Arlington, VA

(Updated at 4 p.m.) In just seven weeks, engineering whizzes at Bishop O’Connell High School developed an app that NASA may draw from as it gears up to land the first American woman and next man on the Moon, in preparation for missions to Mars.

This week, NASA recognized them as one of top 10 teams in the 2020 NASA App Development Challenge, which occurred last fall. Students crunched lunar terrain data to create an app that visualizes the South Pole region of the Moon, and NASA will be using aspects of the 10 winning apps for its own program to help astronauts communicate on and navigate the Moon’s surface.

As members of a winning team, DJO students Alex Janninck ’22, Daniel Kippenhan ’22, Elaine Ly ’21 and Claire Toia ’23, as well as Sevginaz Gurleyici ’23, from the Madeira School in McLean will be able to participate in a NASA leadership event in February.

“It takes confidence, drive and a lot of perseverance,” Bishop O’Connell STEM teacher and team advisor Melissa Pore said. “This was incredible to see them achieve this.”

Students developed the app virtually, using “Code With Me” — the Google Docs of collaborative coding — and talked via Discord, a growing communications platform that is popular among gamers and teens. At the height of the challenge, Ly recalls taking notes in class with her right hand and coding with her left.

A NASA official said during a live-stream announcement that the students “displayed great team work by maximizing each team’s strengths in completing both the coding and non-coding aspects of the challenge.”

The odds were stacked against the students: The team barely met the minimum size to participate and the school went fully virtual (due to a COVID-19 outbreak) near the tail-end of the challenge. Team members also did not have app experience, and only Janninck and Ly could code proficiently — so they mentored other members in the coding language Python, Pore said.

“What adult groups would have persevered when they had to learn a new code and train others?” she said.

NASA wants to use this technology “right now,” said Pore, adding that the app can visualize any planet and is suitable for color-blind people.

“Good for NASA to use our smartest levels of students to figure out tricks they wouldn’t have thought of,” she said. “You taught the adults some lessons.”

Ly, who wrote about the news for the school, said she “wouldn’t be half as interested in engineering if it weren’t for [Pore].”

Always learning, Pore became a licensed amateur radio operator to build satellites with her students, and is working with the International Space Station so her students can learn about and access opportunities in aerospace engineering.

A senior headed to George Washington University, Ly nominated Janninck to take charge next year.

“He’s a really good leader and programmer,” she said.

As soon as Janninck finds another interesting challenge, he is willing to try it.

“We do need to get rest from coding and working really hard,” he said.

Especially since the next challenge could be a 24-hour competition to develop a floating settlement to flee to if a meteor strikes Earth.

“No sleep — it sounds wonderful,” Janninck said.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

There is no actual karate on the grounds of Coding Dojo, but the program does hope to help coders learn to chop through digital obstacles.

Coding Dojo is a boot camp for teaching coding with locations set up across the country. Bobby Bethea, Program Success Manager for Coding Dojo, said its new D.C. area location at Eastern Foundry coworking space (1100 Wilson Blvd) in Rosslyn is a relocation of an original location in Tysons.

“Arlington has always been on our radar,” Bethea said. “The idea to relocate the campus to Arlington was determined after a former student, now a staff member, developed an API which pulled the zip codes from existing applications submitted to Coding Dojo. Once pulled, the zip codes were organized to display a heat map.”

Bethea said the heat map showed that most of the applications were coming from Arlington, so when the lease expired, the school moved closer to the students.

Bethea also said the announcement of Amazon’s move to Arlington also played a role in the move; opening up a new market for Coding Dojo alumni.

“It did factor into our decision to move to Arlington because at the end of the day, our ability to help graduates find jobs is the most important aspect of our business,” Bethea said.

The Arlington location, like the others, teaches Python, MEAN, and C#/.NET. Bethea said the program is designed to be beginner-friendly and to fit with developers of various experience levels.

The 14-week program costs $13,495, though the company offers various payment plans, financing, and scholarships.

“Our dynamic curriculum was first developed in 2008 as an internal training program for small software engineering teams — the first in the industry,” Bethea said. “Ever since, we’ve constantly refined the curriculum and have trained thousands of students to either become developers or refine their skill sets. Today, we provide students with a veteran curriculum, that is proven to work as the most effective approach to training both experienced developers and students new to coding.”

Photo via Facebook/Coding Dojo

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Arlington Agenda is a listing of interesting events for the week ahead in Arlington County. If you’d like to see your event featured, fill out the event submission form.

Also, be sure to check out our event calendar.

 Tuesday, Feb. 20

Optimal Physical Therapy Open House*
Optimal Physical Therapy (1700 N. Moore Street)
Time: 4-7 p.m.

Meet with physical therapists, enjoy light refreshments, and tour the new Optimal Physical Therapy location at the Rosslyn Metro Center building.

Pet Dental Care 101
Aurora Hills Library (735 18th Street S.)
Time: 5-6 p.m.

Clarendon Animal Care presents an pet oral health lesson. It’s national pet dental health month, so now is as good as ever to learn how to take care of your cat’s bad breath.

Toastmasters Open House
Asahi Restaraunt (2250 Clarendon Boulevard)
Time: 7-8:30 p.m.

An evening dedicated to the organization focused on improving public speaking and leadership skills, where interested potential toastmasters can ask questions and learn more over dinner.

Wednesday, Feb. 21

Introduction to Python
Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street)
Time: 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Learn the Python programming language for free with this beginner’s course aimed at introducing debugging and other software programming fundamentals. Registration is required.

Arlington Committee of 100: Opioid Crisis Conversation*
Marymount University – Phelan Hall (2807 N. Glebe Road)
Time: 7 p.m.

A dinner conversation focused on addressing the opioid crisis’ causes and effects in Arlington, and what the community and officials can do to stop the epidemic. Dinner is $28 for members, $30 otherwise.

 Thursday, Feb. 22

Pups & Pints*
Latitude Apartments (3601 Fairfax Drive)
Time: 6-8 p.m.

Latitude Apartments presents a free happy hour for you and your puppies, with snacks, drinks, and socializing for all. Be sure to check out the puppy photo booth!

Right Proper Beer and Donuts Night at Sugar Shack
Sugar Shack Donuts & Coffee (1014 S. Glebe Road)
Time: 4:30-9:30 p.m.

Right Proper Brewing brings several of their beers — including their cherry-aged Cheree Berliner-Weissenborn — to the donut shop for an evening of beer pairings, paninis, and pastries.

Black Music Matters
Aurora Hills Library (735 18th Street S.)
Time: 7-8 p.m.

Celebrate Black History Month with Katea Stitt, the program director at WPFW-FM 89.3, as she examines black music’s evolution and the impact it has had on social justice initiatives.

 Friday, Feb. 23

Creative Coffee: Ink Washes
Connection: Crystal City (2100 Crystal Drive)
Time: 11 a.m.-12 p.m.

A casual weekly creative meet-up for artists to experiment and improve their work in a social setting. Bring your own materials to this adult-friendly gathering.

St. Agnes Soup Supper*
St. Agnes Catholic Church (1910 N. Randolph Street)
Time: 5:30-7 p.m.

The church will offer meatless soups and a noodle dish, and more every Friday during the Lenten holiday. Guests are invited to stay for confession and the stations of the cross afterwards.

Val Kilmer: Cinema Twain
Arlington Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike)
Time: 7:30 p.m.

Actor and Director Val Kilmer, of Top Gun and Batman Forever, presents a screening on his one-man show, Citizen Twain. Tickets from $30-$75. Through February 24.

Saturday, Feb. 24

Poetry Reading: Douglass & Waters
One More Page Books (2200 N. Westmoreland Street)
Time: 7-8 p.m.

Two award-winning poets — M. Scott Douglass and Jesse Waters, come to the bookstore to read from their books as well as other collections.

Urban Agriculture: Plan & Prepare Your Vegetable Garden
Westover Library (1644 N. McKinley Road)
Time: 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m.

Learn how to bring some gardening techniques to your balcony, roof deck, or larger urban space with the latest installment in the library’s urban agriculture series. This month’s topic will be planning and preparing a vegetable garden. Reservations requested.

Sunday, Feb. 25

A Diana Peterfreund Conversation: Omega City Trilogy
One More Page Books (2200 N. Westmoreland Street)
Time: 3-4 p.m.

Author Diana Peterfreund discusses the final installment of her tween intergalactic adventure series, Omega City. Peterfreund has penned over ten novels for adults, kids, and everyone in between.

* Denotes featured (sponsored) event

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