By Mary O’KEEFE
On Tuesday, Congressman Adam Schiff announced the winners of the Congressional Student STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)Challenge at the Theodore von Karmen Auditorium at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Crescenta Valley High School students were awarded second and third place in this first Congressional challenge whose purpose is to highlight and encourage students in the fields of STEM. The first place winner was a team from Hollywood High School.
In February, high school students across the nation were challenged by Congress to come up with a software application for mobile, tablet or computer devices. The theme this year was to identify a need in the lives of the students and produce an application to fill that need.
“According to the Department of Education, only 16% of high school seniors are proficient in math or interested in a STEM career,” Schiff said. “Looking about the room today, you can see that number doesn’t reflect the schools in our area where there is great interest in science, part of which is because we see the miraculous work done in our own backyard [at JPL].”
Schiff represents the 28th Congressional District that includes La Crescenta, Glendale, Hollywood, La Cañada and Burbank. More students accepted the challenge in the 28th District than any other district. Students from Clark Magnet, Hollywood, Crescenta Valley, John Marshall, La Cañada and University high schools participated.
Samantha Englander, Laura Moreno, Javier Moro and Diego Tamayo from the Hollywood High School team won first place for #MYOOTD. The app allowed users to generate, save and try out new clothing outfits on their phones before buying or wearing them. Photos of their own clothes were uploaded onto their mobile device and then clothes they wanted to purchase could be added to see if it all works to make a complete outfit. It is a way to be organized and also, as they pointed out in their video, a way for companies to offer items for sale.
CVHS student Justin Park was awarded second place for his “Mission Multiplication” app. The app had the controller flying a space ship through an asteroid field. The player was given a multiplication problem at the top of the screen then had to fly the ship through a ring with the correct answer all the while avoiding the asteroids hurtling toward the ship.
CVHS student Trevor Fonda won third place for “A Knight’s Journey,” a theoretical challenge to create a sequence of moves of a knight on a chessboard to ensure that the knight, which moves in an L shape, visits each square only once.
Everyone who participated also received recognition from Schiff. Leo Neat, a La Cañada High School junior, created a game app that was inspired by a confused frog.
“I watched this video of a frog biting a computer screen [because] there was a [virtual] ant on it,” Neat said of his inspiration.
From that, he created a game where “you smack little critters.”
The competition, at least to the students who attended JPL’s ceremony, did exactly what Schiff had hoped – made STEM challenging and fun.
For years Congress has had a Congressional Art Competition and Schiff has tried for about 10 years to create a challenge for STEM. Each time the proposal failed for him and others in Congress who had attempted it, until finally this year it passed.
Schiff has been a strong supporter of STEM in schools and a constant advocate for NASA/JPL and planetary research.
“As a nation, we may have slipped from the top of the field of STEM but I am assured by the students here today we can climb back up and reclaim our top spot,” Schiff told the JPL STEM audience.
As for the strong participation of his district, Schiff credits local high school students and teachers and his staff for getting the word out about the program.
“We have strong STEM families here,” he said.
“It is great to see young people engaged in this type of activity and creating new capabilities,” said Larry D. James, deputy director at JPL. “As we look to the future at JPL, [it] will be absolutely essential. Creativity and innovation is what we look for.”
The STEM competition will be different next year with a challenge that will inspire future innovators.
“I think [the competition] is an opportunity to learn, for [the students] to understand what it takes to be the best,” James said. “That is what we strive for at JPL – to be the best space exploration organization on the planet. It all plays into the future.”