By Stephanie Davis Smith

Brain hacking, virtual conference tracks, robotics—it all sounds like a futuristic sci-fi movie. Instead, it’s cutting-edge engagement powered by the strategic programs team at IEEE, the world’s largest professional organization advancing technology for the benefit of humanity. Senior Manager Beth Surmont, CMP, and Project Specialist David Stankiewicz are part of a larger team of 50 people who support IEEE’s 1,600 global meetings annually for 480,000 attendees.

“I think of us more as event production specialists who brainstorm new paradigms, tools and methodologies.” —David Stankiewicz

The pair has been charged with driving new events and getting member content in front of untapped audiences. “I think of us more as event production specialists who brainstorm new paradigms, tools and methodologies,” says Stankiewicz. There’s no better example than their involvement with South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, the last four years. This year, after presenting 10 sessions during the festival, Stankiewicz and Surmont hosted a soiree at the historic Driskill hotel to showcase IEEE members working on avant-garde technology. Two members demonstrated DIY brain hacking on a cockroach to increase its memory concentration; an MIT professor spoke about robotic prosthetic legs; Texas A&M students showed off the latest in robotics; and the IEEE Photonics Society turned music into light. The hashtag for the event, #PartyLikeAnEngineer, went viral, creating a line out the door all night.

SXSW isn’t the only place Stankiewicz and Surmont show off the association’s high-tech sensibilities. For IEEE’s Women in Engineering conference and internal meetings, Surmont uses EventMobi for crowdsourcing Q&A segments. Within the app, attendees submit questions and the audience votes on which ones get asked. “It’s democratic and allows for the best questions to get their due and introverts to have a voice,” says Surmont. You’ll also find her Strategic Programs team experimenting with Twitter walls, crowdsourced music playlists, Google Hangouts, mock live events and virtual conference tracks using digital platforms for IEEE’s global gatherings.