In the Beginning
The Student Professional Awareness Conference (SPAC) Program came to light as a result of mavericks who persevered in a mission on behalf of student career needs. It was developed for students who aspired to make engineering a life-long career in a period when engineering was changing drastically and employment environments deviated from professionalism.
The idea for SPACs was initiated at an IEEE Regional Activities Board (RAB) (now MGA), Student Activities Committee (SAC) Meeting in 1976. Student member S. J. Malysko asked a simple question, “What is IEEE doing for students in its new Professional Activities Program (PAP)?” The answer was, “Not very much.”
As an industrial representative of SAC, Larry Dwon proposed that a sub-committee be established to develop an effective student activity within IEEE PAP. A sub-committee of Larry Dwon, B. Prasad, S. J. Malysko, and E. Tichy was established with Larry as the chairman. Under Larry’s leadership, the SPAC Program was conceived and structured. The foundation for SPACs was Larry’s long experience with pre-college engineering guidance programs within IEEE, the Engineers Council for Professional Development, and activities associated with Age Discrimination and Engineering Education and Accreditation.
As an experienced maverick, Larry’s foresight and deliberate perseverance made it possible to establish a non-technical program for students in an organization that is primarily focused on technical issues. Thousands of students and practicing professionals have greatly enhanced their careers by participating in these programs.
The results of this sub-committee was a proposal to the IEEE United States Activities Board (now IEEE-USA) for their approval to provide a new student program.
While the idea for SPACs was initiated at a SAC Meeting in 1976, the program was launched under what is now IEEE-USA. The first sanctioned SPACs were held in 1979. By 1985 the success of SPACs required committee oversite and planning, and as such, the Student Professional Awareness Committee was formed under IEEE-USA covering Regions 1 to 6. As the program grew, the SAC recognized an opportunity to expand the program to Regions 7 to 10, and formed the Student Professional Awareness Subcommittee (SPAA) within SAC in the mid-to-late 1980’s. The two programs (SPAC and SPAA) were managed with essentially the same objectives of Student Member engagement, with differences mainly in the funding model and the speaker management. To assure a strong coupling of SPAC and SPAA, the IEEE-USA SPAC Chair was a voting member of SAC and the MGA SAC SPAA Chair was a voting member of IEEE-USA SPAC. During this time, the Student Professional Awareness program offered three types of events: (1) Student Professional Awareness Conferences (SPAC), (2) Student Professional Awareness Ventures (SPave), and only for a few years (3) Student Professional Awareness Workshops (SPAW).
In 2016 came another pivot, with the realization that IEEE Student Members could create their own experiences beyond the structured SPAC, SPAVe, and SPAW events. The program was rebranded to SPAx with the “x” in SPAx as a variable. The “x” could be a conference with an invited speaker, a series of activities focused on honing career skills, a social event to foster networking and team building skills, a design contest, a tech talk, or any other format. The IEEE Student Member decides on what works for their student branch, and IEEE provides the support to implement their ideas. The Student members create their own SPAx events, and the experience is theirs to decide, as long as the event focused on professional awareness and career development or broad technical topics.
In 2019 IEEE-USA made a decision to sunset their financial and administrative support of the SPAx Committee and its programs. In 2020, the MGA SAC absorbed the SPAx program to be managed by an expanded SPAA (now SPAx) Subcommittee.
In the 40+ years (1979-2020) of this program, thousands of Student Professional Awareness events have been hosted for tens of thousands of students at multiple hundreds of different Colleges and Universities worldwide.
As hundreds of student branches hold SPAx events each year, won’t you join them and organize one for your branch? Talk to your SPAx Regional Coordinator, RSAC or RSR for advice.