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Eighth-Grader Competes in DU’s Madden Challenge

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Lorne Fultonberg


Lorne Fultonberg


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Angelina Adkis took all the tests and wrote all the papers in the Daniels College’s Gateway to Business course

Eighth-grade student Angelina Akdis, right, presents her Travel Time app with teammate Audrey Legate at the Winter 2018 Madden Challenge. (Photo: Jon DuVarney)
Eighth-grade student Angelina Akdis, right, presents her Travel Time app with teammate Audrey Legate. (Photo: Jon DuVarney)

When the slight, baby-faced girl in class stood up to present her idea, Audrey Legate didn’t think too much of it. Maybe she just looked young for her age in the freshman-level Gateway to Business course.

She clearly had the brains to pitch an app to improve the study abroad experience, so Legate decided to jump on board.

“Honestly, it was kind of shocking when I found out she was 13,” Legate said. “She is honestly incredible. She’s the one who came up with the entire idea. And then she told us she was an eighth-grader, and I was just shocked.”

Join the club.

Once again last week, Angelina Akdis’ age and poise wowed a crowd, this time at the finals of the Madden Challenge — the quarterly competition in which students develop a functional mobile app and market it to a panel of judges.

“It means a lot to me to even be accepted to compete,” Akdis said before taking the stage to present “Travel Time.” The app, which offers such features as a packing assistant, maps and attraction guides, is the culmination of a quarter in a college course. “It blows my mind every single day, but I’m so thankful for the opportunity. It’s been really great.”

In an effort to bolster the University’s relationship with its community, Stephen Haag, director for entrepreneurship at the Daniels College of Business, has welcomed students from underprivileged high schools to participate in what’s known as The Compass Project. Over the last year and a half, they have worked alongside college students building app prototypes, websites and logos.

Angelina Akdis, 13, addresses the crowd after the Winter 2018 Madden Challenge. Akdis is the first non-college student to take the Gateway to Business course at the Daniels College.
Angelina Akdis, 13, addresses the crowd after the Winter 2018 Madden Challenge.

Never before, though, has a younger student — let alone a newly minted teenager — actually enrolled in the Gateway to Business course. But every Tuesday and Friday this quarter, Akdis “had to mature up” as she sat in on lectures, taking every test and writing every paper.

“It’s definitely more intense,” said Akdis, a student at DU’s Ricks Center for Gifted Children. “Eighth grade is a little more forgiving. You’re still learning a lot, but you haven’t figured out what you want to do. In college you have to pick majors.”

The girl who envisions herself with her own fashion label (but would settle for running Chanel or Amazon) chose business. With a desire to explore the field, she turned to the administration at Ricks, an on-campus school staffed by the University of Denver and student teachers from the Morgridge College of Education, which in turn looked to Haag, who was happy to oblige.

“Younger kids are sharper, smarter, better problem solvers than any generation before,” he said. “Age just no longer matters the way it used to. You could be an eighth-grader, you could be a 58-year-old. You can work together. You can find common passions. It works.”

When all was said and done, Akdis, her team and their Travel Time app did not make the podium in the Madden Challenge. Instead, the top prize went to Redeemer, a mobile app to help users quickly sort waste, recyclables and compost.

Read: What else has won the Madden Challenge?

Still, the 13-year-old — who, by the way, also has a leading role in the school musical and boasts her own IMDB page  said she was proud of her performance. And when Haag took the stage and revealed her age to the audience, she received a standing ovation.

“It’s been great coming from an eighth-grade class and being able to soak up everything,” Akdis said. “It’s been great knowing this is where I could be in a couple years. I’ve learned so much.”

As the crowd filed out and Akdis posed for photos with her family, one of her competitors stopped to offer admiration. “You’re going to do big things,” she said.

But first, Akdis is going to focus on graduating middle school.