a balancing of all these things, which I call being a complete engineer, being able to do all the things that you really like to do. Hochheiser: So, you’re now a young associate professor at Youngstown State. Alexander: Mm-hmm. Hochheiser: Did you become involved with the student chapter as a faculty member? Alexander: As an advisor. And, the way this worked, I was then able to put into practice all these leadership training things that I’d been developing and working on, and first tested at Ohio University for Eta Kappa Nu. So we took the student branch at Youngstown State from approximately 20 students to 250 students, a very actively involved group of students. They did things like participated in the all-sports competition on campus. Engineering was not the big school there, others were, and that even competing against the athletes we ended up winning the campus-wide all-sports trophy the two years that we pursued it. Hochheiser: How did you manage to build the chapter from 20 to 250? That’s an enormous increase. Alexander: Yes. But it has also happened in other places. At Tennessee Tech, we took the membership to 355 students. And, it is the process we later put together for the IEEE in what we called the Leadership Training Workshops. It is primarily a process of getting a group of people rather than an individual to be responsible for making this system work well, and also telling them not to focus on growth, because that’s not a good goal. If you turn around and create a really successful branch [so] that people enjoy going to the meetings, growth will be automatic. We have proved over and over again, by just going ahead and putting together programs that people found of value, they wanted to get involved. They wanted to be an active student member. Hochheiser: Were you also involved with IEEE on a non-student level? Alexander: Yes. We designed a leadership workbook and workshop, and IEEE took some notice in that, especially when they found that when I would go to the Region 2 [meetings], and Youngstown State’s in Region 2, when we would go to the regional meetings, my students would be there en masse, [Laughter] and would pretty much tear the place down. And the region wanted to go ahead and get me involved with student activities for the whole region. And that got me started in the whole process of going up through the ranks of the IEEE. Hochheiser: So it was very much through your activities coming up through the student branch system. Alexander: Yes, as a faculty advisor for the Youngstown State student branch, that’s what got it all really started big-time. ### Tennessee Tech and Student Activities Committee Hochheiser: And in 1980 you left Youngstown State and went to Tennessee Tech? Alexander: Yes, I decided to go ahead and take the skills we had been learning about research and teaching and building strong departments to go to a department that I think at the time had seven faculty members, and by the time I got through, we were authorized up to about 21 faculty members. We had not hired all those yet, but I [think] that is where we were going. And like I said, the Tennessee Tech student branch may have had 25 members, and we got that up to 355 student members who were very active. Hochheiser: In doing so, you moved from Region 2 into Region 3. Alexander: That’s correct. Hochheiser: How did that affect your participation in the broader IEEE? Alexander: Well, about the same time that I moved to Tennessee Tech I had gone from being a regional advisor for all of the student branches in Region 2 and because of that position, serving on the Regional Student Activities Committee to becoming its chair. Hochheiser: The IEEE Region Student Activities Committee (RSAC)? Alexander: National. International, actually, because it was for all ten regions, and then in 1980 I took over as chair. And that allowed me to develop some really major programs, some of which we had started in the late seventies, like the Student Professional Awareness Conference program, S-PAC program. We actually started that with Hans Cherney, Larry Dwon, Jim Watson, and then some students. Also at that point we started IEEE Potentials in the early eighties. An outstanding student publication. In about 1983 we started the WRITETALK© program, which later became the ProSkills© program, and that was— Hochheiser: Can you tell me more about this program? Alexander: It is a way of helping students, while they are students, develop the ability to communicate (read, write, listen, and speak), work in teams, and a lot of different soft skills that a successful engineer has to have. Hochheiser: So were these programs that then came down into the individual student branches for use? Alexander: That’s right. And the conduit that we used was the leadership workshop program, because you could not get students that interested in joining an organization at that time, unless you go and show them how it would help them with their careers, and that’s what we did. Basically we had four things that we tell a student. If you really want higher grades, to graduate from a better program, to graduate from a better university, to graduate and work in a better profession, you have to be active in the IEEE! Then basically we showed them how all those things came about, by just simply being an active member of IEEE. Hochheiser: Now in doing this, did you personally go to student branches around the country? Alexander: We did to a limited extent. Hochheiser: How did it get out from the program you developed as part of [the] national IEEE program, into all the many, many student branches around the world? Alexander: By the way, I should also say that we raised student dues from$10 to $17! Hochheiser: [Laughter] Alexander: We grew the numbers from 23,000 to 49,000 in three years. You know, it’s an awesome set of numbers, but the way we did that was [to] give value to the individual student, and the vehicle we used was the leadership training program. And so what we would do is go to each of the regions, like Region 2, Region 3, Region 1 through Region 6. We never did this too much outside [the U.S.], because we didn’t have the funds for it. We would hold leadership workshops for all the student branch officers of the region, and then we would get them to identify how to grow programs [in] this manner, and then have them go and make use of all these wonderful things that we developed for the students, to attract student members. And it was highly successful, it worked great! Hochheiser: And moving on to Potentials for a minute, I believe IEEE at one point earlier had a student magazine which had disappeared. Alexander: It was a student journal, and that is part of what I’ve tried to address with the IEEE during my whole career is, you need to really focus on the member. What do they need? What do they want? Students don’t want to read technical papers. Whoa, surprise, surprise. The reason that they don’t is because they aren’t ready for that yet as undergraduates. They don’t know enough, they don’t have enough skills. Graduate students, yes, they’re getting to that point, but the student journal, because it was focused on tech, the technical side of electrical engineering, which we are the best in the world at, so, you know, there’s no question about that. It just didn’t work for undergraduates, and that’s why it died. Potentials was designed to be something of value for the undergraduates, and I was actually the architect of it. There were people who wanted to see a new student journal, but they didn’t know what the publication should look like. I said, “Hey, I’ll go ahead and design one for you!” And so working with Jon McDearman , a very good friend of mine, from Tennessee Tech, we created what is today IEEE Potentials. We styled it a little bit after IEEE Spectrum, a great publication; one of the best in the world. And we put into it things that would help students. So we put a lot of stuff in about careers. How to be more successful. And when you do book reviews, the typical book review is somebody reviewing this book by so-and-so. I said, we need book reviews in this publication, but not done that way. What we want to do is go to experts in the field of education, and ask them to recommend three books, one for a person who knows virtually nothing, one who is in the middle of their career, basically an undergraduate, and then one for a graduate student. And those are the kind of things that appear in that publication, and obviously the students ate it up. I mean, that’s part of why it grew the way it grew. ### EAB, USAB and Publications Hochheiser: If I’m correct, you also were on the EAB (IEEE Educational Activities Board) in this period? Alexander: By being chair of the Student Activities Committee— Hochheiser: Right. Alexander: —you are on both the Educational Activities Board, and the United States Activities Board. Which at that time was USAB. You know, it started out as USAC, and then became USAB, and then… Hochheiser: What were the issues facing these two boards in the eighties? Alexander: Well, the education is wonderful [but] all those issues would take us at least four hours. Hochheiser: [Laughter] Alexander: The late seventies or early eighties is when I got involved with the group. Now you are talking about a green, wet behind the ears puppy, not a full-blown person by any stretch of imagination. But the group that I was involved with were people like Dave Conner, Joe Bordogna, Ed Ernst, Mac Van Valkenberg, and people who thought that the way we were doing education was all wrong, that we needed to do things the right way. Fortunately I had very strong views about what it should be, too. And this was the group that put together what was called the Hallmarks of Excellence, and this is what departments of electrical engineering needed to be able to do to become really outstanding, in order to be excellent. It later led to what we now call EC2000, and it is the ABET (then called the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) criteria, that is skill-based, and not knowledge-based. Skill-based, and not bean-counting based. And it was a tremendous shift in the way we look at academic programs. I would have to say that is probably one of the signature accomplishments of IEEE in the last half of the 20th century. We in USAB were also struggling with how do you approach students from the United States Activities Board, which is basically focused on professional activities. And I said, that’s not a problem, because that’s what students want! They want to know how to get a job and keep a job. And go on to get a better job. So it was, I thought, a wonderful tie between the two boards, to the point where they created an environment for students that for the first time in my knowledge, about these programs, gave you something where we were really focused on the complete engineer, and not just on how much you can learn. Hochheiser: And also in the eighties you became Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Education? Alexander: That is correct. Hochheiser: What led you to that position, and what did you do there? Alexander: Well, one of the things that I did in the early eighties was to write a guest editorial, an invited guest editorial for the IEEE Transactions on Education. In that, I basically detailed the advantages for students to go on and earn graduate degrees, a master’s degree and a doctorate. I also talked about the MBA and what was its value [is] to students, and it was really, for the first time, a real fresh approach to looking at graduate education, and something that maybe a lot of people believed, but nobody had espoused at that time. Things like, for instance, an undergraduate who was just graduating must get a master’s degree. Not should they, they must get one. Should they get an MBA? The answer’s no. There’s just no value, because you’re still not an engineer by the time you graduate. With your master’s degree, you now learn how to be an engineer, and then you have to make career choices. And for those who want to go into research, [into] universities, as an educator, do state-of-the-art engineering, or start your own business, then you need a doctorate. So it’s kind of all tied together. Then the people who did the Education Transactions said, well, maybe Charles should be editor for a while. And I had a lot of fun doing that. Because I’ve also, as I was doing the student stuff and all the other things associated with being an educator, or researcher, etcetera, like to do a lot of research, and write. And so it was very natural for me to be a Transactions editor. Hochheiser: Now as a journal editor you became a member of still another IEEE board, the Publications Board, is that correct? Alexander: Yes, on the Publications Board. I had to go back and think, because it’s been so long ago that I was on that. Yes. And we would meet regularly in New York. That’s where the main IEEE offices were at that time. Hochheiser: Right. Alexander: And that was a lot of fun. Hochheiser: Any particular issues that you recall? Alexander: Yes. They were dealing with a whole bunch of things related to publications, because even though it wasn’t like it is today, where you’re dealing with computers big-time, we were beginning to look at computers and electronic information relative to our publications. And so how do we go ahead in an era when we may be shifting from print to electronic? How do you maintain your income? And so that was a real big issue. They were also dealing with the content of the various publications, and to some extent IEEE Spectrum, because that was really the flagship and still is the flagship publication for the IEEE. Hochheiser: Also in the eighties you became a member of the USAB? Alexander: Yes, the United States Activities Board. Hochheiser: Yeah. What were the—what did you accomplish there, and what were the issues facing the board? Alexander: I was there kind of as a liaison, initially, and then when I became Region 2 director, that automatically places you on that board. ### Temple and Region 2 Director Hochheiser: When did you become Region 2 director? Alexander: Boy, I’d have to stop and think about that. [Laughter] Hochheiser: Where were you when you became Region 2 director? Alexander: I was in Philadelphia, and it was— Hochheiser: We’re jumping ahead a little bit. Alexander: I jumped from Region 2 to Region 3, then back again. It was funny because one of my friends in Region 3 was kidding the Region 2 director, and he says I want you to know what Chuck did for us. By moving to Philadelphia, he raised the IQ of both regions. [Laughter] Hochheiser: [Laughter] What led you to leave Tennessee Tech and come to Temple? Alexander: I have had a career of always trying to go into a school and make changes. And sometimes I can do that in four years, sometimes I can do it in eight years. I have never been anywhere longer than eight years, but bringing a lot of these things that we have been talking about already into play on a mass basis within a college or a department has allowed us to very positively change programs. I had pretty much run the gambit of what I could have done at Tennessee Tech, and they were building, at Temple, an engineering program. They did not have an accredited engineering program yet. So they brought me on board to help get the undergraduate programs in all three disciplines that they had at the time, accredited, develop a master’s program for all of them, and then a doctoral program for electrical, which we did. And so by the time I had left there, we had one of the top doctoral programs in the university, in our electrical engineering department. Hochheiser: So how did moving from Region 3 to Region 2 affect your IEEE activities? Alexander: It just kept going along. The one thing that was kind of a sadness about Region 3 was that I was elected to be Region 3 director the year I was supposed to move. So essentially in 1986 I was supposed to take over at, I guess it would’ve been ’87, take over as Region 3 director. And I couldn’t do it, because— Hochheiser: [interposing] Since you were no longer in Region 3. Alexander: Yes. So I tried to figure out if there was a way I could commute. [Laughter] But decided against it. And so when I got to Region 2, I said, hey, I’m ready to be a director, so let me go ahead and do this. So that’s when I was elected as Region 2 director. Hochheiser: So you came to Temple. One thing Philadelphia’s certainly well known for in IEEE is the size and activity level of the local section. Alexander: Oh, it’s phenomenal. Hochheiser: Did you become active and involved in the local section? Alexander: Oh, big-time. I actually was the MC at the annual awards banquet for them, when I was there, the whole time. And really enjoyed that. But I also did a lot with Region 2’s student activities as well as other things in Region 2. Hochheiser: How did you come to be Region 2 vice chair and then director? Alexander: Well, after stepping out of the potential Region 3 position, I said, no, I still want to do this. So, I decided to run, and it was as a petition candidate, because Philadelphia section was backing a really outstanding person, and one I didn’t really want to run against, but I also wanted to be director. So I ran as a petition candidate, and was successful. And that is how I became the regional director of Region 2. Hochheiser: What did you do to have a successful run as a petition candidate? Alexander: We used one of the things that is the most beneficial part of being an active IEEE member, and that is your network. We went ahead and approached that network, and asked them to help support my candidacy. And time and time again, this network has helped me, both with technical problems, getting new jobs, getting raises and promotions, and getting elected to the various IEEE offices. Hochheiser: Were there any issues or was it more really a matter of networking? Alexander: Both. When I was running for IEEE president, and we may talk about this a little bit later on, I was asked a question, and the question was, why do you want to be president. My answer was, I don’t. The reason I wanted to be on the ballot and be elected director of Region 2 was not because I wanted to be director, but it was because I wanted to do these things that would be more easily done as a director. And so the things that we have been discussing, helping the regular member and helping the student members be more successful in their careers, that was the driving factor, that was the passion that helped my network help me get elected. Hochheiser: So you were elected, you’re now the Region 2 director, and you’re on the IEEE board. And simultaneously as the Region 2 director on the USA Board. Alexander: Yes. Hochheiser: To what extent were you able to use these positions to advance the goals that you’ve been discussing? Alexander: Well, first of all, as regional director, you’re able to appoint people to these positions, like the regional student representative, the regional student adviser representative (Regional Student Activities Committee chair or RSAC), and work with the various chairs of the IEEE sections, and to go around and hold the workshops, which I continued to do, helping people do these kinds of things. And then, also be able to have at least a voice and a say in what was going on at that time, in the Regional Activities Board, and the United States Activities Board, all of which had a lot of member contact. ### Board and a New Budget Hochheiser: What were the other issues facing the IEEE board at this time? What came up at the board meetings during this period? Alexander: Well, my first board meeting as a brand new wet-behind-the-ears kid was a real eye-opener. It was at this meeting where I saw the board in utter chaos, and financial problems were just destroying IEEE at the time. One of the first things that I was forced to do was vote for a dues increase, and then vote to reduce the number of issues of the Institute from 11 to 6, about half, and to cut down the amount of material that was in Spectrum. And I just got livid. I said, do you understand that the Institute and Spectrum are the only real contacts we have with every member? You’re going to raise their dues? And then you’re going to turn around and diminish what you give them? Something’s not right about this process. So it was at that time that I discovered that I could lead a palace revolt, and when it came to passing the budget, I got my other nine directors and my vice president to vote against the budget, and let us restructure it. We had enough votes on the board. There were 32 members, and it required eleven members of that group to stop it, or two-thirds (twenty-two members) to pass it. And obviously, with eleven people, that’s enough to stop the budget, and we did. And finally we got cooperation from the other boards, and got a budget passed that was going to help us help the members, and that’s what it was all about. During the period that I was on the board, and then later on through the ranks of the vice presidents and presidents we were able to go and take IEEE from an organization that was financially dead in the water to one where we didn’t even need to raise dues for a number of years, because we basically had more money than we knew what to do with. And— Hochheiser: How was that accomplished? Alexander: —we also removed all kinds of deficits and found money where we didn’t know we had money. It was a lot of hard work on the part of a number of people, but a focus to say let us get it done. Staff morale in the IEEE during that first year as director is probably the lowest it had ever been, for a number of reasons. And during the next period of time, which was almost ten years, we are able to go ahead and see the staff morale rise to the highest that it had ever been. And just implementing a lot of these really neat things, focusing on the members, and letting really intelligent people handle their budgets well, rather than requiring them to take cuts. I learned a long time ago about budgeting, that if you go ahead and say, look, we have a budget problem. Get your leaders together, let’s go ahead and fix it. When I took over the United States Activities Board as vice president, we had a 300-and, say, 70,000-dollar [$370,000] over-expenditure on our budget. And when I took over, we only had $27,000 in reserve. At the end of that two-year period, we had a$400,000 reserve. And we were, obviously, well within budget. The one thing that I did was to tell my people, the heads of my councils, that we have a budget problem. We need to fix it. But I do not want any member deliverable to be diminished. So we have to solve this problem outside of the members and we did not have to lay off any staff. We were able to put together a really sound budget over that two-year period. And it worked.

Hochheiser:

If you don’t cut things going to members, and you don’t cut the staff, how do you did turn around the numbers?

Alexander:

By having four council chairs that were very committed to working with me to do this within those defined guidelines. Right now if you elected me president of the United States, I could lower everybody’s taxes, not diminish a single thing that we do for the people, and give you a budget that’s approximately half of what you have today. I mean the waste is just totally all over the place. The same thing could be done in just about any organization. In fact, my whole career, every time I have gotten into a place where people have money problems, we suddenly find that we have more money than we know what to do with. And it’s just being able to understand budgets and work with them.

Hochheiser:

Were there other issues facing the Board of Directors during the early nineties, besides the finances? Or was that problem all-consuming?

### Member Contact and 'Offshore' Engineering

Alexander:

Well, the, the number of members that we had, what we do for the members, I mean, all those were really big issues at that time, and needed to be addressed. Let me just talk about one small problem, which was a big problem. We instituted an 800 number that people could call in to the IEEE. And the average wait time was something like 45 minutes. And I said, there’s no reason for that. What you do is, you put together a system and then as more and more people are calling in, more people would stop—staff people would stop doing what they’re doing and pick up phones. Now I don’t know if they still have that in Piscataway, but they used to have these big illuminated signs that would record the wait time, and when it got over, say 15 seconds, then certain people would stop doing what they were doing, and start answering phones. And, you know, this would keep going on, so that the average wait time was only about 15 seconds. Not a difficult solution. It was real easy to implement. And what did it do for the members? They had a human being answering their questions right away, and they wouldn’t go away frustrated and vowing to go and not pay their dues this year.

We also had a lot of big issues that even now today, we have these issues, and that is engineering going offshore, which takes away our jobs. Now, IEEE has never wanted to be unionized, and I would never want it to be unionized. It’s not the correct role for it. But on the other hand, it needs to be a voice to tell this government, any government that we have, that if we don’t have a strong group of engineers here in the United States, we will stop being a world leader. That’s the only thing that can stop us. And a real good example, I said, if all the lawyers were to disappear in the United States, what would happen? Things would go a lot more smoothly. If all the physicians would stop working in the United States, what would happen? Virtually nothing. Most of us would probably lose three to three-and-a-half years of our lifetime, but that’s it. If all the electrical engineers stopped working, what would happen? Well, we had a good example of that in 2003 when the utility system went down. I mean, when you don’t have electricity, it’s right now. It’s not tomorrow, it’s not half an hour from now. So that’s like what’s going on in this country. It’s our technical innovation coming from our engineers that have made the United States a world leader. And that’s it. I mean, there’s nothing else. You may want to say there’s other things, but the reality is it’s that technical base that we have that makes the difference.

Hochheiser:

One of the things that strikes me, though, is that—and I know this is why you have an IEEE-USA and an IEEE —if jobs are going offshore, they may be going to IEEE members in other countries.

Alexander:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

And does that create some sort of conflict for IEEE leadership?

Alexander:

Well that was one of the reasons for creating IEEE-USA to begin with, all right? Obviously USAC became USAB, became IEEE-USA. And so it didn’t want to get into the position where this set of regions were promoting jobs for its people in conflict with the main body of the IEEE. But the interesting thing about it is that you don’t have two distinct organizations.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Alexander:

Because what is really good for the U.S. engineer is also good for the Chinese engineer, good for the Indian engineer, good for the European engineer. So helping every country realize that its success in the future does not lie with anything other than its technical competence, so that every country should be going ahead and creating more and more engineers working in their countries.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Alexander:

Now, China’s really good at this. They have been creating a huge educational structure for turning out engineers, and that’s the reason, the big reason, why China will become a superpower. And there, most likely, within the middle of this century, will be two major players in the world. The United States and China. Now I include us in this because I can’t imagine that we’re going to let this engineering workforce disappear. As bad as things might get, the reality is, this is a country that loves to turn out engineers, and it will. So we’re going to be okay. May not be real easy between now and then.

Hochheiser:

[Laughter]

Alexander:

But we’re going to be okay.

### Executive Director - Powers and Senese

Hochheiser:

Circling back to this period when you were on board, one of the key things that—at least from my perspective as a staff member, that occurred was that Eric Herz retired as executive director and general manager, how did John Powers come to be selected by IEEE to be Eric’s successor?

Alexander:

Well, there was a standard search process. First of all, Eric, just a fabulous man, and I consider it [a] fact that he kind of walks on water, so he’s always been one of these mentors for me. But we were really looking for someone to succeed him and I was not part of the hiring process. I think that was pretty much the executive committee and the president, working on doing the interviews and hiring the person.

Hochheiser:

And as you know, John left after about two years.

Alexander:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

Do you recall how that came about?

Alexander:

I think John was an outstanding individual, but I think he came on board at a time where the problems on the Board were just so huge, and there was a lack of really focused leadership, and that has nothing to do with any individual. I think it was just a collective leadership that just wasn’t there. There needed to be a lot of healing going on, and a lot of things, because it took us a long time to get where they were, when they were so bad. To the point where these problems went away and Dan Senese came on board at a much better time to do this than John Powers had.

Hochheiser:

Then can you tell me anything about how Dan came to be selected?

Alexander:

Yes. I was not, again, directly involved with hiring him, but I was close enough that I was really one of the people that supported him in the process. And, again, it was done with the presidents and the executive committee.

### Cal State Northridge and John Guarrera

Hochheiser:

And then while you’re rising up through the very senior ranks of IEEE, in 1994 you moved again. What led to this move?

Alexander:

Well, I had done everything I could at Temple. I’d created the programs that I was supposed to create, got them all accredited, got them healthy and built up, and I’m not a good person to bring on board to sustain things. If you want a caretaker, you don’t want me. And so I looked for another place where I could go and make a difference. And that’s when I went out as dean to Cal State Northridge, again, bringing a lot of these things I wanted to see happen, and create, strengthen a really good academic program at another school.

Hochheiser:

And I guess one of the things you had to deal with was the aftermaths of the well-known earthquake.

Alexander:

Oh yeah. [Laughter] Spent the first part of my time there working with the faculty to help them recover. Because they weren’t coming to a school that was damaged by an earthquake, they were coming from their homes that were damaged by an earthquake to their school that was damaged by an earthquake. One of my faculty members, a guy I really like a lot, was caught in his apartment. He was caught on the bottom floor when the building collapsed for 24 hours before they pulled him out. So it was a lot of handholding, a lot of counseling, and working with the faculty, and I must say they really came out of it with flying colors.

Hochheiser:

How did the move from Philadelphia to California affect your IEEE activities?

Alexander:

It’s one of these very important things to me. When I took over department chair, dean, I always said that I need to be able to teach. I need to be able to do research, and if you don’t let me do that, I won’t accept the position of chair or dean. And part of that package was to be active in the IEEE. And so if that’s what you want then I’ll go ahead and do this for you. Trust me, I’ll go ahead and give you first class everything, for all this stuff, but I need to be able to do everything else. And if you won’t let me do it, I’m not coming. So it did not impact my IEEE activities at all. It was a nice part of the whole process. The one really big advantage, though, to being at Northridge, rather than being in Philadelphia, I had all these wonderful people in Philadelphia that acted as mentors and colleagues, that helped me with my career, but when I got to Northridge, I was able to work with John Guarrera.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Alexander:

Not only a superstar in IEEE, all the way up through president, but he was one of the big people behind professional activities, and promoting that side of the IEEE effort. And so he took me under his wing for a couple years when I was out there. And [I] learned an awful lot about, again, the organization, how to make things happen.

Hochheiser:

But I guess since you were no longer in Region 2, you were no longer Region 2 director and—?

Alexander:

Well, by then I already had gone on to being vice president of the United States Activities Board.

Hochheiser:

Okay.

Alexander:

From being Region 2 director.

Hochheiser:

So therefore the move didn’t directly affect your participation—

Alexander:

[Interposing] No.

Hochheiser:

—in national IEEE—

Alexander:

[Interposing] No.

Hochheiser:

—activities, because now you were in a national position.

### Running for President

Alexander:

Yes. And it was from that vice president’s position that I became a board candidate [for president], but lost that year. Lost to a really good friend. And then the next time I ran, I ran as a petition candidate.

Hochheiser:

We need to break for a second and change the tape.

[End Tape 1/Begin Tape 2]

Hochheiser:

Okay. So, the first time you ran for president, you ran as a board-nominated candidate.

Alexander:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

And you lost.

Alexander:

Yes. Wally Read had run before and was running again as candidate from Canada. And this was the first time we had gone outside—as far as I know, it was the first time we had gone outside the U.S. for a president.

Hochheiser:

Of the IEEE.

Alexander:

Yes. And I said losing was kind of like watching a person you don’t like drive over a cliff in your Cadillac. [Laughter] I said, I hated losing, but I can’t think of a better person to have lost to than Wally Reed. And we were really good friends, still are. And, you know, I was ready to be president. Again, like I had related before, not because I wanted to be president, but because of the things I wanted to do, I needed to be president. And that is when I decided, hey, let’s go to John Guarrera, and he actually was the one who headed up the petition drive, and we got enough petition signatures to get on the ballot again, and obviously at that point there was an advantage to my having run a second time—

Hochheiser:

Sure.

Alexander:

—and I picked up more votes, and so I ended up getting elected that time.

Hochheiser:

Who did you run against?

Alexander:

Boy, I can’t remember. I honestly can’t remember.

Hochheiser:

That’s okay, I’m sure we can dig it up in an old issue of The Institute.

Alexander:

One of the things that people always ask me, and it’s kind of like, I guess, being an Olympic star or being an astronaut, what are you going to do to come down from being president of the IEEE? And I’ve said, my whole career has been one of just constantly having more and more success as I go along, so I’m not coming down, yet, from anything.

Hochheiser:

[Laughter]

Alexander:

So I think being president of the IEEE is an incredible honor, and one of the very special things that has happened to me in my life, but I’ve had many things like that that have added significantly to my career path. So I guess that’s one of the reasons why I don’t necessarily remember who I was running against at the time.

Hochheiser:

[interposing] That’s quite all right. But you remember who you lost to the first time.

Alexander:

Oh yeah.

Hochheiser:

[Laughter]

Alexander:

Well, I actually ran with Don Bolle too, so I remember the three candidates who were candidates when I ran as a board candidate.

Joe Bordogna was actually one of the ones I ran against, he ran a second time, and got elected. And I’m sure that there was another one, but I don’t remember who that was. But Joe Bordogna was the one that I won against.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Alexander:

But in that case if I’d of lost to him, that would’ve been another good one to lose to, so—[Laughter]

Hochheiser:

[Laughter] How did one campaign for being president of IEEE?

Alexander:

Well, you do some visiting. You do a lot of the stuff on your own nickel. But you do visit some of the sections. But, again, the biggest thing is your network. It’s relying on the people out there to go ahead and drum up votes for you. Tell people to vote for you, and vote often.

Hochheiser:

So you run as a petition candidate.

Alexander:

Yes.

### President-Elect

Hochheiser:

You get elected. Now you’re president-elect.

Alexander:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

First, what did you do during you year as president-elect, and how closely did you work with Wally, who now was the president?

Alexander:

We were a fantastic team, because we double-teamed on a lot of stuff, and it worked. You know, good cop/bad cop kinds of things at times. And then there are a couple things I want to mention, but— overall the most important thing at that time was planning and getting ready for the year you’re going to be president and CEO. And IEEE is one of those organizations where being president, you really are the CEO.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Alexander:

You do make things happen. You fire and hire people. It’s an extremely powerful position. So I did a whole year of preparing, so that I would be able to do a lot of the things I wanted to do. But one of the problems that came up that showed how it was to work with Wally was the American Association of Engineering Societies, AAES, was struggling, and had lost its mission, and I went into there, and I said, look, we’ve got to solve this problem. And I told Wally, I said, we’re going to have to play some hardball. So I got Wally to tell the organization that we’re pulling out. IEEE’s no longer going to be involved in an organization that is this chaotic. We did the same thing with ABET to get EC2000. When you’re about 40% of the financial income of an organization, they listen to you. And we didn’t bluff. It was not one of these things where we threatened them. Because that doesn’t work. What we did is, we gave official notification that within a year—we had to give one year’s notice, that we were going to pull out of AAES. And because of that, then I was able to work with AAES and get stuff done. I’m not sure it was that year or [the] year of my presidency, I also was able to work with Alan Bromley. And he was at the time working with all the science organizations that are in the U.S. and together with him, our IEEE being the only engineering society, we were able to go up to the Hill and do some really neat things to help support research in the U.S., and that was a big thing. Another thing that, again, I’m not sure we did this during the presidency—I’m trying to think what we did during that first year. That’s probably pretty much it.

### President and Visiting Sections

Hochheiser:

Mm-hmm. So you had the year of working with Wally, and preparing to be president, and now the year’s over and you’re president —

Alexander:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

What did you hope to accomplish in that year, and what did you, and how did you do it?

Alexander:

Visit as many sections as possible. And so I don’t know if anybody as a president ever traveled as much as I did. I was home five days a month, and that was it. We worked 80 to 110 hours a week.

Hochheiser:

I take it you were not simultaneously at a university position at this time?

Alexander:

Well, what was really great is Northridge gave me my year’s salary. And I didn’t have to teach or be at the university. And that worked out very well. And so I went out, just met with the sections, kind of pumped up the value to the members, and things like that. I worked very well with the international sections, signed agreements, technical agreements—

Hochheiser:

What, with the national societies?

Alexander:

Yes. I did this with several groups, one of which was China. I think it was in ’97 when we first did a lot of these agreements with the various societies in China, and helped them build their IEEE organization there. I remember I was in Skopje, Macedonia, the first visit of my tenure as president was to the brand new section in Macedonia, in Skopje, which was kind of a real neat way to start things out. In fact I like to talk to my friends—I have a lot of friends in Athens, Greece, and when I was there visiting with them, I told them, I said, you know, you guys really screwed up big-time. If you hadn’t made a huge mistake a long time ago IEEE would be 1,000 years old today and be headquartered in Greece. And they’re saying, what are you talking about? I said, you chose to go from science and philosophy to philosophy. You got rid of the science stuff. And at the time you were developing all kinds of incredible things; I mean things like the steam engine. And so it was—and they have a good laugh over that, but it’s true. Technology got really set back in Greece, when that shift was made. But it’s also a good story to tell.

Hochheiser:

Yes. So one thing you did was a lot of travel.

Alexander:

Yes. And trying to spread the word about a lot of these things that need to be done. And help people get excited about what they’re doing, helping promote the engineering profession worldwide, help promoting students worldwide. So there’s an awful lot of activities during that time that I got engaged with and, had a very, very productive year. That was also during the time when we were not raising dues.

Hochheiser:

So IEEE was in good financial shape, rather than having the problems you talked about earlier?

Alexander:

We had reserves that were huge. We were having enough income that probably reduced the cost of a student, or a real membership to non-student members, from maybe $600 a year to about$150. Because of the added income that would offset the dues for our members. So we were able to give them a lot for their buck. Nursing, physicians, they all pay huge dues. Because there’s nothing to offset the costs. IEEE publishes a third of the world’s literature in electrical technology. And because of that, and the conferences that they run, huge number of conferences, they end up with being able to supplement the member dues by a larger amount of money.

### Irv Engelson and Vision 21

Hochheiser:

What led you to conclude you wanted a formal presidential adviser and how did you come to ask Irv Engelson to do that, and what did he do?

Alexander:

Audio File
MP3 Audio
(516 - alexander - clip 1.mp3)

If you look at what I do with my career, the research and everything else, it’s obvious that I have a lot of friends working with me on things, which magnifies what I can do tremendously. And so wherever I’ve gone, I’ve recruited and brought with me people that would help me make things happen. And so when you get me, you get a whole slew of people. And that’s why when I took over as president, I needed a large number of people around me, to help me make these things happen. Irv had been a really good friend over a number of years, and he shared a lot of my vision and ambitions. He also spoke something like nine languages, and I thought to myself, wow, I can’t have a better person come along and help me with spreading the word than I could have with Irv. So he was incredibly useful with me as I did all my travels. And I brought him along, essentially to help me sell the message that I couldn’t sell by myself.

Hochheiser:

And what was the message you were selling?

Alexander:

Hochheiser:

What was Vision 21?

Alexander:

It was all this stuff put together.

Hochheiser:

Okay. But that was the tagline.

Alexander:

There was a lot of write-up about it. I mean, you know, it’s been in publication, the presentation we made in sections congress in 1996, Jim Watson and I, we presented our vision for the world. It included such things as, what is this wonderful new age we are in? If you look at what we’ve done as a race of people, we have had the hunter-gatherer period, and then we became agrarian (the Agricultural Age). That freed up about 20% of our resources to do things other than produce food. Then we became industrialized (the Industrial Age), and the ability to grow food was done with a lot less people, so that essentially 50% of our population was now free to do other things. Now with the new age that we’re into, and I actually have a name for this, and I did it during the Vision 21, was that we now will have 2 to 3% of our people involved in growing food, 14 to 17% in producing goods, so that 80% of our population now is available to do other things. To enhance our world. It’s the engineer who’s going to make all that stuff happen. It’s the engineer who’s going to supply the things to that 80% so they can be creative. I mean, look, what they’ve been able to do with computer graphics is a good example. So it’s the engineers that are going to be driving almost everything in the future. So when I say what is this third great age that we’re entering? It’s not the information age, it’s not the age of engineering, and it’s not the age of technology. It is the “Age of the Engineer.” Because it is that person, out there in the community with people, that is really going to go ahead and drive the quality of our environment, the quality we’re going to have in everything we’re going to see in the future. I mean, if you take a look at healthcare, which is a big thing now, in this country, and the world, we can never have high quality, affordable healthcare for everybody with the system we now have. It just will not work. It isn’t going to come out of the medical community. What’s going to have to happen is engineers working with the medical community are going to be able to help us have affordable healthcare for everybody that’s much better than even the high quality we have today. And so I really do firmly believe that we’re going to enter, or we already have, entered an age that later on will be called the “Age of the Engineer!” It’s going to be at the heart of everything that’s going on. So it’s a message that’s still, even since 1996 when I developed it, still relevant today.

### Managing the IEEE and IEEE-USA

Hochheiser:

As president, how do you, or how does anyone manage an organization as large and complex as IEEE?

Alexander:

IEEE is very unusual with all the technical organizations in the world in that it is truly a volunteer-run organization. So we may have a staff of 500—I’m not sure what it is now, but it was about 500 when I was president. And the organization runs with 70,000 volunteers. And I’ve always been really good at being able to run those kinds of organizations, and the reason again, goes back to what I had said earlier about bringing people around you. If you ever go and speak to one of my technicians, or one of my secretaries, or one of my students, you’ll find something very unique. And that is, everybody’s empowered to go ahead and do the things that they need to do, without people looking over their shoulders. And so by creating an organization where you eliminate a lot of the tensions and the problems of politics—I like to get politics totally out of our system, then things work extremely well. That’s why during that decade that I was significantly involved at the highest levels of IEEE, staff morale went from the lowest to the highest. And the same thing true with the volunteers. You would see an excitement from the volunteers which is absolutely contagious. I mean if you talk to IEEE volunteers who’ve been active within IEEE, they either love me or they hate me. The love me part is very common, and it’s people who really liked to work with me, and have been close to me. The hate me part is because some people like politics. They like to play that game, and when you find you can’t do it, that makes you very upset. I remember having a student come up to me one time, and he was absolutely livid. I couldn’t understand it. He says, I hate your teaching style! And I said, why? He says, because I have to work too hard to get a good grade. You help everybody understand what they’re doing, and you make it seem so easy, and you get them so excited. So you know, I can’t just sit back and do nothing and get an A. And it’s like that, when you’re working with a lot of volunteers. If the people like to get excited, like to see things happen? Man, we resonate well, stuff happens! And can I get along with people even those who don’t like me as a person. You don’t need to be liked as a person. It’s just that you’ve got to be able to get in there and do a good job. And it works. That’s the only way you run a huge organization. To make it run effectively.

Hochheiser:

How closely did you work with Dan Senese?

Alexander:

We were joined at the hip. I could never have asked for a better person to have work so closely with me, to make things happen. I guess the best thing I can say about Dan is I love the man, because we did so much for the IEEE together, and he made it so easy. The staff was very important to me. But I needed somebody who could convey that message to his people, and could see how much we appreciate what the staff does for us, because we could not survive without them. And another person who helped me a lot the same way, but at a different level, when I was vice president of USAB was Tom Suttle, and he was just absolutely wonderful to work with too. I mean, he was the one that helped me get that budget under control, for instance. The problems that we had there. So yeah, I’ve been blessed to have a couple really strong leaders like Dan Senese and Tom Suttle, to help make this stuff work. And, you know, you got volunteers around me like Jim Watson, Wally Reed, and just, just go on down the list of people that—and we could be here for four hours talking about everybody who’s helped make all this stuff happen.

Hochheiser:

Was it around this time when the USAB became IEEE-USA?

Alexander:

It was shortly after the time that I was vice president of USAB.

Hochheiser:

What led to that change? To what extent was it significant?

Alexander:

Well, there w[ere] a lot of problems with it, and obviously being where I was on the board helped get some of this through. There was a lot of problem with identity for the IEEE itself. And even though you had the United States Activities Board, a lot of what they did reflected back on the IEEE itself, and people had a hard time differentiating IEEE from what USAB was doing. It was felt by a number of us, not all of us, by the way, because it was not universally acceptable, that if we changed the name of USAB to IEEE-USA and standing for the United States of America, that designation would help people better identify the things that we were trying to do with the federal government, as distinct from what the international IEEE would be doing worldwide. It also allowed such things as, say, IEEE Canada or IEEE Europe, that if they want to put together political advocacy, I guess, would be the best way to describe it, groups, then they could. And so that was pretty much the motivation behind doing the IEEE-USA thing.

### Past President and Family

Hochheiser:

So anything else about your year as president of IEEE that I didn’t know enough to ask you?

Alexander:

Oh, well, one of the things that was very important to me has been my family. And my mother and father, the best blessing they ever gave me, besides their love, was to not fear failure. So I tended to do things like take on the most difficult things. When I was trying to learn how to play musical instruments I showed an ability, and then later on did learn how to play the drums and guitar and a number of other things. But I was told at the time the French horn was the most difficult instrument to play. Partly because it’s using the left hand. And so, okay, I got to master the French horn. I was good in basketball and football, but not really good in track, so I had to get really good in track. When I went to college I chose the most difficult curriculum because if I failed at that, at least, you know, you failed at the toughest. So it was that lack of fear of failure that helped me a tremendous amount in my career. I’ve always been close to my parents. My father and I were best friends when he was alive. He was my best friend. And he died just before January 1st of the year I took over as president. So we, we held a eulogy for him on January 1st, which was the first day of my presidency in ’97. And I said, this is a tremendously bittersweet time for me, because it’s the most exciting time in my career at that point, but also was one of the saddest moments in my life, to go ahead and bid farewell to my father. And yet, because of the—your faith and everything else, he’s still with me, and that helps a lot. But it was an interesting start to what was an incredible year for me. And, again, because of your faith, I guess, you don’t get depressed by it, but it was—it really did impact you.

Hochheiser:

So you finish your year as president, and now you have a year as past president.

Alexander:

Hochheiser:

You had two years as past president?

Alexander:

Oh yes.

Hochheiser:

How did you manage that?

Alexander:

Well, Joe [Bordogna] got elected president.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Alexander:

And so I was his past president.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Alexander:

Joe is probably one of our most famous members.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Alexander:

And at the time he finished up his presidency, and as he started in as his year of past president, he was appointed to the deputy director position of the National Science Foundation, second in command. And this was a politically sensitive thing, his being past president, so he had to officially resign, and the most logical choice was to go ahead and have me replace him as past president. And so I served both Joe Bordonga and Bruce Eisenstein as the past president.

Hochheiser:

And what did you do as past president with—?

Alexander:

Both of them?

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Alexander:

We continued to help develop this networking the world stuff, I mean that was a big thing with Joe too. And helping him with some of his programs. He was real big on trying to get more women into engineering. He transformed the National Science Foundation into supporting all kinds of engineering activities it had never done before, and he brought a lot of that to what he was doing with the IEEE. And I remember going around and helping Bruce Eisenstein lobby for a number of his programs with board members. I called it going out and preaching to the masses. [Laughter] Helping them get on board with various programs, so I did a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff.

### Post-President Involvement

Hochheiser:

Mm-hmm. In what ways, or how have you remained active in IEEE since being off the board after your second term as past president?

Alexander:

Well, I’m advisor to our local student branch. [Laughter]

Hochheiser:

Circling back around to how you started. [Laughter]

Alexander:

Yes, I also consult with a lot of different people about things within the organization, but the biggest thing has been to maintain this push to create things of value for the student members, and so I continue to work with Jim Watson on programs to develop engineering skills in students as well as members of the IEEE. One of our big projects right now is to develop a textbook for freshmen engineering students, which brings all the stuff into a book for them to use. After we get that book written, we plan on doing the same thing for the working engineer, putting together a book to help them learn how to have a successful career. Right now we’ve, we’re toying with titles, and one of my favorites is “Success the Easy Way,” because in reality if you do things the right way, it’s a lot easier than doing things the wrong way. And it really is. A lot of good common sense things, like I said, was in the ABET criteria, that people do to enhance their communication skills or team-building skills, project management, on and on.

### Ohio University and Cleveland State

Hochheiser:

Can we just circle back and talk a little bit about your professional career after Northridge?

Alexander:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

You then moved back to Ohio University for a while?

Alexander:

Yes after my tenure at Northridge I became an endowed chair at Ohio University. And from there, I decided, after a while, I wanted to get back into building another college, and had the opportunity to come out to Cleveland State, and while at Cleveland State, I added 12 new faculty members to the college, a third of which were women, by the way. Really top-notch people. Did a lot of transforming of things that were going on within the college, to make it a much different place today. Had enough of that, and right now I’m enjoying the life of a tenured full professor, but part of my not being a dean was caused by the fact that I’d gotten a \$73 million grant to start a research center, and I didn’t think I could teach, do research, be dean, and build a research center, so I decided, ah, let’s just work on the research center now for a while. One of the things that’s been very exciting for me in my whole career are things that you never think are going to happen. And you really don’t have control over. As a young person, you never see yourself as being president of the IEEE. Maybe some kids do.

Hochheiser:

[Laughter]

### Becoming a Fellow

Alexander:

And you have no control over that. Because people vote you in for that. Other things that I thought would never happen have also happened, and one was becoming a fellow of the IEEE. Again, you can’t do anything about that. Somebody has to nominate you, and it’s arduous. It’s the most difficult society in which to become a fellow that I know of. I mean, it’s not an easy process. And it’s not that the candidate has a hard time, it’s that the person who sponsors the candidate, the one who does the recommending, has to do so much work to make it happen. Carl Bayless actually was the one responsible for my becoming a fellow. Obviously, you get to a point where you have been in the organization long enough you’re now a life fellow. Now the life part, you control that, but it’s nice to have something like that happen that you didn’t plan on. And then most recently back in May of this year, I received an honorary doctorate from Ohio Northern University in recognition of the career that I’ve had since I left there. And, again, things that you never really expect to happen. I’m very appreciative of an incredibly supportive wife. My wife, Hannah, has been such an important part of my life. She’s my best friend. She has shared some of these things with me. She loves the IEEE. And I appreciate her, having her along.

Hochheiser:

Well, as you can see, all the cards that I started with face up are face down, so I’ve come to the end of the things that I wanted to ask you about.

Alexander:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

If there’s anything you would like to add that I didn’t know to ask you, you’re welcome to do so.

Alexander:

Is there anything you can think of? No?

Hochheiser:

In that case, we’re done.

Alexander:

All right.

Hochheiser:

And I thank you very much.