Two years ago, in mid-2014, the IEEE Buenaventura (Calif.) Section (located just northwest of Los Angeles) was in disarray. Among its many organizational problems, Section officers regularly clashed about how funds should be spent; no budget was in place; and cutting, personal criticisms had demoralized the group. In an increasingly toxic environment, it was no surprise that people had become discouraged and were turning in their resignations.
Enter Nathalie Gosset.
An IEEE Senior Member with a professional reputation as both an innovator and a turnaround artist, she had already served as 2007-2008 Buenaventura Section Chair. Gosset admits that she agreed to step up again to head the 776-member Section because, in her words, “No one else wanted the job–and my heart was bleeding from seeing such a mess.”
Fast forward to the 2016 IEEE-USA Awards & Recognitions Ceremony.
At the annual event held earlier this year in Las Vegas, Gosset was honored with an IEEE-USA Regional Professional Leadership Award “for exemplary leadership of the Buenaventura Section, promoting innovative programs and member engagement.”
According to Douglas Askegard, Region 6 Southern Area Chair, and Gosset’s nominator, “As Section Chair in 2015, she changed the leadership from a group discouraged by internal tensions and declining financial resources, into a vibrant and effective team that works harmoniously and operates with a vision, clear goals and a stable financial budget.”
Just how “vibrant and effective” has the Buenaventura Section become? Just a few of last year’s highlights include:
- More than doubling the number of Section and Chapter officers from 22 to 55, as well as recruiting more than 40 members to volunteer for special events
- Instituting a system that targets 90 cents out of every dollar the Section receives as rebates or surplus on events to serve members, future members and students
- Increasing the number of Chapter technical events from 34 to 52–and drawing a record 2,400 attendees
- Developing a new communications strategy with a volunteer network that gathers information about upcoming Section events, awards, recognitions and sponsorships, and events from nearby, related organizations. The information is distributed so it neither overwhelms the volunteers nor the frequency of media “touches.”
- A range of meaningful activities–from STEM and community outreach to professional development and entrepreneurship workshops for members
- Several successful fundraisers, most notably “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxies,” a humorous and educational panel discussion with speakers from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Some $2,500 raised from the event was used to fund student scholarships; they were presented during the 2016 National Engineers Week banquet at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.
With simplicity and pragmatism, Gosset describes her leadership strategy. “Once in place, I focused on making the Section officers feel valued, and they now understood that their opinions matter.”
She continues, “We were able to develop a one-year plan, create some logical structure, encourage others to join us, and grow our team–while coaching everyone in the art of running a Section and Chapters,” she says.
In late 2014, while working with the remaining 22 Section and Chapter volunteers, she encouraged them to “dream big,” and brainstorm ideas for the coming year. “By February of 2015, we had a plan and a budget, and money was allocated to each group for them spend as we had agreed,” explains Gosset. “Previously, officers had to negotiate for every penny, but releasing the funds to them empowered them to focus on planning the event or activity. This simple act totally changed the culture.”
Section officers and volunteers have reacted with new enthusiasm and creativity. At last year’s spring mixer: “Rising Stars and Old Nebulas in Jeans,” almost twice the usual number of members attended–and they brought old jeans for the Section to donate to a local homeless shelter. In the fall, a STEM outreach event at a Thousand Oaks school, showed girls ages 11-15 how to use light-emitting or sensing tools to create, shape and guide light for various applications. At the end, the girls created a light show to demonstrate their work to their delighted parents.
Elsewhere in the transformation of the Buenaventura Section, each of the seven chapters was given new goals to be tracked during monthly reviews–including one goal that required each chapter to have six technical speakers per year. When several chapters couldn’t locate speakers, Gosset spent many evenings seeking them out; and when she had secured their interest, she turned over the contact information to the chapter. She then trained chapter leaders on how to locate potential speakers and successfully approach them to speak.
After examining where the Section had been spending its money, including monthly dinner meetings at restaurants, Gosset moved the venue to her home. Now, on the last Monday of each month, her husband prepares the main dish and the 16-25 participants bring the sides. Besides the financial savings, these informal but productive meetings serve up generous portions of friendship and camaraderie.
The Section makeover Gosset launched mirrors her professional achievements, as well as her contributions to other areas of IEEE, especially the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS). Awards recognizing her work include: the Outstanding IEEE EMBS Chapter Award, a global recognition; the IEEE Regional Activities (now Member and Geographic Activities) Leadership Award, for her contributions to the biomedical community; and the EMBS Lifetime Achievement Award for creating 50 EMBS Chapters around the world.
Until recently, she was with the Alfred Mann Institute (AMI) at the University of Southern California for 12 years. As Senior Director for Marketing and Technology Innovation, Gosset was responsible for investigating and establishing the commercial value of the inventions presented to AMI. Prior to AMI, she specialized in the turnarounds of several start-ups; and worked for several large companies, including Alcatel. There, after 10 years in optical design engineering, she was named director of the program management office overseeing the work of about 600 engineers.
A native of France, Gosset has a BSEE from Institut SupÃ©rior d’Electronique de Paris; an M.S. in telecommunications from the University of Colorado, Boulder; and an MBA from The University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn.