Verizon names STEM High app team a Best in Nation winner

A seven-member Tesla STEM High School squad received a surprise on the morning of Feb. 15 during a school assembly.

Verizon representative Scott Charlston named the ninth-graders at the school near Redmond a Best in Nation winner in the fifth annual Verizon Innovative Learning app challenge for its “Take Me There” mobile app concept.

The app — which was selected from more than 1,800 submissions nationwide — would provide disabled commuters the ability to locate accessible transportation.

As one of eight winners, the STEM students will receive $20,000 from the Verizon Foundation for their school; tablets for each team member; the opportunity to work with experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) App Inventor team to build their concepts into apps available in the Google Play Store; and an all-expenses-paid trip to the Technology Student Association (TSA) Conference in Orlando, Fla., in June 2017 to present their finished apps.

The team — which includes Ayan Gupta, Rudy Banerjee, Sid Chandrasekar, Stephen Yamasaki, Rachel Oommen, Rhea Shinde and Tristan Stevens — submitted its app to the challenge in November 2016 and also won one of two Best in State awards as well as one of four Best in Region awards for the Pacific region. The STEM team — which received guidance from teacher adviser Melissa Wrenchey — previously won $5,000.

“Words cannot describe how happy I am. At first, it was just an assignment and we wanted to get a good grade, but we never thought it would turn into something big, something national,” said Gupta following the assembly.

Added Shinde: “I’m just really surprised. This is an amazing honor and I’m so glad we did all this.”

The Reporter noted in an earlier story that Shinde learned about those living with disabilities — and things like transportation options to accessibility — as a volunteer at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center in Redmond.

Stevens said the app gathers data from various sources such as Google, to come up with the best route users can take to get to where they need to be. Shinde added that users can also enter their needs, whether that means they need wheelchair accessibility or are visually impaired and need the app to provide voice instructions.

As they worked to refine the app, Shinde said they talked to another student at STEM who is in a wheelchair to get her opinion and feedback on how they can improve “Take Me There.” The senior — who must rely on her parents to go places, from school to the mall — liked the idea.

“I’m pretty excited we’re actually making this,” said Yamasaki following the assembly.

He added that the journey involved, “a lot of scrapping ideas and making new ones.”

STEM principal Cindy Duenas said that the team has created something that will positively impact the lives of many people in Washington and around the world.

Charlston first spoke about the students and then revealed that the team was a winner.

“You guys are the digital native, you like came out of the womb with a cell phone in your hand,” he said. “So what we ask is that students all across the country dream a little bit. Think of a problem, think of a challenge in Redmond, in Kirkland, in Sammamish where you guys live that might be solved through an app, through an idea for an app.”

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