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The Reality of Engineering a Symposium

As far as I can tell, the first Symposium was described on papyrus by Plato, ca. 400 BC. The first order of the day was to decide how the event would go.

dreamstime_s_26570657Socrates and Aristophanes were drinking together at Agathon’s house. Agathon had just won a prize for penning his first tragedy and the boys were celebrating their friend’s success. In the manner of such lubricated gatherings, the discussion rambled a bit, beginning with an argument about just how heavy the drinking was going to be. A dozen or so of Athen’s fairest youths had been imbibing since the previous day and were urging restraint (no youth I am familiar with). Others were in a more celebratory mood (that’s more like it). Being a consensus-driven group, they ultimately resolved that “drinking was not to be the order of the day, but that they were all to drink only so much as they pleased.”1

This important point of order out of the way, The Symposium goes on, Plato describing Socrates’ method of discerning the nature of Love, ultimately determining that the highest purpose is to become a “lover of wisdom”–a philosopher.

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Modern Symposia

Fast-forward a few millennia and we arrive in Santa Clara. This In Compliance Magazine issue is all about the show, thus we thought it relevant to describe how modern Symposia are put together.

From the inside, assembling the Symposium is a little bit like sausage-making, with a casing holding the stuff together. One part of the casing is the all-important bag, the design, color, features, and selection debated year-on-year. “Remember the 199x bag? Now THAT was a cool bag with tons of space for my engineering swag.” I’m not sure when this whole bag thing started, but know several members that can boast a collection of 20 or more. My current favorite and “daily driver” is from Fort Lauderdale (2010).


Early on, it is critical to outline a theme and there is always a lively conversation as it’s important to link the theme with the city and mingle icons and branding. Turns of phrase are encouraged and, during the naming process, double entendres are not rare.

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As such, the Symposium reflects the times, too. Not sure what was served in 1970 when the “Expanding Science of EMC” was held, but the promo looks really far out, man. 2 This was the same year Apollo 13 returned to Earth safely, the first Earth Day was announced, Kent State happened, the Ford Pinto was introduced and the Beatles released their last Album Let it Be. Pretty groovy times. 


The 1978 Symposium was truly international and held in Wroclaw, Poland.


Once the theme is derived, a logo is built and the all-important committee shirt comes up as the next major debate: Short or long-sleeve? Polo or button down? Color? Pocket or no? Fabric? What size are you? Can I get a comp shirt for my kid? All these questions are ultimately resolved and the show planning begins in-earnest.

Central to all this is “The Committee,” a volunteer group that molds and shapes the event, according to the EMC Symposium Guide. As with any group, a culture emerges, driven largely by the Big Boss, the Chair.

Bedecked Future Past Chair
Bedecked Future Past Chair

The Committee

There are several positions on the committee that are hard-wired, but some of the roles evolve over time. The most important positions are, well, all of them. A short description of the assignments and roles is described below.

General Chair: Chaos management and is largely the ‘personality’ of the event (taking some liberal license). The General Chair is called upon to impart some local flavor to the event and, more importantly, wisdom. The Chair generally ramps things up three or so years in advance and I’ve heard that it’s sort of like volunteering for indentured servitude, but not as much fun.

The Chair is, naturally, beholden to the EMC Society Board of Directors who expects certain tenets be followed. Success, ultimately, is measured in many ways by the Board both quantitatively (of course) but also qualitatively. The Chair proposes a city, normally chosen for its likelihood to attract not only attendees, but their families, too, since this event is traditionally held in late summer. The US-based symposium in 2015 is an oddball, in a sense, being held in March in order to avoid conflict with the Dresden, Germany show. In general, the idea is to promote a truly international show and still have something for the domestic audience.

The Vice-Chair is the backstop for the Chair and is generally around to provide guidance, wisdom and mop up spills.

The Secretary is, naturally, a pivotal position and needs to pays loads of attention to detail and must have skills to finesse conference calls/webinar sessions, to-do lists and minutes. It’s helpful to be acquainted with the personalities of the troupe, particularly with regards to voice recognition during the calls. Tracking action items means assigned them to the vox sine corpore on the con calls. This, this is obviously a position that requires lots of coordination. A very direct style helps a lot—proven well in the last couple of committees, IMO.

Other critical support is provided by:

The Treasurer/Finance Chair. This position, in my opinion, is one of the hardest jobs but that’s because I’m not so good with numbers (I tend to lean towards engineering as an estimation of the optimal, perhaps it is because I’ve been corrupted by the inherent inaccuracies in EMC and its practice). Anyway, this part takes the indentured part out a few months after the show to close out all the various accounting/vendor/collection and other fiscal hangovers. Continuity of position really really helps here.

The Technical Program Chair(s) is really a multi-faceted position because of the breadth of the Symposium, from papers to teaching. These positions are where the soul of the program lies and the love of our practice flourishes. Yeah, sure, the Exhibit hall gets the beer and ice cream breaks, but the technical program is where the community shares the spark of engineering innovation. The Technical Program, most deservedly has the most Chairs including the General Technical Program Chair, Technical Papers Chair and a number of Vice-Chairs including SIPI, Emerging Technology and Industry Papers.

Particular topics of interest may land into the Special Session and, rounding out the technical part of the program is the education component which features Workshops, Tutorials, Experiments, Demos and the several day long Global University. All-in, twenty individuals are usually pressed into service to arrange this part of the Symposium. Add up all the reviewers and other that sort through the 150+ papers that are normally received and we could deploy a couple of basketball teams, if we had enough guys with good knees, that is.

Revenue from Exhibitors is largely how we float this boat, financially, so the Exhibit Chair is a critical role for the happiness of our exhibitors and the comfort of the bean-counters. Some continuity in this role is nice here, too, and a good pick for this role is someone who either a) has done this job before b) been/is a past exhibitor, c) is a conference junkie or d) all of the above. This job requires loads of attention to detail, an appreciation for filling large spaces, some sales charisma and a coordinating capability with nearly all the other chairs because the exhibits is a pivot point, not just financially, but for communing; not everyone makes it to the technical sessions. Nearly everyone cruises the exhibit hall. The exhibits chair needs to think large, but act minutely.

Hospitality encompasses a few functions on the committee including: Arrangements, Social and Companion Program Chairs. My wonderful mother-in-law would like all of these tasks because she’s a planner and an entertainer. This is the right-brain stuff of our show and it involves picking some fine regionally-accented events, get head counts, review catering menus and herd the cats when the busses arrive. My wise wife once said that, when meeting someone for the first time, it’s more important how you make them feel than what you said. These are the “feely” parts of the EMCS. Some of my favorite memories occurred at the Air and Space Museum in DC, log-rolling in Boston and an amazing evening at a vineyard the last time the show was in Santa Clara.

The Publications Chair plays a critical role because after the lights are turned off it the record of the technical efforts that will endure. The Publications chair has to make sure the conference proceedings are collected together and published to various places, both physically and electronically. The ultimate output of the event are the collection of papers, workshop content and, increasingly, video documentation of the sights and sounds of the activity.

The Marketing Chair has the best job, IMO and I’ll tell you why shortly. The main duties of the MC are to be involved in the early planning, logo-building and themes. Various “institutional practices” have evolved over the years and certain protocols have developed, as for other positions. Most of these protocols involve mapping out cooperative arrangements with various publications, both on-line and in-print to get the message out. Social media, email campaigns and the like are part of the purview of the MC, usually working closely with the web magicians. It’s nice to have help in this area because the ways to get the attention of potential attendees continues to change. The great thing about this role is that by the Symposium rolls around, all the marketing work is done and MC can spend the time enjoying the show and scrounging for spare drink tickets.

The hardest job during the show—at least the busiest—is the Registration Chair. This is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak and months of preparation hits with a wave of engineers and families gathering their badges, bags and EMC ephemera. This is really where it helps to have an experienced person(s) that have done the work year-on-year to assist. This is yeoman’s work and it helps to be unflappable.

The other “full-time” position is the Volunteer Coordinator who is charged with collecting local (mostly youthful) talent to act as room monitors, schleppers and other odd-and-ends duties that go on during the five-day event.

Now, finally, there is a ringmaster that coordinates many of the moving parts. As the event has grown and the details more complex, it has been the practice of hiring an event management group. This has greatly improved the quality of the Symposia and the Committee Members’ lives. Pivotal roles are filled by the Conference Manager who can speak all that good hotel/hospitality-speak and juggle room-nights and exhibit booth space allocation and the innumerable placards and signage with ease, saving the committee numerous dosages of aspirin.

Finally, like what happened to Michael Corleone in The Godfather there is the role of the Past Symposium Chair whose job is to shepherd the new committee. If you make it that far, you may receive many badges when you arrive at the show.

The 2015 Committee


Caroline Chan – Lockheed Martin

Caroline spent much of her youth (18 years) in Africa, growing up in the former French Colonies of Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Her father worked in accounting and her parents were originally from China. She attended international schools in both countries, making friends from other parts of the globe. She arrived in the US in 1999 to get a BS and MS from UC Santa Barbara, with a concentration in Electrical Engineering. She became interested in lightning phenomena at a tender age, noticing that the speed of light was faster than sound. (There was plenty of lightning to observe in the African tropics.) Caroline started

to investigate the mathematics of the natural world at ten years of age.

She starting soldering circuits when she was eleven years old because, as she says: it was “mainly due to necessity as fans broke down easily and would not last too long in some seasons.” She loves dogs and was surprised to find out that dogs in the US are treated as pets, not for self-protection as in Africa. She is an amalgam of diversity, speaking Mandarin, Cantonese, French and English, enjoys gardening, has traveled extensively in Europe and Asia and loves to meet new people, learn new cultures and recently received her open water SCUBA certification in Bali. She is delighted to chair the 2015 EMCSI Conference.


Bob Davis-Lockheed Martin

Bob is a Senior Staff E3 Engineer at Lockheed martin Corporation. He has over 30 years of E3 design, test and analysis experience on DoD and Space Shuttle Programs. Bob is an IEEE Senior Member (35 years) and Director at Large for IEEE EMC Society 2008 – 2013 and VP for Member Services IEEE EMC Society 2009 – 2014. He enjoys playing golf, working on home projects and international travel.


Dana Craig – McAfee

Dana is a native Californian and first joined the IEEE EMC Society in 1984. He is a Senior member of the IEEE. His main education came during his service the US Air Force from 1975 to 1981. In 1981 he joined ISS Sperry Univac in the EMC department as

a test technician, performing VDE and FCC evaluations. In 1984 he was promoted to EMC Engineer while working at Qume. He enjoys his seven grandchildren and is an avid racecar fan for over thirty years, building racecars and participating in local dirt-track racing hijinks.


Bruce Archambeault – IBM

Dr. Archambeault is an IEEE Fellow, an IBM Distinguished Engineer Emeritus and an Adjunct Professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology. He chaired the 2014 IEEE EMC&SI Symposium in Raleigh. He is the author of the book “PCB Design for Real-World EMI Control” and the lead author of the book titled “EMI/EMC Computational Modeling Handbook.” He likes to sail and do woodworking.


John LaSalle – Northrop Grumman Corporation

John works working in the E3 department at Northrop Grumman. He is a member of the Distinguished Technical Leadership Program and has been working in the EMC field for Over 28 years. He is the Treasurer for the IEEE EMC Society, as well as the Financial Chair for the past six EMC Symposia. He holds an MBA from Dowling College and a BSEE from Old Dominion University. John is an avid bike rider and co-founded the TEAM EMC bicycling ride that meets at the annual symposiums.


John Rohrbaugh – Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman Minuteman III, Nuclear Hardness and Survivability Lead Northrop Grumman Technical Services, Ogden, UT

John works on EM Effects for NGC on the Minuteman III program (2007 to present); pulsed power systems development for NGC/TRW, Albuquerque, NM (2000 to 2007); AFRL – Kirtland AFB, NM (1998-2000). He enjoys doing home remodeling projects and favors talking dog videos over cat Youtube videos.


Mike Violette – Washington Labs

Mike is President of Washington Labs and Director of American Certification Body. He has been involved in EMC and compliance for over 200 dog-years and does a bit of international business development stuff. He has served as Marketing Chair for a couple of past Symposia, likes to travel, write about travel and play music, on occasion.

Ashleigh O’Connor – In Compliance Magazine

Ashleigh is Marketing Manager of In Compliance Magazine. She has over 10 years of experience in marketing and communications. She enjoys finding unique and meaningful ways to connect and engage with targeted audiences. In her spare time, Ashleigh is also an independent fitness coach.


John Vanella – ConferenceDirect

John Vanella brings 28 years of experience in conference and event management. He has worked for Four Seasons, Marriott International and Hilton Hotels Corporation. John is a Vice President/Team Director with ConferenceDirect managing comprehensive services for The National Hockey League, American National Standards Institute, IEEE EMC Society and others. John is a member of Meeting Planners International, USA Hockey, Coyotes Adult Hockey League and Arizona Puckhead Hockey Club.


Kelly Scott-Olson – ATG Productions

Kelly is Founder, President and Creative Director of ATG Productions, a design agency formed in 1997. Over the years, she has expanded her client base, creative team, capabilities and scope of services. A strategic alliance with ConferenceDirect has allowed her to complement their meeting management services with designs for clients such as Microsoft, Siemens, Marriott and the IEEE. Kelly lives in Surprise, AZ with her husband, Steve, daughter Lorraine, and son Devon. She enjoys reading, music, baking, crafting, walking her dogs or riding bikes in the beautiful Sonoran Desert.


Joseph Nghiem, TrimbleSue

Joseph is Senior Compliance Engineer with Trimble Navigation. He has over twenty years of experience in EMC design and test of high speed products. He is webmaster for the SC EMC Chapter. Previously, he worked for Cisco Systems as lead EMC Designer for major data product lines. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area.


James K. Baer – Comply Tek, Inc.

Jim has over 25 years Regulatory Compliance Experience from being an EMC Test Engineer, EMC Engineer, Senior EMC Engineer, EMC Division/Lab Manager, and Global Compliance Engineering Manager. He also has over 10 years of experience as sales engineer/account manager for EMC and RF products for southern California and Nevada. Jim likes the ocean and loves to play Hollywood Gin and Poker.


Rhonda Rodriguez

Rhonda has been Arrangements Chair or Co-Chair the IEEE EMC & SI Symposium six times (2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015) and an exhibitor 15 consecutive years. She enjoys travelling with her husband Vince, photography, and cheering on the University of Florida Gators!

Dennis Lewis – Boeing

Dennis is Technical Fellow with The Boeing Company. He is a 27-year veteran of The Boeing Company, Dennis has technical and leadership responsibility for its primary RF, Microwave and Antenna Metrology labs. He is a part time faculty member and past chairman of the Technical Advisory Committee for North Seattle College.

He was a distinguished lecturer for the EMC society 2013-2014 and is the general chairman for the 2019 symposium to be held in New Orleans. He enjoys, in his spare time, biking and hiking.


Eriko Yamato – Techdream

Eriko is VP of Sales and Marketing for Techdream. She is originally from Kobe Japan and spent five years in San Francisco during her childhood. After getting her BS in Political Science at Keio University in Tokyo, she worked for a TV station for 5 years producing infotainment programs, sports news, and documentaries. In 2000, she returned to California to pursue her passion in documentary film production at Stanford University where she received her MA in Communication and discovered her other passion: sales and marketing, focusing on EMC, RF and Wireless products. She still enjoys making films and has produced numerous company/product promo, educational, and event videos. Eriko has been active with the EMC Santa Clara Valley Chapter since 2010 and currently serves as the Vice Chair. In her spare time she enjoys hiking and cooking.


Sue Archambeault

Sue is a retired grade school teacher and is very busy with her volunteer work at the local hospital. She enjoys traveling with her husband, making puzzles, and reading.


Mark Maynard, SIEMIC

Mark is Director of Business Development & Marketing at SIEMIC. He has experience with direct business development, brand development, website, social media, special engineering projects, and negotiate with regulatory standards committees, professional societies, and government agencies for regulatory affairs, compliance testing, and Information Technology Equipment (ITE) and Wireless/Telecom certifications. Previously, he worked in Regulatory Compliance Engineering for twenty years at Dell Inc. with engineering and project management roles in Wireless, Telecom, & ITE Compliance, Environmental Design, and Environmental & Quality Management Systems, obtaining legal market access to 200+ market countries for ITE and wireless/telecom products.


Stephen Scearce, Cisco

Stephen received his B.S.E.T. and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Old Dominion University, Norfolk VA in 1996 and 2000 respectively. Stephen started his career working for NASA Langley Research Center in the Electromagnetic research branch High Intensity Radiated Fields team. In 2001 Stephen joined Cisco Systems as an EMC design engineer and has worked in signal integrity and power integrity design for the past 13 years. Stephen currently manages a global team of SI engineers supporting Cisco ASIC and PCB designs.


Alpesh Bhobe, Cisco

Dr. Bhobe received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado in 2003. He was a Post-Doc at NIST in Boulder, Colorado from 2003-2005. While at the University of Colorado and at NIST his research interest included the development of FDTD and FEM code for EM and Microwave applications. Currently he manages in the EMC Design team at Cisco Systems in San Jose CA.



Dr. Jun Fan – Missouri University

Dr. Fan is the Director of the Missouri S&T EMC Laboratory. His research interests include signal integrity and EMI designs in high-speed digital systems, dc power-bus modeling, intra-system EMI and RF interference, PCB noise reduction, differential signaling, and cable/connector designs. He likes reading, travel, and music.


Dr. Chuck Bunting-Oklahoma State University

Dr. Bunting is Associate Dean of Research and Sponsored Programs. Chuck held a Bradley Fellowship and a DuPont Fellowship and in 1994 he was awarded the Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Virginia Tech. From 1994 to 2001 Dr. Bunting was an assistant/associate professor at Old Dominion University in the Department of Engineering Technology where he worked closely with NASA Langley Research Center on electromagnetic field penetration in aircraft structures and reverberation chamber simulation using finite element techniques. He has served as professor of OSU since 2001.


Zhiping Yang – Apple Computer

Zhiping is Sr. Principal Power Integrity Engineer / Senior Manager.

Xiaoning Ye – Intel

Dr. Xiaoning Ye is an IEEE senior member, and a Principal Engineer at Intel Corporation. He was TPC co-chair for the IEEE International Conference on Signal and Power Integrity, 2014, an embedded conference of IEEE EMC symposium. He is secretary of the Technical Advisory Committee of EMC society and also serves as an IEEE Distinguished Lecturer for 2014/2015. He enjoys hiking and biking with his family, and learning photography.


Yihong Qi, DBJ Technologies

Brice Achkir, Cisco Systems

Brice is a Cisco Distinguished Engineer and a Senior Engineering Director in Advanced Technology at Cisco Systems, Inc. Brice has been a leader in translating technical innovations into business opportunities, from the research and development phase through product delivery and support. His focus has been on global impact initiatives, e.g., high-speed architectures and the “internet of everything in the Factory of The Future.” Brice has received multiple awards and recognitions as an international thought leader in his areas of expertise. Brice holds many patents relating to high-speed architecture/design electrical and photonic and signal/power integrity. He is active in international standards groups (ITU-T and IPC). Brice holds a B.S. in Applied Physics, an M.S. in Physics, and a Ph.D. in EE. He is an IEEE Fellow and lives in San Jose, California.


Dan Oh, Altera Corporation


Chunfei Ye – Intel

Dr. Chunfei Ye works with Intel Corporation as Senior Staff Engineer and signal integrity technical lead for server platforms. He is responsible for IO signal integrity and package electrical design for Intel server PCH and SOC CPU since 2005. He also managed signal integrity and wireless software tool development teams when he was in Intel Communication Group. Chunfei obtained Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and B.Sc. in Mathematics. He published more than 50 papers in journals and conferences and holds several patents. He is IEEE Member and IEEE EMC TC 10 (Signal Integrity) Secretary. He served as session chairs for IEEE EMC-SI Symposium for years. Chunfei enjoys fishing, farming and writing.


Bruce Archambeault – IBM

Dr. Archambeault is an IEEE Fellow, an IBM Distinguished Engineer Emeritus and an Adjunct Professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology. He chaired the 2014 IEEE EMC&SI Symposium in Raleigh. He is the author of the book “PCB Design for Real-World EMI Control” and the lead author of the book titled “EMI/EMC Computational Modeling Handbook.” He likes to sail and do woodworking.

John Maas – IBM

Corporate Program Manager for EMC. John has been involved in EMC since the Dead Sea was just sick, having received his BSEE on clay tablets from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1981. He is is responsible for IBM’s programs and processes for compliance with EMC requirements worldwide. John is Technical Advisor to the US National Committee of the IEC for SC77A and is convenor of IEC SC77B Working Group 10. He is a Senior Member of the IEEE and was chair or co-chair of the Workshops and Tutorials Program for each IEEE International Symposia on EMC since 2007. John is a founding member of the Bag of Dirt Band and enjoys picking the dobro and mandolin.


Bob Scully – NASA

Bob is an IEEE Fellow. He currently holds a federal GS15 rating, and has been the Johnson Space Center EMC Group Lead Engineer since 2000. He is the technical lead for EMC at the Center, manages the EMI laboratory facility and currently supports multiple programs, including Commercial Crew Development, the International Space Station, and the Orion Program. Bob is also the lead for the Community of Practice for EMC within the Agency. He has over 30 years of experience in aviation. Bob is currently the President of the EMC Society and previously served in all Officer positions for the Technical Activities Committee, TC1, TC4 and, most recently, Vice President of Technical Services. Bob is an Associate Editor for the EMC Society Transactions, and is currently serving as the founder and Chair of the Galveston Bay/Houston EMC Chapter. Bob enjoys hiking, riding motorcycles, stargazing, and playing piano.

Giuseppe Selli – Cisco Systems

Giuseppe received his Laurea Degree from the University of Rome “La Sapienza” in 2002 and his Master and Ph.D. Degrees from The Missouri University of Science and Technology in 2004 and 2007, respectively. He worked on SI for IBM at the TJ Watson Research Center in 2005 and 2006, for Amkor Technology from 2007 to 2011 focusing on packaging and for Cisco system from 2007 until now focusing on systems and packaging. He is currently the Chair of the IEEE EMC Santa Clara Valley Chapter. He is Senior Signal Integrity Engineer at Cisco Systems. He loves to play the accordion; perhaps we will hear him play La Dolce Vita during the EMC Musicians segment.


Dale Becker, IBM

Chief Engineer Electronic Packaging
Company: IBM, Poughkeepsie, NY, USA. Dr. Becker is the lead signal and power integrity engineer in IBM Systems and Technology Group. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He was the general chair of the 2014 EPEPS conference and TPC co-chair of the 2014 EMCS embedded conference on SI/PI. He is a Fellow of the IEEE.. His interests include kayaking, golfing, and biking


  1. Originally published in Electromagnetic Compatibility Magazine, IEEE (Volume:2 , Issue: 4 ). 2013.
  2. Leonard Thomas Archives


author_violette-mike2Mike Violette is President of Washington Laboratories and Director of American Certification Body. He can be reached at

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