There's a nationwide challenge to create a new app – and get yourself a D.C. shout-out

It's to try to get high school students more involved in coding.

The United States had 561,000 graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates last year.

That's just a hair above what Russia turned out, and literally millions behind both India (2.6 million) and China (4.7 million).

To try to get more U.S. kids thinking creatively about tech, congresspeople from around the country are holding a challenge for high schoolers: code an awesome app.

Three districts in Minnesota are taking part in the competition, called the Congressional App Challenge

All are repped by Republicans: CD2 (Jason Lewis), CD3 (Erik Paulsen) and CD6 (Tom Emmer).

How to take part

Anyone living in those three districts in high school (or younger is fine too) can jump in. You go to the competition website, sign up, and then submit your app once it's completed. (You can do it as an individual or a small team.)

Part of it is uploading a video that explains what your app does, plus answering specific questions about your goals with the app, and problems you ran into trying to code it.

You have from July 26 through Nov. 1 to submit an app. 

Local judges will evaluate them and pick winners, based on how good the idea is, how well it's executed, and the coding and programming skills shown. Winners get some congressional recognition, with their apps displayed in the U.S. Capitol and online.

And they get invited to Capitol Hill as part of the House of Code event, where big tech companies speak (last year execs from Microsoft, Amazon and Spotify took part, Roll Call says.)

Last year's winners from Minnesota

Last year, Paulsen's district was the only one in Minnesota to take part. The winners from CD3 were Maha, Madeeha, and Mia Syed, who created a chatbot app for restaurants. (Watch their submission video here.)

It was a chatbot that integrated with Facebook chat. As a customer, you could go to the restaurant's Facebook page and send them messages to get automated replies – see the menus, get directions and parking info, and make reservations.

"Behind every latest new app or technological breakthrough, there is a team of highly-skilled, creative workers and the one thing they all have in common is an education and background in STEM," Paulsen said in a release about the 2017 challenge, adding he's "excited" to see what students come up with.

The challenge is now in its third year, and was started by a Democrat and Republican. There are now 162 congressional districts taking part, and the website says it's reached nearly 4,000 students so far – 30 percent of which were young women, an underrepresented group in the tech space.

Said Emmer: "Our nation is currently facing a major skills gap crisis, and the technology sector has been hit hard, making this challenge even more important. If our nation is to remain relevant, successful, and globally competitive, we must encourage the generation of tomorrow to take an interest in some of these important fields."

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