Computer science major’s ideas take flight on British Airways’ UnGrounded

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Cassidy Williams was on a flight that was anything but usual.

The Iowa State University third-year computer science major participated in a San Francisco-to-London flight in June that was billed as "100 brilliant innovators. 11 hours. One plane. Can a single transatlantic flight help change the world?"

Williams, the only undergraduate among the 100 high-tech innovators aboard, participated in British Airways’ UnGrounded, an innovation lab in the air. The event brought together teams of tech industry leaders and visionaries to tackle the global talent crunch in the workforce by connecting tech talent with job opportunities. Participants were an A List of tech leaders from Google, Intuit, Craigslist, Stanford University and ISU.

Cassidy Williams’ Team Altitude collaborate ideas on a flight from San Francisco to London.

When they touched down in London, they presented their work to a like-minded group of thought leaders at the Decide Now Act Summit, a global social-change conference that undertakes pressing issues for the United Nations.

The trip required a lot of brainpower and resulted in little sleep, but Williams emphatically said she would do it again. "The lack of sleep, the hard work, the long flights… it was all worth it," said the Downers Grove, Ill., native who is interning this summer at the software company Intuit in California.

Williams’ Team Altitude was the winner among the four teams aboard the flight. Her group explored strategies to encourage more women to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematical) fields. Team Altitude developed AdvisHer, an online community to "leverage the power of pipeline programs to advise, advocate and accelerate women in STEM-related jobs around the world. "

Cassidy Williams’ Team Altitude developed ‘AdvisHer’, an online community to "leverage the power of pipeline programs to advise, advocate and accelerate women in STEM-related jobs around the world."

AdvisHer won, Williams said, because it was a clear, simple solution. "Women make up 56 percent of college graduates, but represent only 35 percent of the tech workforce. Meanwhile there’s an 80 percent attrition rate for women involved in STEM-related jobs. This has to change, and that is universally agreed upon."

Although Williams was the only undergrad college student on the flight, her opinions carried a lot of weight with her team’s tech heavyweights. "Everyone was absolutely great about it," Williams said. "If anything, they asked for my ideas the most because they sort of had me representing all undergraduate and young students that could use our platform."

It has been quite a year thus far for Williams. In January, she and her sister, Camryn, a first-year ISU computer science student, were invited to represent the National Center for Women and Information Technology at the White House Tech Inclusion Summit in Washington, D.C.

Cassidy Williams’ advise on brainstorming and creative problem solving:

• Brainstorm on a level playing field. When you are brainstorming with a team, ignore job titles. Great ideas come from anywhere and anyone.

• Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s a sign of curiosity and can yield great rewards.

• Step outside of your comfort zone. During the flight, I was one of two designated “Content Gurus” responsible for helping teams with any and all graphic design requests. It was a rapid-fire, high-pressure hour, but an awesome opportunity to collaborate!

• Innovate without distractions. No Wi-Fi and 30,000 feet in the air with no ability to step out of the room forced the teams to immerse themselves in brainstorming. Find and nurture your own innovation lab.

Intuit story

Cassidy’s website