by Katrina King

Focused and determined are two adjectives that I would use to describe Tamara Hudgins, Executive Director of Girlstart.  She stared COVID straight in the eyes and figured out ways to keep this nonprofit thriving and serving to increase girls’ interest and engagement in STEM by providing year-round programs that inspire girls to pursue STEM majors and careers and to see STEM as a way to solve problems that chance the world.   Tamara’s motto is to “make it through —  or make it through strong!” and this year they are exceeding at making it through strong.

With the virus affecting their ability to meet together in person, Girlstart quickly re-imagined what their mission could look like in a virtual world.  One of the summer goals was to make sure that every girl had access to STEM supplies and materials.  As a result of their re-thinking, each participating girl (over 1000 this summer in their on-line camp) received a package with the supplies needed to complete each stage of the summer camp prior to starting. One of the incredible pieces of the package was an OZO bot. OZO bots are tiny, about the one half the size of a ping pong ball, but they are programmable with a computer or by color coding without a computer.

With school starting virtually in most areas of the country, Girlstart’s After School program has remained virtual for this semester.  Again, each girl received a timely package with all of her required STEM materials for the semester. The packages also included a journal. Girlstart recognizes the importance, now more than ever, of socio-emotional learning. These journals encourage goal setting to give the girls a tangible way of monitoring successes.  The journals have a weekly theme, such as courage, which also links to the STEM curriculum.

Girlstart received a $20,000 grant from SoS this year for direct costs for Georgetown Girlstart’s After School, which  includes costs of Girlstart’s STEM CREW, pre-service teachers who lead Girlstart’s programs, and STEM supplies and materials.

On October 5th, SoS members were able to have a virtual visit with Tamara and observe some classes. The first class that we joined had 6 participants with 2 leaders. The leaders guided the girls through learning about some of the leading women in STEM fields.  This was to prepare them for the guest speaker Ryan Prouty, Assistant Center Director for the Johnson Space Center, who has worked for over 20 years on the International Space Station. The girls were mesmerized as she showed them pictures from the Space Station while sharing with them her story of becoming interested in STEM and deciding to become an astronaut.

Our second “stop” was with a larger group that was discussing the goals that the girls set in their notebooks and the results of an experiment that they performed on a color-changing cup. It was obvious by the level of participation that the girls really enjoyed the activity.

Still hoping to be in-person this Spring, but preparing to continue on-line if needed, Girlstart has been able to maintain its mission and goals despite the obstacles created by COVID.  With the support of the SoS grant, this non-profit is truly impacting the lives of our girls for the better and, in turn, for our future.

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