Building a better national STEM network for the benefit of girls and their careers is the goal of the National Girls Collaborative Project. The project aims to increase access to resources and share best practices, among other goals. One of the project’s major online efforts is The Connectory, which works to connect families to STEM providers. The director of The Connectory, Jolene Gustafson, agreed to share more information about it and the National Girls Collaborative Project:
Q: Tell us about the National Girls Collaborative Project and your role in it.
A: The National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) brings together organizations committed to informing and encouraging girls to pursue STEM careers. NGCP does this by maximizing access to shared resources across all stakeholders, by strengthening the capacity of programs through sharing exemplary practices and research, and by leveraging a network of collaborative organizations to create the tipping point for gender equity in STEM.
NGCP has expanded its focus in recent years to include educating professionals in best practices for addressing inclusivity and engaging students from underrepresented and underserved communities in STEM.
NGCP got its start in 2002 when the Puget Sound Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology implemented the Northwest Girls Collaborative Project in Washington and Oregon to address the complex issue of gender equity in STEM fields. In the 16 years since, NGCP has grown to 33 collaboratives that serve 41 states. Today, NGCP facilitates collaboration among 36,400 organizations that serve 20.15 million girls and 9.5 million boys.
One of NGCP’s initiatives is The Connectory, a free, comprehensive portal for STEM offerings that connects families to STEM providers. Along with overseeing and helping shape the site’s digital strategy, I work to engage programs, practitioners and the public.
Q: How does your organization collaborate with other groups, and how does that benefit the groups?
A: NGCP implements a tested, comprehensive program of change that uses collaboration to expand and strengthen STEM-related opportunities for girls and women. In each state, the NGCP model creates a network of professionals, researchers and practitioners, facilitating collaboration and delivering high-quality, research-based professional development.
We strengthen the capacity of projects by sharing research-based exemplary practices, program models and products. We train and mentor participants to collaborate and create partnerships at the state and local levels. Professional development is offered through webinars and face-to-face training.
Participating programs have received mini-grant funding for collaborative STEM-focused projects. To date, more than 37,579 participants have been served in 441 mini-grant projects, and more than 29,650 practitioners have been served through in-person events and webinars.
The Connectory partners with other nonprofits to help them understand how to use the site and its tools to expand their capacity, often offering webinars to their staff or association members.
Beyond allowing providers to promote their program and opportunities to an engaged audience of families, The Connectory has targeted functionality for increasing their STEM knowledge and bandwidth. They can use our Provider Portal to connect with other program providers, share ideas, find collaborators based on resource needs and availability, and network with a growing STEM community.
In addition, our partnership with VolunteerMatch means they can link accounts and recruit volunteers on The Connectory’s Volunteer Listings page to grow their nonprofit STEM programs.
Q: How many states has your organization reached out to?
A: Over the course of the past 16 years, NGCP has reached out to program providers in every state. Currently, 41 states are engaged with NGCP though 33 different state/regional collaboratives.
There are more than 5,000 active programs in The Connectory, serving more than 17 million youth across the United States. The database contains programs in every state, with larger numbers in urban areas such as New York City and Los Angeles. This makes The Connectory the most comprehensive portal for STEM offerings in the country.
Q: Tell us more about The Connectory.
A: This free, comprehensive portal for STEM offerings was developed to connect families to STEM providers. Making these connections is crucial to ensure that today’s youth can obtain the skills needed for 21st-century jobs.
The Connectory is the go-to place for parents and caregivers to discover local STEM learning opportunities. The site also gives program providers an easy way to connect to each other, in addition to families. All 50 states are included. The Connectory has grown to more than 5,000 program providers, who have listed 10,000+ youth opportunities — girls coding clubs, robotics competitions, maker workshops, STEM festivals, science summer camps and more.
Time Warner Cable created The Connectory as part of its Connect a Million Minds initiative. In 2015, the National Girls Collaborative Project took over management of The Connectory, merging it with the NGCP Program Directory. Our partners and collaborators include the Association of Science-Technology Centers, Afterschool Alliance, Educational Research Center of America, National AfterSchool Association, American Institute of Architects and VolunteerMatch.
Q: Give us some examples of projects and programs The Connectory has been involved with and the results of that collaboration.
A: The Connectory uses an API (Application Programming Interface). This means that our data is structured in such a way that it can be “streamed” for other uses — for example, through our free widget, which SciGirls started using in 2015. Our API also allows states to build on- and off-ramps on their site that “talk” with The Connectory.
We launched the North Carolina Exchange in May 2016. All the database functionality is powered by The Connectory, but it displays as part of the NC STEM Center site, with that site’s branding. Added programs and opportunities are shared with The Connectory, so we can publish as makes sense.
In 2017, we launched a rebranded version of the entire Connectory site for the Australian government, the STARportal. This year we’ve added an Impact Dashboard that helps providers track and improve the performance of their program and opportunity listings. It will also help the government track supply and demand to guide future efforts and funding. Currently, we’re working to add Parent Accounts, Saved Searches and Enhanced Sharing and Printing. We hope to bring all this new functionality to The Connectory.
Q: How can STEM organizations reach out to the NGCP and The Connectory?
A: Visit https://ngcproject.org/find to find out if NGCP has a local collaborative in your state. If you have questions about the national organization, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go to https://theconnectory.org/provider-portal to create your free account on The Connectory — you can find step-by-step directions and an archived webinar on our Need Help? page. If you are interested in learning more about The Connectory’s exchange model or have usage questions, send an email to email@example.com.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about The Connectory?
A: There are two ways STEMx member states can bring The Connectory to their individual websites:
- Free Widget — Add dynamic opportunity listings to your site with our embeddable widget. There are three available sizes, and you can customize it by location, area of interest and type of opportunity.
- Connectory Exchange — We offer a turnkey system of technology, functionality and support to grow your own custom directory of local STEM learning opportunities that is powered by The Connectory. Our API can work with a wide range of platforms. Current users include North Carolina, Colorado and Australia.