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April 21st, 2016

Mayo Free Time App (and Its Young Creators) Go To Washington, Snap Selfie With VP

By In the Loop

The Mayo Free Time mobile app takes Rylee Melius, Lydia Mindermann and Andrea Richard all the way to the White House China Room. When Rylee Melius, Lydia Mindermann and Andrea Richard first began working on their Mayo Free Time mobile app, it was for two reasons: to have fun, and to give the then-seventh-graders something to enter in last year's Appapalooza mobile phone app competition in Minneapolis. "We never expected to make it past the first round," Lydia tells us. "But then we did." And how. The app — which helps patients find things to do around Mayo's Rochester campus and around town between appointments — took the girls all the way to the finals of the competition in San Francisco. If that wasn't enough, they were invited to this year's White House Science Fair, held earlier this month in Washington, D.C.

As reported by the Rochester Post-Bulletin and other media outlets, the girls were among "about 40" groups asked to participate in the event. Each group had its own "assigned" spot in the White House. "We were in the China Room, and there were three other groups in there with us," Andrea tells us. "People then walked around, and we told them about our app."

The response they got was almost as surprising as finding out they'd be visiting 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Lydia says. "People actually seemed pretty amazed by our booth and our app," she tells us. "Most people thought it was a great idea, and some even gave us suggestions for more features to add to it. So that was really cool."

Outside of the science fair, which was live-streamed on WhiteHouse.gov, Lydia says the most memorable part of the trip for her came when she and Andrea had a chance to meet Vice President Joe Biden. "We got to walk through the West Wing to his office, and he talked to us about the cancer research he's doing because his son (Beau) died of cancer last year," she says. "Then he gave us bracelets with the 'Vice President' seal on them and our names engraved on the back."

The girls then took a quick "selfie" with the vice president before posing for a group photo with the science fair's creator, President Barack Obama himself. "He walked through and shook everybody's hands, and we got to say 'Hi' to him and tell him our names," Andrea says. "That was pretty awesome."

It's been a pretty "incredible" journey for the students and for their Science, Technology, Engineering and Math teacher at Kasson-Mantorville Middle School, Sharie Furst. "Seeing them grow and develop throughout all of this has been a rewarding experience for me," she says. "What I'm really looking forward to now, however, is watching where they go from here — not only with the app's future, but with their own futures, too." (We'll second that.)

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