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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(Updated at 8:10 p.m.) Wakefield High School senior Kidus Sebil’s photograph “Half a Man” has won the Congressional Art Competition in Virginia’s 8th District.

A panel from the National Art Education Association selected Sebil’s photograph out of dozens of other student works, according to the Office of Congressman Don Beyer. Sebil was notified of his victory in a congratulatory call from Beyer.

Sebil said that the photo was in black and white to highlight the details while also emphasizing the country’s current black and white division. The boy’s face was half-covered by the tree as further symbolism.

“Being an African American male in America can often feel like you’re only worth half that of a white man,” said Sebil.

Winning artwork will be displayed in the U.S. Capitol for one year, according to the Congressional Art Competition website. However, the Congressional Institute and Architect of the Capitol are still evaluating the timeline and logistics around COVID-19 restrictions and procedures, Beyer’s office said.

The Congressional Art Competition is held each spring, accepting participants from high schools across the nation. Winners are recognized by their district and at an annual awards ceremony in D.C.

Beyer said that Sebil’s photography “speaks very powerfully to this moment,” and he believes people will be moved by this image once the Capitol building is open for visitors.

“At a time when so many are decrying the painfully slow pace of progress towards equality, justice, and the rejection of racism, this picture is powerful and moving,” said Beyer.

Photo by Kidus Sebil, courtesy of the Office of Congressman Don Beyer

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The recently-opened Taco Rock in Rosslyn is hosting a “Flammin Hot Poppers Challenge” later this month.

The “offbeat, one-of-a-kind eating contest” will be held on Monday, Feb. 24 from 7:30-10 p.m at Taco Rock (1501 Wilson Boulevard).

Participants will eat as many jalapeño pepper poppers as they can in 10 minutes, without consuming any other food or beverage, a press release said. The winner will take home the Taco Rock Title Belt and a $100 cash prize. Those who come in second and third place will win a medal and a Taco Rock gift card.

“Each contestant will be served up a plate of jalapeño pepper poppers,” said the press release. “They must eat as many flaming hot poppers as they can in ten minutes, one popper at a time, to within one quarter inch of the jalapeño cap.”

Entry to the competition is $10. The event will be free for spectators.

Photos courtesy Taco Rock

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Morning Notes

School Shuffle Blowback Starts — “Alicia Rich, president of Key’s PTA, said she has been fielding texts and messages over WhatsApp from parents and staff members worried about the prospect of moving. ‘This issue is so huge for us,’ Rich said.
School system officials said they ‘urgently need’ the Key building as a neighborhood school because of the lack of space for students.” [Washington Post]

Arlington Office Market Improving — Arlington County landing Amazon HQ2, a selection announced one year ago this month, has helped move its office market in the right direction after years of struggles. The office vacancy rate in National Landing, the newly branded area comprising the Crystal City and Pentagon City neighborhoods, dropped from 19.6% in Q3 2018 to 16% as of Sept. 30, the lowest level since 2012, according to JLL.” [Bisnow]

Chamber Supports Keeping Dillon Rule — “Facing a possible Democratic majority in the General Assembly, @ArlVAChamber is standing firm in its support of the Dillon Rule. Why? A Dem majority could allow localities like Arlington to raise the minimum wage.” [Twitter, InsideNova]

Storms Don’t Deter Trick or Treaters — From a family that tracks the number of trick or treaters visiting their Arlington home: “Despite threatening weather and a tornado watch issued by the National Weather Service… 2019 was our second best year ever with 161 visitors, 13 goblins behind the all-time high of 174 visitors in 2016.” [Facebook]

ACPD Helps With Snakes, Too — “Sgt. Morrison proves he’s a jack of all trades! Yesterday he responded to a citizen assist call and helped safely relocate this snake.” [Twitter]

Opera Fans Plan Outreach Effort — “Reports of the demise of a certain musical genre are not just premature. They are just plain wrong, supporters say. ‘Clearly, opera is not a dying art – the music is still transcendent,’ said Paul Dolinsky, a board member of Opera Nova, which on Oct. 27 held its annual fund-raising brunch at Washington Golf & Country Club.” [InsideNova]

Local Teen Is Runner Up in Entrepreneurship Competition — “Ela Gokcigdem has good news to share about her ePearl noise-cancelling wireless earbuds. They were a big hit in the Big Apple… The 17-year-old senior at Wakefield High School in Arlington participated in the NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. More than two dozen competitors from around the country pitched their products to a panel of judges.” [WJLA]

Nearby: Road Closure Planned in Seven Corners — “The Wilson Boulevard (Route 613) bridge over Route 50 (Arlington Boulevard) will be closed from 9 p.m. Monday night, Nov. 4 to 5 a.m. Tuesday morning, Nov. 5 for bridge deck work, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation. Eastbound Wilson Boulevard traffic will be detoured via Route 7, Patrick Henry Drive, Route 50 and the westbound Route 50 service road back to Wilson Boulevard.” [VDOT]

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Startup Monday header

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.

Fresh off a win at the Small Biz Challenge, Arlington startup Boolean Girl is now headed is to Nationwide’s “Pitch to Win” contest as a finalist.

The company sells classroom kits aimed at getting young women interested in coding as part of an effort to combat the gender disparity in the tech industry.

The Pitch to Win competition is scheduled for Oct. 3 and includes an all-expenses-paid trip to the insurance company’s headquarters in Ohio, where the groups will present their business proposals to a panel of judges. The winning business will be awarded $100,000, with the runner up receiving $20,000 and third place earning $10,000.

Co-founder Ingrid Sanden said the winnings from Pitch to Win would help the company expand into middle-school-age sets.

“Winning the Pitch To Win competition would propel Boolean Girl Tech’s efforts to keep middle school girls engaged and excited about moving from basic coding to complex, real-world projects,” said Sanden. “Typically, there is a dramatic drop off in participation in STEM and computer science classes in middle school, so bridging the gap from elementary to high school and beyond is a crucial step as we close the gender gap in STEM careers.”

Boolean Girl will be competing with six other companies from across the country, from a skateboard grip tape business to a company that makes AI-enabled digital stethoscopes.

Boolean Girl launched in 2014 around the same time Google’s lack of diversity was making headlines. Since then, the company has developed a build-it-yourself box set for $169.99 and a kit that including ten boxes, ten monitors and a variety of accessories for $5,000. The company also offers a coding summer camp in Arlington.

Photo courtesy Boolean Girl

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Morning Notes

Local DJ Competing for World Championship — “Arlington resident Ross Volpe, known professionally as DJ Throdown, won the DMC U.S. Finals DJ Battle and will represent the U.S. on Sept. 28 in London at the DMC World DJ Championships.” [InsideNova]

Friday Fire Call at Ballston Harris Teeter — “ACFD on scene of the Ballston Harris Teeter for reports of flames coming from a seafood display. Firefighters on scene say it’s a malfunctioning refrigerator, per scanner. Expect emergency activity on N. Glebe Road.” [Twitter]

Broadband Provider Opens Office in Clarendon — “Boston-based Starry Internet, a new internet service provider deploying fixed wireless broadband, announced that it has expanded to Arlington, Virginia, with a new office space. The company’s 8,300-square-foot Virginia office is owned by Rooney Properties, and is located in the Clarendon neighborhood… Starry offers an internet-only product costing $50 a month with a 200Mbps download speed.” [Technically DC]

Employees Win Suit Against Fmr. Arlington Startup — “A group of former Trustify Inc. employees have been awarded $259,425.49 in back pay, lost wages and damages against the former Arlington private investigator company and its founder and former CEO, Danny Boice, according to a Sept. 4 order in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.” [Washington Business Journal]

Arlington Tech Company Raises $2.5 Million — “Shift5, Inc. a cybersecurity company that builds hardware and software products to defend weapon systems, air platforms, and commercial transportation systems raised an additional $2.5 million in venture funding.” [PRNewswire via Potomac Tech Wire]

Memorial Bridge Construction Update — “Arlington Memorial Bridge is getting a makeover and some much needed structural support during its repairs… Adam Tuss got an exclusive look at the construction project on the Potomac.” [NBC 4]

ACFD Welcomes Retired Firefighter on 1,000 Mile Run — “On Saturday, September 14th, retired firefighter Justin Rowe will completed his 1,000 mile run from Maine to the Iwo Jima site (USMC Memorial) in Arlington. Tower 104 flew a flag to help welcome and congratulate him on this amazing achievement.” [Twitter]

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(Updated at 10:40 a.m.) A powerful painting about immigration by a Yorktown High School student is now set to hang in the U.S. Capitol.

The art features two young children looking to the side with pinched expressions while one of them holds a sign that reads, “Bring Our Mom Back.”

The artist behind the work is 17-year-old Dominick Cocozza, who notes on his website that his passion for art began “at a very young age”.

Cocozza won the Congressional Art Competition, which seeks art from young makers each year and is judged by local art educators. The art can be any of several mediums, and the winning artwork is displayed for a year in the U.S. Capitol Building.

“For this particular piece I was inspired by “Immigrant Children” who have been separated from their families!” Cocozza told ARLnow in a social media message, referring to the painting’s name. “I want to illustrate this particular issue to inform my peers of this ongoing crucial conflict.

He added that he was adopted from Central America as a baby but that the painting doesn’t represent his experiences.

“I am honored to have my work displayed in the capitol and I hope it can spark understanding to my audience,” Cocozza said.

He says he painted the work as part of his AP Studio Art class at Yorktown. It was honored yesterday during a ceremony for competition which was held in the 8th District of Virginia this year.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) represents the district and told ARLnow he was proud to have Cocozza’s painting “Immigration” represent the district on Capitol Hill.

“His work expresses feelings many of my constituents share,” Beyer said. “It will make a strong impression on the members of Congress, staff, visitors, and tourists who pass it every day. I congratulate Dominick and Yorktown High School for this accomplishment, and thank the many talented young people whose collective work again made for a very competitive Congressional Art Competition.”

Continuing the immigration theme, the high-schooler posted another 24 by 30 inch painting on his Instagram called “The Letter,” which shows a woman covering her face with her hands. Behind her a letter pleads for someone to “Please stop separating families at the border.”

“I chose to paint this in response to what’s currently going on in the United States,” Cocozza wrote in the image’s description.

Last year, Cocozza was selected to attend the Virginia Summer Residential Governor’s School for Performing and Visual Arts, reported InsideNova.

Image via Twitter

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Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.comStartup 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.

While most Startup Monday articles profile a local business getting off the ground, today’s feature highlights Startup Arlington: an initiative aimed at bringing those businesses to Arlington.

Startup Arlington is an annual competition hosted by Arlington Economic Development that invites applications from promising startups that would be interested in moving to Arlington County. Applications for the latest round are available online and due Nov. 2.

The application consists of basic personal and company information, assessment of company growth/financial traction and the submission of a business plan and pitch deck.

Judges will review applications based on the overall strength of the team and the team’s knowledge of the market. The viability of the product, service, or technology will also be rated alongside an assessment of the company’s revenue and financing plans.

The winner of Startup Arlington will receive:

  • Three months of free living space in Rosslyn Residence Inn hotel
  • Three months of free office space in a coworking facility
  • Legal advice for the new business
  • Complimentary gym access
  • A stipend for public transportation fees

A full list of rules is available online, but in general applicants to Startup Arlington must be:

  • The CEO and/or founder (or co-founder) of an existing tech company
  • At least 21 years old at the time you complete your application
  • Able to live in Arlington County throughout the competition period

Winners of the competition must relocate to Arlington for at least four months. The startup also cannot be a business that is already located in Arlington or the Washington, D.C. region.

The previous year’s winner was GreenSight Agronomics, a system that converts drone imagery into actionable information.

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Maybe girls really do run the world — or at least, perhaps, world finals.

An all-girls group of problems solvers from Glebe Elementary School is heading to the 2018 Odyssey of the Mind world finals next month after becoming state champions on April 14 in Newport News, Va.

The competition pushes students to work creatively as a team to “create original solutions to… divergent problems,” according to the competition’s website. This year’s theme is “emoji, speak for yourself.”

Seven girls — Buse Arici, Maddie Brown, Audrey Ferguson, Nora Johnson, Zella Mantler, Katie Martin, and Kaitlyn Nowinski — comprise the state championship-winning team.

Getting seven children to work together as a team takes a lot of effort, and the school estimates that the girls have dedicated more than 100 hours toward their competition submission.

The pursuit of problem solving — in their case, finding a way to communicate the story of a forgotten emoji without speaking, by just using emojis — led the seven girls to build “a texting machine that prints a message” and two emoji machines. In the process, they learned to use 3D printers, Adobe Illustrator and power tools to design their prototypes and their own costumes.

The silence stipulation alone will be quite the challenge for the group, a lively and talkative bunch whose excitement bubbled over into constant eruptions of euphoria while meeting with ARLnow at their elementary school on Wednesday (April 25).

The program was first brought to the school in 2015, and the team is the first from Glebe to win at Odyssey’s regional and state competition, according to Arlington Public Schools.

The world finals, hosted at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, will pit the nine- and 10-year-old girls against about 850 teams from 25 countries. According to the competition’s website, tens of thousands of students are anticipated to descend on little Ames, population just over 66,000, from May 23-26.

Getting the team to the competition will also prove challenging, and the girls have set up a fundraising campaign to raise money for their transportation and other expenses. The overall goal is $17,000, the girls said, but the fundraising webpage’s goal is much lower, at $6,000.

The team will be hosting other fundraising efforts, like a bake sale, to raise the remaining funds.

Photo courtesy of Arlington Public Schools

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Morning Notes

Petition in Support of Affordable Housing Project — The website Greater Greater Washington is helping to promote a petition that intends to counter resident complaints about a proposed affordable housing project on the former Red Cross site along Route 50. Neighbors are concerned that the project might “defile” the Buckingham neighborhood, with increased traffic and school overcrowding and a loss of green space. [GGW, GGW]

‘A Friend’ Writes Thank You Note to ACPD — From the Arlington County Police Department Twitter account: “To the citizen who left this unexpected note on one of our cruisers, thank you. ACPD is grateful for the support we receive from the community and small gestures like this mean a lot to our officers.” [Twitter]

Arlingtonian Places 23rd at Boston — Among other impressive finishes by Arlington residents at the Boston Marathon on Monday, Graham Tribble finished 23rd with a time of 2:30:06, the fastest among the D.C. area contingent at the prestigious race. [RunWashington, Patch]

High Schools Students Learning How to Spot Fake News — “At Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia, outside Washington, some high school seniors are bent over their laptops, engaged in a digital course called Checkology that helps them figure out what makes news and information real, misleading or just plain false.” [Voice of America]

Elementary Girls Heading to Int’l Problem Solving Competition — “An all-girls engineering team from Glebe Elementary School is heading to the 2018 Odyssey of the Mind World Finals where they will compete with students from nearly 25 countries… The team of fourth graders from Glebe, who are all ages 9 or 10, became state champions last weekend at the Virginia Odyssey of the Mind competition, which was held April 14 in Newport News.” [Arlington Public Schools]

ACPD Forms ‘Restaurant Liaison Unit’ — The Arlington County Police Department has formed a “Restaurant Liaison Unit” to work with local bars to tamp down on drunken and sometimes violent incidents. One Clarendon bar in particular had police responding to it for a call almost every other day in 2017. [Washington City Paper, Twitter]

Glebe Lane Closure Causes Backups — Commuters heading northbound on Glebe Road today faced major backups due to a lane closure near Ballston. Washington Gas has been performing emergency repairs in the roadway since Wednesday. [Twitter, Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Rex Block

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