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Creating access to high-quality STEM experiences for more girls in more communities.




Creating access to high-quality STEM experiences for more girls in more communities.


How can a nonprofit focused on STEM education for girls pursue sustainable growth and deliver programming in more communities?

Young Girls Playing as Doctors


Girlstart is a nonprofit based in Austin, Texas, that aims to increase girls’ interest and engagement in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).  In pursuit of its mission, Girlstart provides a year-round, intensive suite of STEM education programs for girls in grades K-12. Programs include after-school STEM programs and summer camps for girls entering 4th-8th grade as well as an annual conference and community STEM events for girls in grades K-12 and their families. 

In 2015, Girlstart was ready to scale its reach and impact beyond its home base of Austin, Texas.  The nonprofit sought to develop a three-year strategic plan that defined a framework for sustainable and scalable programs, expanded programs within Texas, and charted a path toward national replication.  We helped leadership and board outline annual growth projections and identify the resources needed to replicate programs in new cities within Texas and into new states.  

After completing a strategic growth plan, our work shifted to focus on developing an implementation guide and codifying program quality. Root Cause helped Girlstart document the key elements of success for its program model as well as a replication manual that codified what Girlstart does, how it does it, and specific conditions needed for its programs to operate sustainably in a new community.  The key elements of Girlstart’s model are summarized here.  

In 2016, we worked to develop an Implementation Dashboard to be monitored by organization and program leaders on a regular basis.  The dashboard summarizes performance against key criteria related to implementation of programming across school districts.  This criteria included, among others, fundraising development, engagement with school districts, and recruiting of STEM instructors.  

In 2017, Girlstart again partnered with Root Cause to develop the next chapter of its strategic plan covering 2018-2020 and focused on further expansion of core programming across the United States.  This second growth plan included an analysis of states on which to focus based on need, interest, openness of schools, and funding.  It also outlined a process to strengthen organizational capacity to support additional growth and opportunities to grow its board of directors and increase Girlstart’s national profile.  

Upon completion of the strategic plan, Root Cause continued to provide strategic guidance on board structure and development and measuring the success of its new community implemented turnkey service product.

“Girlstart ‘to Go’ camps have been important in demonstrating that Girlstart programs are nationally scalable,” said Girlstart Executive Director Tamara Hudgins, in a prepared statement. “We’re excited to be working with Bishop Elementary and Ocala Middle School to bring STEM education to girls and inspire them toward STEM careers.”
"Girlstart is a model program in advancing STEM education, which is critical for our country's strategic efforts in fields such as space exploration, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity," Lynn Dugle said. "Developing enthusiasm and STEM skills in these girls will help fill the talent pipeline necessary to maintain our national and economic security." Lynn Dugle is Chairman, President and CEO of Engility and a 2018 Girlstart Outstanding Woman in STEM.

Goals & Results

Since first engaging Root Cause as a partner in strategic planning in 2015, Girlstart has continued to grow and expand their services across Texas as well as to Massachusetts and California. They now have year-round programs in 3 states and summertime programs in 8 states. The nonprofit now serves close to 4,000 girls with its core after-school and summer camp programming and over 21,000 through community STEM programming.                                                                                                                                

Girlstart programs have expanded in the following areas of the United States:

Bay area, CA: 5 After School Programs, 4 Summer Camp Programs

Boston Metro West, MA: 1 After School Programs, 2 Summer Camp Programs

Houston, TX: 20 After School Programs, 4 Summer Camp Programs

Central Texas: 37 After School Programs, 14 Summer Camp Programs

North Texas: 20 After School Programs, 3 Summer Camp Programs

Satellite Programs: 11 After School Programs, 8 Summer Camp Programs


Measurement of their services shows positive results for the students involved.  According to data from 2019, students who participate in Girlstart programs:

  • Attained ‘Commended’ (+10%) and ‘Standard’ (+8%) scores on the standard science assessment in Texas compared to nonparticipant girls.
  • Were three times as likely to enroll in advanced/Pre-AP science courses 34% after program participation– contrasted with 11% of non-participating girls.
  • Had an increased rate of taking advanced/Pre-AP courses over time; for non-participants, the rates decrease
  • Wanted to return to Girlstart in a future year (85%) and wanted to go to college (92%)


Source: Girlstart 2019 Annual Report


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About the Partner

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Girlstart’s mission is to increase girls’ interest and engagement in STEM through innovative, nationally-recognized informal STEM education programs. Through its comprehensive programming, Girlstart provides a year-round, intensive suite of STEM education programs for K-12 girls. Girlstart’s core programs foster STEM skills development, an understanding of the importance of STEM as a way to solve the world’s major problems, as well as an interest in STEM electives, majors, and careers.

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