Nikole Collins-Puri, CEO of Techbridge Girls, is a social justice visionary, strategist, advocate, and mentor who has committed her life to unleashing the brilliance of untapped communities.
Techbridge Girls (TBG) is a national provider of gender-responsive and culturally relevant immersive after-school science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programming. TBG re-engineers the way STEM is taught to girls* and gender-expansive youth of color from low-income communities.
It’s time to change the narrative
This Women’s History Month, I’ve been thinking a lot about representation and the narrative of what female “success” should be. Few success stories about girls, especially girls of color, reflect the authentic brilliance and unique contributions that womanhood carries. Instead, success is often measured through a White, male-dominant culture that reinforces gender bias and norms. Being a CEO and a Black woman in the nonprofit sector, I understand the narrative that was defined for me; every day I work to change it, not only for my own wellness but for the next Black girl CEOs that will follow in my footsteps.
At Techbridge Girls, we are focused on celebrating our girls’* brilliance and elevating the voices of girls who navigate a society that often leaves them behind, whether for systemic or personal reasons. For some, the reason involves balancing school with helping at home to cover for parents who continue to clock in as essential workers. For others, it’s gaining the confidence to pursue ideas, ask questions, lead, and be one of the few girls in a STEM classroom. For many, it’s also about their emotional and mental health—having to overcome the obstacles girls, especially Black and brown, face growing up, with the added pressure of doing so in a system where they are often overlooked and even silenced. That’s why I consider it a personal responsibility that we amplify their voices and leverage the power of storytelling to show our girls’ brilliance and belonging.
Techbridge Girls CEO Nikole Collins-Puri. Photo courtesy Techbridge Girls.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme, #ChooseToChallenge, resonated with me in a way I didn’t expect. It touches on a rarely acknowledged truth: We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality, but we shouldn’t have to wait for our stories to be told and we shouldn’t have to wait for others to celebrate them.
And the stories we hear are remarkable.
We hear from middle-schoolers who set aside time to watch our Techbridge Girls@Home STEM videos so they can challenge their minds and believe in a future where they can thrive in science, technology, engineering, and math. We hear from school districts, principals, NGOs, and community centers who challenge their educators to improve their equitable STEM practice and pursue professional development through programs like Techbridge Girls. We celebrate our educators who challenge girls to think and dream big about their career aspirations and future. We share stories of role models who have challenged corporate cultures and whose personal journeys are changing leadership within the STEM workforce.
A STEM learner with Techbridge Girls. Photo courtesy Techbridge Girls.
I have the fortune of hearing these stories every day through my work at Techbridge Girls. But it’s more than just hearing. You can hear a story, but the real magic is watching it retell itself in thousands of girls across the country.
I’m sure that every woman reading this has a story to share, and that every story has the ability to show what is possible for all of us. When I share my story—the triumphs and the lessons—I’m hoping other women and girls will learn from my mistakes, replicate my strategies to grow, and be inspired. I’m also hoping they realize that I, just like most women and girls out there, have had to overcome so much—but that journey gives me power and the narrative makes that power real. It is the story I must tell so the next girl can write her own. Our individual stories are personal, real, and incredibly moving, but together . . . together they are a powerful force able to bring about systemic change.
The narrative is changing because we are using our voices to challenge it. So this year, I #ChooseToChallenge women to join me in sharing their stories and showing girls everywhere that their stories must be told and their brilliance must shine for change to come.
*Including cis girls, trans youth, and gender nonconforming and/or nonbinary youth who experience(d) girlhood as a part of their journey.