Presenting my startup to Congress at the nation’s Capitol: Congressional App Challenge’s #HouseOfCode

Presenting my startup to Congress at the nation’s Capitol: Congressional App Challenge’s #HouseOfCode

Last week, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the Congressional App Challenge #HouseOfCode event in Washington, D.C. This was the pinnacle of my experience with the Congressional App Challenge, where winning middle/high school students from across the country had the opportunity to showcase their apps to Congress at the U.S. Capitol building. Stay tuned to the end for App Challenge advice if this is a challenge you are up for!

My app background

A few months ago, I started building Songlingo, a website to help people learn languages through songs. You can read more about how I built it here. I submitted the website to the Congressional App Challenge in my district, and it ended up winning, out of 50+ other projects.

Day 1

#HouseOfCode started with registration, in the Capitol Visitor Center Atrium, where I picked up my badge and t-shirt. After that, I explored the STEM Inspiration Fair, where I got to talk to representatives from organizations like MIT App Inventor, SMASH Academy, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It was great to learn about all the different pathways into STEM fields.

The rest of the first day was packed with engaging panel discussions and workshops. I really enjoyed the "Launching into the Future" panel, where entrepreneurs like Rayette Toles-Abdullah (Amazon Web Services), Hansel Lynn (theCoderSchool), Elizabeth Dougherty (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office), and Hunter Habersaat (Duke Student and Congressional App Challenge Alumni Advisory Board), shared their stories of building impactful STEM-based businesses. And in the "Digital Trail" fireside chat, I learned a lot from Anitha Ibrahim (Amazon Web Services) and Daniel Kroese (Palo Alto Networks) about protecting my online privacy and managing my digital footprint.

After, there was a great fireside chat covering "The New and More Modern House of Representatives" led by Yuri Beckelman (U.S. House of Representatives), Ananda Bhatia (U.S. House of Representatives, and Taylor J. Swift (POPVOX Foundation). This was an inspiring talk that made me want to eventually get involved with Congress' tech innovations.

Then, we had another amazing panel about the future in AI and AR, led by Joe Darko (Snap), Natalie Lao (MIT App Inventor), and Isabella Hochschild (Dartmouth Student and Congressional App Challenge Alumni Advisory Board).

Panel Session Featuring Stories of Responsible Pathways in STEM and Tech

Day 2

The second day featured student app demonstrations! As part of the Eastern Cohort, I had an hour in the morning to set up my station and get ready to showcase my website, Songlingo. When the doors opened, it was amazing to see Members of Congress, tech leaders, and other attendees checking out all the incredible student projects. I pitched Songlingo to many attendees, handing out business cards, which received a great response. I even got a visit from Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who tried out the app herself, with the song Keep on Loving You, by REO Speedwagon! She is learning Spanish, and mentioned that she is excited to add Songlingo to her study routine.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz stopping by my demonstration

I then had the opportunity to try new smart glasses from App Challenge sponsors, Meta and Snap Inc. Meta’s includes AI functionality, bringing the power of large language models to wearable technology. The glasses from Snap Inc. are more focused on augmented reality.

Then, my Congresswoman’s office gave me a tour of the Capitol. I got to see the old and new locations of the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as the beautiful art in the building. The Capitol Rotunda was quite impressive, with its historically significant paintings and sculptures.

The Capitol Rotunda

After the demos, it was the Eastern Cohort's turn for the Congressional Keynote session. We heard from representatives like Jen Kiggans, Ted Lieu, Deborah Ross, Zach Nunn, and Becca Balint, as well as Dr. Darin Gray (USC), Jasson Crockett (Snap, Inc), Hansel Lynn (theCoderSchool), Anjali Bhatia (CollegeWise), Sabrina Roshan (RISE), and Victor Foulk (CGI). These speakers discussed the importance of the Congressional App Challenge and the future of STEM education. It was truly inspiring to be in that room, surrounded by so many supportive leaders. We then had a group picture, with the entire Eastern cohort!

Group picture of the Eastern Cohort

I then had the opportunity to view the Western Cohort’s demonstrations. It was inspiring to see what my peers created, and their impact on solving a myriad of problems.

Advice and Reflections

Overall, my experience at the #HouseOfCode event was unforgettable. I got to showcase my work, network with passionate STEM professionals, and meet amazing student innovators from across the country. It was an honor to represent Florida’s 25th district at the Capitol.

Thank you so much to Joseph Alessi (Program Director, Congressional App Challenge), and Ryan Kirzner (Congressional Operations Coordinator). #HouseOfCode was an incredible and inspiring event, and I'm so thankful for the opportunity to attend.

Next year, I am considering applying to the Congressional App Challenge Alumni Advisory Board, and hopefully have the opportunity to help plan next year’s #HouseOfCode for all of the future winners!

I would highly recommend applying to your local Congressional App Challenge. To see if your district participates, check this page.

My advice is to code something that aims to solve a problem in your community. It doesn't have to be a mobile app, it could be also be a website, desktop app, or anything else in code. Many other winners used MIT App Inventor to build their apps, which is a powerful tool.

Ideally, build something functional, not just an idea. The judges will be most impressed by apps that are working prototypes, not just concepts. Then, explain the impact and benefits clearly in your submission. Quantify the benefits if possible.

While you are working, get help and constant feedback. Don't try to do it all alone. Reach out to mentors, classmates, teachers, or even local tech professionals to get input and assistance as you're building your app.

Register for the App Challenge

You can register for the next App Challenge here! For any app questions or personalized help with your project, feel free to leave a comment or schedule a call with me here.