This article is published in the May 2012 issue.

The National Girls Collaborative Project:

Building the Capacity of STEM Practitioners to Develop a Diverse Workforce

Throughout the United States, many initiatives are underway to engage youth in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). There are also a large number of organizations seeking to increase diversity and gender equity in STEM. The National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) occupies a unique role among these activities in that it facilitates collaboration with all stakeholders focused on increasing diversity and engagement in STEM, connects them to girl-serving STEM programs, and provides access to information and resources that enhance the impact and effectiveness of these initiatives.

The NGCP collaborative model includes in-person and online collaboration opportunities, mini-grants as an incentive for collaborative projects, and dissemination of research-based practices via an interactive Web site, Program Directory, live and archived webcasts, and in-person professional development events. Via key partners, NGCP disseminates high-quality content and resources to its extensive network. Project activities are designed to bring organizations together, facilitate connections, encourage and support collaborative projects, provide targeted professional development, and disseminate exemplary practices.

NGCP has developed Collaboratives in 36 states with the help of local convening organizations. These local Collaboratives vary in focus areas and populations served, but all have extensive networks of organizations and individuals engaged in pursuing the common goal of gender equity in STEM. Partially funded by the National Science Foundation, NGCP works to:

  • Maximize access to shared resources within projects and with both public and private organizations and institutions interested in expanding girls’ participation in STEM.
  • Strengthen capacity of existing and evolving projects by sharing research-based exemplary practices and program models, outcomes and products.
  • Use the leverage of a network or collaboration of individual girl-serving STEM programs to create the tipping point for gender equity in STEM.

Why it Works

NGCP helps organizations increase their effectiveness in informing and encouraging girls to pursue STEM careers by using a distinctive model that creates a large-scale impact by combining:

  • Championship by industry leaders
  • Collaboration at the grassroots level
  • Events and professional development opportunities
  • Mini-grant funding
  • Research and dissemination of exemplary practices
  •  Program information about organizations engaged in promoting STEM

Champions Board

NGCP is ‘championed’ by a prestigious group of professionals invested in closing the gender gap in STEM at all levels. These professionals, who are NGCP’s Champions Board, represent companies and organizations such as Microsoft, Society of Women Engineers, Google, National Center for Women & Information Technology, National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity, Afterschool Alliance, and Association for Women in Science. Champions Board members connect NGCP on a national level to opportunities that benefit the project, spread the word about NGCP activities in their realms, and support the project within their own organizations.


Numerous programs and initiatives have focused on increasing gender equity in STEM fields; however, many of these programs and their staff are isolated from others doing similar work and do not benefit from the sharing of resources or exemplary practices necessary to have a large-scale impact. Additionally, programs often compete for resources and do not realize how collaboration can increase program impact. When competition is the norm, learning how to collaborate can be especially challenging. NGCP address­es these issues by bringing togeth­er girl-serving STEM organizations, K-12 and higher education, professional organizations and industry in a specific collaborative framework provide more effective opportunities for girls in STEM. NGCP strategies enable programs to share resources, providing opportunities to interact with other programs and encouraging collaboration rather than competition.

As a result of NGCP, 62 percent of respondents in a 2010 annual survey of programs registered in the NGCP program directory agreed or strongly agreed that they were more likely to share resources with another program, and 59 percent agreed or strongly agreed they were more likely to consider collaborating with another program or organization because of NGCP. In addition, 37 percent of respondents indicated that participating in the NGCP had a moderate or high impact on their level of collaboration with other programs. Seventy-seven percent of those attending a NGCP event followed up with somebody they met at the event, most commonly to discuss ideas for collaboration or share resources. Attendees specified the most valuable aspects of events as networking and meeting others in their area involved in similar work. The 2010 annual survey results indicated that those who attended at least one in-person NGCP event were significantly more likely to have higher mean levels of collaboration with other STEM-related groups, rate the impact of NGCP on their collaboration more highly, and have more knowledge and likelihood of collaborating with others.

Events and Professional Development Opportunities

Each Collaborative hosts in-person events, providing networking and professional development opportunities for participants invested in providing K-12 STEM programming for girls. NGCP Collaboratives have hosted more than 100 events across the United States serving more than 5,500 participants. Recently, new Collaboratives have been hosting information meetings to announce implementation. Since November 2011, community meetings have been held in Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and North Carolina. Participants who attend NGCP professional development and collaboration events report following up with people they meet, applying what they learned to their work, and increasing their awareness of and level of collaboration with other programs.

“My participation in Florida Girls Collaborative Project events has been tremendously beneficial. The information I’ve received is relevant and pertinent to my work goals related to STEM programming. Before working with the FGCP it was time consuming and exhausting to navigate the glut of information out there regarding STEM and girls. Because STEM is only a portion of what I do in my job, I place great value and get a huge return on the time I invest attending Florida Girls Collaborative Project events.”

— Cari Holland, Girl Leadership Specialist, Girl Scouts-Gateway Council

Sharing Exemplary Practices

NGCP partners with a variety of organizations that provide expertise in specific content areas to disseminate exemplary practices through Collaborative events, webinars, and the NGCP website. Partner organizations include the Assessing Women and Men in Engineering (AWE) Project, the Education Development Center, Techbridge, Girl Scouts of the USA, SciGirls, and Engineer Your Life. NGCP aims to make exemplary practices accessible, building the capacity of girl-serving organizations to provide high-quality STEM opportunities to all girls. NGCP webinars are one venue for making current research accessible to a national audience. All webinars are free and open to the public and are archived on the NGCP website. Presentations have included a workshop on assessing outreach activities, incorporating role models, best practices in collaboration, and current research on effective strategies for serving girls in STEM. In March 2012, more than 100 practitioners attended a webinar entitled “Effective Tools You Can Use to Change the Image of Computing among Girls.” This webinar is archived and available on the NGCP website for 24/7 viewing.

Program Directory

A critical online collaboration tool, developed in 2002, is the Program Directory. It has been significantly improved over the past eight years based on user feedback and ongoing analysis of functionality. Projects and organizations enter basic program data into the directory, providing brief descriptions of organizational goals, population served, geographic location and contact information. NGCP Program Directory entries also include needs and resources as a catalyst for collaboration. Users search by these variables finding potential partners to meet their needs and utilize their resources, resulting in a more effective use of resources among STEM projects. There are currently more than 2,300 programs listed in the Program Directory, representing more than 5 million girls. Practitioners who access the Program Directory find partners and network with other programs through it and benefit from the opportunity to publicize their program.


NGCP Collaboratives provide mini-grants to organizations collaborating on a STEM project for girls in their region. The grants are $1,000 (or less) and serve as the catalyst for two or more organizations to work together on a project. To date, 205 mini-grants serving more than 19,000 participants have been awarded by NGCP Collaboratives. Mini-grant recipients rate their collaborations as effective, with 92 percent of respondents indicating the highest ratings of success. In 68 percent of the projects Partner organizations indicate they will continue the effort, and 72 percent of partners indicate that collaboration with their partner has extended to other activities.

“It was an amazing experience for all girls and women. I wished that such a forum had existed for me, when I was 10 years old. The presenters provided such vast insights into the world of Aerospace. But the most important message for our girls was clearly stated as—persevere, follow your dreams, and always, move forward towards your joy.”

—Tracey Masterson, Girl Scout Leader, and Mini-grant participant

A very clear culture and philosophy has developed within NGCP. There is common interest to maximize access to scarce shared resources across any kind of organization, and share resources in order to provide STEM programming to girls in informal settings. There is an emphasis on sharing experience and building knowledge of promising practices research and the basics of assessment. There is a common goal of building critical mass in a national network that hopes to create “the tipping point” for gender equity in STEM. It is a culture of informal STEM practitioners trying to leverage resources to achieve their goals.

By creating partnerships with others that serve girls and women in STEM, organizations can generate and carry out creative solutions and strategies that maximize the benefit beyond what one project or orga­nization could accomplish alone, reducing duplication of effort and organizational isolation while at the same time, increasing efficiencies and promoting sustainability of recruit­ment and retention efforts.

NGCP has developed and tested a comprehensive program of change that uses collaboration to expand and strengthen STEM-related opportunities for girls and women. The NGCP model accomplishes this by creating a network of professionals, researchers, and practitioners, facilitating collaboration within this network, and delivering high-quality research-based professional development.

Karen A. Peterson ( is Chief Executive Officer, EdLab Group & Principal Investigator, National Girls Collaborative Project (


  • 18,456,465 visits to the NGCP Web site in 5 years
  • 2480 programs in the online NGCP Program Directory
  • 19,710 participants served in 205 mini-grants completing activities
  • 10,790 practitioners served through events and webinars
  • 5,313,811 girls are served indirectly by NGCP by having their leaders trained in the philosophy, knowledge, and methods of NGCP
The National Girls Collaborative Project: