Sezen-Barrie named NSF program director

Asli Sezen-Barrie, an associate professor of curriculum, assessment and instruction in the University of Maine College of Education and Human Development, has been named rotating program director of the National Science Foundation’s Division for Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL).

Sezen-Barrie, who joined UMaine’s faculty in 2017, will be in the role for two years during which time she will be based at NSF headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. The position is designed to ease cooperation between government, higher education and other stakeholders. Sezen-Barrie will make recommendations about funding proposals, influence new directions and collaborations in research, and mentor junior colleagues.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to work with researchers and programs across the country to improve STEM teaching and learning for people of all ages,” says Sezen-Barrie.

DRL’s mission includes promoting innovative research, development, and evaluation of learning and teaching across STEM fields by advancing cutting-edge knowledge and practices in both formal and informal learning settings. In addition, the division seeks to advance capacity and impact in the educational sciences by encouraging the participation of scientists, engineers and educators from the range of disciplines within NSF.

Sezen-Barrie’s research focuses on providing of theoretical and empirical contributions to the design of meaningful and equitable science and engineering learning environments for all students, with an emphasis on promoting teacher and student agency. While working to integrate climate change and engineering into science classrooms, Sezen-Barrie explores versatile aspects of science and engineering practices and ways for underrepresented students to succeed in science classrooms.

She earned her Ph.D. in science education at Pennsylvania State University in 2011, where she worked with local middle school teachers to improve formative assessments practices for rigorous and responsive science classrooms.

Prior to UMaine, she was a faculty member at Towson University, where she led a middle school science major and a two-state NSF project on climate change education. She also has been a middle-grades science teacher in Istanbul, Turkey, and a coordinator for educational activities for botanical gardens in Istanbul and Oxford, England.

She serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, chairs the research committee of the National Association of Research in Science Teaching (NARST), and serves as program chair of the American Education Research Association’s Environmental Education Special Interest Group. Sezen-Barrie has worked with teachers on classroom implementation of Next Generation Science Standards in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Maine. Her work was nominated for early career research awards at NARST and the International Society of Learning Sciences. Sezen-Barrie is a successful grant writer, securing funding as principal investigator or co-PI from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Homeland Security and the Maine Space Grant Consortium.

Below is a Q&A with Sezen-Barrie about her appointment as rotating program director at NSF.

What attracted you to the role of rotating program director for the NSF Division for Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings?

I’ve served as a panelist at the National Science Foundation since 2012, and I truly enjoy reading and reviewing proposals that have the potential for shaping the future of research and practice in science education. My interactions during the panels have enriched my research agenda and motivated me to push for broader impact in my work with science classrooms. An appealing aspect of spending more time at NSF as a program director is to get more exposure to the great ideas and diverse expertise that comes to the NSF panels. Since NSF funding has played a significant role in developing high-quality STEM education, another appeal of this position for me is to have a voice in current and future NSF programs. More importantly, I can do these without leaving my academic position at UMaine or the research I do with my graduate students, both of which I deeply care about. Finally, I’m excited to work with diverse, welcoming, and ambitious colleagues at NSF who care about strong research and equitable practices in STEM education.

What are your goals for the next two years?

During my service at NSF, I aim to develop a stronger understanding of the dynamics of federal grant funding and build connections with colleagues across a variety of NSF programs. While immersing myself in reading and reviewing proposals, I like to reflect on my current research agenda and the ways I can improve my work and collaborations. My personal goal is to improve my leadership skills while supporting researchers and panelists who are learning to write and review proposals. I hope to take part in shaping what justice-oriented, equitable access to STEM education would look like. By accomplishing all these goals, I intend to bring back knowledge and skills to share with my colleagues at the University of Maine so as to design projects that will benefit learners of all ages in the state of Maine, particularly those that are underrepresented in STEM.

How has UMaine supported you throughout the process of apply for the position and preparing to take on this new position?

I feel fortunate working with administrators at UMaine who understand the value of a strong research agenda in STEM education and the implications for building opportunities in the communities of Maine and beyond. From the moment I started thinking about a program director position at NSF, I heard only encouraging words about how this opportunity would enhance my professional development as a scholar and that my experiences would contribute to our strategic planning in the College of Education and the Human Development, as well as the university at large. Another vein of support has been my ongoing collaboration with colleagues across science and engineering departments at UMaine. They value the educational implications of their work and see the immense potential of collaborating with STEM educators in federally funded projects to contribute to an improved STEM literacy and workforce in Maine. Their perspectives have motivated me to take this position and bring more experience to our future projects. In addition, I am thankful to my colleagues and grad students in the School of Learning and Teaching for showing excitement about my new role and rearranging their tasks for the upcoming year so that we can continue providing high-quality programs, research experiences for students, and service to the University.

Contact: Casey Kelly,