Regis Junior Wins Congressional District App Challenge

Above: Zachary Espiritu '17 proudly displays his award-winning Math Battle App on his iPhone.


zach02Interested in putting your math skills to the test against your peers? Now, thanks to one creative Regian, there's an App for that.

Math Battle is an online game designed by Zachary Espiritu '17 where two players can go head-to-head and see who can solve math-based puzzles faster. The App was impressive enough to earn the distinction as a winner in the annual Congressional District App Challenge.

(Pictured: Zachary Espiritu's Math Battle iOS App)

With the award came an invitation to the #House of Code reception in Washington, D.C. where Espiritu met with U.S. Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, Rep. for the 11th District of New Jersey where Espiritu resides, and other dignitaries and students. He also demonstrated his winning App to those in attendance.

The annual Congressional District App Challenge—open to high school students—highlights the value of computer science and STEM education, and encourages students to engage in these fields. More than 1,700 high school students from 32 different states participated in this year’s Congressional App Challenge.

While only recently exposed to App development, Espiritu nonetheless learned the skill quickly. "I first became interested in the world of programming and mobile development last year when I attended an eight-week program on how to develop and release iOS Apps. Ms. Christie was the one who recommended that I look at the program," said Espiritu. "It was an incredible learning experience, and I used the knowledge I gained from the program to begin creating what is now Math Battle."

Espiritu says he was inspired to develop a math App while participating in events with Regis's Math Team. The Math Team competes several times throughout the school year against high schools across the country. "Most of the problems we’re given are designed for those with a background in at least Algebra II, and I wanted to create something similar that would make math competitions more accessible, particularly for those at a younger age," said Espiritu. "Also, I believe that the best way to learn something is to make it fun and engaging. Since Math Battle allows two players to compete against each other, it creates a competitive environment that motivates players to improve their math and quick thinking skills in the process."



Above: Zachary Espiritu '17 poses for a photo at the Washington, D.C. reception for the Congressional District App Challenge with Democratic Whip and Congressman Steny Hoyer (left) and Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (right).


His first stab at creating the App began at a one-day hackathon for high school students at General Assembly located in the Flatiron District. He coded an initial version of the entire app using the programming languages Swift and Objective-C, and earned an award for "Best UI Design" at the hackathon. After learning about the Congressional App Challenge, he spent nearly a month redesigning and reprogramming the application. He taught himself a database framework called Firebase in order to implement a user login system with custom data storage.

"Computer science, in essence, is the study of problem solving," said Espiritu. "And my experience at Regis has helped me develop the mindset necessary to effectively solve challenging problems—such as trying to understand how to deliver accessible, educational, and, most importantly, engaging materials via mobile devices—and has made me become more aware of my own strengths and how I can use them to be a man for others."

"Mr. Amatrucola’s Computer Technology II class was where I first learned the basics of object-oriented programming. He has been very influential on me as a programmer and has been an invaluable resource over the last few years. This year I have been self-studying Java for the AP Computer Science A exam and have often gone to him for help. I'm also taking an independent study with Mr. A in Data Structures and Algorithms as a senior elective next year."

Espiritu says he treasures the experience he was given to showcase his App to congressmen and engineers alike. "I got to meet several people including Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, my district's representative, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries from New York’s 8th Congressional District (Brooklyn and Queens), and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer," reflected Espiritu. "It was also really incredible to be able to see the projects that the other student representatives had worked on as well."

The East Hanover native, who was recently elected Speech President for the Hearn and also serves as a Crew Chief in the Regis Repertory, considers himself lucky to have had the opportunities Regis has afforded him.

"I've come to realize how many people have made sacrifices so I can get to where I am now, and my experience at Regis has played a formative role in that realization," said Espiritu. "Regis has instilled in me the firm belief that, simply by virtue of being alive, I have an obligation to take advantage of all the opportunities that life has given me to learn as much as I can and then use that knowledge to give back to those communities who have given so much to me."

Math Battle, along with other winning apps, is featured on a digital display in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., and will be highlighted on the Congressional App Challenge website for the remainder of the year.



Above: Zachary Espiritu '17 with fellow award-winners at the Congressional District App Challenge in Washington, D.C.

Posted: 5/23/16