Inspiring a Diverse Pipeline of Future Computer Science Talent

CSforALL’s Member, The Congressional App Challenge, describes their 2020 CSforALL Commitment and CSEd activities in the wake of the COVID-19 Crisis

Three girls talking around a booth about the Congressional App Challenge

Our 2020 Commitment: The Congressional App Challenge is committed to inspiring a diverse pipeline of future CS talent in every corner of the nation by partnering with Congress to host hundreds of local coding competitions in congressional districts across the nation. In our sixth year, the Congressional App Challenge aims to host App Challenges for over two-thirds of all American students in all fifty states. We plan to do this by working with over two-thirds of the House of Representatives to host App Challenges in their districts. Our impact goals are as follows: The Congressional App Challenge hopes to reach over 300 Members of Congress, 1,500 Congressional Staffers 3,000 CS Educators, and 10,000 American Students during the 2020 Congressional App Challenge.

In typical years, the Congressional App Challenge is a groundbreaking initiative that provides inspiration to thousands of American students across every layer of social strata. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, as uncertainty ground in-person education to a halt, the Congressional App Challenge became a critical bridge to CS education for students, parents, and educators alike.

A group of students stand in a circle showing their work on laptops at a Congressional App Competition, 2019

The Congressional App Challenge is one of the largest student computer science competitions in the world, and given the nature of congressional representation, the program always requires a focus on remote execution. In a typical year, hundreds of Members of Congress host Congressional App Challenges for thousands of their constituents, coordinating resources between their D.C. and district offices. When it became clear that COVID-19 would lead to the cancellation of countless critical STEM initiatives and disrupt educational cadences nationwide, our team recognized that the Congressional App Challenge was in a unique position to fill a pivotal gap in an incalculably difficult year.

As COVID-19 continues to challenge educational efforts across the nation, the Congressional App Challenge had its most successful year yet, leveraging the power of Congress to inspire the next generation of American STEM leaders. The competition provided an innovative outlet for all students nationwide.

A large group of students stand outside on stairs of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC, 2019

Last year, 308 Members of Congress hosted Congressional App Challenges in districts across 49 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Mariana Islands, and Washington, D.C.. These Members of Congress represent over two-thirds of Americans, providing access to the program to more students than ever before. Over 6,000 students from across the country participated in the final phases of the challenge. All told, these students put in an incredible 128,000 hours of code and submitted 1,851 original apps for consideration in this year’s competition.

In response to the obstacles caused by COVID-19, the Congressional App Challenge created a series of original initiatives to ensure students around the nation had access to the materials and inspiration necessary to compete in the challenge. In March of 2020, the Congressional App Challenge participated in the #BuildforCOVID19 Global Hackathon, one of the first global initiatives to use the power of tech to fight the virus. In April 2020, the program launched its Code at Home initiative, a comprehensive virtual hub made up of free resources from program partners for students to learn how to code from home. At the same time, the Challenge launched its first-ever pre-registration program, allowing over 1,000 students to vet their own eligibility and begin coding prior to the official launch of the competition. Through the fall, the Congressional App Challenge presented the Back to School Webinar Series, a series of webinars hosted in conjunction with supporters of the program, which provided free training and mentorship opportunities for over 900 App Challengers in 49 states.

Two women talking during an in-person Congressional App Challenge, 2019

It is no secret that there is a significant lack of access to opportunities in STEM education throughout majority-minority and majority-rural communities, as well as for female students across the United States. These issues are compounded by COVID-19, limiting opportunities further among groups that are already underrepresented. The Congressional App Challenge looks to provide such opportunities to these underserved groups and create the next generation of talent in the technology workforce by meeting students where they live and attend school. When compared to Silicon Valley metrics, Congressional App Challenge participants are four times as likely to identify as black, five times as likely to identify as Latino, and twice as likely to identify as female. In addition, one-third of App Challenges have been held in rural communities, and 44% of participants considered themselves to be beginners to Computer Science.

Students are permitted to create an app on any topic using any coding language or platform. This encourages students to harness their endless creativity to address issues in their own communities. In 2020, over 50% of Congressional App Challenge entries directly or indirectly address issues caused by COVID-19. Over 91% of students report that they intend to continue coding and 95% say they’re more likely to pursue a career in STEM after participating.

The 2021 Call for Commitments is Now Open: https://www.summit.csforall.org/

About Congressional App Challenge: The Congressional App Challenge is an official initiative of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Members of Congress host contests in their districts for middle school and high school students, encouraging them to learn to code and inspiring them to pursue careers in computer science. Each participating Member of Congress selects a winning app from their district, and each winning team is invited to showcase their winning app to Congress during the annual #HouseOfCode festival.

In the six years of the Congressional App Challenge, the program has yielded 1,442 App Challenges across 49 states. The non-profit Internet Education Foundation provides the Congressional App Challenge with staffing and support. Thousands of functional apps have been created by over 30,000 students, and participant demographics surpass all industry diversity metrics. To learn more about the Congressional App Challenge, please visit congressionalappchallenge.us.

The national hub for the Computer Science for All movement, making high-quality computer science education an integral part of K-12 education in the US.