The Toyota USA Foundation awarded $500,000 to a non-profit that aims to increase the number of Dallas-area school district girls who have access to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Programs.   

High-Tech High Heels (HTHH) North Texas plans to use the funding to create a STEM pilot program and ecosystem in the Dallas Independent School District that focuses on kindergarten through high school-aged girls from underserved communities.  

“We want to make the biggest impact as possible, and there are schools within the Dallas Independent School District that are low income and have at-risk youth,” said Britney Keepes, a High-Tech High Heels board member. “We believe that there are areas of STEM that you can absolutely succeed in coming from any background. Our impact will be much higher there.”  

High-Tech High Heels, a 501(3)c, was founded in 2001 by thirty women who worked at Texas Instruments and had a shared vision of closing the gender gap in STEM fields. 

Originally established in Dallas, High Tech High Heels has expanded with the creation of a Colorado chapter, Silicon Valley chapter, Houston chapter, and North Texas chapter.  

“We have found that girls are losing interest in STEM and pursuing higher education or careers outside of STEM,” Keepes told Dallas Express. “That leak usually happens between middle school and high school. So, we really want to focus on getting students involved in kindergarten, elementary through middle school, and then continue that programming with afterschool workshops and summer programs for middle and high schoolers.”  

Money will also be allocated to create a curriculum and a playbook to help organizations across the metroplex with educational resources to support year-round STEM programming.  

“For middle school-aged girls and high school-aged teens, STEM becomes an area where they don’t have a lot of role models,” Keepes said in an interview. “It’s no longer the cool thing to do, and there’s not a lot of programming that is aimed to keep girls involved. Our goal is to provide those role models and that programming so that they don’t lose interest.”  

One of High-Tech High Heels’ partnership organizations is the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE).

NAPE is a membership-based organization of federal and state agencies, local school districts, colleges, universities, businesses, and corporate foundations that seek to create equal access learning environments.  

NAPE trains counselors and teachers on equity and how to have equitable conversations in the classroom,” Keepes said. “That has already been taking effect in some of the schools. It’s really about making sure that we find and fill those gaps where we may not have a program for elementary school or middle school or high school specifically, which leaves a space where girls can fall out.”  

Another partnership organization is AfterSchool All-Stars, according to Keepes.  

“They provide STEM kids and at-risk youths with afterschool programming,” she said. “We specifically have been funding a program through them called Fem Stem, which is specifically for girls.”