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The Congressional App Challenge: Connecting today’s Congress with tomorrow’s coders

Today’s guest post is contributed by Rhianon Anderson, Executive Director of the Congressional App Challenge, which is sponsored in part by the Washington Office of the American Library Association. The Challenge is a perfect way for libraries to connect teens to coding and civic participation – and to engage our members of Congress in the ways that libraries are serving the communities of today and tomorrow.  

Libraries have always served as a resource for those seeking to learn new skills. Today, one of the most valuable skills that a student can learn is how to code. America’s future economic well-being depends on the skill of our next generation of coders, computer scientists and engineers. These are the jobs of the future, and by 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer science related jobs available in America. However, there will only 400,000 computer science graduates with the skills to fill those roles.

Congressional App Challenge logo with graphic of capitol dome in red, white and blue
Libraries can get ready now for the 2017 Congressional App Challenge, which runs from July 26 to November 1.

Many libraries, recognizing the growing importance of computer science education, have already implemented programs to teach coding skills to the community. The U.S. House of Representatives has also launched its own effort to address the shortage of technical literacy: the Congressional App Challenge.

Officially launched in 2015 through the efforts of Reps. Bob Goodlatte (VA-06), Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18) and the Congressional Internet Caucus, the Congressional App Challenge (CAC) is a national effort to encourage students to learn how to code. With support from the Internet Education Foundation, Congressional Representatives participating in the CAC host annual competitions for their students, who code and submit original apps for a chance to win their district’s Challenge. The winning apps are put on display in the Capitol for the following year, while winners(s) from each district receive prizes; are honored by their Member of Congress; and are invited to demo their work at #HouseOfCode, a reception held in their honor on Capitol Hill.

The Congressional App Challenge brings exposure and opportunities in coding to students who might otherwise never receive such attention. During the program’s first two cycles, nearly 4,000 students from 33 different states competed in their district competition, submitting over 1,000 original apps. Students learn introductory computer science skills, express their creativity and receive recognition for their efforts to pursue valuable professional skills. Over 78% of the student participants reported that they would continue their coding education, and over 97% of the student participants said they learned new skills through their participation in the Challenge.

Creativity in coding

Students are encouraged to think originally and work on projects that mean something to them. The winners of 2016 created applications ranging from games, to virtual medical aids, to language translators, with nearly 35% of students creating some type of educational tool. The CAC gave these students an opportunity to put their problem-solving skills to use while developing new and tangible skills for the future. Some winning projects include:

Pocket Doctor (Kaitlyn Chan and Priya Koliwad)
The winners from Rep. Jackie Speier’s district (CA-14) set out to create an application that would reduce the impact of disease in developing countries. Pocket Doctor provides a guide to common symptoms and treatments in addition to offering advice on when to seek the care of a medical professional. Topics like infant care and personal hygiene are also covered for preventative measures.

Hill Happenings (Alexander Frolov, Mohnish Sabhani and Kevin Zhang)
Hill Happenings is an application designed to engage the electorate in political news through clear and simple summaries of the congressional record. From the Rep. Leonard Lance’s New Jersey district (NJ-07), this team developed a source for unbiased updates directly from the Hill. Users can receive these notifications throughout the day on the desktop plug-in, which includes links to social network sites for simple sharing.

Talk to the Hand (Riya Danait and Shambhavi Badi)
Congressman Sam Johnson selected Riya and Shambhavi as the winners of Texas’ 3rd district for their sign language translator. Users can select from over 90 languages that will be translated into English and then American Sign Language. With a simple visual guide to the hand gestures, users can now communicate with deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals regardless of their knowledge of ASL.

Starting the 2017 CAC

This summer, the House of Representatives will launch the third Congressional App Challenge. From July 26 to November 1, 2017, eligible students will be invited to code and submit their own original apps, either on their own or as part of a team. (Students may compete in teams of up to four, provided at least 2 of the teammates live or attend school within the district they’re competing in).

Given ALA’s Libraries Ready to Code initiative, libraries are a natural fit as partners for the CAC, offering students resources, guidance, a place to work, and a place to ask questions about the things they’re learning. As such a valuable community resource, we hope to see many libraries work with their congressional offices to offer information and resources to students participating in the 2017 Congressional App Challenge.

Visit the CAC website ( to get more information, and then let your Congressional office know that you’d like them to host the CAC in your district! Most offices are happy to participate if they know there’s interest. You can find email templates on the CAC website, and you can also call or message your Representative on social media.

Since students can submit projects they previously created, the CAC can easily be incorporated into existing programs. If your library already has a coding/CS program, propose the idea to your students, and have them work on an app to submit in July!


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Shawnda Hines

Shawnda Hines is an assistant director of Communications at ALA's Washington Office. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Evangel University in Missouri. Before joining the ALA in 2016, Shawnda worked as press secretary and local media organizer for the national advocacy group Bread for the World.

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