The 2001 SAE Congress and Exposition marks the end of Rodica Baranescu's one-year term as Society of Automotive Engineers president. Baranescu, 61, was the first woman to serve as the head of the society. When she leaves office, Baranescu will resume her duties full time as chief engineer in the engine division of International Truck and Engine Co., in Melrose Park, Ill. Staff Reporter Gail Kachadourian spoke with Baranescu about her term as SAE president.
What worked well for SAE in 2000?
We had successes in our globalization plan. We went to China and decided upon future programs with the Chinese mobility community. We opened a student chapter in China and got students excited about being part of SAE collegiate activities. We opened an office in Hong Kong.
We have four groups in India. They are proceeding at high speed to become an affiliate of SAE in the year 2002. We have 2,000 full members in India today, and 1,300 students. It's the second-largest country with student chapters after the United States. This is very surprising and very exciting because the hands-on activities are not part of the culture in India. Nevertheless, the students are excited about the prospects of doing projects and participating in design competitions.
Many of the successes that happened this year were a result of growth in time. In Brazil, our affiliate had a great year. The congress was four times as large in attendance as usual and twice as large as targeted. Usually, they have 2,500 in the yearly conference. They had almost 10,000.
Did your role as SAE's first female president bring challenges?
On the contrary, it was a wonderful opportunity to show that even in a male-dominated society, a woman can get to the level where she is in power to lead the organization for one year.
There was a lot of excitement created around this topic, so I tried to use this excitement to stimulate more women and to talk with them and discuss their issues and encourage them to approach the engineering profession with enthusiasm and with courage.
I was so inspired in China, and in India, where I had almost 100 women coming from one university to meet with me. I honestly believe that I inspired many women, and I feel very good about that.
Where does SAE stand on leadership diversity?
We have more women in leadership roles and volunteer roles, and more underrepresented minorities than we did before. The whole society has only about 7 percent women.
However, we wanted to promote more visibility for women and to have more women on operating boards and committees, and we have three women on our board of directors now.
We had the same three women in 1999. Each member of the board serves three years. But we had some presidential appointments signed this year, and out of 37 presidential appointments, 20 were minorities and underrepresented minorities. We have women who are chairs of local sections.
Were you successful in bringing younger leadership to SAE?
When I say underrepresented, this also includes people younger than 37 years old.
We have young people who are chairing sections, for example, in Canada. Many new and incoming chairs of sections, in general, are young people. We've made inroads. We have to continue working. Diversity will be a goal of the next president. Right now, probably more than one-third of the appointed people this year are younger members, African American, women, underrepresented minorities.
How is the A World in Motion grade school mentoring program progressing?
This program has been there for 11 years now. I encouraged companies to support it by allowing people to participate if they wanted to help the teachers in the program. I got commitments from many companies. The development and the growth of this program is not really easy to achieve because it's a complex system of influencing curriculums of schools and at same time being able to manage the engineers' available time with the school program. Nevertheless, we have touched over 1.5 million in schools since the beginning of the program.
This year, we were able to have World in Motion kits translated into French. The program is very well supported in Ottawa and in Canada. So now, we expect that with the translation, the program will maybe penetrate even better in Quebec, in the French-speaking part of Canada.
Will it be translated into other languages?
Right now, no. There is some interest in Germany to experiment with this program. There is interest from Romanian schools, but it's too early.
What were some of the frustrations you experienced during your presidency?
We had some of our exhibitors for the Congress withdraw from the exhibits, which certainly is something that we didn't want to happen. We're going to try to find ways to solve this in the future, and there are activities in progress to do that. It's not an illustration of lesser attention to SAE, but it was their cost-cutting measures.
On the other hand, we had a long waiting list for the exhibits, and the availability of some space allowed us to bring in more smaller suppliers. By numbers, we have more suppliers this year than we had last year.
Was the exit of so many Tier 1s from the World Congress a surprise?
At the time it came, it was a surprise. But in retrospect, they illustrated changes in the industry.
Will the Congress focus more on smaller suppliers?
We need to provide space for smaller suppliers, smaller companies that are very innovative and growing, so providing space for such companies that would like to exhibit should be part of our efforts. To the extent possible, we would accommodate big suppliers as well as small suppliers.
Were your efforts to increase attendance at the Off-Highway and Powerplant Congress successful?
This year we had a plan, and we worked hard to implement this plan. We didn't see the results, (but) we expected that the revival of this activity would not happen in the first year. It will take several years.
We plan to co-locate the conference and find associations with other off-highway activities. This will not happen until probably the year 2003.
For example, partnering with farm equipment trade association conventions - combining with their exhibits that are usually large and very well-attended.
Will SAE headquarters be moved to Detroit?
I don't think there is a need for that. We serve the mobility community worldwide. Where we are is less important in these days of electronic communication, but operating lean and efficient is very important. I think the Pittsburgh operation provided us with a very lean and efficient and expert staff. We may have to develop centers or offices worldwide.
Where would you open these offices?
We have an office in Russia now. Probably, the next one will be in India, with our opening of our affiliate in India in 2002.
Has SAE improved in disseminating information?
We have to provide members with customized information to their needs. We have made this a strategic direction of the board of directors.
We have knowledge products - some existing, some under development. One of the important knowledge products is a personalized Web site, where every engineer member can log on and have a Web site tailored to his or her interests. This personalized Web site was ready and started testingin September 2000, and it's functional now.
We have electronic committees, especially in standards, where people can meet over the Web site from all the corners of the world and work on standards for typical applications. Several such committees happened in 2000 and will continue in the future.
The Service Technicians Society has a magazine this year. At the same time, we have a Portuguese magazine for the Brazilian society (an affiliate of SAE). The first issue appeared in the fall. We have also implemented a plan to have a Russian magazine for our Russian members that will be translated into Russian.