VAST (Voice Accessible Story Technology) wins Rep. Mike Levin’s 2021 Congressional App Challenge in California’s 49th District

Rep. Mike Levin has named Tina Mai from St. Margaret’s Episcopal School as the winner of the 2021 Congressional App Challenge in California’s 49th District.


When asked what inspired the creation of VAST (Voice Accessible Story Technology), the student said, “As a writer, I found it unjust that traditional writing methods hinder so many children from creativity and expression. After doing additional research, I found that pre-existing and competing products are too expensive, complicated, hard to find, or not designed as a simple tool for kids. This inspired me to create my own solution from both a writer’s and a young person’s perspective. I hope to combine my passion for literature and computer science to create a novel approach to creative writing for kids, in a way that addresses the inequalities in accessibility and provides opportunities to groups, such as those with visual and learning disabilities, that are often left out when it comes to tech products.

I initially wanted to make a tactile device following the same purpose, but decided that a voice-based app would be more accessible, affordable, and scalable. This way low-income families and under-resourced communities can access it, and it’s something that can easily reach different corners of the world. This is important to me because I used to volunteer for children in countries overseas, and I don’t want distance to be an obstacle that prevents them from using this tool.

My vision for the app is for it to be a collaboration, with every child and every voice on the platform as a puzzle piece to inclusivity, working together to create a network of stories and to build this environment where everyone’s stories matter and inspire.”

The 2021 Congressional App Challenge yielded 2,101 fully functioning apps. After eighteen months of disruptions to educational cadences for students everywhere, the Congressional App Challenge came roaring back with 7,174 students registering for this year’s competition. All told, 340 Members of Congress hosted Congressional App Challenges in their districts across 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C.

The Congressional App Challenge is an official initiative of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Members of Congress host contests in their districts for middle school and high school students, encouraging them to learn to code and inspiring them to pursue careers in computer science. Each participating Member of Congress selects a winning app from their district, and each winning team is invited to showcase their winning app to Congress during our annual #HouseOfCode festival. The program is a public-private partnership made possible through funding from Omidyar Network, AWS, theCoderSchool, Facebook, Replit, Accenture, and others.

The 2022 Congressional App Challenge will launch in June of 2022, and eligible students can pre-register for the competition now.