Thursday, December 24, 2015

Congressional App Challenge open to high schoolers in 5th District

(Originally published in the 12/24/15 edition)

   Benicia teens will have an opportunity to show off their technical skills, as the second annual Congressional App Challenge is currently underway for all high school students in California’s 5th Congressional District.
   The nationwide competition, established by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2013, allows high school students from participating districts to create applications for mobile or desktop devices to promote the importance of STEM- science, technology, engineering and mathematics- courses.
   “It’s a congressional effort,” Benicia’s congressman, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Santa Rosa), said. “I think it came about when Anna Eshoo, my colleague from Silicon Valley, brought the issue to the attention to the rest of the caucus. It’s a great program. It gives our future leaders and entrepreneurs an opportunity to showcase their stuff, and hopefully there will be a lot of interest in the schools.” 
   Thompson said the outcome was rather slow in the 5th District last year, but his staff has been trying new things this year to draw bigger numbers.
   “We’ve tried more personal outreach to some of the schools, and we’ve contacted a few people in the tech industry for their ideas on how to get this out,” he said. “They’ve helped promote it through some of the work that they do.”
   The competition is available for all students above the age of 13 who live in the 5th District to participate, even if they do not have much experience with coding. The app must address a problem and provide a creative solution. Students must also provide a 1 to 4 minute demonstration video illustrating how the app works and what tools were used to create it. The video may be uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo. 
   Thompson believes the challenge could open doors for a lot of young brilliant minds. 
   “It probably appeals to a small universe of people, but the truth of the matter is there are some real bright young stars out there,” he said. “This could be something they find very beneficial from an educational perspective and a career perspective.” 
   Thompson has already met with some technical creative people, even outside of the challenge.
   “Last year, we had a student from our district who developed an app on water conservation measures,” he said. “I met him in Washington, D.C., and he was a smart young guy who developed the app, and I think it’s going to benefit him personally and possibly the community.”
   One of the main goals of the contest is to promote STEM and computer science skills to teens. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration, STEM jobs are expected to grow 17 percent over the next two years. However, while nearly half of all STEM careers require a bachelor’s degree or higher, only 29 percent earn a degree in STEM fields, according to a study by Burning Glass Technologies. 
   Thompson believes STEM skills are important for students to learn because he feels they will benefit their futures in a big way.
   “it’s the future of our country and our district,” he said. “Young men and women are going to become leaders, not only in our towns and counties and state and country, but in the world. Anything we do to promote this is beneficial not only to them but to our future.”

   All interested Benicia High School and Liberty High School students, as well as other high schoolers in the 5th District, can participate by going to The deadline for students to submit their source code online is midnight on Friday, Jan. 15. For more information on the contest and the steps to participate, visit and click on “2015 House STEM Competition” under the “Fifth District” tab. 

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