Montana may be short on young programmers, but a team of Helena High computer science students has proven their ideas are world-class.
The students’ concept for a mobile 3D scanner was named a national winner in the 2014 Verizon Innovative App Challenge.
The six students, along with teacher Buffy Smith and Principal Steve Thennis, sat around a conference table Wednesday afternoon, their eyes glued to the laptop where a live feed of the announcement would come.
A cheer broke out as Helena High was the final team named, and Thennis presented the students with a plaque and banner that will hang inside the school.
“When I look at the brainpower in this room, I guess I’m not surprised,” he said.
The team’s idea was to create a phone application that takes high-quality 3D scans of everyday objects, which can then be imported by computer design software and edited.
As one of four national high school winners, the team earned a total of $20,000 for Helena High’s science programs, and each member receives a tablet computer.
The win came as a surprise to senior Mark Sargent.
“To be honest I was expecting not to,” he said.
Upon receiving the award, senior Sage Smith thanked his teacher and mother for her support.
“I don’t think we would have won this if it wasn’t for Mrs. Smith,” he said.
Mrs. Smith, who teaches the computer science class at Helena High, applauded the students who she has taught throughout their high school careers.
“I’ve taught every one since they’ve been freshmen,” she said. “This is an incredibly smart group of kids.”
Smith began incorporating mobile programming in to her class last year, hoping to prepare students for the future of the field. Doing so required many nights of homework on her part, she said.
Five of the six team members are finishing up their senior year, and each said they plan to attend Montana State University in Bozeman. Nick Burkland, Bridger Howell, Sage Smith and Joe Whitney will study — you guessed it — computer science. Mark Sargent will major in math and physics.
Junior Jake Pennington said he hopes to join them a year later to also study computer science.
In the meantime, the group will get some help from professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to put their app idea into development. If they’re able to create a functional version, the team can take a trip to Washington, D.C., to present it, according to Mrs. Smith.
As for the cash prize?
“We’re definitely going to make sure it goes to computer science,” Pennington said.