“In addition to helping change public perception of nuclear energy and technology, I hope to inspire youth, especially young girls, to explore STEM and to see that going into these fields, including nuclear engineering, is an option for them.” – Grace Stanke
What is it like to cover 280,000 miles in a year talking to people of all ages about how STEM topics are everywhere in the world around us?
Miss America Grace Stanke has been having conversations with people about her studies with STEM topics and how she found her path of interests that have brought her to where she is today. As Miss America, Grace has traveled the country, spoken at conferences in Fukushima, Japan and COP29 in Dubai about the future of energy and shared her experiences as a nuclear engineering student. Grace is inspiring changes for clean zero-carbon emission energy sources and the next generation of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.
Kids Discover got a chance to find out more about her exciting year of speaking engagements, meeting world leaders and students, and her future plans.
How and when did you become interested in science?
I was very fortunate to have exposure to science all throughout my childhood. My dad was a civil engineer, and he would frequently take us to construction sites. I really loved learning and engaging in science classes when it came to hands-on learning. Conducting my own experiments in classrooms was so thrilling!
Can you describe what a nuclear engineer is?
A nuclear engineer helps manage or research nuclear materials – which is a very broad statement. On a more understandable description, nuclear materials are simply fancy and slightly irregular materials. Nuclear engineers work on researching cancer, creating electricity, advancing agriculture, medical imaging, and so much more. Nuclear science is all around us, and nuclear engineers help make that happen every day!
What is nuclear energy and why is it important to our future?
Nuclear energy is a form of electricity production using nuclear materials. Essentially, nuclear energy is using those fancy hot rocks to boil water, which in turn creates steam. We can then turn the steam into electricity by turning a turbine! Nuclear is so important to our future because it is an emissions-free source of energy, which is crucial to help mitigate climate change. In addition to being emissions-free, it is a reliable source of energy, meaning it does not depend on conditions outside of human control to produce electricity. It is always on, day or night, rain or Shine!
How did you become interested in music?
I had quit gymnastics in second grade, and my mom wanted me to pick up a new hobby. My older brother recently started playing trombone, and my older sister recently started playing viola. In my mind, I knew I wanted to pick an instrument because I was a younger sibling and wanted to follow what my older siblings were doing.
I eventually chose violin to play. I really became connected with my violin when I was able to utilize it as a way to channel my negative emotions in a healthy manner – specifically when my dad was going through cancer the second time. I had a lot of anger and sadness, and I really have become thankful for the power of music to help me heal during that process.
What is a memorable question you have been asked about STEM topics by students?
One of the most memorable moments throughout my work with young students was when a middle school I was presenting to did not know about the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident. Because I work with all generations, I am very used to talking about nuclear accidents to people that potentially lived through those. However, middle schoolers don’t necessarily know about those. This provides me the opportunity to help these young minds form educated opinions about nuclear science.
What do you tell students about STEM topics?
In my personal experience, students already know what STEM is and how they can work in it. What I focus on is helping them find their passions, whether that be communications, engineering, trade-skills, politics, teaching, etc. Then, from there I help them to find a place for their passion within the STEM field. One thing about the nuclear industry is we don’t just need engineers, mathematicians, and physicists – we need people from all different occupations to help make this industry happen. Therefore, I help them to find their passions and then from there, I do try to convince them to work in the nuclear industry, however I ultimately want them to simply find joy in their careers!
What is a piece of advice from a teacher or mentor that has helped you?
“Impunctuality breeds disorganization.” Honestly, these were a lot of complicated works that I didn’t understand for most of my life. However, it ultimately means be on time and preferably early. Making a plan, and executing the plan accurately and precisely has been an important skill that I have developed!
What are your future plans for your career in STEM?
I will be working as a Core Design Engineer at Constellation, a company that owns and operates 12 different nuclear power plants across the country. I will additionally continue my advocacy work and communicating how awesome nuclear science is!
Favorite book as a kid?
When I was in early elementary school, I loved the Junie B. Jones series! As I got older, I loved reading sci-fi and fantasy books like “Ender’s Game” and the Eragon Trilogy. A lot of the things that I imagined as a kid are things that I can bring to life as a nuclear engineer, which is so awesome.
What are you reading now?
I am reading “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. I have to add – growing up, I never understood the types of books my dad read because they were professional development books and life skills books. Yet here I am, reading that exact genre of book and loving them. It makes me chuckle!
You can watch Grace on the telecast this Sunday, January 14 at 7pm ET and other events at the links below.
Alice Knisley Matthias writes about food, gardening, family, and education. Her work appears in The New York Times for Kids, TIME for Kids, Washington Post Kids, Allrecipes, Better Homes and Gardens, Taste of Home, Food Network, Birds and Blooms, Family Handyman, Parade, an America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, EatingWell, Highlights for Children, Boys’ Life, Redbook, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, and regional parenting publications.
Alice is the author of “Tasty Snacks in a Snap!” published by Scholastic about healthy snacks for kids.