X-Treme Gingerbread Competition Provides RI Girl Scouts with Hands-On Engineering Skills

A collab with Brown combines STEM and teamwork with a sweet challenge


For many, gingerbread houses are synonymous with the holidays. These confectionary creations, celebrated as both an art form and a festive symbol for families, impart important values like patience and teamwork. Recently, a lively group of 24 Rhode Island Girl Scouts embraced these lessons at the X-treme Gingerbread Competition. Held at the Girl Scouts of Southeastern New England (GSSNE) council headquarters in Warwick, and hosted by Brown University's Society of Women Engineers (BSWE), the event extended beyond the joy of royal icing and colorful candies; it served as a platform for building confidence, igniting creativity, and an introduction to basic engineering skills.

The collaboration between the two groups aims to make the gingerbread competition an annual event. Additionally, the organizations have joined forces to address programming gaps, with Brown's support allowing the reintroduction of the Journey in a Day program for Cadette Girl Scouts after several years. In a recent Think Like an Engineer Journey in a Day program led by BSWE, 30 local girl scouts completed three design and prototype challenges.

During the gingerbread event, scouts formed teams and enthusiastically delved into creative constructs of various sweet treats. Teams ranging from kindergarten to fifth-graders embarked on a one-hour challenge to build the ultimate gingerbread house. Brown students played the role of co-architects and advisors, guiding and encouraging the teams throughout the process. Caroline Snyder, a senior at Brown and the society’s outreach director, highlights that constructing a gingerbread house involves planning and design, mirroring the principles engineers consider when creating buildings but on a smaller scale. 

As the clock ticked down, the gingerbread houses were judged by Brown's engineering students based on design, creativity, and mechanical integrity. The sweet structures then faced a final test – a simulated earthquake at a shaking table. While each gingerbread house eventually succumbed to the added pressure, some showcased impressive stability, enduring as long as 25 seconds of shaking before their final fall.

Amy Burt, program manager for outdoor experience and STEM for the GSSNE, emphasized that the competition went beyond showcasing expert craftsmanship, intertwining enriching STEM experiences with fun, camaraderie, and friendly competition. The young participants digested these experiences, developing essential skills like resilience, problem-solving, and a sense of accomplishment – skills valuable not only for educational pursuits but also for personal interests and hobbies.

Girl Scouts, Brown University, Society of Women Engineers, Gingerbread house competition


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