6:00 o clock on a Wednesday morning in Athens Airport. I was so excited to fly to Porto in order to share my experiences and knowledge with IEEE Students and Young Professionals from all over Region 8. You see, this year, the funded participants of IEEE Region 8 Students and Young Professional Congress (SYP 2018) were carefully selected in order for the most active members to participate.
I was anxious to share my experience on motivating my students to learn by participating in the creation of innovative products like Souvleap or PMTL. I was anxious to share my knowledge on IEEE Educational Activities’ Programs and the joy of helping students all over the world learn, through inquiry based learning and at the same time add the humanitarian aspects in the learning process and help the local community. Moreover Region 8 Educational Activities Subcommittee was a sponsor of the congress and I was sure I will have a lot of things to share.
I knew that old beloved friends would be there and we would catch up by drinking superb wine in the social events and that made me wishing teleportation has been invented. I could not wait telling them about the News Portal I am administrating “IEEE Region 8 Today” that I hope will share the wonderful things happening in our Region and Globally.
After having participated in many conferences, but also having served in the organization of some of the biggest international conferences held in Greece, with up to 1200 participants (EFA, BIBE, EUSIPCO, Voxxed Days and more) I knew that I’d be strict on reviewing the congress. Βut that would be just in order to help SAC and YPs to improve the next events, since the details l am focusing on, in this article, were not capable to reduce the fun and excitement the participants had. And this is more than ok since the goal of the congress, according to Eythimia Arvanity, the chair of Students Activities Committee is:
“The main goals of a Regional SYP Congress is to bring students and young professionals together in a biannual event, during which they will receive soft-skills and technical trainings, performed by experts from various fields of industry, IEEE functions and other Initiatives. This 5-days-long event serves as a perfect environment for everyone to exchange ideas and experiences, share valuable advice and enjoy the multicultural spirit. Apart from workshops, plenary sessions and company visits, it is vital for all participants to interact and bond during the networking events, which usually have a local and fancy taste. As a takeaway, the attendees have lots of memories with new and old friends, as well as all the tools and motivation needed for their sectional events to grow exponentially and for them to transfer the knowledge locally.”
Porto is such a wonderful city, combining the organization of northern Europe and the hospitality and humane attitude of southern Europe and the Portuguese people are so open hearted and kind that it is very difficult not to like. It is a dream city to be in. I reached my hotel, absorbing the wonderful scenery around me on the way. Arriving at the hotel I was pleased to find a volunteer checking that I arrived and guiding me on how to reach to the venue.
I got ready as fast as I could and walked in a fast pace to the venue in order to register. I wish there were more signs because I got a bit lost in this wonderful building. Even if it seems stupid, signage is very important for having a relaxed experience in a conference. I went to the registration desk and the situation was a bit awkward. I couldn’t figure out if the badges or the participation list were not alphabetically ordered, but volunteers were searching a lot in order to find a badge and check someone in. They also seemed not very well trained, as they were trying to improvise regarding the information they were giving. Depending on who you were asking you were getting different information, but rarely the complete set. The GDPR consent form was not given to everyone so that many participants didn’t sign it. For example me and many colleagues were never given the form to sign. The above mentioned led to time delays which built a queue even though only a few people were checking in. In the end my badge could not be found and I was given one without my name on it, but thankfully I was so excited chatting with old friends that the time passed by like a blink of an eye. However, the next day I was happy to be given my official badge of the congress.
The Welcome Ceremony was well organized. Current Director, Past Director and Director-Elect shared their views on the Communication Strategy, the Events of Region 8 and the Strategy for the next two years. Hey! Our News Portal was announced too by projecting our promotional video! I wish the music was louder though. We, then, boarded to the buses in order to go and have a cocktail near the shores of Douro River during the sunset. A very very promising social event that didn’t got that well, because the fog had other plans for that night. We couldn’t see the sunset and at some point I was freezing being soaking wet by the fog. I know that the budget in such congresses is limited, but by my experience, we always have a plan B when organizing open air events, even in Greece during the summer.
The next day was a typical SYP congress day. Plenary sessions, keynote speeches, people going back and forth, coffee breaks with a lot of selfies and networking. The highlights were, President and CEO of IEEE Jim Jefferies’ speech “The fuel of IEEE”, President-Elect Jose Moura’s presentation of his plan for the future and the presentations of the committees. An other disturbing incidence was the 3 hour delay of the delivery of the booth materials (desks, chairs etc) from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. The volunteers showed up at 8:30 a.m. The desks arrived at 11:00 a.m. and I have to admit that the volunteers were extremely helpful in preparing the booth quickly. Also, the area was unsupervised so I couldn’t attend any speech this day or even the lunch because I had to keep an eye on my stuff. This was a bit disappointing, but again my friends saved the day, by supervising my staff and letting me go grab something to eat from a restaurant near my hotel.
I was also informed that the lunch took place in the University’s canteen at the same time that visiting students were having lunch which means that 2 serving points had to serve about 500 people and the signage was only in Portuguese. This, just like in Regensburg, couldn’t have gone well, since the average people a serving point can handle in order to serve on time is about 50. That’s why the program was delayed for about 1.5 hour. And the disappointing fact was that one of the most interesting functions in such a congress, the Career Fair, was skipped and canceled.
But still Porto has its own magic that cannot let you be disappointed. The Gala Dinner at the most beautiful palace, Palácio da Bolsa, took everyone’s minds away. Extremely elegant place, with fine wine, gourmet appetizers and nice food, along with chatting with old and new friends made all worries disappear. Just a little tip for next time, do not use amplifier and speakers in the patio of a palace!
The next days the program was far better organized, with some minor technical issues that didn’t have a chance to spoil the great atmosphere 280 participants from 55 countries were making. The highlights were the visit to the companies, which is one of the most interesting functions of a SYP congress, the debate of the two Region 8 Director-Elect candidates, the Speed Talks and the keynote speeches. The Speed Talks, in particular, was an excellent idea that demonstrated the potential students and young professionals have and motivated all participants to show up their creative and joyful self. Τhe signage in the canteen was also in English and there was an email explaining the procedure and what is paid and what is not. The participants went for lunch different time periods due to their visit to the companies and there were no visitor students in our way.
There was a bit of waiting time for the Portuguese dinner and the group photo, but the energy and fun of the participants could not let them lose their enthusiasm. Led by Greek and Tunisian participants, everyone was dancing and having fun. The dinner, was nice and it included plates for all tastes. The duck giblets was a surprise which I enjoyed much. Even if it is not a mainstream dish for such a congress, the platter got empty in no time. The wine was, of course, fine and the Red Moon helped us enjoy Portuguese music, which was a bit melancholic by the way.
There are no much things someone could say about the Multicultural Night, except “by any means, try to experience it”! It is so refreshing to understand how similar we humans from all cultures are. That we all share the same worries and expectations. That we have so many wonderful differences that make life interesting.
Next morning I left Porto full of experiences, with a lot of new friends, with huge motivation to keep trying to advance technology for the benefit of humanity, feeling full and happy. I had completely forgotten all the flaws in organization and instead I felt ready to help in organizing such a congress in order to let more members experience it.
Back in the office I am trying to sort out what some people, whose opinion has a great value for me, said regarding the SYP 2018 congress and I thank them a lot for kindly sharing it with me.They kindly answered my questions on what they think about the social events, what they think about the program and the participation and what comment they want to add.
Director-Elect Magdalena Shalazar Palma said that she was not able to attend all presentations because she needed to attend the R8 Nominations & Appointments Committee meeting, however she enjoyed all those that she attended. In her opinion “the program was well balanced and covered all topics of interest for YP and Students. She thinks that Social Events were excellent” but also that “we missed people (YP and/or Students) from some sections, also the number coming from others was quite reduced. It will be good to try to figure out what can be done to ensure representation from all sections.”
Past-Director Costas Stasopoulos said that “the standard was high and the topics were from different disciplines and genres so the interest was kept at a very satisfactory level getting praise from the attendees. He only attended few of them as he was a workshop presenter and had other obligations as well. Regarding the social events he thinks that “they were amazing and the organizers did a great job both in organizing and in venue selection. The only thing they could not control was the sun. Actually there were two events that stood out and will be remembered for a long time from the congress – The Gala dinner which took place in an amazing palace and the Multicultural event that brought together different cultures and people and energy from around the world!”
He also notes that, “it was a Great event, getting people and ideas together and a great springboard for the future. Somehow all this energy and momentum needs to be geared towards more events and actions in the near future.”
I couldn’t agree more with Eythimia Arvanity chair of Student Activities Committee that “The goals were successfully met in Porto, as the feedback given from different participants was very positive. The final outcome for the success of the Congress can be given on a later stage, where we expect to see activities blooming locally in student branches, chapters and YP affinity groups, as confirmed by previous Congresses so far. “
Regarding participation she says that “This year our goal was to deliver a high-quality congress, where participants would attend the majority, if not all, of the sessions. The program was designed in a way to keep participants interested and engaged throughout the whole congress. Thus, we were aiming for quality towards quantity of participants, this is why the best were selected to attend with funding by the Region and support by their Sections. As with every congress, there are a few no-shows and last-minute cancellations due to Visa restrictions and other emergencies, but nothing unexpected or surprising in terms of numbers.”
She thanks both organizers and participants by noting down that “this event might look like an easy task, but it definitely requires a lot of dedication, teamwork, motivation and time. It is a great learning and bonding experience for both organizers and participants. It is work done with great passion and certainly worth applying and preparing a proposal for hosting a future edition.”
Sara Barros, Young Professional Subcommittee Chair shared with us: “It always amazes me how a group of young volunteers, often with little to no experience in the organization of such events, can pull off such an extraordinary experience for everyone involved. They close their eyes and jump in two years of hard work fully committed, going through hell and back together, coming out as strong as ever. We’re extremely proud of their perseverance and never-dying positive attitude.”
This was a big article indeed. But, since you’ve reached the end I’d like you to take a look at the following picture.
This is the Glory of the SYP Congress and no performance or review can reduce the extreme value of this.
Good Job, everyone.