IEEE-USA Leaders

Get to Know the Candidates in the 2017 IEEE-USA Election

By Helen Horwitz

Where do the candidates for 2018 IEEE-USA President-Elect stand on the key issues?

InSight recently posed a set of nine questions to candidates Thomas Coughlin and Guru Madhavan.  Their responses should help you to decide how you will vote when you receive your ballot in August.

Tell us about yourself and your vision for IEEE-USA.

Tom: I am a consultant and analyst for the digital storage industry. I put on conferences and write reports on digital storage and applications. I am a 39-year member of the IEEE; and since 1992, an active volunteer in various parts of the IEEE. I am involved in IEEE geographic, technical and standards activities. I was chair of the 2011 IEEE Sections Congress; VP of Operations/Planning, IEEE Consumer Electronics Society; and Chair of the IEEE Santa Clara Valley Section, and the SF Bay Area Council. I am Past-Director for IEEE Region 6; Chair of the IEEE Public Visibility Committee; VP of Professional Activities for IEEE-USA; and a member of various other IEEE committees.

I want to see Regions 1-6 increasing in membership, because they are successful in retaining and advancing existing members, as well as attracting new generations of members. IEEE USA is tuned in on, and meeting the needs of, younger technologists.

Guru:  I hold a “dual citizenship” in the worlds of engineering and public policy. I am a biomedical engineer and a senior policy adviser at the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, where I have directed a global health program on infectious diseases; the creation of a systems analysis platform to prioritize new vaccine development; and a study on making prescription medicines affordable. I have worked on major reports, including Rising above the Gathering Storm, Revisited that significantly influenced the congressional reauthorization of the America Competes Act. I have previously worked on developing cardiac surgical catheters and neuromuscular stimulation to improve circulation, and advised nonprofits. My nonfiction book on how engineers think has been translated into many languages. My diverse experiences and inclusive mindset fuel my strategic priorities for IEEE-USA: new program platforms, public policy, and public engagement. I will bring a broad vision, new mindset and fresh leadership.

What are your strongest personal traits, from which your leadership of IEEE-USA stands to benefit?

Tom:  I have been pretty successful working with IEEE volunteers and staff to get things done. I have a strong vision of what the IEEE-USA could be; and once I have been able to establish a plan with other volunteers and staff, I am very persistent in seeking to meet our agreed upon objectives. I know that I cannot accomplish what needs to happen alone, and I want to get other folks fired up to help make things happen. Also, I would want to get started as soon as possible as President-elect to meet these objectives–because a year’s term as IEEE USA President may not be enough to turn around the membership declines in all the U.S. regions.


Guru: With versatility, I have worked at the nexus of industries, academia, governments, and non-governmental organizations. With diligence, I have combined R&D, strategic planning, systems analysis, program administration and management, team building, narrative communication through books and lectures, as well as board-level leadership in IEEE-USA. As recent vice-president of professional activities, I have shown that I can tap the expertise and wisdom of IEEE-USA’s experienced leaders, as well as the passion and energy of its emerging leaders. I have demonstrated that I can generate change amidst complexity. Ultimately, I will enhance and advance our performance while respecting our institutional heritage.

What is your favorite aspect of your IEEE-USA involvement?

Tom: I get the biggest kick out of working with other people, and I love technology. I am really enjoying being Vice President of IEEE-USA Professional Activities, and encouraging the Regional PA Chairs to use all their money to help with professional, membership and STEM activities in their sections. This year, we are planning on IEEE Town Meetings to find out from less active members and non-members what would make them excited about being part of the IEEE.

Guru: People and professional development. Some of my great mentors and friends are associated with IEEE. They have guided, inspired and supported me through the wilderness of life’s challenges. I remain a significant beneficiary and pupil of members and colleagues from diverse backgrounds, and of the programs with long-lasting impact they created for IEEE-USA and IEEE.

What is IEEE-USA’s most critical challenge? If you’re elected, what will you do about it?

Tom: It has to be the declining membership in Regions 1-6. IEEE-USA is dependent upon membership dues for over 90% of its operating budget. We have been losing members in all our U.S. regions for over 10 years. So, if I am elected, I want to reverse this trend by greater outreach to industry that includes membership support, creating policies and activities that have greater value to the next generation of technologists, and supporting and honoring our members throughout their career. IEEE must be cool and fun, and engaged in things that attract new participants and meet their needs.

Guru: IEEE-USA’s goal must be to create a modern institute that is relevant, effective and visible. This goal has three elements: Producing rigorously high-quality, premium programs for member engagement and experience; being robust and nimble in public policy matters; and elevating the public consciousness of engineering. Our members routinely note these as priorities, and they are also the core elements of my vision and strategy. We need to develop new partnerships to drive our public agenda and uniquely distinguish IEEE-USA in a vigorous marketplace of ideas and talents. It is important to gain participants from beyond our fields of interest.

How should IEEE-USA address the issue of declining membership?

Tom: This is my top priority. We should have greater involvement and special offerings to industry. We should have more ways to honor continued membership and support career growth and job searches, including entrepreneurs and consultants. We should be involved in the hottest trends, and use the best tools to attract and retain new members.


Guru: Only by producing rigorously high-quality programs for engagement, can we forge our way to improve membership value and experience. As founding chair and curator of the groundbreaking Future Leaders Forum, among other experiences, I bring ideas and connections to develop a potentially new business model with the intent of engaging the membership and corporations.

Is there a need to better understand the Millennial Generation to better meet their needs? If so, what are some of the changes IEEE and/or IEEE-USA need to make to address this changing demographic?

Tom: You bet there is, as well as all the other generations of technologists out there. We need to get their input on what will attract them to be part of the IEEE, and then make that happen. We need to empower them to make the IEEE of the future. This probably includes more use of online participation and resources for education and networking, mentoring opportunities, and continuing education on hot topics.

Guru: IEEE-USA needs to better understand and serve not just the Millennials, but also the members of Generation X. Together, they are the most diverse groups of people ever. We might be able to inspire their involvement with major and real socio-technical issues such as education, health care, infrastructure and economic inequality. The individual desires and thinking of our members might vary, but these complex and consequential issues go beyond technology, and apply to everyone.

How can IEEE-USA improve employment opportunities for members and other U.S. technical professionals?

Tom: IEEE-USA must join with other parts of the IEEE on employment issues to make awesome tools that meet the needs of today’s technologists.  We need better interactions with industry, so they hire our student and higher-grade members, and have us provide employee continuing education and leadership opportunities.

Guru:  We live in a platform economy: Our sources of information are exploding, and the nature of our work is evolving. IEEE-USA needs to go beyond its standard survey information. It should focus on cultivating a learning network that provides distinctive insights and enables new connections across different creative professions.

If you are elected, what do you hope to accomplish?

Tom: I want to increase Region 1-6 membership. I want a tighter connection with industry, and to provide excellent employment opportunities for our members. I want us to honor and recognize our members more often. I want us to engage with STEM activities, and create greater connections between our college and higher-grade members. I want all the parts of the IEEE to be efficient and work well together. I want IEEE to be cool and fun!

Guru: I bring experiences and deep interests to: 1) Expanding and enhancing programmatic platforms for career development, featuring prominent voices advancing technology for humanity; 2) Serving as an effective voice to represent key member and professional interests with policymakers, at a time of change in Washington; and 3) Working on new approaches and partnerships to improve the public engagement with engineering. These actions are essential to improve IEEE-USA’s profile and attract new members.

If IEEE-USA were an airline, how would you describe its characteristics?

Tom: If IEEE-USA were an airline, it would be one that doesn’t know exactly where its planes should be going, to provide the best service to its stakeholders and customers.

Guru: Our current financial challenges may point to this quote from an airline CEO: If the Wright brothers were alive today, Wilbur would have to fire Orville to reduce costs.” Boosting passenger satisfaction, and upgrading its service platforms (as compared to running modern software on outdated airframes), will be among the imperatives for IEEE-USA Airlines.

Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.

Helen Horwitz

Helen Horwitz was an award-winning freelance writer in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.

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