Some children in high-poverty communities might not have easy access to quality STEM educational programming and the mentorship needed to stick with a STEM educational path. This can be especially true for disadvantaged girls. Helping to even the educational playing field is the goal of Techbridge Girls. The organization, with offices in three U.S. locations, creates and delivers STEM programs to K-12 girls from low-income communities. It also trains educators who work in high-poverty areas to deliver its courses. To find out more about Techbridge Girls and how it fulfills its mission, we contacted Nikole Collins-Puri, chief executive officer of Techbridge Girls:
Q: Tell us when Techbridge Girls was created and about its mission.
A: Techbridge Girls is a 19-year-old national nonprofit that champions equity in STEM education and economic opportunity for all girls. Millions of girls in the United States do not have access to quality STEM education, leaving them out of the STEM workforce and economy.
These are girls who are growing up in low-income communities and attending high-poverty schools. They are predominantly girls of color and immigrant girls. The causes for this gap in STEM are many and systemic, but at Techbridge Girls, we focus on one solution – giving access to high-quality STEM enrichment and a pathway toward economic opportunity for girls from low-income communities.
In 2017, Techbridge Girls set a bold goal to serve 1 million girls by 2030. To achieve this goal, we excite, educate and equip girls from low-income communities by designing and delivering high-quality STEM programming that empowers girls to achieve economic mobility and better life chances.
Q: How does Techbridge Girls fulfill its mission?
A: With locations in California, the Pacific Northwest and the Washington, D.C., metro area, we design and deliver equitable STEM programs for elementary- to high-school-age girls from low-income communities.
To scale our impact across the United States, Techbridge Girls partners with community-based organizations and schools to train educators who are equipped and motivated to effectively deliver high-quality equitable STEM enrichment in marginalized communities.
Our approach consists of these Five Essential Elements:
- Gender- and culturally-responsive STEM programming.
- Inclusive and accessible programs.
- Opportunities for youth empowerment.
- Extensive career exploration.
- A broad network of support.
Since 2000, Techbridge Girls has provided more than 8,000 girls with our high-quality STEM enrichment programs across our three regions, trained more than 20,000 educators, engaged more than 2,000 families and connected more than 3,000 STEM professionals and volunteers to our girls.
Through our partnerships, we have reached an additional 70,000 students through our National Science Foundation (NSF) certified STEM lessons.
Q: Why does your group target K-12 girls from low-income, under-resourced communities?
A: Today, too many girls are locked out of STEM and have to work twice as hard to get half as far. Only 19 percent of African-American fourth-graders scored proficient or above in math and 15 percent in science compared with 51 percent of white students in both subjects (Math’s Report Card, 2017: https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/reading_math_2017_highlights/ Science: National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2015: https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/ )
At the same time, STEM is the fastest-growing industry, but more girls (disproportionately higher for African-American and Latinx) are living in poverty and in low-income households today than 10 years ago. For girls from low-income communities, the odds are stacked against them, but education is key to unlocking their highest potential and creating a pathway for economic mobility.
However, children living in poor communities and studying in high-poverty schools are often not provided the education they need to persist and navigate through the systemic bias and discriminatory practices that are blocking their pursuit toward STEM achievement.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the technology fields will experience the highest growth in job numbers, with STEM jobs projected to grow to more than 9 million by 2022.
Women in STEM jobs can earn 33 percent more compared with women in non-STEM jobs and obtain an annual salary of $82,000. Our girls cannot afford to be left behind, or out of, the STEM revolution.
We also know that when diverse girls from marginalized communities, in particular, pursue STEM careers, they make an important contribution to the field. Research says that diverse companies produce 19 percent more revenue (Boston Consulting Group, 2018).
However, girls do not pursue STEM pathways like boys do, so thousands of jobs are unfilled each year. Some estimate that the nation is losing $20 billion annually to unfilled tech-sector jobs (Forbes, 2017). STEM careers provide better life chances for girls and their families. We know that the U.S. economy can no longer wait to engage this population of girls.
Through our research, industry data and 19-year history with girls and adults, we find the greatest barriers to STEM participation among girls from marginalized communities are:
- Girls need more access to high-quality STEM experiences and then sustain their interest in STEM. These can include short- and long-term engagements, but, more important, these opportunities need to be in greater proximity to where more girls can participate more readily, such as urban settings and rural communities where STEM programs are lacking.
- Girls need to be exposed to a wide variety of STEM disciplines, so they can find an education major that suits their unique interests. Otherwise, girls in the United States tend to opt out.
- Girls need supportive and encouraging adults to persist in STEM careers. Adult role models, educators who can create equitable learning environments and family engagement make the difference.
- Girls from low-income communities need to see themselves and their experiences, needs and voices represented and reflected in the national STEM narrative.
Q: You have locations in California, Washington state and Washington, D.C. How do you reach girls nationwide?
A: In addition to regional after-school sites, funded by an NSF grant that helped us scale our after-school programs, we build the capacity of educators, such as nonprofit staff members, school teachers and role models.
Our goal is to ensure that our girls receive high-quality STEM enrichment and that they are surrounded by a supportive and equipped community of adults and peers encouraging them through their STEM aspirations.
For almost 20 years, we have taken our lessons from our after-school programming to develop a blueprint for what it takes to deliver high-quality equitable STEM enrichment for girls from marginalized communities. We understand what is needed to equip adults and guide girls toward the STEM “finish line.”
In partnership with national and local organizations, including but not limited to Statewide Afterschool Networks, Girls Scouts of the USA, the Society of Women Engineers, Million Women Mentors, YMCA of the USA, City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley and Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, thousands of adults in roughly 20 states have increased their ability to implement high-quality STEM lessons through our training and resources.
We have also trained thousands of STEM professionals to become role models in our programs and at their host organizations. To do this, we use our Role Models Matter™ module training and resources. This information assists role models to better connect with the youth they are guiding, and because we emphasize career exploration in their presentations, girls have a broader understanding of possible STEM careers.
In 2017, we set a bold goal to reach 1 million girls by 2030. To reach that goal, we understand that we cannot do this alone. Communities and partnerships are a great starting point to galvanize, excite and connect girls to the resources that are available in their backyards.
One significant step to meeting that goal is an exciting new partnership with Expanding Your Horizons Network (EYHN). Founded in 1974, EYHN maintains a portfolio of more than 100 conferences to serve 25,000 girls in 43 states and four countries (United Kingdom, Switzerland, Japan and Italy) each year. EYHN is known as the preeminent source for resources and experiences that provide focused engagement of middle and high school girls from all backgrounds in STEM.
At its core, EYHN’s unique nationwide network of STEM conferences provides a pathway for empowering girls to see themselves as future participants in STEM-related pathways and careers.
Wanting to continue its legacy and make a greater impact, EYHN posed an opportunity to combine forces with Techbridge Girls and leverage our expertise and vision to reach our bold goal. Our new partnership will expand Techbridge Girls’ footprint nationally, create opportunities to engage our corporate partners and scale our practice in a sustainable, cost-effective approach.
For Techbridge Girls, we are now able to reach more girls from low-income communities quickly with our new EYHN model and connect more closely with the communities in which our girls live.
Q: Tell us a bit about the programs and learning experiences you provide. How were they created, and by whom? What fundamentals are the programs based on?
A: As an NSF grantee for more than 15 years, we have had the privilege of designing a research-based curriculum that focuses on what works for girls and, more important, what works for girls from low-income communities.
We are proud to deepen and broaden the legacy of our founder, Dr. Linda Kekelis, whose vision was to narrow the gap for girls from marginalized communities in STEM and create a pathway for our girls to unlock their greatest potential. She anchored our programs in research and rigorous evaluation to ensure we always kept our girls and communities at the center of our design and implementation. Today, we maintain those core principles and have been able to show a strong impact as a result of that legacy.
Recently, we compiled evaluation data from our five-year scale-up project, funded by the NSF. We found that almost as important as high-quality STEM enrichment was the “ecosystem” of supports surrounding our girls to help them persist to a STEM future.
The data from these findings was codified into the Techbridge Girls Essential Elements. In the Essentials, we identify five basic elements of high-quality equitable STEM learning environments for underserved girls. A complete list can be found on our website. These elements speak to the importance of a holistic, gender- and culturally-relevant approach, with an emphasis on career exposure and supportive adults to enable girls to persist to STEM careers.
We are clear that this is long-term work, and that girls deserve well-equipped adults to support their personal STEM trajectory.
Q: How do you train youth educators and youth leaders to deliver your programs? How is your organization funded?
A: Our training and curriculum support includes two primary vehicles. We equip educators to deliver our elementary-level (and soon, middle school-level) after-school program with intensive training, curriculum and pre-kitted materials. The model is called InspireTM.
We also train line staff and supervisors on various aspects of our Essential Elements, including hands-on sessions to help practitioners create gender- and culturally-relevant STEM enrichment and equitable STEM practices, how to wrap around career exposure and equip families to also support girls’ (and youth) persistence to STEM careers. All of our modules are customizable, and many workshops are delivered online.
Our main source of funding is through foundations and corporations, but we also receive fees for our training and have an increasing pool of individual donors as well as some local government funding.
Q: How can organizations throughout the nation partner with you to use your educational tools?
A: We are excited to partner with educators in schools and nonprofits, and with advanced trainers, volunteers and others to advance our reach to more girls from low-income communities. Through our capacity-building programs, we empower organizations throughout the country to create more equitable access to quality STEM enrichment for girls from marginalized communities.
These programs include interactive, in-person training and turn-key curriculum, with or without pre-kitted materials, to support elementary- and middle school-age girls. Our elementary program Inspire is growing rapidly. We started with seven sites and are now at 30 and growing!
We base our training and curriculum on what we’ve found works best for underserved girls – hands-on/minds-on STEM activities; gender- and culturally-relevant pedagogy; broad STEM content and career exposure; real-world STEM application; and access to role models and supportive families.
Role model preparation is also central to Techbridge Girls unique preparation. In 2014, we developed a proprietary training and related resources called Role Models MatterTM. This training, developed with support from the NSF, prepares corporate and non-corporate volunteers to be more effective with youth (especially girls), increasing the quality and impact of STEM enrichment programs.
Through the training and online resources, volunteers learn how to implement icebreakers, offer relatable information about themselves and their backgrounds, and create fun, hands-on activities for youth.
Training, curriculum, and role model preparation are all evaluated to measure their effectiveness. All of these areas show great impact, including 90% improvement in trainee confidence in delivering high-quality STEM enrichment; a more than 70% increase in STEM identity among girls; and more than 85% agreement from role models that the training received was helpful.
We are ready and able to partner to expand our reach. In fact, we are building a cadre of newly certified Techbridge Girls trainers to expand our capacity. Contact me or my staff members for additional information. Interested parties can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Have you evaluated your programs through the years? How have you used your results, and other data from STEM-based educational research, to advance STEM education?
A: Yes! Evaluation is a constant at Techbridge Girls. We constantly rate programs based on what we find from our rigorous survey of girls, families, educators and role models. Our methodology not only includes surveys but also the use of comparison groups of girls, focus groups and in-person observations. For observations, we rely on the PEAR Institute’s Dimensions of Success tool.
- Score higher on the CST Algebra II and CST Biology exam.
- Enroll in AP Calculus and have a higher average grade in AP Calculus.
- Have a higher rate of graduation.
- Have a higher overall GPA.
- Earn a college STEM degree (twice the national average).
In addition to using the data to update and refine our programs, we think it important to share our lessons learned with the field. We’ve done this over the years with a series of blog posts, white papers and presentations at national conferences.
In 2015, we produced a white paper called Changing the Game for Girls in STEM, which compiled lessons learned from nine girls-serving organizations. The findings were further reflected in our most recent publication called the Techbridge Girls Essential Elements, mentioned earlier. In addition, accessible through our website are numerous guide books for families to encourage science at home, for companies hosting field trips and, of course, for role models wanting advanced resources.
We will continue to produce additional resources, especially for our new Expanding Your Horizons partners or anyone wanting to operate one-day STEM conferences.