IEEE Volunteers are dedicated to a variety of engineering outreach initiatives. Many participate in outreach programs specifically aimed at supporting STEM initiatives for pre-university students. IEEE Volunteer Steve Izzo currently serves on the Educational Services Board of IEEE Communications Society (ComSoc). He was selected as a presenter during the 2022 IEEE Pre-University STEM Summit Societies’ Panel Discussion, where he and other IEEE society leaders spoke about their experiences and motivation for STEM outreach at the pre-university level. This discussion and all STEM summit presentations are all available on demand here.

Mr. Izzo is passionate about helping IEEE Volunteers roll out programs worldwide and serving as an inspiration and a model for others who would like to engage in STEM activities with younger students. This passion is clearly demonstrated in many of the responses he gave during this summit panel discussion.

“I serve as the example of how to get started,” Izzo stated during the summit when he was asked how he and ComSoc are involved in STEM outreach at the pre-university level. “The goal this year was really to establish a foundation for [promoting STEM at the pre-university level] with a very small working group within the Educational Services Board in ComSoc. So even though we had no program, we really want to thank the TryEngineering team for all of the support that they’ve been able to give us on how to start and then expand those activities.”

In just the last two years, engagement with STEM promotion and data collection and outcomes surrounding such engagement became a priority for Mr. Izzo and ComSoc with the help of TryEngineering. Steve also highlighted some of the activities that ComSoc funded in the last one to two years, including a teacher training in India and local student activities in Italy and Colombia. He also explained that a goal for ComSoc moving forward is to find programs that will interact with local IEEE chapters across the globe.

“We believe [the local chapters are] where the delivery is, and that’s where all of the volunteers are.”

When asked why his society believes pre-university STEM outreach is important, Mr. Izzo discussed the prevalence of communications technologies in the world and the importance of supporting their growth.

“Communications systems and technology are really fundamental to the future of society,” Steve responded, “and if you recognize that, then you realize that really everyone should be prepared to, or enabled to participate or evaluate or at least make critical judgements and decisions about their own uses of this kind of technology.”

He further explained that with the privilege of having this technology comes the responsibility of making sure that not only does everyone have access to it, but understands how to use it as well, especially when it comes to children and future generations. 

“We think there’s a pretty big mission there, and we have a lot of work to do to fulfill it.”

When asked how he would measure success in pre-university STEM outreach, Mr. Izzo and other summit participants agreed that very simply, the goal is to inspire more students into engineering careers. Due to the difficulty in tracking these numbers long term, however, he discussed how leveraging teacher involvement as a success marker is an ideal approach for its potential ripple effect.

“We do believe that if you can reach teachers and you can educate them about the engineering and technology, then you have a multiplier effect because they are not only going to reach the current class of students but perhaps several more classes as well,” Steve explained. “So we do look at teachers as a key target for educating them about the type of STEM resources that are available.”

Mr. Izzo also stated that volunteer recruitment for these programs is a key measurement of a program’s success that he observes, and ComSoc’s goal is to engage with local chapters and let them drive relevant activities to them and their region.

“That’s how you measure the enthusiasm, that’s how you measure the interest within the society, is how many of your members are volunteering for these types of activities, how many chapters are producing something within their local region throughout the year.”

When asked about what he considered to be positive outcomes from ComSoc’s engagement with TryEngineering, Mr. Izzo emphasized how valuable it can be for a society to leverage what TryEngineering has to offer in terms of both content and outreach. 

“[The technical societies] are the experts in the content, but I think TryEngineering knows a lot more about reach and distribution than we do and could ever hope to learn,” Izzo stated. “I’m hoping that’s the foundation of our partnership going forward.”

When wrapping up the panel, Izzo’s last words of encouragement were to not be afraid to jump in with TryEngineering and model what other societies have done as a launch pad. 

“You just have to get started somewhere.”

Mr. Izzo retired from Nokia Bell Labs in 2019 after a long career with expertise in product management, software engineering and management consulting. He joined the ComSoc Educational Services Board in 2022 specially to work on Pre-University STEM education, where he and the ComSoc team have prioritized many STEM outreach initiatives. In addition to the local program funding he mentioned in his summit interview, ComSoc also provided $1,500 to be awarded to pre-university grant programs with a communications engineering focus in 2023. Two programs were awarded with this funding ($1,000 and $500 each). Additionally, Izzo is leading the development of ComSoc related TryEngineering content including lesson plans, hands-on activities, webinars, and the new TryEngineering Communications Engineering Webpage. This thematic page hosts all the telecommunications related resources across the TryEngineering site. This resource will provide quick access to all of the teacher peer-reviewed TryEngineering telecommunications-themed lesson plans. The page will also feature links to curated lessons from other 3rd-party STEM educator supporters, along with links to other TryEngineering telecommunications-themed articles and resources, all located in one convenient webpage. Izzo hopes that this work being done by his society will inspire other societies and volunteers to follow in their own pursuit of pre-university STEM outreach.