Changing the Game for Families in STEM

By Ron Ottinger, STEM Next Opportunity Fund

In my years as the Executive Director of the Noyce Foundation, and now continuing the Noyce legacy through the STEM Next Opportunity Fund, we’ve learned what works and what doesn’t in providing the best STEM learning for youth, especially in out-of-school settings. From our work, and from research and practice, it has become increasingly clear that parents play a vital role with their children in raising awareness of the value of STEM and in brokering participation in activities that build STEM interest and skills.

Why is Family Engagement so Important?

Family engagement is a game changer. Why? Research shows that parents are one of the biggest influences on youth interest and persistence in STEM learning. Yet, with few exceptions, when it comes to leveraging family engagement for youth success, there is a disconnect between research and practice.

Catalyzing Family Engagement in STEM

STEM Next Opportunity Fund is taking a leading role in raising awareness and inspiring programs, foundations, corporate partners and policy-makers to take action on family engagement. While our primary focus is on family engagement in out-of-school settings, we believe it is essential to bridge family engagement strategies to pre-K through 12 schools. Many of the strategies we will write about are as applicable to in school as they are to informal and out-of-school programs.

Through a multi-year project that leverages research, convenings, publications and a national social media campaign, STEM Next is pursuing an ambitious agenda on family engagement in the informal realm with application to formal education.  Our primary objectives include:

  • Identify the current state of the field, including gaps and opportunities, of family engagement for practitioners, foundations and corporations
  • Accelerate and consolidate the field’s understanding of key concepts, common language, research and evaluation related to family engagement
  • Amplify the best and promising practices for funding and implementing culturally-responsive family engagement
  • Convene foundations, corporations, national youth-serving organizations, community-based organizations, and policy makers to develop strategies for shared learning and field building to reform, elevate, and scale family engagement
  • Catalyze investments in family engagement

Our ultimate goal is to empower families to support their children’s engagement in STEM and to unleash the untapped talent of their children. The long-term success of this project will result in more parents understanding and communicating the promise of STEM to their children, and taking action to change their children’s participation and persistence in STEM.

We’re collaborating with two expert field leaders and researchers to help us accomplish this goal, Drs. Linda Kekelis and Kara Sammet. Linda, founder of Techbridge Girls and Kara, founder of Gender Lenz, led the development of Changing The Game for Girls in STEM, a Chevron-funded white paper of best practices from leaders in the field on girls in STEM. They frequently collaborate on blogs for educators, funders, and families with a focus on girls, low-income youth, and underrepresented youth of color.

We’ve launched this important project by listening to STEM practitioners, foundations, corporations and family engagement thought leaders. Want to hear more about what we learned from them? Be sure to sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Twitter to get the latest blogs, case studies and white papers on family engagement in STEM, and to be the first to hear about our convenings.



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