SoCal Network: (re)building a community

29 May 2013
By Keri Allan
NRG Encina Power Plant Field Trip.

NRG Encina Power Plant Field Trip: tour leader and IET member Theo Hetherington in one of the 50s-era control rooms.

SoCal first committee.

First committee, June 2012 (l-r):David McQuiggan, Richard Tregaskes, Bruno Vieri, Julian Harvey and Peter Lo.

First LEGO League.

First LEGO League: David McQuiggan shows off the LEGO robots to interested onlookers, April 2013.

SoCal field trip.

SoCal Edison Field Trip, November 2012: IET member in front of electric car in the ‘garage of the future’.

IEEE Expo.

Julian Harvey at the IET table at the IEEE expo, March 2013.

From an ailing network to a hub of activity for the region’s engineers, the IET SoCal Network has been brought back to life thanks to the hard work of a group of IET volunteers and staff.

Just a few years ago a lack of interest had led to the IET’s Southern California (SoCal) Network essentially shutting down, but thanks to the hard work and passion of a group of local volunteers and support from IET staff, the Network has been given a new lease of life and over the last few years has grown from strength to strength.

Today’s SoCal Network is made up of around 180 members mostly living in  Los Angeles, San Diego and the Orange Counties, regularly attending events and technical visits across the region.

This is a far different picture from just a few years ago, when following a period of stagnation, dwindling attendance figures and a lack of interest led to its temporary closure.

The Network had been created back in 1997 and for a decade was very active. However, by 2007, attendance was dropping and the number of events lessened. By early 2010 only a few active volunteers remained and with interest at an all time low the decision was made to disband the Network.

A small group of local volunteers was not ready to give up, however, and when Ann Nann (currently Americas community relationship manager) joined the IET as Americas regional board coordinator in 2010 things began to take off again.

“Ann deserves our thanks and a lot of credit,” says Julian Harvey, SoCal’s honorary secretary. “In January 2011 Ann organised the Americas Board/Global Operations meeting and Networking Dinner. We consider this date the restart of IET SoCal although it was slow to get off the ground. In March we had the Qualcomm field trip organised by [Network member] Kevin Murray and began discussing several more. By the end of the year we had activities starting again.”

Members across the region began to get in contact with each other, thanks in part to a SoCal Network LinkedIn group that chair Richard Tregaskes had created. This now has over 60 members and the Network has also begun to use the IET’s MyCommunity platform to keep members informed.

One of the reformed Network’s first talks, held by Richard, led to the discovery that members preferred events to be held on Saturday mornings and this formed the basis of all future presentations.

“We started Saturday meetings in Los Angeles in June 2012 and the first event was well attended. Most attendees liked the idea of Saturday meetings rather than having to fight the LA traffic on a weeknight. This format was to become our ‘norm’ for future meetings and field trips,” says Julian.

“In September we had our first meeting in San Diego and this was also on a Saturday. We have a sizeable membership in San Diego County and wished to alternate between Los Angeles and San Diego for our regular meetings. These are always followed by a ‘networking’ lunch, which is enjoyed by those who attend.”

SoCal is now back to being a very active Network with a wide range of events taking place. It regularly hosts presentations of topics of interest to engineers including airport technology systems, the future of wireless technology and nanotechnology.

Visits to industrial and research facilities also take place, allowing members to get an inside view of operations and recent trips have seen members visit the Southern California Edison - Advanced Technology Labs and NRG - Encina Power Plant.

The Network has also hosted FIRST LEGO League and Present Around The World (PATW) competitions, which it hopes will encourage younger engineers to join its ranks, as well as encourage young students to gain a passion for STEM.

The committee has also worked closely with other engineering organisations including the IEEE, co-promoting and developing events including a local engineering expo.

“One of the committee members is also a member of the IEEE LA coastal chapter and we jointly publicise meetings and events,” Julian explains.

“The connection with the Orange County chapter came about by ‘serendipity’. The IEEE-OC section programs chair was in the South Bay in late November and picked up a local newspaper in which we had publicised an upcoming nanotechnology presentation. He contacted me and we have worked closely ever since. We publicise each other’s events and we support IEEE-OC events. We attended a large expo in March 2013 in Irvine, where there were over 150 participants.”

In the past it would be fair to say that some of the IET’s US members felt out of touch with the organisation and that its reach wasn’t that strong in America. However, Julian is keen to point out that things have changed for the better.

“With the formation of the IET Communities Committee Americas (CC-A) it has blossomed,” he says. “The IET takes its role in the USA very seriously and supports our Local Network extensively. For example, in the early days of our ‘reformation’, the CC-A produced our flyers. We now do this locally using the excellent IET Marketing Toolkit.

“Also, in the early days the CC-A assisted with putting our events into the IET calendar using Rhythmyx. We now also do this locally using the IET events web form. A lot more activities can be accomplished locally than ever before.”

The SoCal committee is very proud of its success, and rightly so. However, it has no plans to rest on its laurels and is looking at new ways to grow further and encourage up-and-coming engineers into the fold.

“We’re doing outreach work with local universities and colleges,” highlights Julian. “This started with PATW in early 2013, but needs to be continued with more enthusiasm and is essential to get new members into the IET.

“We also continue to publicise our meetings locally and encourage members of the public to attend and are hoping to get a few new members this way.”

Two new engineers joined the committee in the last six months and Julian and his colleagues continue to seek out ‘new blood’ for the Network, especially young professionals. If you’re interested in becoming a committee member or just finding out more about the SoCal Network be sure to head to the SoCal MyCommunity page.

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