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David Thibodaux STEM students win 2019 Congressional app challenge for district (Acadiana Advocate)

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DEC 17, 2019 - 5:27 PM

A team of Lafayette students scored the top prize in the Congressional App Challenge for Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District for the third year in a row.

David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy students Cailey Bianchini, Brendan Duhon, Jaydon Huval and Weston Simon beat out 10 other teams to win this year’s Congressional App Challenge in Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District.

Their app, Happybytes, works to combat depression and suicidal thoughts with a tailored inspirational quote each day, a survey function that helps users track their moods and daily experiences, and access to suicide and emergency support hotlines.

The four winners and other entrants will be honored at a showcase Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the LITE Center on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus.

Congressman Clay Higgins, who represents Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District, announced the David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy team as this year’s winners on Tuesday. The students’ app will be exhibited at the U.S. Capitol and the students will have the opportunity to attend a “House of Code” reception in Washington D.C. in the spring with other winners.

“I want to congratulate Brendan, Weston, Jaydon, and Cailey on their winning app. They used their coding abilities to help individuals connect with suicide prevention and other local mental health resources. This is a real problem that we face as a society, and the Happybytes app helps address that issue. The students challenged themselves with advanced coding methods, and their hard work paid off,” Higgins said in a statement.

Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District stretches west from the Louisiana-Texas border east to Morgan City. This year, 40 students from 11 teams participated in the challenge.

The David Thibodaux STEM team was chosen by a team of judges including computer science and software professionals from McNeese State University, UL and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, a statement from Higgins’ office said.

Previous winners include a team of students from Acadiana High, Carencro High and David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy in 2017 and St. Thomas More Catholic High School in 2018. Their apps focused on connecting victims and volunteers with resources after natural disasters and engaging young people in local elections, respectively.

The Congressional App Challenge is a national initiative launched in 2015 by the U.S. House of Representatives to engage students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills and opportunities.

Over 300 Congressional representatives hosted challenges in their districts this year.

Students in participating Congressional districts are challenged to design, code and develop an app around a local issue or problem. The goal is to reach students from diverse geographic, socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, according to the challenge’s website. The program has reached 14,000 students across 48 states since its inception.

In Lafayette, information technology consulting company CGI began a mentorship program in conjunction with the Congressional App Challenge to help advance the students’ work, a UL Informatics Research Institute statement said.

Several higher education and local tech partners signed on to mentor students in 2019, including UL’s School of Computing and Informatics, Techneaux Technology Services, WAITR, South Louisiana Community College, Noble Plastics, VASS Electric and Northwestern State University. The groups worked with the student competitors over the course of six to eight weeks as they built their apps.