Program Focuses on Girls in Area Ranked Last in Educational Opportunity for Nonwhites

— Fort Collins, Colorado — (August 8, 2016) — Pretty Brainy, the nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls to gain 21st century learning, welcomes Rita Roloff to its team as National Ambassador. Roloff, a Computer Sciences major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who also is competing for Miss America, will use Pretty Brainy’s curriculum to engage 4th and 5th grade girls in hands-on learning in science, technology, engineering, art and math, or STEAM. Roloff is focusing on girls in Madison, WI. Wisconsin, the Annie E. Casey Foundation reports, ranks last in the nation in educational opportunities for African American children and others who are not white. This includes Dane County, where Madison is located.

Roloff’s work to empower Wisconsin girls through Pretty Brainy is being made possible by the Wisconsin Idea Fellowship Program. Sponsored by the Morgridge Center for Public Service at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the program selected Roloff as a 2016-17 winner from a highly competitive field of undergraduates. Nine students total were selected. The “Wisconsin Idea,” now in its 18th year, is for students, faculty, and staff to use “the skills and talents cultivated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to improve the state of Wisconsin, the nation, and the world.”

When Roloff reached out to Heidi Olinger, Pretty Brainy CEO, with the idea of representing Pretty Brainy as part of her Miss America platform, she did not know that Olinger is a University of Wisconsin alumnus. “It’s a bit of serendipity,” says Olinger, “that the Wisconsin Idea is being served by Rita as well as by what I took away from my education at Wisconsin. It’s a wonderful reinforcement of efforts for girls.”

Through her work during the 2016-17 school year, Roloff wants to impress upon girls that science, technology and math, from finding answers to climate change to designing mobile apps to monitor health, are applicable to everyday life. She emphasizes, “I want girls to know that STEM is for them.”

Roloff is using her own life to illustrate for girls how STEM creates opportunities. Her first high school computer science class, in which she was the only girl, was exciting but intimidating. “My teacher, Mr. Kozicke, pointed me out in the room full of boys and told me that ‘they need you in this class.’” Her teacher, she understood, saw her as an asset. And she saw the class as an opportunity. Today Computer Sciences is her college major, and she is about to be the STEM teacher to a roomful of girls.

Roloff says she loves the Pretty Brainy curriculum, which was designed to respect the importance girls place on design, philanthropy and social entrepreneurship. “I love that the girls are in charge, and that’s how they learn.”

Information about Roloff’s Miss America platform, “Stilettos to STEM,” is online at

About Pretty Brainy. Pretty Brainy is a 501(c)(3) education nonprofit organization with the mission of empowering girls to gain STEAM — science, tech, engineering, art and math. The Pretty Brainy vision is to empower 2 million girls, by 2025, to develop their STEAM abilities and genius to positively impact their communities and world. For more information on the organization and its mission, go to

Heidi Olinger
Pretty Brainy CEO