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Dec 11, 2018

Ruling Our eXperiences expanding its impact nationwide helping girls find success

Lisa Hinkelman, a former professor at The Ohio State University (OSU), has turned a research study into a multi-state business. Ruling Our eXperiences (ROX) is a nonprofit committed to equipping girls with the knowledge and skills they need to lead healthy, independent, productive, and violence-free lives. The organization achieves this by providing a K-12 school curriculum, rigorous data collection, nationally recognized research studies, and now a professional continuing education program, to bring insights to a range of professionals who need to know the factors that are critical to a successful life for girls and women.

We talked with Lisa about her journey from research professor to running a multi-state business. A version of this interview first appeared in Columbus Business First.

How did ROX get started?
ROX started as a research study focused on learning how we could help support girls in more substantial ways. Through researching, developing, and delivering evidence-based programming, ROX assists girls in navigating key areas of their lives in more healthful and empowering ways.

The ROX curriculum is based soundly in social science, educational and psychological research and has sought to specifically equip girls with the skills and competencies that have been proven, through research, to help girls be more successful interpersonally. We use both quantitative and qualitative data-collection procedures including psychometric surveys and assessment tools.

ROX incubated at OSU until 2011, when the curriculum had been appropriately validated and programming was being delivered in more than 20 school sites. Soon thereafter, we determined that ROX would best thrive as a separate nonprofit organization. It was at that point that I left OSU, and incorporated ROX as a 501(c)3.

What is your core business?
We license our curriculum and train and certify local school professionals to deliver our curriculum in their schools. We now have 250 trained facilitators in 13 states. To maintain quality and adherence to our curriculum, we have two ROX staff and 16 of our facilitators, who are contracted to provide at least five coaching sessions per year to each certified facilitator. Each facilitator must be recertified every two years, and we do pre- and post-tests for each girl in the program. We also provide ongoing professional development through our online portal.

What challenges did you face in expanding outside Columbus?
One of the biggest challenges is knowing when to let go and when to maintain control. Moving the program outside Columbus for the first time was unnerving. Our first ROX trainers had been my OSU students, whom I knew well and saw regularly. When Cleveland asked for the program I still could do on-site coaching myself since it is such a short drive. Our next city was Pittsburgh, which is drivable, too. When I concluded that school counselors elsewhere were similar to the school counselors we worked with and trained in Columbus, I realized that training professionals could be our first quality screen and having a set curriculum could be our second way for me to let go and expand, while maintaining control over quality. We concluded that local ROX-trained facilitators could be our local coordinators, but we had to build the structure for the replication to be consistent and the implementation to be disciplined. When we received a grant for financial and in-kind support from the DRK Foundation, we had the catalyst to grow to where we are now.

What prompted launch of The Girls’ Index™ and the ROX Research and Training Institute?
We had been creating impact through our curriculum and our free research reports. Prompted by our board, we looked to shift from doing it all for free or through grants to looking for more ways to earn fees. Part of our quality control is regular surveys of our facilitators, parents, school administrators, and of course, the girls in the program. We were frustrated that most research in the field was based on small samples. We thought girls were the experts about their lives, so we assembled a team of professionals to develop our own survey assessment beyond the data we regularly collected from our programs. We piloted the survey with 600 girls in grades 5-12. We refined and revised it and deployed it in 2016–17 in schools across the country. The results we call The Girls Index™ and it is the most complete report on the life of girls in the U.S. The depth of the data allows us to produce specialized reports on Girls & Sports and Girls, STEM, and Careers. These unique reports can be downloaded from our website.

This was a pivotal shift for the ROX brand. We have become a national source of research and training in how to support girls. With this rich database, which we do not give away, we have the foundation for the ROX Multidisciplinary Research and Training Institute. Over the past two years, we have been investing in growing the number of schools using the curriculum, which expands our database and the reach and relevance of our research.

How will the Institute make money and what do you plan to do with the profits?
We see the greatest market potential in providing Continuing Education courses to school counselors, teachers, coaches, social workers, nurses, doctors, attorneys, faith leaders, and other professionals, whose work benefits from more in-depth understanding of adolescent girls. We are in a three-year build-out plan with the goal of becoming profitable and using those earnings to enable more schools to participate in the curriculum which could not otherwise afford the fees.