Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is a philanthropist, non-profit leader and producer who is dedicated to the idea of women supporting women. She founded the nationwide non-profit Bedtime Math, an app which delivers math problems for parents and kids to solve together. She also leads and chairs the Overdeck Family Foundation, which funds initiatives for kids from birth through ninth grade to help them academically and produced the soon-to-be-released “Afghan Awakening” film that is based on the Afghan women’s robotics team.
Overdeck is an alumna and former trustee of Princeton University, where she earned a B.A. in astrophysics. She also holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of Business and an honorary doctorate from Stevens Institute of Technology. She serves on the Khan Academy and Liberty Science Center boards and the advisory board for Princeton’s Department of Astrophysical Sciences.
This is all while raising her three kids, 19, 17 and 14, with her husband in Short Hills.
New Jersey Family: What was the impetus for Bedtime Math? How are kids supported through this effort?
Laura Bilodeau Overdeck: Math is the language of science and the key to innovation. If we want clean energy, non-addictive pharmaceuticals, and safe air traffic control, we’d better keep this country’s kids learning math. But many adults are uncomfortable with math, even scared of it, and that’s contagious to the kids. Hence our decades of having a whole third of adults unable to do fourth grade math confidently.
I founded the nonprofit Bedtime Math to help kids love numbers as much as playtime or dessert. By incorporating math into the family nightly routine, we mimic the bedtime story and encourage a dialogue between parents and children about real-world math, not just what they learn in school.
Bedtime Math delivers wacky math problems for parents and kids to solve together by email, on our website and on our app. It’s a free, simple tool that has been proven to boost kids’ math skills an extra three months in one school year. Why? Because by making it a conversation, we ensure the child always gets to the right answer.
This led to writing four bestselling children’s books and launching Crazy 8s, the nation’s largest recreational afterschool math club, and Fun Factor, a fully hands-on K-5 math curriculum for schools. What started out as a fun math activity for my kids has now grown into a nationwide movement to make math the cool thing to do.
NJF: Why did you decide to found Overdeck Family Foundation? What are some of its accomplishments?
LBO: The early days of Bedtime Math showed us very quickly how much math anxiety there is in this country. I didn’t put the answers in that first test drive, and had Ivy League parents emailing me, “Could you put the answers? I know 5 + 2 = 7, but I’d feel better if you confirmed it…” It was crazy. My husband and I realized that these problems are systemic: The curricula in schools, the way we train teachers (many of whom have math anxiety themselves), the funding for hands-on materials in schools, the lack of STEM role models for kids, and so on. Our foundation supports great work on all fronts.
NJF: What inspired you to produce “Afghan Awakening”? How are women, and scientific women, regarded in Afghanistan compared to the U.S.?
LBO: I was so fortunate that my longtime friend Bill Guttentag, who has won two Oscars for his documentaries, came to me with the script. It’s the story of the insanely brave Afghan girls who formed a robotics team back in 2017. They had to get permission from fathers, uncles, etc., then build a robot from junkyard parts with so little money – and at FIRST Robotics they won a medal! Having coached my own son’s FIRST team years ago, I was beyond thrilled to help this movie become a reality.
NJF: What is your current role at Princeton University and how does that lend to your studies?
LBO: I love my alma mater and serve on the advisory council for my old department, Astrophysical Sciences. I also proudly served a term as a trustee. At our foundation we have funded many round breaking education research projects at the school as well.
NJF: How do you balance your career with being a parent?
LBO: The biggest life-changing circumstance was becoming the mother of three kids. They are my muses and inspire my work; in fact, I never would have even thought to create Bedtime Math if I hadn’t had children. On an operational level, they’ve also compelled me to take multitasking to a new level. The office is easy now compared to home! Ten years later my kids are independent high school and college kids. In fact, my daughter, the first ever participant in Bedtime Math, is majoring in physics at the University of Chicago. Bedtime Math really touched all our lives.
NJF: What advice would you give to moms who are looking into different endeavors?
LBO: When you have an idea for a product or business, you want to find a real wave to ride that will propel you. Asking friends and family if they like an idea isn’t helpful; they’ll always tell you it’s great. But if you’re just doing your thing and unprompted people ask you, “Wow, what is that? Can I try that too?” or “Can you share that?”, that’s real! That’s when you know you’re onto something.
NJF: What’s your favorite place to go with your family in the Garden State?
LBO: For years it’s been Liberty Science Center. My kids are older now, but when they were little we went there all the time. It is so powerful for kids to explore, get their hands on real science objects, machines, even live animals. The planetarium is of course a family favorite, too. Liberty Science Center changes up the exhibits frequently, and people don’t realize that half the attendees there are under the age of 6. I love the place so much that for full disclosure I’m now a trustee there, and that’s why.
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