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Miss America Grace Stanke will deliver the keynote address at the 10th anniversary of the GEMS (Girls Empowered by Math & Science) Conference to more than 450 middle school girls from Racine Unified School District.

Stanke, who represented Wisconsin during the national pageant held in December 2022, is a native of Wausau and attends the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she studies nuclear engineering. She will talk with the girls about her own STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) journey and why she refers to herself as a nuclear nerd on her Instagram page.

GEMS Con Miss America Grace Stanke
Miss America 2023 Grace Stanke – Credit: Grace Stanke Instagram

GEMS Con back to in-person

GEMS is being held – in-person for the first since 2020 – from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thurs., Jan. 12, 2023, at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. In 2021, GEMS was virtual, and in 2022, sessions were held at a handful of schools and at the iMET Center at Gateway Technical College with a few live presentations.

This is the 10th anniversary of the event, and interest has only grown over the years, even taking the pandemic into account.

“This is our biggest group of girls so far, and I know everyone is looking forward to being together for the first time in three years,” said Jeanette Brown, executive director of Girls Inc. of Southeast Wisconsin.

This year, the list of workshops is robust again and includes some tried-and-true favorites like building a bridge out of drinking straws strong enough to hold an unopened 16-oz. water bottle (engineering), making lip gloss (chemistry), and using electricity to power a device (technology).

Workshops at GEMS Con

GEMS Con 2022 – Credit: Girls Inc. of SE Wisconsin

Here’s how it works: Girls participate in three workshops led by a field of predominantly female experts in their field. Students choose their top three workshops weeks before the event, and organizers do their best to fulfill their wishes. Because the goal is for each session to remain highly interactive, workshops are limited to 20 participants. This way, presenters can walk the room and answer any questions the girls might have.

GEMS Con is traditionally held on the second Thursday of January. If anyone is interested in becoming a presenter for the 2024 event, contact Girls Inc. at, but be kind and please wait until next week to reach out.

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