Professional and Alumni

Gingerbread Activity


Gingerbread people come to Washington!
What makes you different from everyone else? A Diversity Exercise

This exercise is an effective one for expanding our perception of diversity far beyond the matter of race, and we encourage chapter presenters to add to this model and to adapt it to tell stories of their own that explore this issue further.


To begin the exercise, have participants create a gingerbread man or woman that models their uniqueness. Encourage them to consider this the “gingerbread buffet” - while everyone will begin with the same cookie cutter base, the decorations each individual chooses to apply represent what makes the group diverse. Also encourage everyone to think outside the literal—hair doesn’t have to be yarn.

You will need:

  • A paper plate for each participant
  • Gingerbread
  • Gingerbread person cookie cutters (all identical)
  • Frosting or glue (to attach decorative elements)
  • Scissors
  • Decorative Elements that can be used to represent facial features, skin tone, clothing, accessories, etc. Some ideas include macaroni, sugar sprinkles, licorice, google eyes, yarn, buttons, candies, felt, construction paper, etc.

All items are placed on a long table or tables which participants work along “buffet-style,” taking what they need to make their creations.

PRESENTATION (given while participants create gingerbread people):

This project was originally presented at KON Conclave 2003 by Jill A. Pakulski, President of the Penn State chapter of Kappa Omicron Nu. Jill’s words follow, as a means of illustrating this activity’s background and purpose.

The theme for my reign, and my life, is to “think outside the gingerbread,” to get members to WANT to come to meetings while providing the great take-away value that KON expects. I am a senior nutrition major at Penn State and I decided to stay at school for the summer to intern, work, run, research, write some music, and generally develop myself as a professional ready to spearhead the job network upon my swift graduation. I guess I feel the need to inflate you with credentials as a member of a rural farming community who is on the map created for and by college students... In the summer the population dwindles from 40,000 to 10,000 for the three most boring months of college existence. A college town turned ghost town isn’t that bad, it’s a nice change of pace… but in comparison to last summer abroad in Rome, Italy… need I explain? I saw Europe for the first time and my perspective on world issues and cultural awareness developed breadth and depth. By paying attention to the details of another culture, I enhanced my scope of diversity.


He lectured with two fingers inserted between the fourth and fifth buttons, as if eternally scratching a stomach itch; he really could not talk without his hands.

He always wore long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.

Just looking at him made me sweat.

Shorts and tank tops were merely a figment of my American imagination.


The entire cultural experience of studying in Italy was new… the people, the language, and as this teacher was explaining in his walk, his talk, and his style in dress, the architecture.

We took hands-on experience to that next level, where learning about a building meant physically walking to the site and having a lecture on its front steps.

Coming from a nation with 200 years of existence to a nation that’s existed for over 2,000 years, things are a little overwhelming.

But fortunately, as this Italian architecture teacher explained, there still is a pattern to life, a pattern that we as humans create in every city around the world, a pattern that can be documented all the way back to Roman times and the very first structures. One of these patterns is called spolia.


Spolia are fragments of architecture left over from former structures that are used to make a new structure.

The effect is much like that found in a museum, when archeologists discover ancient remains and display the world’s oldest bones in a building created within the last decade.

This example of the juxtapositioning of time periods is only a spoonful of the ancient Rome. The entire city is built in layers: from ancient, medieval, baroque, renaissance, and even modern Rome.

When I say layers, I mean each architectural period of Roman history is built right on top of the next, so in some parts of Rome, all five periods are visible in just one structure using parts of the previous buildings for the current structure. Many times they take columns from unbelievably significant structures to make the interior of a new church. Other pieces of buildings make up wall hangings cemented permanently into the wall of a newer building. This reusing of architecture tells the story of the rise and fall of the Roman empire throughout history, as well as what they decided would continue to have value by which parts they chose to reuse.


But, you need not go to Rome to understand this concept of the past--not just influencing, but being an integral part of the future. The spolia of our lives as college students, though a bit less architectural, is something we carry with us everywhere, as recent as move-in weekend, as far-reaching as our heritage as Americans, and as practical as our own individuality that we share through our experiences with each other.


Moving into my unfurnished apartment was a family affair… a couch, two chairs, a table, a bed, not to mention all the other “essentials” like the lava lamp and a neon “OPEN” sign. What we choOse to bring, far beyond the utility value of the small space and the limited budget, gives some insight into our experiences prior to the carry up two flights of stairs.

Our universities are fragments of the past. Once completely agricultural, Penn State is now the home of eight colleges. While our mascot is the Nittany Lion, who does one armed pushups for every game point scored, Joe Paterno is our man, 76, and still coaching, wearing sunglasses despite the weather, and rolling his pant legs just above the ankles, just as he did 50 years ago when he was a “new coach,” too poor to afford a tailor. Football seems to be a common theme for most universities. At Kansas State, they do the Wabash Cannonball right before games. For Louisiana Tech, basketball is their game. Everyone must be rubbing the brass bulldog in the student center, because they are #3 in the nation for students in the WNBA. At the University of Maine, they have nude green bike runs around campus every year. Their mascot is a black bear. It was unclear to me whether the two were related. Our strange traditions, though acceptable in their own realm, are diverse but share a common thread of pride. As alumni, we take our own experiences with our college traditions, and then some, to our workplace, building on them with our company’s goals. No matter if it’s a mascot or just “good luck,” we live on in the legacy of the generations of students that came before us, laying the foundations for those that come after. It is a small scale Ellis Island.

Our conglomerate heritage as Americans makes us living spolia of our ancestors. While “new” may be an effective advertising campaign, it really overlooks the very lives we lead. In our fast-paced world, we are more efficient versions of the cultures from which we came. Going abroad as an American, my experience of living in a fast-paced, media-driven society was a square peg in the round hole of Italian culture. I couldn’t believe that the Pantheon was on the walk to school. All this history, so much to see, why was everyone going so slow? I had to learn a different rhythm of life that made me appreciate not only the Italian lifestyle, but made me reflect on my own.

I am from a farm town in the middle of Pennsylvania. When you look at me, what do you see? My college town is composed of people my age, a perfect breeding ground for liberal views and (believe it or not) diversity. Diversity isn’t always something you can see. Diversity is your individuality, your uniqueness, your experience.

We are diverse: We are at this conclave to meet more people, to gain more experience, to make more memories, to live more of a past, to create more of a future. The knowledge that we acquire here and at our respective universities is learning how to learn and to experience through others a bit of their spolia. We all may have similar move-in tales, but we are all fragments of the life we have lived prior to this moment. We have moved in, and are moving on in a college life, a work life, a personal life, a passionate life that fosters our experiences.

What I shared with you today is a fragment of my summer, my spolia. What I hope to accomplish this weekend is to experience some of yours.

MY SPOLIA – “________________”:



The gingerbread exercise is meant to visually represent the diversity that each individual contributes to a group. We all used the same cookie cutter gingerbread man, and the same exact materials, but we manipulated them in such a way that they became our own. They are, in fact, representative of ourselves. No two will be alike.

To start:

Open the floor for discussion about how each group member sees him or herself as diverse.

Activity Instructions:

Ask participants to write their definitions of diversity on their paper plates. Ask how they see themselves as diverse and encourage volunteers to use their gingerbread models to explain.

Group Discussion:

  • What makes you different from everyone else?
  • How is this group diverse?
  • What is diversity?
  • What groups do you see yourself as being a part of?
  • What groups do you NOT consider yourself in?
  • How and when have you felt that you weren’t part of a group?
  • What is culture?
  • What is American culture?
  • What is the culture at your college/university?
  • Why is diversity such a huge deal?
  • What role do you see diversity playing in the future?
  • What role has diversity played in the past?
  • What do you hope to gain from this activity?


The gingerbread is a tool for encouraging a “non-traditional” view of diversity, to see it as the combined consequence of individuality and to view it as a tool that can build culture, rather than a divisive factor that needs to be “dealt with.”


“I learned from a stuffy Italian, talking about buildings, that fragments of a past make a future. He taught me how to think about things, to put them into my own context so I can understand. But, he didn’t teach me everything I know… he still wore a hip-pack.”



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