MAD-learn Goes to the Capitol: A Personal Essay

Looking through photos on my phone, I realized I have approximately 10 selfies—from various angles—in front of the U.S. Capitol.  It wasn’t for vanity or social media. 

In mid-April, MAD-learn was honored to participate in the #HouseOfCode Inspiration Fair, one of several events for winners of The Congressional App Challenge at the U.S. Capitol. To say it was a career highlight is an understatement.  As someone who loves history and appreciates the idea of standing among the footprints of those who have effected change and made significant decisions for our country,  it was inspiring.  I was born in Washington, D.C., and have been to the Capitol before.  But this was entirely different.  I was working at the U.S. Capitol.  And, I got to meet the faces of our future who will also challenge and shape our world.

Students (and their parents and teachers) from all over the country descended upon Capitol Hill in recognition of their achievement and success in The Congressional App Challenge, This annual competition “inspires students to code, engages Members of Congress, and reaches every corner of America,” according to its website. The competition also encourages students to pursue a career in computer science, a sector that is largely in need of qualified and interested candidates (for context, the field of cybersecurity is set to have a national security crisis due to a deficit in the cyber workforce within the next 10 years, according to multiple experts).

My colleague and I shook more hands than we could count and repeatedly commented (in catch-our-breath-moments between lines that were as steady as fans lining up for a Taylor Swift concert) that we were in awe of the maturity, poise, skill, and charisma of these students.

Twin sisters, Arushi and Anika Gupta of West Windsor Plainsboro High School North, who collaborated on the app Foodrop, particularly struck a chord as they explained their winning app concept to eliminate food waste by connecting restaurants in their local New Jersey community with volunteers who would pick up and then donate leftovers to shelters and those in need. 

Then, they proceeded to ask me questions about my life and background as if I were there to be celebrated.  Not only were these student-created apps centered around activism, community, mental health, and generally making the world a better place, but these wonderful young people took the time and care to engage with everyone around them and gave me so much hope and optimism for our future.  

As I scrolled back through way too many selfies in front of this historic U.S. landmark, my takeaway was not about my own importance or experience, but that I was allowed to participate in a small, but meaningful, part of history.  Mark my words, these thinkers and changemakers are going to blaze trails and do bold things.  Congrats to all of you incredible winners! 

Written by:

Alexandra Kummernes

Curriculum and Implementation Specialist