We have all heard the saying, “Children are our future; invest well in them.” The same is true for the IEEE LEOS family where empowering LEOS student members will ensure the vitality and growth of our society. As Vice President (V.P.) for LEOS-Memberships for the Americas region, I will now describe how LEOS student members continue to play an increasing role in developing our society.

First an over-view of the LEOS memberships’ organization is needed. The IEEE LEOS membership is divided into three worldwide regions with around 8000 members representing the Americas, Europe and Asia/Pacific Rim with the Americas region having a majority 57% of total LEOS membership. Each region membership affairs are addressed by the designated V.P. who reports regional activities bi-yearly to the LEOS Board of Directors and LEOS management. In my case, I report on activities from Latin America, USA, and Canada. The American region 4560 members strong currently support 33 Chapters that includes 30 Chapters spread across the USA and three Canadian Chapters. At present, no LEOS Chapter exists in the Latin America, although LEOS membership in this region stands at 80 members. As this article goes to press, steps are already underway by the Brazil members to launch in 2005 the first-ever LEOS Chapter in Latin America.

LEOS allows membership at both regular ranks and membership fee subsidized student levels. Before 1996, LEOS student members had no formal way to engage the IEEE LEOS community and leadership to benefit LEOS activities. To revitalize Chapter activities, in 1996 the Orlando LEOS Chapter initiated the formation of the first LEOS Student Chapter based solely on LEOS student members. My experience as the Chair of the Orlando Chapter indeed consolidated by belief that student members form a motivated and energetic pool of volunteers to elevate and grow regular LEOS Chapter activities in a given local area. Under the formal and internationally recognized and respected IEEE banner, a LEOS Student Chapter typically based at one college or university center with optics and photonics related education and research activities becomes a magnet for LEOS growth through student ranks. It is well known that peers listen to each other; hence LEOS student members attract new student members and thus Chapter activities are sustained. A prime example at the University of Central Florida (UCF) was the LEOS Student Chapter Laser Scanner and Display project that attracted new teams of student members over four years to continue and update the laser project for the entire university community including the media and arts department. Thus fresh and diverse blood in the student ranks continues to instill the Chapter and eventually after five years typical of graduate school, these student members join the ranks of regular LEOS members. Already trained in the LEOS family and most importantly, motivated to serve as LEOS national level volunteers, LEOS insures growth and vitality through the efforts of its younger members. A most recent example of this LEOS growth strategy is the formation of the LEOS Thailand Chapter in 2002, initiated by Dr. Sarun Sumriddetchkajorn who was an active LEOS Student member and 1998-1999 President of the UCF LEOS Student Chapter.

A typical Student Chapter has a minimum of 12 members with three Chapter officers that report activities both to the local region Chapter Chair who acts as advisor and to the LEOS Corporate office in New Jersey (N.J.). Each year, the Student Chapter is eligible for funds that it can request from the Corporate office and local Chapter. Typical support from $ 500 to $ 1500 is available for activities such as student experimental projects, group travel to local optics businesses and educational centers, travel expense subsidies for internationally recognized speakers in the optical field, and expenses for grade K through 12 school activities to encourage optics awareness in local community. Student members engaged in Student Chapter activities also benefit from enhanced visibility when competing for both LEOS conference travel grants and the prestigious LEOS Graduate Student Fellowship Awards. Typical conference travel support ranges from $500 and $2500 while the LEOS Student Fellowship awards carry a $7500 value ($5000 Fellowship plus up to $2500 travel grant). To access the level of competition for the year 2004, 12 scholarships were awarded out of a pool of 28 student applicants covering the three LEOS regions of the globe. On the travel grant side, a total of $23,300 were allocated amongst 17 students for presenting papers at the four key LEOS conferences, namely, LEOS Annual, CLEO, OFC, and ECOC.

Today LEOS student membership count stands at a healthy 688 with only two Americas Student Chapters, i.e., one at UCF and the other at University of California-San Diego. It is indeed clear that many more Student Chapters can be formed with this membership base, bringing immediate impact and growth of LEOS activities for all LEOS members in a given region. A point to note is that these Student Chapters grew out of universities with active optics programs. With numerous local LEOS Chapters near universities with optics activities, there exists a strong opportunity to engage local students to develop new Student Chapters and expand LEOS activities. The procedures to start a Student Chapter are available on the LEOS web site (www.i-leos.org); alternately, Ms. Gail Walters (Senior Administrator at LEOS N.J.; email: g.walters@ieee.org) or I can be contacted to assist the new volunteer student members.

I hope that I have sufficiently enlightened our present LEOS membership base with the possibilities for additional LEOS growth by empowering student members. I encourage all LEOS members, particularly student members to engage their local Chapter Chairs (click under “Chapters Listing” on the link http://www.i-leos.org) and university-based LEOS members to get the ball rolling in new Student Chapter formation. Today, LEOS with its near 8000 members puts it 13th in membership strength of all 37 IEEE Societies. For LEOS to have a stronger long-term say within the IEEE organization, LEOS needs to tap growth through its empowered student members who indeed have perhaps the biggest stake in LEOS for enhancing their careers and intellectual sustenance.

Nabeel A. Riza, Senior Member IEEE, V.P. LEOS Memberships-Americas
Professor & Head, Photonic Information Processing Systems (PIPS) Laboratory