The Congressional App Challenge is an initiative by the House of Representatives to inspire students to explore the wonders of computer science and technology. With the ongoing information/digital age, computer science is an ever expanding innovative field that permeates our everyday lives. 

By designing and coding apps, participating students learn the technical skills essential to many jobs in the current era while building fun projects revolving around various everyday issues they are passionate about. 

Using any coding language, middle and high school students of teams up to four people program an application (iOS/Android, web, browser extension, desktop, robot, etc.) revolving around any topic or theme. Students then submit the app and an explanatory video through an online submission form. Their apps compete with other submissions within their district and winning students are honored by their representative.

In spring of the following year, winners from each district are invited to the #houseofcode reception in Washington, D.C. to present their app to members of Congress and meet other winners from districts all over the United States. Winning apps also have the opportunity to be displayed on a paneled screen in the U.S. Capitol building as well as the House.gov website. 

In 2017, I had the honor of winning the app challenge for the 14th district of California, represented by U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo. After attending Speier’s Alzheimer’s disease panel discussion at the San Mateo City Hall, I built an iOS memory game app called Observe!! using the programming language Swift. Observe!! uses the brain training technique speed of processing to improve memory, showing players a picture and asking questions about it for a short period of time, forcing the player to pay attention to image details. 

Last year, Nueva High School student Lauren Wong won for her iOS app DoNation, a platform that allows charities to post requests for donations to easily find them. Through the app, donors can find local approved charity drives and where to donate. 

 “Attending #houseofcode and seeing all the cool winning projects inspired me to do even more with coding.” Wong said. “I came home and programmed a website for DoNation to go with the iOS app.” 

Though there are many challenges when creating such apps (such as learning the new language and dealing with complications with Apple’s strict guidelines), it truly opens doors on the potential of computer science and how much fun it is to work on a personal product. 

“At House of Code, I saw some winning projects that used block code. So you don’t have to be an advanced coder.” Wong said. “If you have an idea, maybe something that can help you community, just try it! That’s the best way to learn coding.”

Three years ago, Alexandra Chin and her friends won the challenge for their product, The Allergy App, an app that scans products for people who have allergies so they can check what products they could consume. Chin is now an incoming freshman at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

“My experience with the Congressional App Challenge opened a lot of opportunities for me.” she said. “The ability to create tech that people could use in their daily lives like mobile apps has definitely pushed me to pursue computer science in college.”

The Congressional App Challenge is accepting applications until Nov. 1. To enter the competition, students should register on the contest’s website and upload a video explaining their app and its design process. Apps will be evaluated by Speier’s interns. For more information, please check out congressionalappchallenge.us or email 20jalessi@CongressionalAppChallenge.us

Erika Pilpre is a junior at Aragon High School in San Mateo. Student News appears in the weekend edition. You can email Student News at news@smdailyjournal.com.

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