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Stephanie Walsh: Stamford’s STEM Superhero

Some+of+the+finalists+stopped+to+pose+with+Tom+Hiddleston+on+the+red+carpet+before+watching+the+Premiere+of+Thor%3A+Ragnarok.
Some of the finalists stopped to pose with Tom Hiddleston on the red carpet before watching the Premiere of Thor: Ragnarok.

Some of the finalists stopped to pose with Tom Hiddleston on the red carpet before watching the Premiere of Thor: Ragnarok.

Some of the finalists stopped to pose with Tom Hiddleston on the red carpet before watching the Premiere of Thor: Ragnarok.

Amy Liebman, Feature Editor

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Stamford High School’s Stephanie Walsh (senior) is known as many things: athlete, scholar, friend, student, and now STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) challenge finalist. Walt Disney Studios, Dolby Laboratories, Synchrony Bank, and Marvel Studios held the Marvel Studios’ THOR: RAGNAROK SUPERPOWER OF STEM CHALLENGE in order to encourage young girls to become involved in STEM. This competition was supported by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and its goal was to challenge girls, aged 15-18, from the 50 United States and the District of Columbia, to use the counterparts of STEM to create a prototype for a project that could be replicated by others.

Walsh entered an app for consideration in the competition. She explained it as “a location-based alarm app for the IPhone that would play an alarm when the user is approaching a location. It is designed for commuters who may be distracted or fall asleep on public transportation.” It only took her a month to make the app!

Among the five finalists selected to be flown out to Los Angeles was Walsh. Here, they presented their projects, participated in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk the red carpet at the Thor: Ragnarok World Premiere, and took a trip to Dolby Laboratories to see what goes on behind the scenes.

Walsh told us about her reaction to being selected as a finalist. “I was ecstatic when I heard back about being a finalist,” Walsh said. When Disney called to notify me, I was at a field hockey game.  I definitely drove a little too fast and in a panic to get home and respond. I couldn’t believe I was actually being flown to L.A. and the premiere of Thor.”

Walsh said that she made the app on her own, using a variety of online manuals and resources to maneuver around the technical obstacles that got in her way. When we asked Walsh how she made the app, she said “I used a program called XCode with the Swift programming language. I integrated different libraries for maps, notifications, and sounds to build a notifier that would track the user’s location and send alarms when the location matched where the user wanted to be alerted.”

Walsh said that “the idea came from one of the final projects at the summer program I did called Girls Who Code. The project was also a location based alarm, but it was a website not an app. I felt moving the concept to a mobile platform made it more convenient and effective.”

Walsh decided to enter her app into the competition because even though her app wasn’t ready for release, she wanted a way to share her work. Upon hearing about the competition, she felt that “it was a great opportunity to meet leaders in STEM and other girls excited about creating solutions.” Currently her app is not on the App Store, but she may release it sometime in the future.

Walsh is not sure if she will be making any more apps, but she will continue developing new programs and technologies. She said “I certainly enjoy making IPhone apps but I am also interested in exploring other areas such as artificial intelligence or machine learning.”

Not only did Walsh create an awesome app, but as part of the experience, she attended the red carpet event, and was provided the opportunity to meet celebrities, such as Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Wyatt Oleff, Mark Ruffalo, Taika Waititi, Garrett Clayton and many more. Walsh told us “it was surreal to meet all the people you watch on TV and in movies. Meeting them really showed me that even though we watch them on the big screen they are just normal people. They were all super nice and lovely to talk to.”

While Walsh did not come in first place, she still was able to experience an amazing opportunity and dip her feet into the world of STEM. Divya Amirtharaj from Beaverton, Oregon, came in first place, taking the grand prize with her multi-language app which transfers written words – from a book, cereal box, etc. – into spoken words.

Overall, Walsh told us “the highlight of the trip was seeing the great community that exists for women in STEM fields. I had the opportunity to meet different women from Disney and Dolby who were at the top of their respective fields. Sometimes it can feel that STEM is dominated by men and it was great to see there is such a supportive and wonderful community encouraging girls to explore STEM.” Congrats, Stephanie!  Keep making us proud!

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Stephanie Walsh: Stamford’s STEM Superhero