Solution Overview

What is the name of your organization?

Code Girls United

What is the name of your solution?

Code Girls United

Provide a one-line summary of your solution.

We build college and career pathways for 4th-12th grade girls in rural and tribal communities across Montana through leadership skills, self-empowerment, and hands-on experiences in coding, technology, and business.

Film your elevator pitch.

What specific problem are you solving?

During the mid 1990s, 35% of computer science jobs were filled by women. Now, almost 30 years later, only 24% of computer science jobs are filled by women, with less than 2% of those jobs held by Native American women. With the rapid growth and expansion of Technology and Computer Science related fields, careers in these fields are numerous, often high-paying and flexible. Women are at a great disadvantage to acquire these positions in an already extremely competitive field, due to the lack of opportunity and resources- particularly women in rural, economically restricted or predominately indigenous communities. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), we can reverse this trend by removing negative connotations around women in computer science and engaging young girls at the elementary level. 

AAUW found that targeting the 11-14 year old age range was critical for girls to pursue further education in computing and engineering. According to a meta-analysis of 440 other studies of K-12 students, studies show that learning computer programming improves student creativity, mathematical skills, metacognition, spatial skills, reading, and reasoning skills (Educational Psychology Journal, 2019). 

Code Girls United hosts programming across the state of Montana. Montana’s public school system is made up of 684 schools, with approximately 74% of schools designated as rural, which presents unique challenges in retaining staff, meeting education standards, updating school facilities, and more. In a state in which Computer Science is not a K-12 requirement, the lack of access to quality Computer Science learning opportunities for all students is greatly compounded, but to the greatest degree for female students. Schools that do offer Computer Science classes, are predominately enrolled by males- with only 10% being female.

Typically, school districts in the most populated areas may implement Computer Science education, but only at the high school level, not middle school. Rural and tribal areas are effected to a greater degree as students have restricted access to these opportunities due to lack of funding, resources, and female mentorship. 

Due to the lack of computer science and technology curriculum being offered in school settings, there is a critical need to provide after school programming to fill this educational gap. In a word that is becoming ever more rapidly technology focused and with the increase of jobs available in the fields of Technology and Computer Science, we must create opportunities for girls that will lead to a more equitable workforce. Women should have equal opportunity for exposure, education, engagement and employment in Technology and Computer Science careers. Code Girls United creates those opportunities for 4th-12th grade girls from rural and tribal communities in computer science, technology, and business concepts to improve learning outcomes and create pathways to college and beyond.

What is your solution?

Code Girls United provides free, after school programs that promote social-emotional learning, career readiness, and tools for self-sufficiency. We help rural and Native girls from low-income areas across Montana improve their social mobility by equipping them with the education and resources they need for future success in STEM related fields through our After School Coding & Business Program. 

Currently, we have 25 programs (which are a combination of in-person and hybrid learning opportunities) where students meet once a week after-school and at least once outside of our class. In the first half of the school year, new participants are taught the fundamentals of computer science and coding using MIT's Appinventor, while returning participants are taught more in-depth lessons in computer science and learn advanced programming concepts. In the second half of the year, the girls are split into teams and tasked with identifying a community need, creating a business framework for their community service project, and developing an app as a solution to the community problem. The girls typically meet once a week outside of class to discuss their app development, marketing surveys and research, competitive analysis, business plans, prototypes, flow charts, overall product design, budget, video production, and presentations. Simulating a real-world business and software development process, each team of girls completes their app, develops a pitch, and creates demo videos for regional and national competitions.

Computer science and coding activities have been shown to help build up feelings of autonomy, confidence, creativity, and critical problem solving–in addition to skills building. 

Computer science and coding activities teach students the importance of logical progressions, loops, and if-then statements, which directly translates to the students’ ability to understand how their own actions can affect others in a positive or negative way.

In addition to social emotional growth, girls in our program engage with mathematical concepts such as discrete math, logic, data structures, probability and statistics, and linear algebra. Through our hands-on use of MIT’s App Inventor our girls are exposed to topics such as: counting, summation, algebraic structures, predicate logic, first-order, higher-order, functional programming, algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, databases, and much more. Gaining a better understanding of these concepts–which have been tailored to their grade level–through applied learning helps young girls in our program improve their math literacy. Additionally, our program promotes improved literacy skills by having program participants create a business plan, develop and conduct surveys, research community problems with adult mentors, and create public presentations. These activities foster constructed and contextual knowledge, information creation as a process, research as inquiry, scholarship as conversation, and strategic exploration. 

Through our program, young girls gain experiences in computer science and coding fundamentals, marketing best practices, business development & entrepreneurship, and writing and public speaking skills which supports the development and proficiency in math, reading, and social emotional learning. In addition to learning coding and practical business skills, the young girls who enter our program walk away with a new sense of self-confidence in their abilities and an empowerment to take control of their future. 

Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

Our programs are designed for 4th-12 grade girls from rural and tribal communities across Montana. Currently  72% of our participants qualify for free or reduced lunch programs, 92% qualify as rural, and 21% identify as Native American. The barriers to economic security for our demographics include limited access to educational and employment opportunities, as well as lack of resources and infrastructure to support economic mobility.  Code Girls United is addressing the lack of educational opportunities with Computer Science since it is not a requirement in the state of Montana, and helping to provide mentorship and guidance for more economically prosperous future opportunities in the technology sector.

How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

As an organization whose mission is to empower young girls and increase their career opportunities in coding, technology and business, our staff, board of directors, and program instructors are predominantly females in the technology, business, and education fields. Our board and staff are 88% women, and 70% of our instructors, board, and Executive Director have advanced degrees in Engineering or Computer Science. We want our organization’s leadership and staff to serve as mentors for young girls to look up to, which is why we intentionally seek out female educators and technical experts from rural and urban backgrounds to implement our programs across the state. A report on women in STEM from Florida Gulf Coast University and The University of Colorado suggests that one reason for the drop in female interest in science and technology beyond middle school is a lack of female role models in the industry.  

Code Girls United’s Board is composed of six women and one man. Our staff has six full time female employees, two part time female employees, three female summer interns, and one indigenous female intern for the school-year. Our organization is unique because there is no other local organization that has the breadth and depth of technical female representation on its board, staff, or volunteers.

We strive to make our program relevant to young girls, providing them with their first opportunity to learn about technology and possible career paths, while also tailoring our curriculum to the various tribal concerns. Our students and families are regularly engaged in our program development by providing feedback through participation surveys, informal observation, and focus groups, which allows us to assess the needs of our participants and direct the focus of our programming to fit their cultural and educational needs. 

Our staff, while committed to advancing the education of native youth in computer science and technology, does not presume to know the needs of these communities or the nuanced traditions and cultural components that are important to integrate into our curriculum. We work closely with tribal leaders, representatives, native youth, and families to determine the needs of each tribe and develop culturally appropriate curriculum and implementation strategies. Additionally with the support of our Native Ambassador intern, we have created and continue to improve our Tribal curriculum to be culturally relevant. We also have been able to engage with a Native PhD researcher who is helping to provide a framework and metrics for our Tribally focused programs.

Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

  • Ensure continuity across STEM education in order to decrease successive drop-off in completion rates from K-12 through undergraduate years.

In what city and state is your solution team headquartered?

Kalispell, MT, USA

What is your solution’s stage of development?

Scale: A sustainable enterprise working in several communities or countries that is focused on increased efficiency

How many people does your solution currently serve?

This school year we served over 250 students. This fall, we are projected to serve more than 400 throughout the state of Montana.

Why are you applying to the Challenge?

With the rapid expansion of our program across the state, and the recent additions of our Operations Director, Fund Development Director, 3 Program Coordinators and Executive Administrator, we need additional organization capacity to keep up with the demand and retain our effectiveness. Financial support from Solve and Tiger Global Impact Ventures would support our programs and operations over the next year. Funding would be used to support key program staff, computer equipment and software upgrades and maintenance, travel, curriculum assessment and implementation (to continually assess cultural responsiveness), outreach and marketing efforts to tribal communities, and a portion of our rent for our in-person classes held in Kalispell. Financial assistance would greatly impact our ability to serve more 4th-12th grade girls across Montana in rural, small town, and tribal communities.

Additionally, as a result of our rapid growth over the last year, we have not had the internal capacity to work on key components of our operations and program design such as: statewide needs assessments and tribal needs assessments, theory of change, timeline and implementation plan for scaled growth, professional development for our staff, and more. We see this Challenge as an opportunity for Code Girls United to scale our operations and receive the foundational support to enhance our program design and its effectiveness. 

Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Marianne Smith

How is your Team Lead connected to the community or communities in which your project is based?

Marianne Smith is a founder of Code Girls United, created and taught the Code Girls United curriculum, and now serves as the organization’s Executive Director. With over 25 years of technology and business experience in different fields (former adjunct Computer Science Professor at Flathead Valley Community College, engineer with BS and MS degrees, and NASA experience) Marianne brings a wealth of knowledge and lived experience to the Code Girls United organization. Having spent her career in a predominantly male field, Marianne brings a unique perspective and understanding to CGU’s curriculum and the need for female empowerment and education in the STEM field.  

Having lived and worked in Montana for 15 years, Marianne has seen the lack of computer science education across the state firsthand. When a friend’s daughter wanted to take a coding class similar to a program for girls in Seattle, she realized there were no local options for her to take. She, along with two other women, came together to create the opportunities that were unavailable for young girls in Montana to engage with computer science, coding, and technology. 

More About Your Solution

What makes your solution innovative?

Code Girls United curriculum integrates hands-on, real world experience and problem solving as a key learning modalities. Working in small groups, students must identify a community issue they want to address, presenting tools and possible solutions through an App. By applying concepts and coding skills learned in the program our students conceptualize, plan and build an App accompanied by a business and marketing plan. Our students then create presentations which they present before judges in a program-wide competition. These competitions allow our students opportunity to develop public speaking skills and to defend their research and product. These competitions also afford opportunity for our students to earn scholarship prizes towards further education. 

While there are other curriculums available, these curriculums are not created with rural or tribal girls as the target population. Our programming has a unique model delivered in a setting that empowers young girls in our unique rural setting. As we have engaged individuals in the fields of Technology and Business to participate as judges or volunteers, we have gained sincere interest and support of our model and approach. As teams of our girls have received awards through state-wide or national competitions- we have direct evidence of the quality of our curriculum and program. We believe Code Girls United has sincere potential to effect not only the market for Computer Science and Coding curriculums, but also the workforce and market for App development in a field that is predominately male.

What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?

There is a clear need for young girls in rural and tribal communities in Montana  to have the opportunity to explore the possible STEM career paths available to them before they head off to high school and college. Participation in our program is aimed at improving math and reading outcomes, reducing the self-selection out of these courses, and increasing the self-confidence young girls see in themselves and in their abilities within the STEM and business fields. In order to get more girls from rural and tribal communities interested in computer science, coding, and technology we have to continue to expand our programming across the state.

The strategic goals and objectives of the program include expanding its reach to more rural and tribal areas and increasing the number of girls who participate in the program. Our goals for the 2023/2024 school year are:

  • Double the number of participants from the 2022/2023 school year to roughly 400 participants 

  • Increase the number of programs in the state to 40

  • Expand our reach to more Tribal schools: 3 Tribal High School programs and 2 additional Reservation schools participating in our regular after school programs.

How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

Code Girls United follows a defined Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) process, with an action plan that outlines improvement goals and action steps through feedback from staff, students, parents, and other partners.  The CQI process involves the use of student surveys, weekly student assessments, annual program evaluations for students and parents, and weekly staff meetings to determine the individual outcome of each student and the program outcome of each cohort.

We use quantitative and qualitative data to evaluate the success of our program and the feelings of the girls after participation in our program. We provide our participants with a pre-and-post program survey that allows us to pull out key themes from their participation and knowledge learned which helps direct instruction and evaluate our impact. We measure outcomes such as: increased feelings of self-confidence, self-efficacy, collaboration and teamwork, computer science competence, and interest in STEM career paths. We also measure participants’ understanding of how STEM skills taught in our program are relevant to their daily lives and other interests. 

At the end of our program we would like to have achieved the following outcomes:

  • Provide computer science, coding, and technology curriculum and training to Native girls in 4 reservation schools, 5 new rural communities, and 2 additional online programs.-

  • 500+ girls reached across the state

  • 90% of girls reporting feelings of self-confidence

  • 85% of girls reporting feelings of self-efficacy

  • 95% of girls reporting that they feel they can set and meet goals

  • 95% of girls reporting they feeling confident creating an app

The lessons learned from these metrics are then used to enhance our program design and objectives each year. Additionally, we share this impact in our annual report, in our communication with donors and funders, and throughout the year on our social media platforms.

Describe in simple terms how and why you expect your solution to have an impact on the problem.

Code Girls United's mission is: To expand the future opportunities of 4th- 8th grade girls with hands on experiences in coding, technology and business. Our vision is: That women play a key tole in economic growth through the use of the technology and business skills. Like any desired systemic growth and change, our mission and vision are not possible to accomplish overnight or even in a year of our programming. We can however, look at indicators of progress towards change and impact within the students in our program and the community in the immediate and long term.

Through our yearly curriculum, students are expose to opportunities to learn basic concepts that are later applied to complex tasks and outcomes. Each student completes a project, as part of a team, in which they conceptualize and build an App, conduct market research, write a business plan and presentation to be presented before a panel of judges. In our most recent survey of students at the conclusion of their annual program, 95% of girls state confidence in their ability to set and meet goals. 91% percent of girls claim confidence in writing and building an app and 76% of girls felt confident in their ability to write a business plan. Growth in these skills speaks to change.

Another indicator of immediate impact within our the students we serve, is the noted achievements of our students. The Tech Trio, a team of 3 girls who are now in our advanced program, won the Congressional App Challenge for the State of Montana as well as MIT App Inventor Foundation's App of the Season, Spring 2023. The app they created, 'Found' was designed to help advocate for and located missing and exploited indigenous women. Due to the skills they have learned and the confidence gained, they were able to create a solution for a community problem and to advocate for other women and for their own abilities and product.

The long-term impact is reflected in the number of girls who have completed our program and are pursuing Computer Science and Engineering degrees, or Business degrees. We are beginning to collect data from our first group of participants as they graduate from high school and enter college. 70% of our first cohort of girls are either pursuing or plan to pursue Computer Science or Engineering degrees in college, 14% are or will be pursuing Business degrees. Our long-term vision is that young women who participate in our programs go on to pursue Computer Science, Engineering, Business, or other STEM-related degrees in higher education. Based on our available data, our program is fulfilling its' mission. Code Girls United is creating pathways to college and other technical careers by educating and empowering young girls to participate in computer science and technology education at a young age. In time, these young women can play a key role in the future of economic growth in Montana and beyond through the use of the technology and business skills learned with Code Girls United.

If your solution is tech-based, describe the core technology that powers your solution.

Being that our program curriculum is based on computer science and coding- we have a broad range of technologies integrated throughout our solution. Our curriculum has been developed over 6 years of programming, integrating basic computer science concepts, coding, business and marketing strategies requiring critical thinking and problem solving.

All of our classes are based in Google Classroom, allowing us to follow integrate our curriculum online and expose our students to Cloud Based Software solutions. Students meet in person, but can also meet outside of class or work with their teams remotely when needed. Google Docs, Google  Sheets and other software is regularly utilized by students.

MIT App Inventor is the platform for App creation and coding experience throughout our curriculum. All of the key concepts and skills are readily accessible in this platform and our students gain extensive experience and knowledge here. In our advanced level curriculum, students gain experience with hardware, sensors, mini computers and college level computer science concepts.

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new business model or process that relies on technology to be successful

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning
  • Audiovisual Media
  • Behavioral Technology
  • Blockchain
  • GIS and Geospatial Technology
  • Imaging and Sensor Technology
  • Internet of Things
  • Materials Science
  • Robotics and Drones
  • Software and Mobile Applications

In which US states does your solution currently operate?


In which US states will your solution be operating within the next year?


Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?


How many people work on your solution team?

We have 6 Full Time and 4 Part Time employees. We have contract 4-6 teachers each semester and rely on volunteer support.

How long have you been working on your solution?

Headquartered in Kalispell, Montana, Code Girls United (CGU) was started in 2016 by Marianne Smith, Beth Schecher, and Elizabeth Bernau to get young girls from rural and tribal communities across the state engaged in computer science, coding, and business. We received 501(c)(3) status in 2018 and have grown into a statewide organization with 25 programs across Montana. Over the past 7 years, CGU has served 631 girls from rural and tribal communities–who otherwise would not have had access to computer science and technology curriculum–and students have developed 86 digital apps that respond to an identified community need.

What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?

Code Girls United is committed to fostering, cultivating and preserving a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion in our organization. Everyone is welcome and as an inclusive non-profit, participants, employees, and volunteers are comfortable bringing their authentic selves to be a part of our team.

Montana has a primarily rural and tribal population in a sparsely populated large state with just over 1 million people.  89% are Caucasian, 8% are Native American with 7 Reservations.  While our staff and board identify as White, we are committed to advancing gender and racial equity in computer science and other STEM careers. Code Girls United serves rural communities across the state and serves 3 Tribal Nations, with a  goal to implement programs for all 11 of the Tribal Nations. To increase representation, Code Girls United has volunteers with Native American backgrounds to help with the cultural implementation of our programs, and a young alumni who is our overall Native American Ambassador. Additionally, our goal is to have a Tribal Ambassador of our program for each of the 11 tribes. Montana, like other rural states, does not require Computer Science as a part of public schooling. We strive to make our program relevant to young girls, providing them with their first opportunity to learn about technology and possible career paths, while also tailoring our curriculum to the various Tribal concerns so it is relevant to their individual cultures.

Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

As an organization we provide a much-needed service to our community by providing education and training that is not available to a population that is underserved.

Data from 'Cracking the Gender Code' a 2016 Research Report from Accenture- revealed that only 24% of the workforce in the field of Technology is comprised by women. We know that there is great need for women to have pathways and opportunities to gain experience and education in Computer Science and Technology in order to broaden career opportunities in these fields. In Montana, in particular, where Computer Science Curriculum is not a requirement for K-12 education, women in our rural and tribal communities have even less access to quality curriculum and programs.  

We provide free high-quality after-school programming for girls in grades 4-12, based on a curriculum of computer science, coding, business, marketing and math. Our staff and teachers hold classes weekly, throughout the school year, following a set curriculum. We hold a regional competition at the end of each program year, for students to have opportunity to apply the skills learned as well as earn scholarship prizes towards further education.

As of 501 3c, we rely on public and private grants from foundations, trusts, businesses and corporations as well as community support through fundraisers, donations and sponsorships. Our revenue is generated through fundraising efforts and in the future, potential through curriculum leasing and sales. Students that advance through our program have opportunity to take part in a summer internship program, which allows them to work with younger students to reciprocate their opportunity. Volunteerism allows us to expose the community to our program and advocate for our students and the need for the service we provide. 

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)

What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?

As we expand out after-school programs across the state, we are actively working on diversifying our funding sources and developing a sustainability plan to accommodate our growth and program delivery. 

Code Girls United will bolster existing partnerships and supporters  and identify and recruit new public and/or private partnerships through targeted fund development strategies, which include:  foundation grants, corporate sponsorships, state and federal grants, events, and individual donor programs. These strategies will improve our sustainability by providing our organization with resources such as: financial support, technical assistance, volunteers, and access to networks and relationships to help ensure the program's long-term success. 

The Code Girls United sustainability plan begins with program implementation in Fall 2023 and will be updated throughout the duration of the fiscal year. The plan includes clear objectives and performance indicators and associated timelines that can be tracked to measure the progress of our project over time. These include, but are not limited to: the number of participants, attendance, and the results of pre and post program surveys. The plan will also include strategies for ensuring that the project's impact is sustained even after the award ends, and that these results are shared with the collaborating school districts, funders, supporters, and community partners.

As an organization we are also currently reprising and packaging modules of our Beginner and Tribal Curriculum for lease to schools or other organizations that can integrate Computer Science concepts into existing programming. This creates a potential revenue stream as well as expansion and exposure of our curriculum.

Share some examples of how your plan to achieve financial sustainability has been successful so far.

Currently, Code Girls United is engaged in collaborative partnerships with the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, the Otto Bremer Trust, the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust, the Oro y Plata Foundation, and the Gianforte Family Foundation–all of whom understand the need for computer science education in Montana and have shown commitment to long-term relationships and funding. We will also continue to work collaboratively with the Office of Public Instruction as grantees of the GEER and MT ESSER Afterschool grants as funds remain available. 

Recently, we hired our first Fund Development Director who will help our organization sustain and expand existing partnerships through major gift solicitation, event implementation, and the creation of individual giving opportunities. We also contract with a fundraising development company who aids our organization in submitting competitive grant proposals  and has helped us raise $847,684 in grant funding since 2020. This has helped grow our organization’s capacity to successfully raise funds in recent years–our foundation grants have grown significantly over the past three years with a 300% increase. As a result of our increased capacity to raise funds, we believe that our funding will continue to grow and enhance our sustainability. 

Solution Team

  • Marianne Smith Executive Director, Code Girls United
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