Burlington-Edison student codes her way to App Challenge win

Dec 26, 2016

Go Skagit: Burlington-Edison student codes her way to App Challenge win

By Kera Wanielisa 

Burlington-Edison High School senior Alexandria Kissas had never taken much of an interest in computer coding.

“If you had asked me as a freshman if I was ever going to do computer science, I would have laughed at you,” she said.

Now, not only is Kissas interesting in coding and computer science, but the app she developed called “ListMe” recently won the annual Congressional App Challenge for the 2nd Congressional District, which is represented by U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen. 

“Alexandria is a great example for young folks everywhere,” Larsen said in a news release.

The Congressional App Challenge is designed to get high school students interested in high-demand careers in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, Larsen said.

“Whether you want to launch the next Snapchat or create an organizational tool like the one Alexandria designed, now is a great time to pursue and education in STEM or learn how to code,” he said.

Kissas said she was interested in math early in high school, but during those years did not take computer science or coding classes. In her junior year, a teacher convinced her to take an Advanced Placement computer science course, and Kissas said she found a new passion.

“I really started to enjoy it and its complexities,” she said.

Computer science teacher Kris DeBruine said Kissas was a natural with coding.

“She hit the ground running,” DeBruine said. “She’s very intelligent and she’s a quick learner. She went from not knowing anything to being one of the best programmers in the class.”

DeBruine encouraged Kissas to enter the Congressional App Challenge, and Kissas began thinking about what would fill a need.

Kissas’ app is an organizational app that uses voice control, meaning users can add or remove items by speaking to their cellphone. If shaken, the phone will read back to the user what has been added.

“It will help to really organize homework or your grocery list,” Kissas said. “I thought it was different enough that it would get some attention.”

More than 2,100 students in about 120 congressional districts competed in the challenge, which required students to use the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s App Inventor program to create their apps.

“You don’t need a coding class to do App Inventor, but for the complexity of this app, I was glad to have had that class,” Kissas said.

DeBruine said she was a bit surprised by Kissas’ win, not because Kissas doesn’t have the ability to develop a good app, but because of the size of other schools in the 2nd Congressional District, which includes parts of Snohomish and Whatcom counties.

For winning the challenge, Kissas received $400 in Amazon Web Service credits and will be invited to a reception in Washington, D.C., where her app will be on display for a year.

After high school, Kissas hopes to attend Pomona College in California where she wants to study physics and computer science.

One day, she said, she would like to work for NASA.

“There’s a need in our country for programmers,” DeBruine said. “It’s one of the areas that probably has the best job outlook. It’s important (for society) as well as for people individually.”

Kissas hope others will explore coding and computer science.

“I think everybody could do it,” she said. “I want to encourage people who don’t think they have a talent for it or don’t think they would like it to try it out.”