Matthew Bierman Scholarship Fund

Matthew Bierman Scholarship

Along with several other members of the Class of 2005, I was honored to help launch the Matthew Bierman Memorial Scholarship at the Union County Magnet High School. Matt was a wonderful friend and classmate who passed away too soon in 2016. We wanted to honor Matt’s memory and the impact he made on our day-to-day lives throughout our four years together.

The award recipient is a graduating senior nominated by teachers who embodies the values of kindness, dedication, and intellect demonstrated by Matt Bierman. The first award will be given this June to a member of the Class of 2019, selected by a review committee of Matt’s classmates, family, and friends.

We have already funded the first two years of operations of the scholarship – to help us support year three and beyond, donate here via the Magnet Parent School Association, a 501c3.

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On a personal note – Matt was my “locker neighbor” for four years. We shared a prom limo. He made sure I didn’t actually fail tech class that year we were drafting house blueprints. He was a wonderful guy and important part of my Magnet experience. I’m honored we can create this tribute.

How Can We Celebrate (and Support) Grandparents?

Today’s Grandparent’s Day – a day which, believe it or not, did not just start as a Hallmark card holiday but actually has real roots in valuing the role grandparents play for children.

I wrote about this last year for at my organization’s blog, and it’s a huge piece of the

GaGa/Kieran bonding on board an Irish tour boat

work I am doing around extended family engagement – grandparents (and step-grandparents, and honorary grandparents) are among the most widely acknowledged family members playing a role in children’s lives.

It’s also a role I think about every day, as grandparents on mine and my husband’s side make our daily life with K possible – and it’s an absolute treasure to watch K develop a loving relationship.

You can read more on grandparent’s as a policy issue here:


We can work to embrace two-generation strategies in our programs for families – and then push further to ask how we can make these three- and four-generation strategies, as Senior ICS Fellow Janice Gruendel did in a recent presentation on opportunities for extended family involvement in evidence-based home-visiting models.

We can learn more about opportunities to fully include “grandfamilies” in our safety net programs, as highlighted by Generations United.

We can continue working to improve access to early care and education programs, so families have more quality choices for young children, which can complement nurturing care from grandparents.

We can continue to support research and resources to ensure quality of life for seniors and foster healthy intergenerational relationships.


August Newsletter: Lessons from the animal kingdom, and stealing advice from “Parents”

Each month, I share what I am learning and writing about the importance of extended family in US social policy and – when I can – add some cute animal pics and pop culture references. Reach out by email or follow me on Twitter. If you enjoyed this newsletter, subscribe here!

Here comes Peter Cotton-Top Tamarin…

I recently had a high school friend visiting, which is a great excuse to be a tourist in your area. We had the chance to check out Liberty Science Center, a fantastic interactive experience in Jersey City. While I’ve been there on a handful of trips when I was younger, it was my first time going with our toddler in tow. We got there just in time to watch the staff feed what we thought were monkeys – but were actual cotton-top tamarins.

If you start reading up on extended families in the animal kingdom (what, you haven’t?), it doesn’t take long to learn cotton-top tamarins are kind of a big deal. Eminent anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy writes in her riveting book Mothers and Others that while many species collaborate to raise young, tamarins are among the very few species – along with humans – that she defines as “full-fledged cooperative breeders.” Elsewhere, she explains that when female tamarins give birth – a task generally done by just one or two dominant females – help is not far behind:

“Fathers and alloparents of both sexes are unusually eager to help mothers rear their young. Babies are carried throughout most of the day by one or more adult males, which expend so much energy doing so that they actually lose weight. Other helpers, typically but not exclusively kin, voluntarily deliver even prized animal prey to youngsters.”

These alloparents – kin and other tribe members who are  not the biological parents – step in to lighten the  load, to the well-being of the whole tribe. Blaffer Hrdy notes that “immature” – or, pre-reproductive – females often play the role of eager alloparent, which helps improve their own fitness for reproduction down the line, though they are “concerned lest their charge’s cries attract a competing allomother.” I always get a laugh out of that image – a very scientific way of summing up that younger cousin every family has who is unboundedly excited to help out with a new baby, and hesitant to share them with anyone else.

Tamarins are just one of the fascinating species I’ve learned about as I’ve dove into the alloparenting research, and I’ll share more soon. In the meantime, I definitely encourage you to visit some in person or at least bookmark these images if you’re having a bad day.

Impostor syndrome? Fight it by focusing on someone else

I was quoted in a piece on Hello Giggles where professional women shared their moments of breaking through “impostor syndrome,” where I reflected on how growing into the role of mentor helped reshape my view on my own development:

“When I started shifting from being the one asking for letters of recommendation and connections to getting to play that role of connector for other talented early career professionals, I started seeing my status in a new light. No one tells you that you have become a mentor—I sure didn’t tell my mentor when I picked her, it just naturally happened.”

I felt like an impostor even responding to this reporter’s query, which sort of shows you how deep this all goes. Fighting my own “impostor syndrome” as I shift from an early career professional to a leadership and management role has been tough – plus the shifting dynamics of my own ego and my changing work-life balance as I parent. I firmly believe mentoring – having a mentor yourself, mentoring others, and creating a climate for success – is key. I went a bit deeper on this on my blog, drawing inspiration from both writer Ann Friedman and soccer star Abby Wambach.

Fostering learning, for Parents and other adults
I also had the pleasure of being a contributor to the “Ages & Stages” section of this month’s Parents magazine, on ways to foster early literacy, math, and social-emotional development. Talk about impostor syndrome on this one! I was delighted to find out this piece would be not only online, but also in print. This is Parents! Every pediatrician I know has it in their office! And now that I’ve seen the other contributors – including Roberta Golinkoff, whose work I’ve long admired – I’m even more excited to have my voice represented.

While the publication is obviously geared towards parents, I feel strongly that the guidance works for any adult in a child’s life. I almost wish we could reprint the article in something called Aunts and Uncles and Godparents Too! – lots of parents already get great advice on how to incorporate learning and skill development into their home life, but many other adults who are deeply invested in children they love lack guidance on making the most of their role.

You can snag a copy of the Back to School issue for this and other great articles on Amazon.

The Whole Tree: Extended Families in Education
It’s almost here! I’m heading down to Florida in a few weeks to present on extended family engagement in education, which has been a key area of my research in the last few months. I’ll share the slides when I’m all done, but here’s the key takeaway: family engagement has increasingly become a priority in schools, but most state and local education agencies continue to gear their engagement around nuclear families – and that’s not a model that works for families today. Empowering extended family members, who are already deeply invested in a child, can improve child outcomes, but schools need examples of how to do this in a realistic way. I won’t have all the answers at this conference – but am looking forward to starting the conversation with practitioners to better understand their experience, and helping to shape a new model.

Impostor syndrome? Fight it by focusing on someone else

I was thrilled to recently be included in a round-up via Hello Giggles of professional women discussing the moment they broke through their “impostor syndrome.” Impostor syndrome (and let’s just clarify here that both the “-or” and “-er” spelling are grammatically correct), in case you are incredibly secure and/or living under a rock, is helpfully defined in a Harvard Business Review piece as:

“…a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence…High achieving, highly successful people often suffer, so imposter syndrome doesn’t equate with low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence. In fact, some researchers have linked it with perfectionism, especially in women and among academics.”

So how have I conquered mine? Well, for one, I haven’t. Not 100%, and that’s okay. I want to feel comfortable, confident, and secure in my work, and in my ability to lead – but it’s also thrilling and important to find yourself in over your head once in a while.

For me, my mindset began to shift when I saw how others saw me – in particular, younger staff members or students I worked with through my time at Rutgers. It surprised me to get validation of my experience from those lower on the ladder, rather than those above me, but it definitely aligned with my experience in how I admired others in the field as well. Read the full Hello Giggles piece for my take on this, but here’s a teaser:

“When I started shifting from being the one asking for letters of recommendation and connections to getting to play that role of connector for other talented early career professionals, I started seeing my status in a new light. No one tells you that you have become a mentor—”

I have been thinking a lot about mentoring, leadership, and developing capacities for the future lately, as my leadership and management role has increased over time. It truly is an odd shift to move from focusing on building your career and reputation to helping foster it for others, and you never truly feel like you have the resources to focus on both. Abby Wambach’s remarks this commencement season at Barnard College were particularly compelling for me – pushing through her feelings of anger and humility on being “benched,” and instead embracing that role. It’s quickly given me my new motto:

Image from Insight of the Day:

Mentorship is extraordinarily powerful in career development, and anyone from an underrepresented background inn a field particularly stands to benefit. It’s not enough to wait for someone to ask you to serve as a mentor – that ask may never come – so I charge everyone in their professional lives to identify and create opportunities to foster the next generation of collaborators and gamechangers as part of your daily work. And, if you find yourself in need of a mentor and not sure where to turn, don’t focus on looking up the ladder – yield this advice from Ann Friedman and tap into your peer network.