Rising Above the Storm
By Basil Hassan|May 2022
Back in January 2020, I left AIAA SciTech Forum in Orlando, Florida, thinking that my next in-person AIAA meeting would be as your president. As it turned out, I did not attend an in-person AIAA event or meeting until two years later, when AIAA SciTech Forum convened in San Diego, California, this past January. What a difference the pandemic made. When I started my term in May 2020 the future held a lot of uncertainty for all of us. The last two years have been a challenge to say the least, but I am certainly encouraged by the future.
Dealing with the uncertainty of the pandemic required us to be both agile in our decision making and also plan for multiple scenarios. Luckily, due to the foresight of prior AIAA Boards of Trustees, the Institute has an investment portfolio where reserves are kept for such a “rainy day.” This allowed us to continue to support our operations and provide products to our members and customers. The current AIAA Board of Trustees worked closely with our Executive Director Dan Dumbacher and the rest of the AIAA staff to make sure we made timely decisions that were in the best interest of the Institute, and we also used this opportunity to think about investing for our future.
Starting with the 2020 AIAA AVIATION Forum, we went fully virtual. This mode of virtual events continued for the next year and a half, until we held the first hybrid event, ASCEND, in November 2021. These decisions not only allowed us to continue our all-important information exchange typically enjoyed through in-person events, they also allowed us to connect virtually with those who might not have had the opportunity to travel. The virtual tools allowed us to create a whole new set of online products, including seminars, short courses, and career fairs that have been well received by both members and new customers to AIAA.
One of my goals as president two years ago was to increase AIAA membership and engagement with the broader aerospace community. While we did not see marked growth in professional members during the pandemic, we are seeing increases in student participation, even though much of their engagement has been virtual. Spring 2022 brought the return of the in-person Design/Build/Fly competition and hybrid AIAA Regional Student Conferences. I will take the increased student engagement as a win!
Secondly, I wanted to ensure that AIAA’s many products and services remain relevant to the aerospace community. I am especially proud of our volunteer leaders and AIAA staff quickly pivoting to the virtual environment. While we saw some variations in attendance numbers, we kept people engaged. We also held our annual recognition events in a virtual environment to ensure we honored excellence in the aerospace community. In many cases, we saw increased participation. In the end, we could have hunkered down and just waited to weather the storm, but I believe that virtual meeting capabilities are here to stay, and they will nicely complement our more traditional in-person events. And our new AIAA Domain approach, focused on Aeronautics, Aerospace R&D, and Space, will guide all of our products to ensure we provide maximum benefit to each of our customers.
Finally, you had my personal commitment to invest in our future and make AIAA a place where students and young professionals would find a home. During my tenure as President, I personally spoke to over 20 AIAA Student Branches and reached out to several hundred students sharing how AIAA could help enable their professional careers. If traveling was my only option, I would only have been able to reach a fraction of these future leaders. Through programs like AIAA Mentor Match and Diversity Scholars, I was able to impart my knowledge and experience directly to dozens of students and young professional mentees, to inspire them about this prospective career path and guide their future as our next leaders. These experiences were some of the most rewarding of my career.
In closing, I believe that AIAA’s future is bright. Through a lot of hard work, we are coming out stronger on the other side. In the last two years, we have seen resilience in our aerospace community as we have seen the expansion of UAVs in the airspace and commercial companies transporting private citizens to space. I am excited for our future! I am also thrilled to work with my longtime friend and colleague, Laura McGill, who will lead us over the next two years as AIAA President. I know that she and the current Board of Trustees are committed to continuing the investment in our future and ensuring that AIAA will continue to be the place of aerospace excellence moving forward. While the path the last two years was certainly not what I envisioned, I appreciate the feedback, dedication, and support from all of you as we continue on this journey. You have my commitment to continue to be there every step of the way as we rise above the current storm.