Rep. Cisneros Announces CA-39 District Congressional App Challenge Winners

December 20, 2019
Press Release
Three students from Glen A. Wilson High School win challenge

FULLERTON, CA – Today, Representative Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (CA-39) announced the winning team for the 2019 Congressional App Challenge (CAC) for California’s 39th District: Lillian Lee, Thomas Li, and Jeffrey Liu from Glen A. Wilson High School. Their winning mobile app entitled “weSearch” provides a platform for people to better organize, update, and carry out search parties to find missing people. The features of the app include a listing page of detailed information on the missing person, the ability to join a search party, a built-in chat to communicate with other members of the party, and a map to track movement and coverage.

The District Staff of Representative Cisneros recognized and celebrated the winning students and participants during an awards ceremony on Tuesday night. The CA-39 CAC had 74 participants from various middle and high schools and teamed up with the Fullerton School District to include 60 elementary school participants.

“It’s clear that the students in the 39th District are exceptional. I want to congratulate Lillian, Thomas, and Jeffrey from Glen A. Wilson High School for winning the Congressional App Challenge with their innovative app, weSearch,” said Rep. Cisneros. “Along with our continued support for STEAM education, it’s this type of hard work, creativity, and ingenuity that will help solve major problems in our community and country. Thank you to all the 39th District students who participated in this app challenge and the educators who teach, encourage, and inspire them every day.”

"It’s great to see how far the team has come, especially considering just how much work they’ve put into this app since the beginning of the school year. I believe that each student added their own special element to the app and they were able to come together to produce something that was really special,” said Courtney Bushyeager, Advisor of the Code Team at Glen A. Wilson High School.

Jacki Cisneros (Congressman Cisneros’ wife) with winners Jeffrey Liu and Lillian Lee. (Not pictured: Thomas Li)

The following are Lilian, Thomas, and Jeffrey’s accompanied responses with their submitted app:

About this App:

According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, hundreds of thousands of US citizens alone go missing annually, yet there is little technology that addresses this problem. Our app, weSearch, strives to undertake the goal of decreasing these high numbers by providing a platform where search parties can be efficiently organized and carried out, and where people are given another method of circulating the news of their missing loved ones.

weSearch is easily accessible due to it being a mobile web app, and its functions are intuitive enough so that they can be quickly learned by users. One of our main features, the listings page, allows users to click on a report to view detailed information on the missing person and join the search party for them immediately. From there, users can communicate with each other with a built-in chat for that specific search party instead of going through the hassle of exchanging phone numbers or using another third-party app.

Each search party is also equipped with a map. When each user is connected to the app, their locations will be tracked so that all party members will know where everyone has been. This prevents someone from getting lost while searching and also allows people to quickly locate each other. Furthermore, the map shows through a heat-map-like display to show how thoroughly an area has been searched. Red means that the area has already been thoroughly searched and that the user should search elsewhere, and nothing at all means that the area has not yet been searched. It saves time by ensuring that search parties are maximizing their time in order to search as efficiently as possible.

Though weSearch is mainly dedicated towards organizing search parties, it additionally assists those who want to get the word out about a missing person. As mentioned before, weSearch has a listings page that displays reports for missing persons. These reports can be user-submitted, meaning that anyone can post a report about their missing family and friends, granting them a greater chance for them to be reunited.


One day when we were talking to a friend of ours, he brought up something interesting that he learned in his psychology class: the missing child experiment. Researchers placed fake missing child posters all over town and then had the missing child stand nearby. The results of the experiment showed that only a couple individuals out of hundreds took action. The experiment confirmed a phenomenon, called the unresponsive bystander effect, which states that if others are around, bystanders believe that they don't need to do anything since somebody else could handle the issue.

Missing people tear families apart, cause distress and worry from close friends, and bring about immense pain to the missing person's loved ones to the point that they suffer as much the missing person themselves. The fact that people didn't bother to give enough attention to or take action in the search for missing people was extremely unsettling.

When someone is reported missing, search parties are formed, missing posters are plastered everywhere, and Amber Alerts flood phones. Clearly, the problem does not lie in the circulation of the news but the community. As stated in the unresponsive bystander effect, people are unwilling to involve themselves in a situation where they will be inconvenienced, even when viewing missing people reports and alerts. This defeats the alerts' whole purpose of garnering the attention that the victims deserve.

Thus, while weSearch's main purpose is to organize search groups efficiently while also providing the tools to do so in order to find more missing people, it also serves to connect the world together in order to help promote the search for them. We believe it to be absolutely essential for there to be a solution which would encourage and develop community engagement in searching for these people. The heartbreak that families and friends experience during this extended period of loss is too much a problem to leave unattended. Planning to overcome the barrier of the unresponsive bystander effect, our team hopes to encourage and, ultimately, increase participation in the search for missing people by building a community of active searchers and reporters to relieve the heartache that millions of families undergo.

Problems while making app:

 CSS, the language used to style websites, was an area in which we had several issues throughout our project. Many of these issues occurred because editing the styling in one file would occasionally result in undesired changes in others. For example, altering the size of the logo in the header, which was based on its parent’s container size, would work for one page, but would consequently make the logo too big on another since the container would be sized differently depending on the page. Thankfully, GitHub allows for a sort of “version control”; we were able to fix errors by going back into GitHub commits to pinpoint exactly what change caused the error. From there, we were able to recover a working version and resolve the problem quickly.

Another challenge that we faced was about the heatmap interface. At first, we took a screenshot of a Google Maps around our area and then put that directly onto a canvas. However, this was impractical since we had no easy way to obtain map tiles. Any map that we wanted would have to be taken as a screenshot from Google Maps first, which is highly impractical in the long run. Furthermore, searches would be limited to the boundary set by the image. We researched online to look for potential solutions and found a map API (publicly available code created by other people) called Leaflet that allowed us to draw directly over the map tiles which was possible because Leaflet provided its own map images, allowing us to easily pass the coordinates from the phone’s GPS to Leaflet where it would draw markers representing each person’s location over the map.

Another obstacle that we had to overcome was how, on the map, markers would be duplicated whenever it was updating someone’s location. This issue was resolved by using Javascript objects to cache the markers which allowed for existing markers to be moved instead of adding a new marker to the map each time. Since Javascript objects allow association between a variable and another variable, it was possible to associate each user with their own marker. When a user had to be updated, the program would check if there was an existing association for the user; if there was one, then the position of the marker would be updated. Otherwise, a new marker would be created and then matched with that new user.

Improvements to make in the Future:

If we were to make improvements to our app weSearch, we would add much more functionality and improve its user-friendliness to make the user experience in the app more enjoyable.

Our first improvement would be to add filters on what is shown in the listings. Currently, the app shows all the reports that have ever been submitted by users. If we’re expecting a global audience to participate in the search for missing people, we can't expect them to be scrolling through millions of submitted reports. Instead, what could be done is setting up filters and a search in order to show only the reports relevant to what the user wishes to view. Possible filters could be sorting by location, the date last seen, and more. An added search bar would make the process even faster by directly pulling key terms from the reports, such as the missing person’s name. This would further increase participation in the community since it shows more plausible searches for the user based on their preferences.

The second improvement that we would like to work on is the map. Currently, the live GPS data from the user does not update very frequently as motion is shown in a staggered. To prevent this from happening, we plan on making the map update the GPS location of the users more frequently. This update comes with the additional benefit of obtaining more precise data of where the user has been searching and for how long. It not only benefits the user, but also supplies other search party members with the more accurate data so that they can maximize their time searching.

A third improvement that we would like to make is to the chat room. Currently, the only functions on the chat are sending messages and photos. Though we have the bare basics of a chat, we hope to develop a button to start or join a video call. The searchers will then be able to talk to each other live without the hassle of texting if they are too occupied or an emergency comes up. Furthermore, if they have headsets, they can search handsfree if they need to dig around the area for clues as to where the missing person has gone. Everyone knows that communication is key, and improving it can only help the search go faster.


About the Congressional App Challenge

In 2013, the House of Representatives passed the Academic Competition Resolution of 2013 that establishes an annual academic competition in the fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) to be held among students in each congressional district. Under partnership with the Internet Education Foundation, the first official CAC was launched in 2015 with the hope of inspiring students across the United States to find interest and pursue careers in computer science. Now in its fifth year, the CAC has become a way for young coders across the country to showcase their technological capabilities and be recognized for their use of new and emerging tech.