Developing a new Local Network

8 May 2012
Steve Mustard at the Johnson Space Center, Houston

Developing a Local Network (LN) in a new region is always tough, but it has been particularly taxing for the creators of the newly-formed Gulf of Mexico LN

Starting out

Developing a Local Network (LN) in a new region is always tough, but it has been particularly taxing for the creators of the newly-formed Gulf of Mexico LN, who have managed to successfully develop and nurture communities thousands of miles apart.
Although there is much talk of developing relationships and building IET communities in China and India, proactive members around the globe are coming together to create their own new networks. In the Americas, one newly formed LN that stands out is the Gulf of Mexico.
A huge area of the United States in its own right, three engineers based as far apart as Texas and Florida have worked to build satellite groups that come together under the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) LN umbrella. The work has been immense but in just a few short years the committee has managed to start IET LN activity in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida and they plan to keep the momentum going.

How it all began

It all began when one engineer, Steve Mustard, moved from the UK to Texas to set up his own automation consultancy practice.
“One of the first things I did was to ask the IET if they could tell me how many members we had in Texas and how I could go about setting up a Local Network,” he says. “I thought it would be a good way to meet like-minded people and help with general and business networking.”
An IET survey of Texas members showed there were few – if any – local IET activities but that members were interested in setting up a Local Network, and so his work began.
Mustard was asked to chair the Community Committee – Americas, and discussions began on how to establish member activities in various parts of the region.
“Unlike the UK, where every part of the region is covered by a Local Network, the Americas has very little coverage – less than 50 per cent of members have a Local Network near them, and near in this case means within 300 miles or so,” Mustard highlights.
One of the first things Mustard got involved in was running a successful round of the Present Around The World (PATW) competition at the University of Texas with competitors from there and Texas A&M University. This was the one and only Texas-related activity until Mustard and his colleagues started the GoM LN.

Challenges

Mustard found that one of the main challenges in starting activity in a new area is having a sufficiently large and keen nucleus of members.
Thankfully he was quickly contacted by Ralph Ladd, now chair of the GoM LN, and also by one of his colleagues at BP, Chris Curran, about establishing IET activities. This really got the ball rolling and the ties with a big organisation like BP could only help!
“With BP we had another significant advantage when starting an LN – a free location to meet – many LNs struggle to find suitable locations at a reasonable cost,” Mustard explains.
Early on the decision was made to cover the entire Gulf of Mexico rather than just the local Texas region, as this meant that all the small pockets of members in each Gulf state had a home, even if it was potentially thousands of miles away.

Virtual and physical

This was when IET member Adrian Jenkyn, based in Tampa Bay, really came into his own, being instrumental in getting the Florida pocket of engineers to come together and begin to build a community. Committee meetings are via teleconference and then the ‘pockets’ organise physical meetings for their more local groups.
“We established the idea that these local pockets could run their own activities and we would try where possible to schedule a major meeting in a different location so they weren't always in Texas,” Mustard explains.

Collaboration

Another way the GoM committee got activity started was by collaborating with other professional institutions.
“We have actively collaborated with other UK institutions – especially the Institution of Mechanical Engineers which has a similar sized local group in Texas,” Mustard says. “For the IET this is an important way to work, because our scale is much smaller than locally-based institutions such as the IEEE. We can arrange events for our collective members and have a bigger turn out (and therefore do bigger things) than if we do them alone.
“One example is the visit to Johnson Space Center in Houston which was a joint IET/IMechE event that had around 30 people. I doubt this would have been viable for either group alone,” he highlights.

Gaining momentum

Looking forward, the committee hopes it can keep up its initial momentum and organise more activities and get more non-members involved – with the goal of getting them to join!
One focus area for the LN is to increase membership by involvement with young children, teenagers and college students, bringing onboard tomorrow’s engineers, and to respond to the region’s aging membership. One area the committee is working on is ties with universities, for example, by developing more regional heats in the PATW competition.
“We only need a handful of enthusiastic people in each place to move things along so our challenge is to find them and help them/motivate them,” Mustard says.
And it’s also a way to give back to the regions engineers and help them gain useful skills as Jenkyn highlights.
“Our hopes for quickly gaining young adults will rely on engineering college students participating in the PATW which will develop their extra curricula presentation skills and improve their competitive edge to get jobs after their degree/diploma,” he notes.
There’s still a long way to go, and the committee members know there’s a hard slog ahead, but they hope with their continued commitment and extra support from IET staff in the UK that the Gulf of Mexico LN will go from strength to strength.

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