Carnegie Mellon University
October 05, 2016

CMU Information Systems Team Wins Boeing Competition

By Emily Stimmel

What keeps a fleet of planes reliable and safe? How does a company like Boeing predict and assess threats to the security of its internal systems? With these questions in mind, a Carnegie Mellon University team embarked on an ambitious security management project – and now their ideas are taking flight.

As a leader in aerospace manufacturing, Boeing relies on cutting-edge technology. The company created its annual UpLift IT Case Competition as a way to access the technical knowledge of U.S. college students.

When CMU junior Meghana Valluri heard about the competition, she knew she wanted to enter with her classmates Annette Chen and Emily Su. The three had been working together on projects in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Information Systems (IS) Program since their first year. It was a good fit because each has started to focus on different technical aspects of their projects.

“Meghana is a project manager, Annette works on the backend and I’m a designer who works a lot on the user interface,” said Su.

Valluri added, “We’re good friends and enjoy working together on class assignments, but this was our first group project outside of the IS Program.”

The group won first place in the competition’s data visualization category with SecurityPulse, a web-based dashboard system that monitors security threats in airplanes. The application differs from existing security management tools in that it displays a holistic overview of current threats, rather than snapshots of individual issues. The women, who were among 14 registered teams, are currently scaling the dashboard to work on mobile devices and adapting it to other fields, including finance and education.

Larry Heimann, teaching professor of information systems, offered encouragement and helped them overcome technological hurdles along the way.

“Prof. H. helped us put the pieces together, especially when it came to material we hadn’t learned before,” said Valluri.

Rob Houle, a 2011 graduate of CMU’s IS program, believes the close alignment between the IS curriculum and current industry needs helped prepare him for his work as an IT business partner at Boeing’s southern California office.

“My time at CMU set the foundation for the skills and experience I rely on every day in my career,” said Houle.

Kelly Dowdy, executive director of information technology at Boeing’s St. Louis site, cultivates the company’s longstanding relationship with CMU. A two-time CMU alumna, Dowdy received her B.S. in Information Systems in 2005 and her M.S. in Information Technology from the H. John Heinz III College in 2010.

She believes that CMU’s emphasis on hands-on learning and real-world projects helps students build the skills they need to land jobs and excel in a variety of industries.

“It’s a great way to bridge the gap from the academic world to the real world,” she said. “It also allows students to make connections with companies and start building a relationship that can lead to scholarships, internships and full-time positions.”

Boeing representatives visited CMU in early October to present prizes and conduct onsite interviews for internships and jobs. The team received a $1,500 grant to share, and they’ve been invited—along with Heimann—to travel to Seattle, where they will tour the Boeing Everett Factory and meet key leaders in the IT department.

“I’m looking forward to meeting with Boeing’s IT leadership to pick their brains. Security is near and dear to their hearts—and to ours,” said Heimann.