Using creativity, innovation to solve problems

Alyssa Brown standing at the foot of a rocky hill. Stairs and railings can be seen in the background.
Alyssa Brown, senior in industrial technology and agricultural systems technology, has used her problem-solving and innovative thinking skills to excel during her time at Iowa State.

By Whitney Baxter

If there is a common theme to Alyssa Brown’s time at Iowa State University, it’s that it has taught her to think outside of the box.

Brown, senior in industrial technology and agricultural systems technology, grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She came to Iowa State as a mechanical engineering major but soon switched to her current two majors. She especially likes industrial technology because of the hands-on experience the field offers in manufacturing parts.

“I like having an interactive role of working with people on the floor in manufacturing facilities,” Brown said. “And with agricultural systems technology, there are so many opportunities to work directly with people.”

Individuals handing out plants to Ugandan children gathered in the shade under trees.
Alyssa Brown, third from left, hands out plants to Ugandan children. While participating in the Iowa State University - Uganda Program, Brown used creativity to find solutions to problems, such as using shoestrings to tie up and stabilize growing tomato plants.

During the summer of 2022, Brown participated in the Iowa State University – Uganda Program. Her six-week experience was spent working with an agroforestry group to plant trees and cover crops to make the most of the available land. She also put into practice the things she was learning in her classes to plan the building of a well for a water sanitation system.

In a country with fewer resources than the U.S., Brown had to get creative in finding solutions to problems. She used shoestrings to tie tomato plants to stakes for support and used a shoe as a makeshift football while playing catch with Ugandan children.

“Simple solutions can be overlooked by all the technology we have in the U.S.,” Brown said. “This experience made me appreciate how fortunate we are over here.”

That same summer, she began working as an undergraduate research assistant at the BioCentury Research Farm. From testing for grain quality to helping with fertilizer tests in the field, Brown’s eyes were opened to the agriculture industry.

“It’s probably been the most helpful experience I’ve had to get me exposed to agriculture,” Brown said. “I’m always learning something new out there.”

Another opportunity for innovation was when two nuts on the plate of a testing machine broke off at the research farm. Rather than waiting several hours for repairs, Brown used a bit of creativity to hot glue the nuts back on so the test could be completed.

These demonstrations of problem-solving and innovative thinking led to Brown receiving one of the inaugural C.S. Liew Innovation Impact Awards from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Following graduation in May 2024, Brown will commission as a United States Marine Corps Officer. She will use the leadership skills she has developed as a Naval ROTC member on campus and continue to think outside of the box.