The Family Engagement Project







Elevating the critical role of families in STEM

Building capacity of STEM programs to include families

Creating tools to guide effective family engagement strategies in STEM and CS


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.

The Family Engagement Project is a multi-year project leveraging 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:

Photo: Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

  • 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.

Families play a vital role in raising youth awareness of the value of STEM and in brokering youth participation in activities that build STEM interest and skills.

For organizations that truly want to move the needle for youth in STEM, culturally responsive family engagement must be more than an add on to programs and funder strategy. Especially for girls and underrepresented youth of color, family engagement is essential to successful STEM programming, wherever informal STEM takes place, including museums, libraries, after school programs, and community centers.

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. Yet, with few exceptions, when it comes to leveraging family engagement for youth success in informal STEM, there is a disconnect between research and practice.

Every player in the STEM ecosystem –  including philanthropic and corporate funders, policy makers and practitioners – needs to put research into action by placing families at the center of STEM in out-of-school time. We believe that family engagement has the potential to change the entire field when it is a core element of programming and funding.

Our work builds on the findings of the Family Engagement Landscape Analysis for Funders by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Their comprehensive survey of 74 philanthropic foundations found that there is significant grantmaking directed towards family engagement activities. However, they noted there is still much work to be done, including diversifying funding of activity areas, defining and measuring success, as well as identifying and growing effective practices.

Family Engagement Resources

Case Studies

Explore our growing series of case studies highlighting the essential role family engagement plays in successful STEM programming.


White Papers

A collection of white papers for STEM field leaders, practitioners, funders and more to empower families.

Research Team

Linda Kekelis, PhD

Dr. Linda Kekelis is an advisor for STEM Next Opportunity Fund with a lifelong passion for ensuring that all youth, particularly girls and underrepresented youth, have access to opportunities in STEM. Parent engagement has been part of Linda’s life work. As the Founder and former CEO of Techbridge Girls, she made family engagement one of the vital elements of the program and throughout her tenure committed resources to measure impact and better understand how to serve the needs of families. Linda advises STEM organizations on empowering families and shares research and resources with them. Linda also supports girl-serving organizations and advises the National Academy of Engineering’s EngineerGirl and LinkEngineering. Her expertise in research and practice supports parents, educators, and role models.  Linda has a master’s degree in Linguistics from the University of Southern California and a doctorate in Special Education from the University of California, Berkeley.

Kara Sammet, PhD

Dr.  Kara Sammet is the Founder and Principal of Gender Lenz LLC, an inclusion and leadership consulting firm.  As a consultant for Google, she co-authored an article on the role of families on girls’ interest in computer science and conducted a landscape review on nationally scalable networks for a diversity outreach initiative. At Techbridge Girls, Dr. Sammet facilitated interviews and focus groups with dozens of parents to generate over 100 family engagement activities for a Clorox-funded outreach project. With a Ph.D. in Social and Cultural Studies from UC Berkeley, Dr. Sammet is an evaluation advisor for the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, an Executive Leadership facilitator at the UC Berkeley Extension for Corporate Education, and a consultant to philanthropic foundations and corporations on a range of inclusion and leadership initiatives.

Linda, founder of Techbridge Girls and Kara, founder of Gender Lenz, led 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.

What's Next

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.