Pi515: STEM programming fueled with beer and Jenga

The first attempt at fundraising for Pi515 combined oversized Jenga blocks, food and beer.

Proceeds from the Jumbo Jenga Tournament went towards supporting the Des Moines-based nonprofit so it can continue offering at-risk students computer science, coding and STEM programming.

Over 100 people attended the event Thursday night at Fox Brewing in West Des Moines; $15,000 was raised.

Before the tournament, Nancy Mwirotsi—founder of Pi515—said roughly 200 students a year from Des Moines North, Hoover, Lincoln and Southeast Polk High Schools receive free STEM education classes year-round through Pi515.

The majority of students Pi515 works with are high school girls and refugee students. The curriculum includes:

  • Robotics
  • App/Web development
  • Drones
  • College Prep/Financial Literacy
  • Virtual Reality
  • Entrepreneur

Mwirotsi said the students she works with are, “Aggressive” but that, “Nobody is giving them opportunities to succeed.”

So she started the nonprofit to give them those opportunities. The last two years students from Pi515 received over $200,000 in college scholarships in STEM education.

“There are a ton of nonprofits which is fantastic but this one is really concentrating on the lack of diversity within the tech fields,” Pi515 board member and event organizer Anne Roth said. “And it serves a really unique community in that we work with refugee students that are a lot of times facing barriers that many students aren’t facing.

Even if you are a minority and American born.”

Goals for 2018

Because of the technology Pi515 has access to through its partnerships, they will have a mobile STEM lab this school year.

“Our goal is to make sure we introduce 100 new students to build a website, market it and learn to sell things through their websites,” Mwirotsi. “For a child who does not have a computer at home, building their first website is a fast way to get them into technology.”

Mwirotsi said Pi515 can provide the technology and she’s looking for tech companies to help teach classes to the students.

“If we give these kids an opportunity out of poverty, we are going to stop this very big problem of recycling poverty,” Mwirotsi told the crowd. “If you know a child somewhere or if you have a club somewhere and do not have STEM equipment, please call us. We have some amazing equipment that everyone should take advantage of.

“Some of these kids have never seen a robot…and they need to see these because that’s the future.”


Roth said she hopes to make the Jumbo Jenga Tournament an annual event.

“It feels great to know there’s a grassroots movement about it,” Roth says. “Involving local people makes it much more of a home issue. A lot of our students are going to graduate and live here because their families live here.