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Techbridge Girls (TBG) is working to ensure BIPOC and gender-expansive youth aren’t left out of the STEM revolution.
“The way that STEM education is designed, delivered, and digested does not reflect the breadth of what STEM as a discipline is nor does it engage our youth in ways that they see themselves in it,” said Nikole Collins-Puri, CEO of Techbridge Girls.
And consider this: By 6th grade, girls in under-resourced communities receive 6,000 hours fewer STEM learning hours than their more affluent peers.
Serving Black, Indigenous, and all girls of color, which includes cis girls, trans youth, gender non-conforming, and/or non-binary youth who have experienced economic insecurity, TBG was recently recognized by 1954 Project, a Black-led education philanthropy initiative to fund diverse leaders.
Giving Compass spoke with Collins-Puri about TBG’s approach and the role donors can play in supporting transformational change in education, especially as nonprofits focused on Black women and girls face barriers to funding.
Q: How is your organization helping to create a more equitable landscape for education in the U.S.?
We are used to STEM education being rote learning, centering the white male experience, and excluding historical STEM contributions of women of color. Techbridge Girls uses our gender and culturally responsive curriculum and experience in training out-of-school educators to combat these challenges. We do this by:
- Challenging the STEM narrative, centering BIPOC women who have, will, and continue to make contributions in STEM.
- Building a brave space where our girls' identities, brilliance, experiences, and vulnerabilities can grow, flourish and thrive; in a community of empowered girls that learn not only how to navigate the unsafe spaces that the current field creates but how to transform them.
- Shifting the pedagogy of STEM education by building STEM literacy through girls' language and real-world connections that are relatable and reflective.
- Develop equity champions – adults that have influence and power and often need guidance, awareness, and tools to better support a girl’s STEM persistence.
- Centering BIPOC girls’ joy and excitement for STEM.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing students of color in the United States today? What makes you optimistic?
The biggest challenge for our students and our youth are us adults, our set ways, and our lack of willingness and appetite for transformational change. What we are giving them today is institutions that are rooted in oppressive systems that just continue to perpetuate themselves. Adults have to look at the behaviors, systems, and institutions that we've developed and see that they are not going to work for this next generation. We have to be flexible, courageous, and willing to take a step back in order for this next generation to see themselves thrive and to have their greatest potential unleashed.
What I’m optimistic about is that our students ultimately will step into adulthood and have the power and the influence to transform. We see it every day in our programming and I see it every day in the girls that we're serving. You see the impact of what this next generation is amplifying and how they’re creating accountability for many of us.
Q: What results do you hope to achieve with The 1954 Project's support and funding?
Techbridge Girls has a bold goal of reaching one million girls by 2030. Of course, we understand there are a lot of girls of color out there, Black and Brown girls, that need access to high-quality STEM education. We also know that reaching that type of goal also generates a level of influence so that we can impact policies and practices that will transform the STEM education landscape so it works for all girls.
The reach is the first step, but it's taking the impact of that reach through our research, data, and evaluation that will enable us to multiple that million to millions more. The resources from The 1954 Project will enable us to fill a gap in the STEM field, amplify the practices that are working for BIPOC girls, and shift narratives so that representation is not the only outcome, but equity and economic opportunity becomes the guiding star so that more BIPOC girls can bring and see their brilliance reflective in the STEM revolution.
Q: How can donors help reimagine our education landscape and better support Black education leaders in the United States?
One, rely on the organizations who are doing the work in the communities and do the work.
Two, use your power to influence to demand change first within your sector and then in the large issue area. Galvanize your field to lean into trust-based philanthropy and see yourselves as a part of the puzzle piece that needs others to complete the picture.
Third, invest in infrastructure, marketing, communication, and R&D. These are critical for organizations to take risks, and move on big ideas but also be able to reiterate, and evolve so that we are agile and responsive to the needs of our communities.
The last thing is patience. We're trying to create transformational change. Some of that impact may not come in a year. Multi-year funding is crucial to the social justice field. It's going to take a generation to transform education into a place with more equality and equity for all students.
Q: Why have you chosen to focus on engaging girls in STEM? Can you share an example of a success achieved with this approach?
Not all education pathways definitively lead you to a better future, but we know a STEM career provides a living wage. It gets us closer to gender wage parity. It is a place where there is no shortage of jobs. The two things that literally saved us through the pandemic were science and technology. We will never reach our fullest potential if our girls and their brilliance and experiences are not infused in this STEM revolution. We won't be competitive. If you infuse this population of girls and ensure that they are thriving in these careers, we will always have a strong GDP as a nation.
I can tell you about Asia, who was in our elementary program. She didn't even know what an engineer was and then got exposed to electrical engineering and now can't imagine doing anything else as a middle-schooler. Four years later, going into high school, she is willing to take any type of rigorous math and science program.
Or Maya, who hated science to the core. She got the experience of coding and now wants to do it 24/7. She's telling us how she can bring coding to different aspects of health sciences and biology.
And then I can tell you about our superstar, Aileen, who came to us in middle school and stayed with us throughout her high school career, stayed connected to her mentor, and ultimately went to college at UC Berkeley and graduated with a Data Science degree. The reality, especially for girls of color, is that we focus on doing so many of the things right, head down, get the work done. It is our male counterparts who are able to network, and get internships. If they are more affluent, their parents are exposing them to these things. They are building social capital and they don't even know that they are doing it. For Aileen, social capital was coming back to her community and sisterhood at Techbridge Girls. And, when it was time for her to get a job, she did just that, and came back. I called everyone we knew to say "If you want to walk the talk that you don't have talent, I have somebody right here. Give her a job." She had the credentials, she had the degree, she had the background. In a month, she had two interviews and accepted a job with the organization that she had her first field trip with through Techbridge Girls. And now she's a data analyst. She travels the world. She is working on things that will transform the industry, and it has transformed her life for herself and her family. She also continues to give back to TBG.