(IEEE SM 2005, IEEE Fellow 2015) Ajay Kumar Poddar graduated in Electronics & Communication Engineering from NIT-C (National Institute of Technology Calicut), India; M. Tech (Master of Technology) from IIT-D (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi) India; Doctorate (Dr.-Ing.) from TUB (Technical University Berlin), Germany; Post Doctorate (Dr.-Ing. habil) from BTU (Brandenburg Technical University) Cottbus, Germany. He has received over dozen awards for scientific and technological innovations and meritorious services; holds over two dozen patents in his credit for scientific inventions, published over 250 scientific papers in journals and international conferences, and co-authored 3 technical books. From 1991-2001 he has worked as Senior Scientist in DRDO (Defense research & Development Organization) in India. From 2001, he has been working as a Chief Scientist at Synergy Microwave Corp, New Jersey, USA; responsible for design and development of signal generation and signal processing electronics for industry, medical and space applications. He is also serving as a visiting professor in Oradea University in Romania, Technical University Munich in Germany, and Indian Institute of Technology Jammu in India. In addition to technical and academic contributions, he has been involved in helping the underprivileged and underserved community for more than 20 years.
This year, Dr. Poddar has served as the IEEE SIGHT Strategic Partnerships Chair.
Celia Shahnaz, the IEEE SIGHT 2019 Communications Chair, interviewed Ajay.
- What inspired you to join IEEE SIGHT? Was it a suggestion from a friend or any inspiration from a professor? When did you first join?
AKP: IEEE’s tagline, “Advancing Technology for Humanity,” stimulates us to proceed in a direction to invent the technology and apply those to decipher basic needs found in the underserved regions of the world. IEEE is a truly global professional society; from the BoD (Board of Directors) to the structural units functioning at the different levels (Technical Societies, Sections, Councils, Chapters, Affinity Groups, and the Corporate Activities) with the intended goal is to leverage engineering expertise and know-how towards promoting to global development. Past history has revealed that technology improves the standards of livings, progresses the quality of life, and stimulates coordination and agreement. But advancing technology also has the possibility to destroy our Planet Earth if not used appropriately. In my opinion, IEEE SIGHT is a road map that enables volunteering forces to work together to arrive at a sustainable approach for advancing technology to make our planet a better place to live in for all of us. And, I am very fortunate to be a volunteer of IEEE SIGHT.
My story of joining IEEE SIGHT begins in the year 2014. Dr. Peter Staecker (2013 IEEE President) telephoned me on Oct 12, 2014, discussed briefly about IEEE SIGHT, and requested me if I could organize SIGHT events in conjunction with IEEE MTT-S Chapter Chairs meeting planned at IMaRC (International Microwave Conference) in Bangalore, Dec 15-17, 2014. I was assigned by MTT-S MGA for organizing IEEE MTT-S Chapter Chairs meeting at 2014 IMaRC (International Microwave Conference) in Bangalore. Dr. Staecker’s intention was engagement and networking of volunteers from MTT (Microwave Theory and Techniques) and AP (Antenna and Propagation) Society Chapters and IEEE SIGHT Groups in India. Over the years, I have been enthusiastically engaged in several humanitarian-based initiatives, and took this as an opportunity to be a part of the SIGHT event at 2014 IMaRC. The joint SIGHT-Chapter’s meeting was very successful; led to collaboration with MTT and AP Society. The quest of inspiring student members, YP (Young Professional) and WiE (Woman in Engineering), and service to the disadvantaged gained momentum towards the formation of SIGHT committee at Society level so that humanitarian projects receive the operating budget for carrying out SIGHT projects and SIGHT events in conferences and local sections level. Dr. Tim Lee (2015 MTT-S President), Dr. Tapan Sarkar (2014 AP-S President) and I have worked together for the formation of MTT-S SIGHT and AP-S SIGHT committee with approved operating budget from the MTT AdCom and AP AdCom.
I found real joy in getting connected to SIGHT groups worldwide, helping with the formation of several SIGHT Groups co-sponsored by MTT and AP Society, linked to local IEEE Sections. I have served as a Chair of AP-S SIGHT from 2015 to 2017 and Vice-Chair MTT-S SIGHT 2015-2017. During the formation of MTT-S SIGHT and AP-S SIGHT, I came in the contact with Mr. Kartik Kulkarni; the first Chair of IEEE SIGHT. I was resonating with his idea and the proactive approach towards helping underprivileged community and creating hope for the underserved individuals of the world. I was honored to be invited by Mr. Kulkarni for serving in his 2016 SIGHT Steering Committee. This role has given me a chance to encounter many SIGHT volunteers. I have experienced and realized the empowerment of volunteerism, we are not perfect and have flaws, but each have our positive attributes that together can make a difference by contributing towards Advancing Technology for Humanity. I came into the contact with Mr. Sampathkumar Veeraraghavan, who was also serving in 2016 SIGHT Steering Committee. Mr. Veeraraghavan and I met several times in the past during IEEE BoD meeting series in Piscataway, NJ. I have learnt that my thought process is very much aligned with Mr. Veeraraghavan. We shared similar values, and would discuss at length how to make a difference in society with limited resources. I want to thank Mr. Veeraraghavan, for inviting me to join IEEE SIGHT Ad-hoc Strategic Partnerships Committee in 2019, which I have enjoyed working to the fullest.
- What motivated you to volunteer for IEEE SIGHT? Could you also please talk about about how being an IEEE SIGHT member supplements your professional development?
AKP: During my initial career as a Scientist in DRDO, India from 1991-2001; I was very lucky and fortunate to work for honorable President of India Dr. Abdul Kalam, who was not only a great scientist, but a mentor, reformer, and a noble person. Under his leadership in the role of Director of DRDO and Scientific Advisor to Indian Government, Indian scientists developed many successful projects in a limited budget and in the record time. In addition to Defense Projects, Dr. Kalam was involved in many humanitarian technology projects, made untiring efforts to engage, collaborate, and establish partnership with industries, research establishments and academic institutions for affordable solutions. Dr. Kalam passed away on July 27, 2015 but his guidance will remain in my conscious forever.
The second important person who shaped my future is my honorable teacher “Prof. (Ms.) Bharathi Bhat”, now retired from IIT-Delhi, India. She was different, actively involved in mentoring the young generations; her teaching helped many graduate students to gain deeper insights about life cycle and understand the environmental and humanitarian issues. During my Graduate Engineering Program in IIT Delhi, she has motivated me to focus on affordable Engineering technology that can expand the quality of life of deprived people worldwide.
While IEEE’s tagline, “Advancing Technology for Humanity,” should establish it resolutions, unfortunately there is substantial portion of population that does not have access to some of the basic stuff (clean water, electricity, internet, mobile phone, and others) that many of us take for granted. In my opinion, admission to these basic things to improve the quality of life is being considered as a “Human Right”. IEEE SIGHT platform inspired me to understand the global humanitarian challenges and ability to apply engineering capability to explore the low cost solution for improving the quality of life in the underserved regions of the world. It is important to note that volunteering for SIGHT complements my thirst for serving humanity. And, the gratification resulting from this volunteering service is inestimable, which otherwise was not possible from the regular job at my work place.
- What would your life have been like if you had not joined IEEE SIGHT?
AKP: I have been involved in humanitarian activities preceding the creation of IEEE SIGHT. Nevertheless, IEEE SIGHT offered me a global platform to transfigure know-how in to sustainable humanitarian projects. This is a fundamental differentiation as equated to any other initiatives that eventually augments my volunteering services to the professional society.
- What has been a memorable IEEE SIGHT moment of which you are proud?
AKP: There are many memorable moments encountered in last 5 years of organizing SIGHT activities, to name a few reported in IEEE magazine:
[i] Radio station Established for Blind Amateur Radio Enthusiasts
- A. Poddar, “IEEE SIGHT Events, AP-S Chapter Awards, and Recent Chapter Meetings,” IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine, vol. 58, no. 1, pp. 12-14, Feb. 2016. http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=7433512
[ii] IEEE SIGHT-IMaRC: 10–12 December, Hyderabad
- A. Poddar, “Engagement of AP-S Chapters for Humanitarian Project Initiatives, “IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine, vol. 58, no. 2, pp. 10-15, Apr. 2016. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=7450777
[iii] The IEEE SIGHT Initiative in India—IMaRC-Hyderabad, CODEC-Kolkata, and AEMC-Guwahati
- A. Poddar, “The IEEE SIGHT Initiative in India – IMaRC-Hyderabad, CODEC-Kolkata, and AEMC-Guwahati,” IEEE Microwave Magazine, pp. 92-96, June 2016 https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=7464992
[iv] IEEE SIGHT Initiative—Establishing a Ham Radio Station for Blind Amateur Radio Enthusiasts
- A. Poddar, “IEEE Sight Initiative – Establishing a Ham Radio Station for Blind Amateur Radio Enthusiasts,” IEEE Microwave Magazine, pp. 94-97, July 2016 https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=7484837
[v] SIGHT Events: Workshops, Radio Training and Amateur Radio, APMC and IMaRC, Dec 2016, New Delhi
- A. Poddar, “The 2017 AP-S Outstanding Chapter Award and SIGHT Events,” “IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine, pp. 10-15, Apr. 2017. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=7892070
SIGHT events co-sponsored by MTT and AP society aimed to provide the required impetus to humanitarian activities globally, attracted young professionals, students, and volunteers. The special call sign VU3MTT was assigned by the government of India for amateur radio training purposes at the APMC and IMaRC. I have conducted a three-day (Dec 4-6, 2016) training session on amateur radio, which attracted 218 undergraduate student attendees.
Notably, SIGHT is about interactions, engagement, networking and commitment for creating a volunteering service community for the special trade that teaches us to subsidize and aid underserved people. I am proud of my effort towards the formation of SIGHT Committee at Society level (MTT-S SIGHT and AP-S SIGHT) that offers funding to Chapters for SIGHT projects through IEEE local Sections. I have been serving as a Chair of the AP-S Chapter Activity Committee since 2014, and have reviewed more than 300 Chapter reports and 50 plus special projects in last 5 years. As a Chair of the committee, I supported funding to all the special projects that were related to humanitarian technology. This experience is incredible to me, nurtured a culture in MTT and AP society that now emphases on projects and action plans that have a perceptible impact in Student Members, YPs, WIE and the local IEEE volunteers and communities. It is worth mentioning that I have initiated the request for the donation of USD 100K from Prof. Ulrich L. Rohde to IEEE Foundation for establishing “IEEE ULRICH L. ROHDE HUMANITARIAN TECHNICAL FIELD PROJECTS AWARD”, USD 10,000 project award given annually from AP-S SIGHT.
- What is one thing IEEE SIGHT should consider doing?
AKP: In my opinion, IEEE SIGHT needs to focus in Region 1 to Region 6 on how we can deliver resolutions to local issues, for example: recent school shootings and drug abuse. School children are our future; IEEE SIGHT can initiate the mentorship program through IEEE local section, local community and School Teachers and representatives. Establishing strong partnerships with IEEE local Sections, increasing the intercommunication and networking between SIGHT Groups, School representatives and local government can provide long term solutions. Therefore, it is required to create cognizance and passion to help children; in my opinion SIGHT volunteer can be a valuable catalyst in achieving this goal.
- Additionally, attending underserved communities is a kind of deploying the prevailing technology to address the humanitarian challenges and civic concerns. One can explore low cost affordable existing technology solutions to improve the quality of life; however lack of mindfulness and monetary lucrativeness in these regions can slowdown the dissemination of the existing expertise and know-how. To overcome this, continuing education and training program for local community can be effective if organized jointly with IEEE Local sections, local NGOs, local community, and IEEE SIGHT Groups.
- What suggestions do you have for Young Professionals (YPs) considering involvement with SIGHT?
- AKP: Engaging YPs is a challenge, and it is truer today than earlier. They are raised to be technologically savvy, engaged in multi-tasking on life’s super technological road map, often come with an assertiveness of independence. If we captivate by appreciating their independence, and build our relationship by inspiring them, they will be motivated and become a contributor and volunteers. Exploring different opportunities to highlight humanitarian technology and evocative engagement prospects beyond just admission to IEEE technical resources may enable self-selection for YP to engage in humanitarian technology. SIGHT offers multi-disciplinary platform to YPs, a very gratifying experience that associates their talents and positions them for building sustainable humanitarian projects. And, what we need here is a good IEEE SIGHT Group leader who can share the vision with YP s build it with them and include them as part of it.
- What suggestions do you have for Women in Engineering (WIE) considering involvement with SIGHT?
AKP: I strongly encourage women to be involved in SIGHT. I am blessed with two daughters and they always help along with me in volunteering services (autism, earthquake relief activities). I do not think woman is weak in any respect; it is in our thinking process that makes one superior over other. Understanding the motivation and priorities of women engaged in engineering programs can influence recruitment in SIGHT. In my opinion, women members are emotional and sensitive to humanitarian challenges and community issues. We should make an effort towards harnessing their capability towards the application and deployment of technologies for the benefit of the underserved. For example, many children in country side’s villages in India are facing ongoing challenges of frightful sicknesses that are caused by mosquito bites such as Dengue, which led to large number of fatality. Due to lack of medical aid and other basic facility, their survival is constantly in endangerment because of reduced level of platelets. Women can understand the bitter pain of losing children because of lack of proper medical aid. WIE volunteers through collaboration with NGOs and local volunteers can educate the local communities, and deploy the affordable electronic mosquito net and water purifier operated by solar charged battery that can help save many lives. One can start in very simple terms if it comes to improving the quality of life of underprivileged.
- Are there any suggestions or message you would like to give to IEEE SIGHT relating to collaboration with IEEE’s technical societies?
AKP: I strongly recommend collaborating with more technical societies and their chapters at local section levels for a proactive engagement and long term solutions. IEEE technical societies are the fundamental to IEEE members; they spend most of their time in organizing technical conferences and paper publications. They formulate technology verticals and can be the paramount podium to initiate humanitarian technology based activities. The proactive involvement of NGO and industry can impart the necessary momentum to the SIGHT operation. My experience as Chair of several committees affiliated to IEEE Technical societies and other scientific committees, taught me to engage local members to thrive in future opportunities through grass-root participation.
- What is one last thought you would like to leave with our SIGHT members?
- Many IEEE Life fellows retired from work retain wealth of technical knowledge and enjoy free time. We should take this opportunity to engage IEEE Life Fellows in SIGHT activities through IEEE local section level which can provide sustainability and long term impact.
- High School Students require volunteer hours to meet graduation criteria and college admissions. Due to lack of interesting opportunities this criteria is often met only on paper. Local SIGHT volunteers can step in and offer students with volunteering opportunities for humanitarian activities as well as award the necessary volunteer hours. The students can have rewarding experience by engaging with IEEE local sections and have access to resources and feel empowered and motivated.
- IEEE SIGHT should collaborate and initiate partnership with UN (United Nations) to sustain and safeguard SIGHT’s objectives and goals. UN has budget for several billion USD for humanitarian projects for improving the life of unprivileged citizens and victims.
The online link shows the details of humanitarian projects supported by UN: http://www.un.org/en/sections/about-un/funds-programmes-specialized-agencies-and-others/