Ishan Sinha wins Congressional App Challenge


Ishan presenting the concept of his app for the Congressional App Challenge.

By Wajiha Rizvi, Staff Writer

Mikie Sherill, the U.S. representative for New Jersey’s 11th congressional district, announced in early December that Ishan Sinha, a junior at Hills, is the winner of the Congressional App challenge.

The Congressional App Challenge was launched in 2014 to encourage students nationwide to code and is designed to engage student creativity and promote their participation in STEM education fields.

The competition is open to middle school and high school students who live or attend school in NJ-11. Students with all levels of coding experience are encouraged to participate. Sherill’s website says, “This is an excellent opportunity to develop the skills and innovative spirit needed to create your apps.”

I asked Ishan a few questions about his entry for this prestigious contest.

Wajiha: “So, Ishan, why did you enter the Congressional App Challenge?”

Ishan: “I founded the NJ Homelessness Initiative a couple of months ago to help with homelessness across New Jersey. The initiative is to spread awareness, so I’ve been meeting shelter administrators. However, I noticed that it was often challenging to find shelters and contact them. It doesn’t work when you call them. I started thinking that if I were homeless, this would make it very difficult for me to find a place to stay. I made an app called “Shelter House” to help the homeless locate shelters and get information about them. There are also flashcards and videos to help them further.”

Wajiha: “That’s interesting. What inspired this overall topic of homelessness?”

Ishan: “I’ve been volunteering for shelters for a while. One project I did was a food drive for the homeless. The entire time, I remember thinking about how these people became homeless in the first place and what I could do to alleviate homelessness. I had already done some work with kids’ shelters, so it became a passion of mine.”

Wajiha: “Tell us a bit about the app; what does Shelter House tell you, and who is it meant to be used by?”

Ishan: “So it’s meant to be used by people who want to help the homeless and those who are homeless themselves. There are videos and flashcards to help teach people about homelessness. I believe there are a lot of misconceptions about homelessness, and I wanted to spell that out. Often, people become homeless not by choice but by necessity. Most of the time, people didn’t do anything to deserve to become homeless. The primary use is obviously for the homeless– above 50% of homeless people own phones. There are location services to help pinpoint the nearest shelter in the area, including the phone number, address, type of shelter (youth, women’s, etc.), and the number of beds available.”

Wajiha: “That’s detailed! What was the time frame of the actual app building?”

Ishan: “Maybe around 100 hours. The initial process started around the summer, and the basic framework and app design began in September.”

Wajiha: “Do you intend to continue to work on the app in the future?”

Ishan: “The app will be updated over time! New information is always available, so we will include it as time goes on, especially on the awareness platform.”

Wajiha: “That’s great! You have a ton of knowledge in computer science-related topics. What resources would you recommend to anyone who wants to start coding?”

Ishan: “There is a ton of resources online on YouTube. Google anything you want to learn, and you will find a video to help you.”

Wajiha: “Any advice for anyone trying to help the homeless?”

Ishan: “Definitely. You can volunteer at shelters, but spreading awareness is the best way to help the homeless. Applying videos and information and taking the initiative into your own hands are all excellent ways to do this.”

To watch a video explanation of Shelter House, click here.

Wayne Mayor Christopher Vergano said he “would like to congratulate Ishan Sinha on winning this prestigious award for creating the ‘Shelter House App. I commend him for giving his time and talent in service to helping others. I am confident that Ishan’s commitment and dedication to excellence will enhance his ability to succeed in his future endeavors.”

Wayne Hills High School Principal Michael Rewick said, “We are all very impressed with Ishan’s app and how useful it will be for those looking for resources about homeless shelters. His knowledge of the different languages needed to create the app is extraordinary. He is a caring young man applying his gifts to help others. Congratulations Ishan!”