Search Institute History

For its 50-plus-year history, Search Institute has been an innovator in listening to young people and promoting positive change with and for young people.

Founded in 1958 by Merton P. Strommen, Ph.D., the organization pioneered using social science research to understand the lives, beliefs, and values of young people. Peter L. Benson, Ph.D., became the president in 1985. The next major milestone came in late 1990 and 1991 with the release of The Troubled Journey: A Portrait of 6th to 12th-Grade Youth, which introduced the framework of Developmental Assets. Since 1990, studies of Developmental Assets have been conducted with more than 4 million young people across the United States. It also became the foundation for hundreds of community coalitions that formed in the 1990s to motivate individuals, families, organizations, and communities to work together to build Developmental Assets.

Complementary to the asset-building approach, Search Institute launched an investigation of the nature of thriving in adolescence. This effort led to a series of studies and the introduction of the idea of Sparks—the interests or passions that motivate youth and give them a sense of purpose, focus, and future orientation. This work has become a foundation of Search Institute’s focus on Developmental Relationships. In October 2011, Search Institute’s longtime president and CEO, Peter Benson, passed away suddenly. In August 2012, Kent Pekel was named Search Institute’s president and CEO.

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