Gunderson High School Student Wins Top Honors at Global Competition
The Conrad Challenge is one of the largest and most prestigious technology and entrepreneurial competitions in the world. This year’s event featured nearly 1,000 teams from across the globe—with participants representing countries such as Nigeria, Panama, and England, among numerous others.
From that global competition, featuring the brightest young minds on the planet, a San José Unified student came out triumphant.
Rebecca Wang, a rising senior at Gunderson High School, captured the top prize in the Cyber-Technology & Security category at the Conrad Challenge Innovation Summit in Houston, Texas. Wang and her three teammates devoted more than nine months developing technology that could automatically detect gunfire and alert authorities about potentially dangerous incidents at schools.
The product, a smoke detector-shaped design called SIREN, aims to reduce response times to a school shooting from five minutes to five seconds—a daring technological upgrade that Wang said was inspired by the Robb Elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
“We were all devastated by what happened in Uvalde,” said Wang. “And so, we wanted to brainstorm together on how our backgrounds in technology and computer science could help prevent situations like that from happening.”
Wang and her teammates—Caitlin Nguyen of Santa Clara High School, Swarnya Srivastava of Monta Vista High School and Audrey Wang of Mission San José High School—were among five groups to compete in the Cyber-Technology & Security division finale of the Conrad Challenge. To get there, the team had to develop the project, test it, produce a short pitch touting its benefits and secure a patent.
The finals in Houston entailed a four-day contest from April 12 – 15, in which the SIREN team provided an eight-minute pitch on the product, withstood a nerve-racking 20 minute Q&A session with judges and staged a public exhibition at the NASA Space Center.
Despite that grueling schedule, Wang said the most difficult part of the competition was the formal awards dinner, where the team endured an excruciating wait on the results announcement.
“We were the last category to be announced and our hearts were pounding throughout the dinner,” said Wang. “When they announced that we had won, we were all in shock. We definitely cried a little when we accepted the award onstage.”
Wang said the drama was all worth it and praised her community for helping get her to Houston. The entire cost of entering the challenge in Houston was approximately $9,000, but after setting up a GoFundMe page, the team was able to raise $5,000—much of which came from teachers and educators.
“Our teachers were amazing,” said Wang. “We would not have been there without their support.”
With the Conrad Challenge title now on their mantle, Wang and her team plan on developing the technology further to refine it and hopefully one day have it become standard issue in every school in the country.
“We know that every second matters when it comes to school shootings,” said Wang, who’s also a Youth Advisor on the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, among other endeavors. “We want to pursue this until it’s implemented in schools nationwide.”
It’s an ambitious plan, but after topping a global field, it would be unwise to doubt Wang and her teammates.