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When Madeira School sophomore Sevginaz Gurleyici had the chance to show NASA scientists an app that she helped develop, she thought it could not get better than that.

Then, it did. Last week, NASA recognized her group as one of the top 10 teams in the 2020 NASA App Development Challenge, which was held last fall.

Students crunched lunar terrain data to create an app that visualizes the South Pole region of the Moon. NASA will be using aspects of the 10 winning apps for its own program to help astronauts communicate on and navigate the Moon’s surface.

NASA developed the competition to gather ideas from students as it gears up to land the first American woman and next man on the Moon with the Artemis Program, which will serve as preparation for missions to Mars.

Gurleyici joined a team of four students from Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington: Alex Janninck ’22, Daniel Kippenhan ’22, Elaine Ly ’21 and Claire Toia ’23. The team will participate in a NASA leadership event in February.

“I honestly had not mentally prepared myself for the possibility that we would be selected for the culminating event,” Gurleyici said.

A NASA official said during a live-stream announcement that these students “displayed great teamwork by maximizing each team’s strengths in completing both the coding and non-coding aspects of the challenge.”

Being separated by geography and school was hard, but Gurleyici said she managed to stay connected with her teammates virtually. They used texting, the communication platform Discord — which is popular among teens and gamers — and Code With Me, which she called the “Google Docs of coding.”

Janninck, who had programmed robots with her for two years, recruited Gurleyici after running out of leads for a fifth teammate at his school. Though her lack of experience with Python, the coding language needed for the competition, contributed to some nerves, Gurleyici stepped up anyway.

She found other teammates were in the same boat. Unfazed, Janninck and Ly sent their teammates Python resources to pore over and coached them along the way.

The team had to sprint to the end,  frantically debugging the code and creating a video demonstrating the app.

“I know there were late nights in the final home stretch,” Gurleyici said.

A lover of all things science, this project was the first time Gurleyici dove into space exploration and innovation.

“I was open to learning, which is what I think I brought to the team,” she said.

Grateful for her team and the challenge, the Madeira School student said she wants to keep coding and competing.

“I’d love to spread interest — while not forcing it on them — amongst my own friends in school,” she said. “I’m interested in medicine, so finding a project or competition where coding and medicine work hand-in-hand would be interesting.”

Images via Bishop O’Connell High School, Melissa Pore

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Ask Val: House Hunting Apps

This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Val Sotillo, Northern Virginia-based Realtor and Falls Church resident. Please submit your questions to her via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: Which free real estate sites are accurate and reliable?

Answer: Whether you’re looking to buy or sell a house, you’re tracking home sales in your neighborhood, or you’re just curious about the value of homes these days, chances are that you’ve visited one of many real estate websites. Technology can help make your search a little easier allowing you to view listings, calculate mortgage costs, and find out which businesses and attractions are nearby.

According to a 2017 report from the National Association of Realtors, nearly all homebuyers start their home search online, up from just 44 percent in 2015.

How Do You Know Which Of The Countless Real Estate Sites Are Worth Your Time?

Most used by my clients: Homesnap

The biggest advantage of Homesnap is that it has a partnership with our Multiple Listing Service (MLS) Bright, which is the system of record agents use to enter and manage properties that are coming soon, for sale, under contract and sold. The result is that the status of every property in Homesnap is 100% accurate and that changes are made in real-time vs the delay you see on many other property search sites.

Everything you see in Homesnap reflects exactly what the listing agent enters into MRIS. You can connect directly with your Realtor through Homesnap (click the link to connect with me!) allowing you to send homes you’re interested in directly to your agent.

The chat function allows you and your agent to communicate through the app and keeps a record of the properties you’ve shared back and forth. You can also add multiple people to the chat (like a spouse).

Snap a photo of any home across the nation to get instant property details, including home values, when it last sold, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, taxes, lot boundaries, local school ratings, similar listings and nearby sales.

Other Search Apps

Sites: Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, Homes, Realtor.com, etc.

I grouped these sites together because they essentially do the same thing: search the local multiple listing service (MLS) for properties for sale. Homebuyers can search by city/state or zip code to see current listings, and filter by price, number of beds and baths, property type, square feet, features, age of home and listing activity (e.g., open houses, new listings, price reduced).

Just keep in mind that Zillow and Trulia are not always reliable in terms of what’s for sale and what’s not on the market. They often show properties as currently listed that are not on the market, and vice versa. They have what they call a “Zestimate” of the value of all homes, but they are not always accurate.

MLS Through Your Realtor

The most accurate, up-to-date information available on your real estate market will come through the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS). This is information that licensed realtors and brokers have access to. Your real estate agent can set up email alerts for you based on specific search criteria.

Other Helpful Sites

Greatschools for school ratings.

Walkscore for commute report and options for getting around by car, bus, bike and foot.

Homepath for foreclosure properties owned by Fannie Mae.

What other property search tools do you like or have used in the past? I’d love to hear from you!

Note: Homesnap did not sponsor or review this post.

If you’d like more information, or would like a question answered in my bi-weekly column, please reach out to [email protected]. I hope to hear from you soon.

Val Sotillo is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland with Real Living At Home, 4040 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite #10C Arlington, VA 22203, 703-390-9460.

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Ahead of the new school year starting next week, Fairfax County Public Schools debuted a new partnership with an app that will help parents track when the school bus will arrive.

After a pilot program, the FCPS Office of Transportation Services announced FCPS will offer the “Here Comes the Bus” app for the 2019-2020 school year yesterday (Monday).

“[The app] uses HTTPS like a bank or online store, making all communications between a device and the site are encrypted and secure,” according to FCPS, adding that the app uses GPS to track the locations of the buses.

Started in 2001 by a pair of graduates, the app has nearly 1.5 million registered users and is used in school districts across the country, spanning Orlando to San Antonio.

Since the app tracks the bus routes instead of individuals students, FCPS wants people to remember that bus substitutions can affect the accuracy of the app and that app shouldn’t replace communication with students about their whereabouts.

The app is free for parents and guardians and provides real-time bus locations through text or email alerts, according to FCPS. The app will be available to use starting next Monday (Aug. 26) for FCPS families.

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