STEM of the Future: Making Equity Our North Star

by Najee Ellerbe

This blog was guest-written by our partners, STEMNext.

We advocate for three guiding principles to diversify STEM: lead with equity as our North Star, make family engagement a priority, and go big with collective impact.

1. In funding and advocacy, prioritize support for programs for Black youth, their families, and others who have experienced discrimination. Encourage other funders to do the same to multiply effects and make impacts faster. Evidence is clear—afterschool and summer programs promote resilience, provide protective factors, and support assets that can overcome the effects of adversity. Now is the time to fund the leaders—particularly those who are Black and Latinx— who work with youth in their communities and ecosystems across the country. Their deep understanding of the issues facing these communities and appreciation for connecting STEM to issues of social justice are essential for sustained and significant impact for equity in STEM. STEM programs that lead with cultural relevance and take up social justice align with academic and career interests of students of color who are underrepresented in STEM.

2. Make family engagement a priority across all STEM initiatives. Parents are vital in raising youth’s awareness of the value of STEM and in supporting their participation in activities that sustain their interest. It is imperative to change the narrative from hard-to-reach parents and dismantle the barriers of hard-to-access programs. Fund staff capacity and professional development to effectively engage and empower parents, particularly those in under-resourced communities. Speak up for justice and challenge others in philanthropy to elevate the importance of family engagement and equity in STEM.

3. Prioritize collective impact for the design and delivery of resources and services that are accessible across communities. Cross-sector collaboration is particularly critical to support the pressing needs of families. Afterschool and summer programs are more important than ever in meeting the multifaceted needs of families; their ability to pivot and serve high-need youth and families has been demonstrated this spring and summer. Yet many are concerned about not being able to continue this school year due to lack of funding. Now more than ever, we need to invest in bridges between programs in school and out of school and across time and place. Higher education, corporations, and venture capital are needed to achieve collective impact to recruit and retain STEM talent that truly represents our diverse population.


Our Call to Action

As we respond to the disruptions created by COVID-19, we must reimagine the future—a future that does a far better job of distributing opportunities. As youth return to schools and afterschool programs, we need to invest in addressing the long-term impacts of this pandemic. We must change the status quo. We must first and foremost work hardest for those youth and families most impacted and most vulnerable.


Won’t you join us and commit to dramatically changing the trajectory of the opportunity gap in STEM by advocating for efforts that first and foremost ensure equity and access. We cannot work around the edges to make incremental improvements. We need to step up and make this the moment where we are the change. STEM Next commits to this work to ensure that every child and family has access to the opportunities to achieve their potential for themselves and our nation and world. Will you join us?


As a national leader, strategic guide, policy advocate and investor, STEM Next is bringing about a transformative expansion of high-quality and inclusive STEM learning opportunities with two major initiatives. The Family Engagement Project elevates the critical role of families in supporting youth—particularly girls and youth from populations underrepresented in STEM—to pursue and persist in STEM. Million Girls Moonshot just announced on September 16 is a national movement to change the trajectory of women and girls in STEM and the trajectory of our country and achieve a larger collective social impact to advance gender equity and parity in STEM.