G-NG team’s apt app wins state contest

Gray-New Gloucester High School students, from left, Jasmin Taudvin, Taitum Rice, Hannah Dawkins and Emily Brewer, along with Nikki Michaud, not pictured, won the state Verizon Innovative Learning App Challenge. 

GRAY — The Lady Patriots basketball team isn’t the only group of girls to bring home a state title to Gray-New Gloucester High School.

A team of five female students won the Maine Verizon Innovative Learning App Challenge in January, building on the school’s history of success in a technology competition where participants develop ideas for potential mobile phone apps that can address real world issues.

Students from Gray-New Gloucester High School have now won the state high school competition four years in a row. This year’s winning team is comprised of senior Taitum Rice and juniors Emily Brewer, Hannah Dawkins, Nikki Michaud and Jasmine Taudvin.

The girls worked together to create the concept for “Opportuniteen,” an app that would help connect teenagers to local job and volunteer opportunities.

“We were talking about having a lack of opportunities, both job-wise and volunteer-wise in a small town, and so that’s kind of where the idea of Opportuniteen came from – as a concentrated area where we can find things that are right for us, specifically for teens,” said Brewer.

“We had some technology people, some artsy people, some linear thinkers, some not so linear thinkers,” said Taudvin, who attributed part of the group’s success to their diverse perspectives.  “And all combined together, it evened out, and we were able to solve some problems that other parts of our groups might not have thought of.”

The students are all part of an International Baccalaureate Information Technology in a Global Society class taught by social studies teacher Matt Laney. The winning team members had not participated in the competition before, and their app proposal won out over the other teams, including two from their same class.

For the competition, students make and submit a 3-minute video explaining their app idea in a creative way. They must also submit a written explanation of why their app is needed and what issues it would help address in society.

“We had to explain the problem, how we would solve the problem, what makes our app unique and different from everything else that’s out there,” said Dawkins.

This is the fifth year that Gray-New Gloucester High School has participated in the Verizon App Challenge, Laney said.

“It allows the students to think about ‘real world’ issues and develop ‘real world solutions,'” he said about the competition. “It also allows students to work cross-disciplinary because they not only have to come up only with a technologically sound solution, but the judges have to be ‘sold’ on the concept.”

“This group of kids had a good combination of technical prowess and artistic ability,” he added.

The Verizon Innovative Learning App Challenge is a national competition sponsored by telecommunications giant Verizon that aims to increase student interest in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The winning team for each state takes home a $5,000 grant for their school, which Laney said will support the Gray-New Gloucester information technology program.

The state winners then compete for regional and national awards, and a chance to see their app idea turned into reality. According to Laney, none of the Gray-New Gloucester teams have made it further than winning the state competition. But there’s always next year.

The winning students at the state level each received a Verizon tablet and a case, a bumper sticker, bag and t-shirt. They were also given a banner congratulating the team that is now hanging in the school lobby.

Taudvin also acknowledged the fact that they are all girls working together on STEM coursework, which has sometimes been stereotyped as more male-driven.

“Personally, it bothers me a little that we still have to talk about that, because I feel like at this point it should be just accepted that girls can do just as well in STEM as guys can, but unfortunately that stereotype still exists,” said Taudvin. “I guess I’m kind of glad that we can chip off on that stereotype.”

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

Gray-New Gloucester High School students, from left, Jasmin Taudvin, Taitum Rice, Hannah Dawkins and Emily Brewer, along with Nikki Michaud, not pictured, won the state Verizon Innovative Learning App Challenge.