Polite, bright, confident and articulate.
Those qualities stand out as a first impression of Visitation Academy students Caroline Gaughan, Theresa Fister and Bella Moak. But there's more — much more to their talents and outlook. Achievement-oriented and concerned about their community, their work demonstrates that they could outsmart your average college graduate.
High school seniors? Nope. Juniors? Nope. Two sophomores — Theresa and Bella — and an eighth-grader, Caroline.
The Visitation trio and two of their friends, members of Smart Cookies, the only all-girls team in GlobalHack VI, won first place in the youth division at the computer coding competition and took second place overall. GlobalHack VI attracted software developers, graphic designers, technologists and entrepreneurs from around the world to solve a single civic technology problem centered around homelessness in partnership with St. Patrick's Center. More than 1,200 coders from eight countries participated in the youth, collegiate and professional divisions.
Theresa's work in computer science began two years ago when she joined the coding club at Visitation. "I was interested because coding has creative aspects and data aspects," she said. "Back then I didn't know all the things web design and technology can do."
Through school and other sources, she learned about Kode With Klossy Summer Camp, a two-week program for girls 13-18 years old who learn to build apps with code. The program is run by Karlie Kloss, a native St. Louisan and supermodel. Theresa met Bella and Caroline there as well as the two other members of their GlobalHack team, Emma Stoverink, a junior at Brentwood High School, and Lauren Crowe, a freshman at Red Bud High School.
"It was empowering to be in a community with all these women who were passionate about what they were learning," Theresa said.
The young women grew close during the camp and learned about the STL CAPS Hackathon, winning that competition. They met Michael Palmer from Code Red Education, who offered to sponsor them at GlobalHack after observing their passion and how well they worked together. The Fab Five saw it as a good opportunity to use their coding skills and help end homelessness.
At GlobalHack, they established their plan on Friday night before working all day and evening Saturday and returning Sunday. Their mentor, Dana Hildebrand of Monsanto provided guidance.
They developed a website application that emphasizes ease of accessibility. It also includes a phone line that will inform the caller of resources. The application is interactive between homeless shelters and users and when further developed could keep track of the number of beds that are available. It has a QR code that a homeless person can generate and print from a shelter or library computer. Each shelter or program can scan the code and follow their progress to better meet their needs. The QR code includes as much or little information as the person wants to include. With Bella's help, the website is in three languages besides English — Spanish, French and Bosnian.
Caroline's interest in computer science began as a seventh-grader in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) class at Visitation dabbling in coding blocks. Her application video for Kloss centered on the gender gap in computer science.
A member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Dardenne Prairie, Caroline described being the only all-girls team as empowering but not intimidating because they're confident girls can do just as well at the tasks as boys.
Bella joined the coding club at Visitation in seventh grade and is taking an AP (college-level) computer science class. She took her mom's advice about joining the coding club at Visitation. "She really wanted me to do it because she thought it would be a good experience," Bella said. "I did, and I really liked it."
Theresa is considering a major in computer science in college and is taking the AP computer science class at Visitation. "I really like it," she said. "Sometimes I work on coding projects creatively on my own time. That's really nice not to have a pressure due date, just to learn something by myself. There's so many things coding can do because of the emerging Internet society we're living in."
The issue of homelessness and the social service structure is familiar to the team members. Theresa attended a social service camp with her parish, St. Francis Xavier (College Church), and walked with a formerly homeless man along routes traveled frequently by homeless people. With her family, she is involved with Karen House and other efforts. Bella, also a member of St. Francis Xavier Parish, helped in a program assisting refugees from Syria.
The team is impressed with St. Patrick Center. "We're hoping to give back to St. Patrick Center," Caroline said. "Our team wants to contribute and give some of our time to help out."