NED Chicago Convention proves Practice makes Perfect
Looking at the middle-aged and aged attendees of the Chicago NED Convention 2010 beaming with energy, squeezing hands of their old classmates, bursting out in laughter while repeating old in-jokes to each other, I wondered what drives these people to the yearly program. It got to be the NED experience. For better or for worse the NED University of Engineering and Technology, Karachi, in any given discipline, did not, and still does not, give any real choice in taking courses. Almost all the students of a particular discipline take the same classes, throughout the four years (or did throughout six or seven years, in past). When people spend so much time together, special bonds develop between them. Outside of their very close family members these people hardly have such an experience of continuously being with one group of people. This strong bond among the alumni of the NED University must be the force that pulls them to the annual NED convention, a yearly gathering of NED University alumni of North America and beyond, that started in 2005 in Houston.
This year’s NED convention was the well-organized event of the few conventions this scribe has attended. NED Convention 2010 was held at Westin O’Hare in Rosemont (Greater Chicago Area). The main program was on Saturday, July 31, but the festivities started early, with a gathering Friday night—acclaimed humorist poet Hashmat Sohail read his poetry; the convention ended with a farewell breakfast on Sunday.
During the day program on Saturday, the business part of the convention was comprised of two ‘technical forums.’ NED University demographics have changed in recent years—in many disciplines female to male proportion currently stands at 1:1, and sometimes even better—but yesteryears’ gender role assignments showed in the Convention 2010 day program. Panels in the technical forums were made up of, and were moderated by men; the attendees were mostly men.
The first discussion, on ‘Success in Professional Life’, featured Abul Islam, founder and president of AI Engineers, Inc.; Dr. Farhat H. Siddiqi, president of Geo-Environmental, Inc.; and Mahmood Akhter, Senior Vice President, Environmental Systems Design, Inc. The general consensus among the panelists appeared to be that in order to be successful one should do what one really wants to do.
The second forum that quickly followed the first one was on ‘Pioneering Technology and Leadership.’ Panelists included Rehan Jalil, president of WiChorus, a Tellabs Company; Safwan Shah, a popular student leader of his days—he recently retired from running Infonox, other big feather in his hat includes being the co-founder of Chowk dot com; and Dr. Waheed Uddin, professor of Civil Engineering, University of Mississippi. The panelists advised audience to take risks, and that if anyone wants to ever start a business then now—the perennial now--is the best time to do it.
Saturday night entertainment program of the convention attracted over 250 people—NED alumni, their family members, and members of the wider community. After some serious business—during which recently deceased NED teachers [Prof. Afaq Ahmad Sheikh, Prof. Mohammad Nauman, and Prof. Anwar Chaudhry] and an alumnus [Farooq Nadeem, killed in the Air Blue crash] were remembered and prominent NED alumni [Tanweer Mallick, Safwan Shah, Dr. Muzaffar Mahmood, Aftab Rizvi, Ashraf Habibullah] made speeches—the audience was entertained by musicians and singes: Alamgir, Naila Mughal, and sons of maestro Mehdi Hassan.
NED Convention 2010 was a well run program partly because Anis Paya, 2010 convention steering committee chairman, had attended the last three conventions (2007 convention in the Silicon Valley, 2008 program in Connecticut, and 2009 gathering in the Greater Los Angeles area), and had presumably brought back useful observations about what works and what does not work—but the main success of the program was because of the time and effort steering committee members—Afzaal Hafeez, Khawaja Nizamuddin, Rashid Ahmed, Khairulbashar Siddiqui, Mohammad Yousuf, Nafis Hyder, Tanweer Mallick, Imtiaz Rehman, and Haroon Sheikh--put in the execution.
It was announced that next year’s NED convention will be held in New York. Are there lessons New York event organizers can learn from the Chicago convention? Yes. Chicago convention’s not a very smart idea: Handing out blank ‘certificates of attendance’ to the audience and asking them to fill out their names on the certificates and keep them as souvenirs. What really worked: Arranging food at each table so that the chaos related to filling plates is avoided and only a handful of waiters run around in the hall.