Honoring Dedicated Servitude: A Conversation with Ron Vetter, Richard E. Merwin Award Winner

IEEE Computer Society Team
Published 08/08/2023
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From submitting his first paper to flagship magazine, Computer, as a grad student in 1993, joining the editorial board and becoming EIC, IEEE Senior Member, Dr. Ron Vetter, has displayed an impeccable example of what it means to grow within the IEEE Computer Society. Working alongside fellow members, Vetter has been a part of our community for over 27 years, achieving career milestones and making lifelong connections along the way.

As a result of this dedication and commitment, he has received the 2023 Richard E. Merwin Award for “…exceptional contributions to the computing profession and sustained impactful service to the IEEE Computer Society.” The interview below shares his journey throughout the past years and his work within the community.


Thank you for being so actively involved within IEEE Computer Society for decades, from publishing your first paper, joining the Computer magazine editorial board, becoming EIC, and now receiving the Richard E. Merwin Award for Distinguished Service. What has been the most rewarding aspect of your service? How has your involvement influenced your research and teaching methodologies?

One of the most rewarding aspects of being involved with the IEEE Computer Society over the years are the people I’ve met. Some were academics, like myself, while others worked in business and industry. Many were from parts of the world I have never been to and others from places in the United States that I hadn’t spent much time in. It gave me a sense of the diversity of the computing field, and helped to broaden my perspective of the technology area.

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Can you tell us more about your research in mobile computing, computer and network security, digital forensics, and parallel and distributed systems? What was your favorite project in these areas?

My work in mobile computing has dealt mostly with early adoption of mobile devices in classroom settings (see, for example, my article from Computer, May 2005. This work was widely cited and won several national awards for innovation. My current research interest in digital forensics involves mobile and vehicle forensics. Mobile phones, and cars, contain a wealth of information that really isn’t well understood by the public at-large. For example, one of my graduate students built a dashboard for a logical extraction of cell phones that included things such as most contact interactions, how far the phone has traveled, a map of images and the locations they were taken (with date and time) and words most often used when communicating with others. When she presented her work to her peers (and parents) they were astonished at how much she was able to determine from the device in an automated way.


In your opinion, what are the key challenges and opportunities currently facing the field of mobile computing, security, and distributed systems? How do you envision the community should address these challenges and leveraging the opportunities in your future research?

As I stated earlier, I think the general public does not have a good understanding of things such as artificial intelligence, cell phone and vehicle forensics, and what is really stored “in the cloud”. Additionally, cybersecurity awareness is also lacking. We, as technologists, need to do a better job with informing and educating the public on these issues.

As a full professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, you have held various leadership and academic positions. Can you describe your experience as department chair, chief research officer, and dean of the graduate school? How have these roles shaped your understanding of the academic environment and your approach to research and education?

Yes, I have held numerous positions, including just recently being named as the Founding Dean of the College of Science and Engineering at UNCW, effective July 1, 2023. I’ve always enjoyed teaching students, but I also find administration as a way to help students as well. Being able to find resources for faculty, staff, and student research is very rewarding. I am able to have life changing experiences that would not always have been possible without having a strong advocate in one of the leadership roles that I have held.


Can you discuss your experiences while serving on the editorial board for Computer magazine? What challenges and opportunities did you encounter?

My experience on the Computer editorial board has been extremely rewarding. Working with staff and editorial board members who are experts in their field has been very educational for me and I learned so much from them. It has helped me think more broadly and served as continuing education, which can be hard in a field that changes so rapidly.

As someone who has been so involved with the Society, what would you recommend to those individuals who are just starting their journey or are on the fence about volunteering? What was something that kept you motivated to continue to grow within the organization?

I tell people all the time, get involved. It doesn’t have to be a major commitment. Start slow and be open to new opportunities. It will help you to grow and learn. In the meantime, you’ll meet some interesting people and make new lifelong colleagues and friends.


More About Dr. Ron Vetter

Dr. Ron Vetter received the B.S. and M.S. degrees in computer science from North Dakota State University, Fargo, and the Ph.D. degree in computer science from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. His research interests include mobile computing, computer and network security, digital forensics, and parallel and distributed systems. The USWEST Foundation, National Science Foundation, United States Department of Agriculture, United States Department of Justice, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and others have supported his research activities.

Dr. Vetter is a full professor in the computer science department at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). He has held numerous leadership and academic positions at UNCW, including department chair, chief research officer, and dean of the graduate school. Dr. Vetter has a long professional history of service to the computing profession at large. He has served on numerous national and international computer science conference program committees and editorial boards.

Dr. Vetter has served on the editorial board for Computer, the flagship publication of the IEEE Computer Society (IEEE-CS), since 1995. During that time, he served in a variety of capacities, including reviewer, department editor, advisory panel member, and as editor-in-chief from 2011-2014. Dr. Vetter has also served on numerous IEEE-CS committees, including the eLearning committee, digital library committee, the conference and tutorials board, and the electronic products and services board.

Dr. Vetter received academic recognition for outstanding faculty contributions at UNCW and has received several national awards for innovations in the development of mobile phone applications. The Association for Computing Machinery chose him as the 2001-2002 outstanding ACM Distinguished Lecturer. He is a member of the ACM and a Senior Member of the IEEE. Dr. Vetter is a frequent consultant to business and industry on technology commercialization and other computer science related topics.