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.
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.
Linda Kekelis, PhD
Parent engagement has been part of Dr. Linda Kekelis’s life’s work. Over 25 years ago, Dr. Kekelis embarked on designing workshops for families with grants from the American Association of University Women. As the Founder and former CEO of Techbridge Girls, Dr. Kekelis 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. Dr. Kekelis led the Chevron-funded Families Matter project at Techbridge Girls, developing resources such as Science: It’s a Family Affair guide, which was disseminated to thousands of families during the USA Science and Engineering Festivals in Washington, DC and Discovery Days at AT&T Park in San Francisco. In one of her final projects at Techbridge Girls, Dr. Kekelis developed a proposal for a human-centered approach to reimagine outreach to families, particularly those from under-resourced communities, which was funded by Clorox. Dr. Kekelis consults for informal STEM providers and STEM Ecosystem leaders.
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.
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?