Iowa State’s Williams sisters share their computer science experiences at White House tech summit

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Ames, Iowa – The text message invitation arrived on Cassidy Williams’ phone about 10 days before the event.

"Can you and your sister, Camryn, come to Washington, D.C., and speak at a national White House meeting on technology?"

Cassidy, left, and Camryn Williams

It’s not an everyday request of college students, but the two Iowa State University computer science majors decline few offers – especially when they involve computing.

The National Center for Women and Information Technology invited the Williams sisters to represent it at the White House Tech Inclusion Summit, held Jan. 31 in Washington. President Obama’s chief technical officer, Todd Park, and the Level Playing Institute of Oakland, Calif., hosted the summit, held at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, located adjacent to the White House.

NCWIT has about 800 student members, but it could only invite 10 to the summit. Iowa State was the only university with more than one student representative.

"It was amazing to attend a meeting in the White House," said Camryn, a freshman. "We met so many people."

Technology experts from business, government, education and non-profits attended the summit to examine ways to grow the number of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) graduates. A special emphasis was on "underserved and historically underrepresented communities, including women and girls," according to the White House.

From Downers Grove, Ill., the sisters each spoke about their experiences as Hispanic women studying computer science and their perspectives on pursuing careers in a traditionally male-dominated field. Both women left the summit uplifted by the support everyone offered, along with requests by company reps to "keep us in mind" when they graduate.

Cassidy, a third-year student who will intern this summer at Intuit, a California software company, returned to Ames with a stack of business cards. "People from all these large corporations and start-up companies kept telling me to meet with them when I’m in California this summer," she said.

"Everyone was so encouraging," added Camryn. "They just said, ‘Keep on going because you are paving the way for others.’ That will always stay with me."

Cassidy and Camryn, who are often asked whether they are twins, are heavily involved in campus activities. Both are in the Computer Science Club, computer science’s learning community, Spanish Club, Women and Science in Engineering, and other organizations such as Coffee, Tea and English, which helps international students improve their English speaking skills. Each is also a member of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Ambassadors, a group that assists the college with student recruiting.

Both sisters bleed Cardinal and Gold, and Cassidy wears the colors from head to toe as one of the Cy mascots. She dons the Cy outfit for many campus events and has also done the Iowa State Fair.

"It’s a really fun job and becoming Cy’s persona is a total blast," Cassidy said. "Everyone is so excited to high-five me and take pictures with me, I can’t help but smile even though no one can see my face."

As much as they love computer programming, the women are the first members of their family to study computer science. They’re also the first of their kin to attend Iowa State. Cassidy visited several universities across the United States during her college search, and Camryn often tagged along providing sisterly advice. As they talked about the other schools, they always found themselves comparing them to Iowa State. It became obvious Ames was the place for Cassidy – and also Camryn.

"I was a freshman [in high school] at the time," Camryn recalled, "and I liked it here so much that I kind of decided on Iowa State even before Cassidy did."

More on the White House Tech Summit


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Contact: Steve Jones, Liberal Arts & Sciences Communication, (515) 294-0461, (