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Rep. Young Kim and Shinan Fu, Congressional App Challenge

Feb 5, 2024 | Education, In The News

OCDE Newsroom

Orange County students responded to the 2023 Congressional App Challenge by showcasing their commitment to using technology for social good.

The young innovators developed mobile apps to support mental health, address environmental concerns and tackle food insecurity. The students were compelled to create platforms to address issues and concerns that they, their friends, or loved ones are experiencing, with the hope of improving the world around them.

This year, 11 local high schoolers earned honors in the app challenge, which is a series of regional app-development competitions hosted by members of U.S. Congress.

From 374 congressional districts in 50 states, nearly 11,334 middle and high school students submitted entries, resulting in 3,664 fully functioning apps

Here’s a look at the winning apps from Orange County’s congressional districts, with a little background from their student-creators:

Starfly by Andrea Yang from Diamond Bar High School
Rep. Linda Sanchez | 38th Congressional District

“Women and people of color (POC) are small minorities in the space industry. Women make up only a third of NASA’s workforce, and they comprise just 16 percent of senior scientific employees. An even smaller amount of the space industry is African American. In 2018, a survey conducted by the American Astronomical Society found that only 2 percent of its members identified as black or African-American. 

“In 2020, there were only around 22 black female astronauts in the U.S. The underlying factors contributing to the racial and gender gaps in astronomy are largely a result of conformity to social expectations, gender stereotypes and roles, limited opportunities for mentoring for minorities in STEM, and lack of role models/limited understanding of the value of STEM fields.

“A survey I conducted (with 200-plus responders amongst middle and high school students) found that young girls in America show just as much interest as young boys in astronomical fields. Most girls lost interest in STEM subjects after the age of 15, with a peak of ages 11 to 14. The reasons for the loss of interest overlapped to a great extent with the reasons contributing to the racial and gender gaps in astronomy.”

Trashbot by Shihan Fu from St. Margaret’s Episcopal School
Rep. Young Kim | 40th Congressional District

“The government and environmental groups are telling citizens to recycle on a daily basis, but the main reason why people fail to recycle is because they don’t have the time to make the decision of whether or not the trash is recyclable and that they don’t know what could be recycled and what couldn’t. I first noticed this issue at school during lunch. As people do a great job throwing away their trash, because they are rushing to get to their next class or that they don’t know how to recycle, they don’t always throw their trash into the correct bin. The items that aren’t properly recycled goes into landfill, and 80 percent of the trash in landfill are actually recyclable. As a large portion of trash that’s recyclable is going into landfill, it’s contaminating the environment, killing other living organisms, destroying natural habitats for other organisms, and things such as micro plastic will come back eventually to harm humans health. 

“This issue is important because this is not only harming the environment and other animals, but humans are also facing the consequences. As the large plastics that people toss into the environment turn into smaller microplastics due to erosion, it either goes directly into our body by breathing them, or they go into the animals that we eat, and then we swallow microplastic with our food. Although the tiny pieces of plastic can’t kill us directly, the toxic chemicals and the possibility of it clogging up blood vessels is devastating. 

“Although many people are aware of the issue and are trying to recycle, determining what could be recycled and what can’t can be tricky. Just for plastic, there are recyclable plastic and non-recyclable plastic and people need to carefully read the packaging to determine. Therefore, the issue that this project is trying to solve is not only trying to recycle trash, but also using technology such as a robotic arm, and computer vision to assist people with the process of recycling.”

EcoTracker by Gavin-kai Vida, Christopher Vu and Angad Batra from Whitney High School
Rep. Michelle Steel | 45th Congressional District

“I (Christopher Vu) hold an intense passion for climate-related issues, around which I’ve organized most of my past projects. I have developed numerous programs aligned with environmental ideals, so something climate-related was the first thing that came to mind for the Congressional App Challenge. As a competitive swimmer for nine years, I share a deep connection with water-related initiatives. Growing up in Seal Beach, with the ocean just a short walk away, the beach holds significant sentimental value for me.” 

“I (Angad Batra) am firmly dedicated to spreading awareness of any widespread, man-made issues, though I give special attention to climate change as it impacts us on a global scale and affects the wellbeing of our current and future generations. I used to spend the majority of my free time at beaches, either for recreation or for voluntary cleanups. I realized that although this temporarily delays climate change, it is ultimately not enough to prevent it. Spreading awareness and helping others understand the problem is a huge step in the right direction, so that they become aware of their own contributions and become mindful of their activities.

“Passion for solving climate change goes beyond simply reducing carbon emissions. It encompasses reimagining our energy systems, reevaluating our consumption patterns, and preserving our precious ecosystems. It’s about fostering equity, ensuring that the most vulnerable among us are protected, and embracing sustainable practices that benefit all.”

“I (Gavin-kai Vida) am inspired by the countless individuals, organizations and movements worldwide that are already driving change. Passion for solving climate change goes beyond simply reducing carbon emissions. It encompasses re-imagining our energy systems, re-evaluating our consumption patterns, and preserving our precious ecosystems. Through this app, we aim to motivate others to embrace sustainable practices that benefit all to ensure the protection of our planet.”

Recollect by Matthew Bersalona from Oxford Academy
Rep. Lou Correa | 46th Congressional District


“A few months ago, I reached one of the lowest points of my life, feeling depressed and hopeless because of the fact that I was doing nothing good with my life. Even though I knew that I had important things to do, I was consumed by my video game addiction. 

“The turning point was when I saw a YouTube video titled ‘How I glowed up naturally (in less than a year).’ This video helped me improve my mental health by making me realize that I was feeling horrible about myself because I was treating myself horribly. With this realization, I became more organized with my life, which led to me being more productive and feeling better about myself. 

“The shocking fact about high school students, especially those at my school, is that many of them can relate to having poor mental health at some point. Mental health is a silent epidemic that plagues teens for a majority of their lives, which is why I tried to tackle it with Recollect. By creating a healthy mental space for the user, their mental health should improve over time. Even if it is not a solution for everyone, I hope this app can be used to better their lifestyles.”

Fill Food Banks by Cooper McCloskey from Corona del Mar High School
Rep. Katie Porter | 47th Congressional District


“During Covid-19, food banks shut down for health reasons. The government made sure to provide support for people who required food banks’ service.

“However, when the pandemic ended, so did these government programs, and the food banks did not come back in the same capacity as they had before. It is necessary that we support these food banks. I thought it would be good to try to donate to these food banks. However, when I was looking into donating healthy foods, it was impossible to find the necessary information and would’ve taken many hours just to find a food bank that would accept the food I wanted to donate. This was a problem I knew I could solve so I created this app.”

Ember by Zonglin Zhang and Chongda You from Portola High School, along with Jingwen Mao and Liam Dowd from Santa Margarita Catholic High School
Rep. Mike Levin | 49th Congressional District


“During middle school, a friend of ours … experienced severe depression due to parental divorce and peer pressure. We have seen how depression can tear down a positive person so quickly, and he would not be with us today if we did not make up the mind to communicate with his parents about his situation. 

“Our friend’s journey through depression has taught us empathy, resilience and the power of friendship. His story has fueled our determination to create a platform that can make a positive impact on the lives of teenagers facing similar challenges. 

“We hope that our app, Ember, will serve as a place of hope, encouragement and empowerment, linking troubled teenagers to the help they need. Knowing how misinformation is often the cause for depression to develop into an unredeemable, we highly prioritize accurate communication into the making of Ember. Connection with friends and trusted adults was what saved our friend, and Ember is our way to bring that treatment to all teenagers in need.”

The Congressional App Challenge is an official U.S. House of Representatives initiative that encourages students to learn coding as a step toward pursuing careers in computer science. 

Participating Congress members select the winning apps from their districts, and the students who created them get to showcase their innovations during an annual #HouseOfCode celebration. 

The program is billed as a public-private partnership made possible with funding from a number of sponsors, including Omidyar Network, AWS, theCoderSchool, Facebook, Apple and CGI.

Eligible students can already pre-register for the next Congressional App Challenge, which is expected to launch in June.For more information, visit www.congressionalappchallenge.us.

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