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May 15, 2018

Tom Voice: Professional service alternatives

Tom Voice is the associate dean for administrative affairs and a professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering. In the photo above, he is pictured with Consumer Reports President and CEO Marta Tellado.

Of the three main things university professors do – teaching, research and service – service is not normally thought of as the exciting part of the job. Now picture an educator wearing a crash helmet speeding around a vehicle test track, collecting stability and safety statistics or sporting a traditional white lab coat as he examines bubbling pots of pasta sauces at a national home products testing lab.

As the College of Engineering’s associate dean for administrative affairs and a professor of civil and environmental engineering, I’ve done my share of traditional professional service: reviewing papers and proposals or serving on professional committees. But I’m proud to say that my service-related passion for the past 10 years has been sitting on the board of directors of Consumer Reports. 

CR is an independent, nonprofit organization with seven million members, a website that sees an average of 15 million visitors each month and an iconic magazine that is the fifth largest by circulation in the country.

Founded more than 80 years ago, CR helps people make informed purchase choices through evidence-based product testing and ratings, rigorous research, public education and advocacy. At more than 500 employees, CR is the country’s largest organization focused on consumer issues. Its headquarters are in Yonkers, N.Y.

In October, I became the vice chair of CR’s board of directors. Some of my other CR roles have been as chair of the audit committee, and I also have served as board secretary through the years.

Throughout this work, I have always kept in mind the dual parts of CR’s mission – to provide independent and objective analysis that help inform consumer choices, and to advocate for a fair marketplace with protection from products, services and practices that are contrary to consumer interests. 

For me, it is the same obligation I have as a faculty member in a public institution – to advance and disseminate knowledge through rigorous, objective research and teaching and to employ my expertise through service activities that benefit society, even if only in a small way.

My role with Consumer Reports allows me to blend my technical skills and consumer interests with public service to improve people’s lives. It’s not all boardrooms and conference calls, either. The test track is a blast.

I’m hoping you’ll be creative as you think about your service possibilities. I think you’ll find as I found – that professional service can be very similar to university research. It’s about using objective evidence to answer questions and then acting on the results. Both roles are evolving, and I’m proud to play a small part in the effort.