NTX Giving Day: Girlstart celebrates ten years of free STEM programming for North Texas girls

Story by Whitney Carter. Video by Isabella Montague. Photos provided by Girlstart.

Dallas Doing Good has had the privilege of partnering with the Communities Foundation of Texas for North Texas Giving Day over the past few years, but this year, we are doing it Texas BIG. It is the 15th anniversary of the largest community giving event in the nation, so we have selected 15 organizations to highlight leading up to Giving Day on September 21. Early giving kicked off on September 1.

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The Spin the Spectrum team: Courtney Willis, a speech and language pathologist who practices in Dallas, and Jason Straughter, otherwise known as Jay*Clipp, who is a DJ instructor.

There’s an organization that is changing the narrative and empowering girls in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Girlstart, which is celebrating ten years of programming in North Texas, is that organization. It is a national, women-led organization with local roots that was founded in 1997.

Katelyn Wamsted is the Chief Program Officer of Girlstart. She says they offer free, year-round programming for girls in fourth through eighth grade in Texas, California, Massachusetts, and beyond.

“These experiences are designed to empower, increase confidence, and introduce STEM careers to girls who have historically been marginalized by providing meaningful, hands-on STEM programming through After School, Summer Camp, and other community events,” Katelyn says.

Katelyn says their passion for girls in STEM comes from believing that more young women in the field will create more solutions to benefit the world.

“At Girlstart, we cultivate a culture where risk is rewarded, curiosity is encouraged, and creativity is expected,” Katelyn explains.“Girlstart girls are connected, brave, and resilient. Girlstart makes girls more successful and inspires them to take on the world’s greatest challenges.”

In North Texas, the organization serves girls in fourth and fifth grades through their after-school programs and summer camps. In the spring of 2023, they hosted their inaugural Girls in STEM Conference for over 140 girls in fourth through eighth grade. They were given the opportunity to attend workshops led by professional women in STEM.

“Through a variety of other community STEM events that we host or participate in, we engage with families and children of all ages and genders,” Katelyn says.

The organization has 22 full-time staff members but relies on the support of more than 1,000 volunteers each year. Some of those volunteers are women in STEM who are guest speakers or lead hands-on workshops for girls. Katelyn says there is a lot of behind-the-scenes help as well. There are volunteer leaders who also serve on the National Board of Directors and North Texas Regional Council.

Since they expanded into North Texas in 2013, Girlstart has served more than 6,000 girls. During the 2022-2023 school year, nearly 450 girls from four school districts participated in the after-school program, and it was all at no cost to them.

“Girls in our after-school program practiced the Engineering Design Process, explored zoology, learned about renewable and nonrenewable resources, coded an Ozobot to perform cool tricks, and more. Girlstart’s programs are built around hands-on STEM discovery and fascinating career exploration,” Katelyn says.

One young lady who participated in the program left a good review.

“Girlstart after school has inspired me to not give up and work at the things I love,” fourth grader Kelanie said.

Community support also helps to keep the programs rolling. Katelyn says that donations to Girlstart can be used to support any of their programs, such as the after-school clubs and summer camps. She says it can range anywhere from materials for creating a catapult to introduce the engineering design process, to supplies to learn about packaging engineers, to supporting our frontline program staff, and even technology like introducing coding.

“Your funds allow Girlstart to empower girls through hands-on, impactful programming,” Katelyn says. “Your gift will help keep Girlstart after school and summer camp free for North Texas girls to attend.”

When considering impact, Katelyn says that 90 percent of Girlstart summer camp participants believe that if they do well in STEM, they are more likely to get a better job. This confidence building at a young age allows local girls to pursue careers in STEM fields.

She added that all the donations we receive during North Texas Giving Day will be directed towards the North Texas programs. Click here to donate or learn more.

Girlstart offers year-round opportunities. Anyone who would like to volunteer or is interested in getting their young girl in the program is welcome to get in contact through the Girlstart website.