When Freshman Ruby Kilpper and sophomore Sydney Whited of the Providence School high school set out to develop an app for the Congressional App Challenge, they had a lot of ideas and not much time to choose one.
“We kept narrowing it down based on our skill level, what we thought we could do, and how much time we had,” said Syndey.
Eventually the two settled on Santa Barbara Volunteer Opportunities, a way for high schoolers to find volunteer opportunities in the area. And after a month of dedication their hard work paid off, winning the app challenge in Rep. Salud Carbajal’s 24th Congressional District.
Ruby and Sydney received the Congressional App Challenge award from Mr. Carbajal on Monday.
The annual coding competition for students was created to increase congressional awareness of computer science and STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math).
Mr. Carbajal brought the two students to his Santa Barbara district office to honor their achievements and invite them to a reception at the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.
“It’s a great opportunity to provide to our constituents and our young people, and it’s really cool to have young people from your district represented in Washington. We’re all very proud of you,” said Mr. Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara.
The pair are students in the Providence Engineering Academy. Launched in 2015, the academy, led by Rodney Meadth, serves as a springboard for students considering a career in math, science, or engineering disciplines. Participants enroll in specific classes from ninth through 12th grades.
Santa Barbara High School students won the challenge last year, but Providence stepped up the competition in 2019 by submitting eight projects.
“We’ve never gotten so many projects submitted from one school in particular, so obviously your teacher and your school had a lot to do with it and it just makes me feel really good about our future, the fact that you have a local school who’s really promoting coding,” Mr. Carbajal told the students.
The app Ruby and Sydney created for the competition, the Santa Barbara Volunteer Opportunities app, allows local nonprofits to post opportunities to serve, with details about age and time requirements, location, and the work needed from volunteers.
Users can use the app when they are interested in finding somewhere to serve. The pair wrote the app’s script in Java with 500 lines of code, and designed it mainly for use by high school students.
Sydney and Ruby were inspired to make the app by Providence’s annual day of service, in which students volunteer around the city, as well as Sydney’s experience volunteering with her mother for the Santa Barbara chapter of the National Charity League.
“I think it’s a great requirement to go out and serve your community, but sometimes it can be difficult to find opportunities to serve,” Ruby said.
The pair wanted to create a platform where students can reach out to organizations on their own to find different opportunities that work for their schedule and interests.
“We wanted to create an app that made the process easier and overall better for our community,” said Ruby.
“This was very innovative,” said Mr. Carbajal. “My staff and I, we went through them all, and yours was clearly at the top early on because it’s just so practical, and it’s so user friendly.”
Although they had some experience coding, it was the first time either of them had worked with Java. Sydney had tried coding in middle school and didn’t take to it, but this time around she and Ruby had a lot of fun. Both have been inspired to continue learning about coding as they think about college and the future.
With the limited time to come up with a concept and develop the app, Sydney and Ruby weren’t able to fit in every feature they wanted, like a search bar and map. Nevertheless, they’re proud of what they were able to accomplish.
The SBVO app is still in the development and testing stage and is not yet available for download, but Ruby and Sydney are considering finishing the project despite the Challenge having ended.
Established in 2015, the Congressional App Challenge is considered to be the most prestigious prize in student computer science, according to the CAC website.
Members of the House of Representatives host contests in their districts for middle and high school students, encouraging them to learn to code and inspiring them to pursue careers in computer science.
Participating House members each select a winning app from their districts, and each winning team is invited to showcase their winning app at the U.S. Capitol during the annual #HouseOfCode festival in the spring.
Since its inception, the CAC has inspired more than 14,000 students across 48 states to program an app. In 2019, 10,000 students registered for the competition, 2,177 created and submitted functioning apps, and 304 House members chose winners from their districts.
Sydney and Ruby will receive a $250 Amazon Web Service Credit. Their app and their names will be displayed on the Congressional App Challenge website. The House of Representatives reception will be the second time Sydney and Ruby have visited the Capitol, after an eighth-grade field trip to the city.
“Now you get to go back as winners!” said Mr. Carbajal.