Centennial students win Gilbert SPARK App League contest - East Valley Tribune: Gilbert

Centennial students win Gilbert SPARK App League contest

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Posted: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 8:00 am

Three students from Centennial High School bested approximately 247 other students to create a new app for the Gilbert Fire Department.

Recent Peoria Centennial graduates Kylee Burgess, Mikayla Whalen and Jiaqi Wu — the three graduated earlier this week — took first place in the town of Gilbert’s second SPARK App League contest. SPARK, which stands for Schools Participate in App Resource and Knowledge, had approximately 250 students from the Valley, Casa Grande and even Tucson compete to create an app for the fire department over the course of 40 days.

The contest, which was launched at Arizona State University’s Polytechnic Campus, concluded at the end of April when Mayor John Lewis, Town Manager Patrick Banger, Fire Chief Jim Jobusch and representatives from ASU and Intel evaluated the entries and determined the winner.

Between the start and the end of the contest, students had to build an app from scratch, which encompassed coding, designing and testing to ensure it worked correctly. It sounds easy, but Burgess said just making sure a link existed to navigate from a photo gallery back to the home page existed was an arduous task in and of itself.

“It makes you appreciate what other people are doing,” she said.

Wu said it took approximately a month in all for the three of them to complete the project, but the end result was a first-place finish and the $200 Visa gift card and plaques that came with it.

Burgess attributed the positive result to a little twist in the design of their app, which generally entailed a multiple-choice safety quiz with questions like what should a person do to contain a grease fire. (The answer is to cover the pan with a metallic lid and pour baking soda on it). While she said other students would provide the answers, the Centennial model included context to explain precisely why the correct answer was the correct answer.

The willingness to think a little differently about the project could stem from the fact that all three team members are women, which is a rare feat in technology fields. It’s something the town acknowledged through a special award for being the sole all-female team, and a fact of life acknowledged by Burgess, Whalen and Wu. Their teacher, Dianna Denton, said the absence of female voices in technology fields cuts down the number of perspectives in development.

But, as Burgess pointed out, being a woman doesn’t make her or her teammates any less of a competitor or a designer as their male counterparts.

“Just because we’re not boys doesn’t mean we’re not capable. We just knew we could do it,” Whalen said.

Aside from Centennial, Mesquite High School in Gilbert received nods for the best design and best usability in the town’s second event. Gilbert Digital Applications Specialist Alfredo Moreno said via email SPARK App League’s second round featured an increase from 75 students to that 250 total and a slew of high quality apps.

This year’s competition set a pretty high bar, although Moreno said the town still expects great things from the 2015 crop of competitors.

“We anticipate the 2015 SPARK App League to break some more attendance records and farther outreach," he said.

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