Playful Learning Lab staff

Creating engaging, hands-on experiences for K-12 students, with an emphasis on real-world applications of the materials covered in the University of St. Thomas engineering department. Below are the students working within the Playful Learning Lab, as well as laboratory alumni..

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DR. annmarie thomas

The founder and director of the Playful Learning Lab at the University of St. Thomas, Dr. AnnMarie Thomas is passionate about creating engaging learning environments for learners and educators.

dr. deb besser

The director of the University of St. Thomas Center for Engineering Education and a research affiliate in the Playful Learning Lab where she directs our educational research efforts.

Dr. Jeff Jalkio

A member of the physics and engineering faculty at the University of St. Thomas, Jeff serves as a technical advisor for the Playful Learning Lab.



Maria Baklund

(Mechanical Engineer, Peace Engineering Minor '21) is working on Ok Go Sandbox as a math lead to create educational resources to inspire STEAM excitement among students, as well as helping in laboratory organizational projects.

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Abby Bensen

(English, Communication and Journalism ’21) is working as the lead editor for Playful Learning Lab projects. 


Marcus Cundiff

(Finance, Economics '21) employs analytics and business best practices to support efficient laboratory administration and recordkeeping.

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Alyssa Eggersgluss

(Vocal K-12 Music Education ‘20) is a member of the OK Go Sandbox and Code & Chords teams. She’s working to develop educational tools from both projects for teachers in K-12 classrooms.

Rachel Farah

(Computer Engineering, ‘21) Member of the OK Go Sandbox project and the Code & Chords team for playful learning lab. Aims to incorporate her love of teaching students in her work.

Hannah French

(Mechanical Engineering ’20)  is a Mechanical Engineering major at University of St. Thomas, currently working on the OkGo Sandbox project as project manager and as a peer mentor for the Engineering Graphics and Design class (ENGR 171).

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Collin Goldbach

(Mechanical Engineering '20) is working on the OK Go Sandbox to bring creative learning exercises to K-12 classrooms and seeks to apply engineering principles to hobbies like blacksmithing and tool-making.

Mikyla Harjamaki 

(Mechanical Engineer , Mathematics Minor '21) is majoring in Mechanical Engineer and minoring in Mathematics. She is the lab operations manager and assisting with all of the Playful Learning Lab's projects. 

Kristina Harfmann

(Computer Science '21) is on the Code+Chords team, where she is using her love for choir and coding experience to advance software.

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Miranda Herz

(Entrepreneurship Major, Sustainability & Communications and Journalism Minors '19) is a member of the OK Go Sandbox team, working on digital marketing to drive awareness and participation in PLL activities.

McKenzie Hickey

(Communications & Journalism, English Minor '19) is a Strategic Communication and Advertising major, working for the OK Go Sandbox project, assisting with communications and design for the lab. 

Garrison Hoffbeck

(Entrepreneurship ‘19) is a marketing strategist, creating digital content for the Playful Learning Lab, sharing PLL resources and tools, and inspiring public awareness.

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Lizzy Johnson

(Mechanical Engineering '20) is a Peer Mentor for Engineering Graphics and Design.

Grace Kubista

(Civil  Engineering, ‘21) Project Manager for the Code+Chords team in the Playful Learning Lab. Exploring ways that STEM intersects with creative passions and finding ways to inspire new generations of engineers.

Daniel Mahota

(Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science Minor '19) is a member of the Code & Chords team. He is passionate about problem solving, creativity, and exploring artistic expression through technology.

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Chris Nguyen

(Dougherty Family College ‘20) is a member of the Deaf Education project for Playful Learning Lab. Chris loves science, and working with animals and children.

Jackie Page

(Entrepreneurship and Marketing, '20) is a member of the Ok Go Sandbox team working on digital and social media strategy. She also supports ongoing marketing for the Playful Learning Lab.

Alix Putnam

(Health Promotion Major, Entrepreneurship and Spanish Minors '19) is a member of the Circus Science team and is working to combine her knowledge and passion of biomechanics and physiology with technology. 

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Molly Roche

(Elementary Education ’20) is a member of the OK Go Sandbox Team. She is merging passions for music and teaching by working to help provide hands-on, STEAM-focused content for educators.


(Electrical Engineering ’22) is a member of the Circus Science team and the Code + Cords team and works with both projects to apply STEAM concepts in new and dynamic ways.

Krista Schumacher 

(Elementary Education Major, STEM Education Co-Major '21) is a member of the OK Go Sandbox Team. She is excited to work on projects to peak student interest in STEM.

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Esmee Verschoor

(Communications & Journalism ’20) is working as a graphic designer for the Playful Learning Lab. She is focusing on designing engaging and creative content for lab projects including OK Go Sandbox and the Center for Engineering Education.

Verdis Webb IV

(Creative Writing' 19) is a member of the Playful Learning Lab, striving to be a comic book writer. 


Affiliated educators

Jill Jensen

With 20+ years in science education, Jensen is now a K-5 Science Specialist at Glacier Hills Elementary School of Arts & Science, where she works to inspire students, staff and community members to find the joy in science, engineering, art, nature and technology.

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Allison Knoph

Allison has been teaching in elementary classrooms for seventeen years.  She is passionate about helping transform the experience of education, and loves connecting students to inspiring projects and people.

Jenna Laleman

(Elementary Education and STEM, psychology minor '18) is working on projects (including our STEPS program)focusing on developing lessons that encourage hands-on, fun ways for students to engage in engineering activities.

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Caroline Little

A graduate of NASA's inaugural Microgravity University for Educators, Caroline also teaches French and moderates her school’s Experimental Vehicle Team, finding unique ways to intertwine her passions for engineering and space in language education. 

Cindy Nordstrom

A 5th grade teacher and school board member, Cindy loves integrating Design Thinking into curricula, offering students the tools to solve real-life problems in a collaborative way.