About Us

Learn more about Search Institute, who we are, and how we can help you!

Who We Are

Search Institute is a nonprofit organization that studies and works to strengthen youth success in schools, coalitions, youth and family organizations, and the faith community.

Throughout our 60-year history, we have focused on improving the outcomes and success of youth. By leveraging strong partnerships and sharing quality research through publications, workshops, and surveys, Search Institute has been a highly regarded thought leader.

Search Institute was founded in 1958 as a product of the doctoral dissertation of the founding president, Merton Strommen. He developed a youth survey to assess the concerns and needs of young people, which was an early step in understanding what young people need to thrive and succeed. Originally named Lutheran Youth Research, Search Institute changed its name as the scope of the research activities broadened beyond the faith community. Search first focused on the publication of books and articles that explored the lives of young people, tapping into their beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviors, as well as the generation gap between youth and adults. 

After Strommen’s retirement, Peter Benson became Search’s second president in 1985. This was the beginning of Search’s journey to become a pioneer in positive youth development by investigating the specific experiences and qualities that influence the positive development of young people.  

In 1990, Search launched the Developmental Assets® Framework, which describes the 40 assets, 20 internal and 20 external, that correlate with positive youth outcomes. From 1990 to the present, more than 6 million youth have been surveyed based on the Developmental Assets, including youth in 33 countries. From 1990 to 2011, dozens of publications and workshops were developed to support organizations and community coalitions in integrating developmental assets into their work with youth.   

Kent Pekel became Search Institute’s third president in 2012. Under his leadership Search Institute initiated research to understand how relationships shape youth success. The result was the Developmental Relationships Framework, which includes five essential elements and 20 corresponding actions to strengthen relationships with and between youth. As youth experience more developmental relationships, they are more likely to have better social and emotional skills (e.g. decision making, academic motivation) and participate in fewer risky behaviors (e.g. substance use, violence). The Developmental Relationships Framework is the foundation for Keep Connected resources for organizations seeking to strengthen relationships between parents and their middle schoolers. The framework is also the foundation of the REACH resources for middle schools seeking to strengthen academic motivation through strengthened student-teacher relationships.

In 2017, Search Institute launched Relationships for Outcomes Initiative (ROI) to better understand and develop practical tools for organizations serving young people from historically marginalized communities. Five organizations from across the United States are partnering with Search on ROI, which in 2020 will result in an integrated, tested set of tools, strategies, and measures for creating a relationship-rich organization based on the Developmental Relationships Framework. 



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