Code for Congress and Future

Sisters at PCH win App Challenge with lifestyle organizer


Ann Wagner’s official website

Freshman Serena Huang and senior Emily Huang meet with their representative Ann Wagner from MO 2 district, who congratulates them on their win.

Esther Wang, Staff Writer

It’s a moment that the Huang sisters will never forget: standing for a photo with U.S. Congresswoman Ann Wagner. Wagner was also the former U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg,  who also serves on both the House Financial Services Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Congressional App Challenge is a computer science competition held by the representatives of the district. It challenges students to create an app on mobile devices on the platform of their choice. According to their official website, the competition is “encouraging them [middle school and high school students] to learn to code and inspiring them to pursue careers in computer science.”

“Each district recognizes the winner,” Serena said. “So then in our district, Chesterfield, St. Louis, our app is the one that was recognized.” 

The sisters had been brainstorming their idea since last summer when both of them had more time. Their app, Lively: Daily Planner and Journal, is a multifunctional lifestyle app targeting teenagers. The app not only has calendar features and a planner, but it also reminds teenagers to focus on their mental health.

“Within the app, there’s a calendar feature,” Emily said. ”There’s also a journal, and putting those things together isn’t always really inside apps that you see on the App Store. We wanted to combine the functionalities within one app so that you can organize your life in one place.”

Although many calendar and journal apps already exist, the sisters believe there is still space for improvement. 

“I was the one who came up with the idea. So personally, the reason why I wanted to make it is because I usually use Google Calendar, but I think it looks bad. So I wanted to make something where the design looks nice,” Emily said, “and it’s targeted towards adolescents, like people our age. Since Google Calendar, I would say it’s more for people who have jobs in their 20s, or 30s.”

On their way to designing a beneficial app, they found out about the Congressional App Challenge. They were eligible to enter the competition and decided to put this app together.

“We got the idea for the app before we found out about the competition.” Emily said, “at that point, when we found out about this competition, we already liked the app a lot. And we were like, this is something we could pull together pretty easily. So entering the competition was easy since all you have to do is make a video explaining your app, and it’s only like two minutes.”

The two sisters cooperate neatly as a team since they have different areas of specialties. Emily is responsible for the design and the core idea of the app, while Serena does all the behind-the-scenes coding work. 

“If I ever even code, it’s usually for the styling purposes. And I think that’s more fun than the functionality in the backend part of it,” Emily said. “I feel like I enjoy my part more, because I was the one who came up with the whole idea. She’s making it happen.”

As the coder, Serena had fun “making it happen.” It was easy for her to work on it since she learned app programming and coding before. She used XCode and JavaScript while coding this app.

“I like solving problems and finding solutions to them, so that would be the fun part of coding,” Serena said. “And then seeing stuff work, like making it more lively. At first, it’s just like a random screen on your phone. And now it’s a screen where you can touch stuff, like, push buttons.”

It’s a long way to make a functional, well-designed app while managing schoolwork. Winning the Congressional App Challenge earned the two sisters recognition and respect from others. But ultimately, they believe this app will help teenagers manage their lives.

“At the end of the day, I know I’m creating this. And I think it could help some people,” Serena said. “That’s what motivates me. But in the very moment, what motivates me is I just want to solve that problem. In the long term, I’m just thinking of helping people and solving problems.”