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Q&A with Research & Evaluation Division Lead Noreen Yazejian, PhD

Noreen Yazejian

Q&A with Research & Evaluation Division Lead Noreen Yazejian, PhD

November 23, 2020

Noreen Yazejian, PhD, is a senior research scientist and head of the Research and Evaluation Division at the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG). She is the principal investigator on a number of projects, including a randomized study of Educare, which examines the efficacy of Educare programming in five schools, and a large-scale implementation and outcome evaluation of the Educare Learning Network, a consortium of 24 Educare schools across the country. She is the co-PI at the National Center for Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning.

What is the focus of the Research and Evaluation Division, and what kinds of projects are on the horizon?

In the first year (2019) of the division, we conducted a survey to identify priorities, and six areas of ongoing work emerged:

  • infuse racial equity and a cultural lens in our work;
  • develop awareness/connections among researchers/evaluators (i.e., "decrease silos");
  • organize groups to respond to RFPs/submit proposals;
  • foster cross-division collaborative projects that strengthen intersections and build a pipeline of evidence to impact;
  • strengthen external communication strategies (such as, in addition to writing journal articles, creating products for policymakers); and
  • share resources, findings, and information with each other (such as common IRB or HR challenges).

While all of these areas have been addressed to varying degrees, we have chosen to delve deeply into the first area: Infusing racial equity. Allison De Marco has been leading this work for the division. We have held a series of workshops on white supremacy, participated in FPG's McKinney Scholars Program by mentoring underrepresented minorities, and started a series of workshops on anti-racist research. We anticipate continuing to focus on this area and will be working with FPG's Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Office to organize a 21-day racial equity challenge to kick-off 2021.

What is your vision for the Research and Evaluation Division?

The Research and Evaluation Division is composed of individuals – research assistants, coordinators, specialists, and scientists – who study a vast range of factors that influence children and their families toward understanding how best to support optimal development. We are multi-disciplinary and study issues along several continuums – from preconception to adolescence; from physiological/biological responses to systemic forces; and from individual, family, classroom, and school through community levels. This diversity is one of our strengths. The division provides a structure for us internally to develop an awareness of each other's work and form connections that can further strengthen the research and evaluation we do. Our meetings and shared workspace provide a way for us to connect, share resources, and learn from each other. The division also provides a structure externally for other departments at UNC and agencies beyond UNC to understand FPG and engage with us.

How has your work led you to this moment in your career at FPG?

My first position after getting my undergraduate degree was as a research assistant at the National Black Child Development Institute in Washington, DC. I traveled to US cities to gather information from the case records of Black children in the child welfare system. I learned about the intersections of research, practice, and policy and decided I wanted to get a graduate degree and conduct applied child development research. While earning my MA and PhD at UNC, I was hired as the project coordinator for the Cost, Quality, and Outcomes in Child Care Centers Study at FPG, and the rest is history.

I am standing on the shoulders of FPG giants. I have had the opportunity to work with leaders in the field – Donna Bryant, Dick Clifford, Pam Winton, Diane Early, Peg Burchinal, among others. I am doing what I can to:

  • continue excellence in research and evaluation;
  • ensure that research findings are applied to improving programs and policies designed for children and families; and
  • mentor the next generation of researchers and evaluators.

Leading the Research and Evaluation Division and connecting with the other divisions in FPG's structure gives me the opportunity to further these three goals.

What kinds of things are you excited about for the future of this division?

I am excited to continue to work with Allison De Marco to infuse a focus on racial equity in our research and evaluation through the division and in conjunction with FPG's EDI Office. We have so much work to do to continue to address racism in our research enterprise and in our systems of care for children and families. Just as FPG's research and evaluation have shaped how the nation has cared for and educated young children and supported their families, I hope it can now lead in identifying ways to support more equitably children and families of color.

I am also excited to work with FPG's Associate Director for Research, Ron Seifer, to develop and pursue opportunities for projects that cross FPG's Implementation, Technical Assistance, Policy, and Research and Evaluation Divisions. FPG has always been defined by interdisciplinary projects at the intersections of research, policy, and programming – working across our divisions will allow us to be more intentional in developing and pursuing projects that build on that history. I am also thrilled about the return of Iheoma Iruka to UNC. She and I have worked together on the Educare National Evaluation and other work, and I am excited that she will be joining the division. Finally, I am excited about the opportunity to work through the division with more junior investigators and help them make connections within and outside FPG to further develop their careers. Whether they stay at FPG or continue their journeys elsewhere, we must ensure that the next generation of researchers and evaluators are nurtured to have the tools necessary to address the challenges faced by children and families in the US and beyond.