Our Story

Founded by Freada Kapor Klein in 2001, LPFI was first known as the “Institute for Inclusive Work Environments.” Frustrated by the inability of the for-profit world to foster diversity and having already spent nearly three decades consulting to organizations on issues of discrimination and diversity, Freada aimed to tackle the problem from a different vantage point. She created a non-profit institute to rigorously and creatively address why diversity efforts had failed and more significantly, to examine and implement programs to understand and experience how diversity could succeed. Upon a foundation of improving civility, fairness, and opportunity in workplaces, the Level Playing Field Institute was established.


Broadening the Vision: IDEAL

In addition to addressing workplace issues, Freada’s concern about the plight of underserved, underrepresented students of color in higher education fueled the creation of new educational programs. The first of these, the Initiative for Diversity Education and Leadership, IDEAL, was founded in response to the passage of Prop 209 during her tenure on the Executive Board of the College of Letters and Science at UC Berkeley with three of her colleagues . The IDEAL program helped students navigate and graduate from higher education systems by providing students with scholarships and mentorship.

Developing a Pipeline of Young Scholars: SMASH

Recognizing the need for a pipeline of highly qualified Bay Area scholars who are prepared for college, LPFI started assessing the opportunities that students from well-resourced schools have; we then sought to close the gap as much as possible for Bay Area students of color without those resources. For example, small classes, high expectations, customized college counseling, and field trips are all part of the educational experience for students from well-resourced schools.

The Summer Math and Science Honors (SMASH) Academy, launched in 2004; a program inspired by and loosely modeled after Phillips Academy Andover’s Math and Science for Minority Students [(MS)2]. Using (MS)2 as a model, SMASH launched a residential summer program in 2004 at UC Berkeley. In 2006 we added a year-round academic program, based on student requests. In 2007, we saw 100% of our first class of scholars apply to and enter college. In 2011 we expanded to Stanford, followed by the launch of academies at UCLA and USC in 2012. In the summer of 2015, LPFI launched the SMASH:Pathways UC Davis program. 

A Continuum of Educational Opportunities in STEM

Today LPFI has positioned itself to provide a continuum of STEM education programs, from middle school through college enrollment. LPFI runs its high-touch science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education programs for under-represented students (students of color, low-income students, and first generation students, primarily), a research program focused on examining inequity for under-represented students in STEM, and exciting computer science (CS) initiatives, like Level the Coding Field hackathons, as well as SMASH:Connect, our alumni mentoring program. Today, LPFI serves more than 600 students annually.