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Hey Congress, there’s an app for that!

Students swarm Capitol Hill, showcase computer science skills

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#HouseOfCode, a Computer Science Festival on Capitol Hill, welcomed 232 students from 129 congressional districts who all assembled in a packed room inside Rayburn. These high-tech middle and high schoolers wore their “congressional app challenge” cotton tees with pride, favoring computer applications over the typical D.C. attire. The task was to showcase their contributions to computer science and, once I showed up, explain “coding.”

“Coding … is a language where you’re trying to write an application,” high school senior Ryan Lee began explaining before his galactic-themed game, “Space Exploration,” caught my attention. (I’m a sucker for space and, full disclosure, he lost me at “language.”)

The room was packed with young masterminds, bewildered “regular” folk and members like Reps. Will Hurd, Terri Sewell and Donald Payne, who came to congratulate the winning prodigies from their districts.

The crowd didn’t leave much room for the mom-and-dad chaperones. They were relegated to the hall just outside, leaving most of the spotlight to their kids, but not afraid to bask in a little of it themselves.

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“[I’m] very proud of our girls,” boasted proud mom Kathleen Rogers, whose daughter, Madeline, is part of an all-girl team from Santa Barbara, California.

Their creation, “Santa Barbara Highlights,” is “an interactive map which allows visitors to view locations that locals think are the best places to go,”  Karleigh Dehlsen explained in a YouTube demo. The team conceptualized the idea to maintain the city’s high tourism after the devastation from the recent California wildfires.

The number of women in STEM has been historically lower than men, but “Highlights” teammate Madeline felt far from left out. “When I walked around, I didn’t feel like I was the only girl. I saw lots of … other females and other races, so that was nice to see,” she said.

Not too far from her team was Gianna Yang, an eighth-grader from Oakland, California, who created “@bay” to “increase civic engagement among millennials and young communities.” 

Also helping “young communities” was Lucas Spusta from Raleigh, North Carolina, who designed and developed “School Chatty” — an app that allows students to anonymously report bullying.

With more than 5,000 student submissions, the competition, now in its fourth year, has grown 300 percent since the first year, according to Joe Alessi, program director for the Congressional App Challenge.

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