Louisiana STEM students recognized for designing innovative applications

(TNS) – An app idea born from an after-school conference call saw a team of students from David Thibodaux’s STEM Magnet Academy be invited to the United States Capitol.

The app, HappyBytes, was one of 11 entries in this year’s Congressional App Challenge for Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District. The challenge, launched in 2015, invites U.S. officials to hold app design competitions in their home districts to engage students in science, technology, engineering, and math skills and expose them to career opportunities.

HappyBytes is a multi-use application for fighting depression and suicide. The app includes an inspirational quote called a ‘daily byte’, a survey to track your mood that helps personalize daily quotes, a search feature to find mental health professionals in your area, and access to help lines. emergency.

The designers, seniors Brendan Duhon and Cailey Bianchini, and freshmen Weston Simon and Jaydon Huval, wanted to tackle a community issue that was personal and could resonate with a large audience. Addressing suicide and depression prevention was a natural choice, they said.

Duhon, 17, said he had experienced difficult times growing up and the other students also knew friends who had struggled with depression. The key was to build a dynamic resource that is accessible and straightforward, they said.

“I think the current generation knows depression is a big deal, but we’re not doing enough. It can be quite difficult to get in touch with mental health professionals. Sometimes a phone call doesn’t always help 100%. Sometimes you need more, ”said Simon, 14.

The students rose to the challenge by choosing to use more advanced text-based coding languages ​​including CSS, JavaScript, and HTML to build the app. Duhon, Simon, and Huval developed the code, while Bianchini designed the logo, layout, and helped storyboard on how the app works.

While the app challenge is over, the team’s work has only just begun, they said. Students plan to refine the application and develop more advanced versions with design changes and a dynamic database allowing for increased customization. They also plan to develop and launch a web version, they said.

The hope is to make HappyBytes viable for wide distribution and to offer the app through Google Play and the Apple App Store. The more people they can help or save, the better, Duhon said.

“Our goal is to keep pushing,” he said.

David Thibodaux’s team and other competitors were honored at an event hosted on Wednesday by information technology consultancy CGI, which is headquartered in Lafayette, and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Informatics Research Institute.

CGI worked with the Higgins office to run the application competition in Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District in 2017. The company launched a mentorship program to coincide with the challenge, pairing student teams with professionals from CGI, other local businesses and college programs to help guide and inform their creative process.

Blanche Trahan, 54, was one of the HappyBytes team mentors. Trahan graduated with a Computer Information Systems degree from Northwestern State University’s online degree program. She and Cody Latiolais, a software developer at CGI, met with David Thibodaux’s team at the library every Monday for six to seven weeks to help students polish their submission.

Trahan said the adults provided suggestions, but the students were the pioneers and the brains behind the project. They knew what they wanted to do from the get-go and every week they worked overtime from home, advancing their application in leaps and bounds before each group meeting.

Trahan said finding out his mentees won the challenge was amazing.

“I was jumping for joy; tears came to my eyes, I was so happy for them. This is something they worked very hard for and all their efforts were worth it, ”she said.

The award is accompanied by national recognition; The student application will be on display at the United States Capitol and students will have the opportunity to attend a “House of Code” reception in Washington DC with winners from the more than 300 congressional districts who participated this year.

The honor is still a lot to deal with, the students said.

“I think it hasn’t been registered for me yet that people all over the country will see our work. We are going to have our name on Capitol Hill, ”said Bianchini, 18.

“The fact that anyone gets the chance to put an app they’ve created on Capitol Hill is just amazing. It’s really impressive that they are able to do it, ”said 14-year-old Huval.

© 2019 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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