When Brianna Simpson, Conner Anderson, Taran Zorn and Erika Gaskins logged on for a recent virtual meeting with their teacher, a surprise guest was there, too.
U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse joined the video chat to share the news that he’d chosen the Tri-Tech Skills Center students as the winners of the 2020 Central Washington Congressional App Challenge.
“They had no idea. They were really excited,” said Mat Adelmund, their instructor in Tri-Tech’s Video Game Design program.
Their winning app, called Llama Trauma, aims to educate players about the issue of food insecurity and inspire them to volunteer at or donate to a local food bank. In the game, players are scarecrows charged with warding off hungry llamas attempting to snack on crops meant for a food bank.
The students had to overcome multiple challenges to emerge as winners of the competition, from technical issues during the design process to a serious time crunch. The students initially were on two separate teams working on different apps for the competition, but at the last minute they decided to scrap their earlier work and join forces. They created the app over a single weekend.
“We accomplished more in the first 24 hours than we did in either of our initial games, fueled by camaraderie and a desire to make something meaningful,” Conner explains in a video the students created to preview Llama Trauma.
The team’s victory marks the fourth time in the last five years that students in the Video Game Design program have won the app challenge. During the virtual meeting with the team, “Rep. Newhouse even remarked on that being a testament to the strength of our program here,” Adelmund said. “We’re starting to build a legacy.”
In a statement, Newhouse said the Tri-Tech students impressed him with their creativity and their ability to highlight the important topic of food insecurity with Llama Trauma.
“Designing an app during a pandemic posed an additional obstacle, and these students went above and beyond to design a successful app in a remote learning environment. I am encouraged that Central Washington’s students will be among the next generation of this country’s top innovators, and I wish Brianna, Conner, Taran and Erika future success,” Newhouse said.
The students are all high school seniors. Brianna attends Richland High School, Conner attends Chiawana High School in Pasco, Taran attends Kamiakin High School in Kennewick, and Erika attends Southridge High School in Kennewick.
As winners of the Central Washington Congressional App Challenge, they’re now invited to showcase their app to Congress during the annual #HouseOfCode festival in the spring.