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Launching marshmallows and STEM careers for girls

Published November 13, 2023

A chance to design and build a catapult to fling marshmallows? What middle school student could resist that?

Certainly not the 30 girls who participated in each of two recent Miss Maker Workshops, organized and run by WildStang, District 214’s long-standing and highly successful competition robotics team.

With STEM studies and professions still notoriously short of female representation, WildStang debuted Miss Maker a decade ago with two goals in mind: One, to generate science and engineering interest among middle school girls. Two, to increase representation of high school girls on WildStang teams. 

“Fast forward 10 years, and 35 to 40 percent of the team is female, which is a huge improvement over 10 years ago,” says WildStang program administrator Mark Koch, who works alongside head coach Nick Strzelecki throughout the year.

In keeping with that effort, high school student leaders for this year’s Miss Maker Workshop are juniors Rani Patel and Zoe Kersbergen. For each workshop, Rani and Zoe led a team of about 25 WildStang high school students, who divided the 30 Miss Maker Workshop; participants into groups of 10, with each rotating through three stations:

  • A programming activity in which students learned a software to enhance understanding of writing a computer program

  • An electrical project that involved wiring, soldering and testing a buzzer

  • A mechanical project in which students built a catapult to shoot marshmallows

If parent response is indicative, Miss Maker Workshop succeeded in generating interest. Several parents of middle schoolers asked how their daughters can join the WildStang team as they enter high school. Applications for next year will be accessible through the website in December.

For her part, Rani has found value in WildStang even though she does not plan to pursue a STEM career. She says students who invest the most effort derive the most benefit, and that coaches have rewarded her hard work with key roles, including a spot on this year’s robot drive team. All of this, Rani said, has helped build confidence. “Before WildStang, I was a timid kid,” she said.  “This helped me find my voice.”

Koch lauded the high school students’ interaction with intermediate school girls and said:  ‘It's more than robots.’  We expect students on the team to give back, and it is an expectation to participate in community outreach events in order to earn the right to travel to overnight competitions.”

WildStang’s 2023-24 season will begin in earnest in early January, when teams nationwide will learn details of next year’s competition game and then focus on designing and building their robot. Before then, however, WildStang will sponsor a regional First Lego League tournament for elementary students and showcase a demo robot for younger students.


WildStang's Miss Maker Fair Workshops are funded by a grant from Northrup Grumman.