American Institutes for Research Announces Senior Leadership Changes

New Senior Vice Presidents to oversee AIR’s Human Services Division and Human Resources

Arlington, Va. – The American Institutes for Research (AIR) is announcing two changes to its senior leadership team to support continued growth in human services research and technical assistance, and human resources:

  • Julie Kochanek, a veteran researcher who has worked with federal, state and local agencies to study and use effective, evidence-based practices, has been named Senior Vice President for Human Services.
  • Lesley Sepanloo, currently Vice President for Human Capital and Human Resources Operations, has been promoted to Senior Vice President, Human Resources.

Julie Kochanek
Senior Vice President, Human Services

Effective May 1, Kochanek will lead AIR’s Human Services Division, which includes more than 850 staff and the institution’s work on a wide range of topics, including education, workforce development, mental health, violence prevention and welfare and justice systems. She replaces Jessica Heppen, who became AIR President in January. Kochanek currently serves as a vice president and leads AIR’s Education Systems and Policy program area, housed within the Human Services Division. She also serves as director of the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest, a federal center that collaborates with seven Midwest states to develop evidence that informs consequential decisions about education policy, programs and practice.

Julie Kochanek

“Julie brings tremendous experience, passion, and commitment to this key role at AIR and understands the interconnectedness of the broad areas of work in our Human Services Division,” Heppen said. “She is the right person to collaborate with our experts, our partners and our clients to help generate high-quality evidence and put that knowledge to work in pursuit of a more just and equitable world.” In her new role, she will be a member of AIR’s Executive Leadership Team.

“I am honored to work with our talented Human Services team members in pursuit of our shared mission and to build on AIR’s legacy of excellence and its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Kochanek said. “The challenges facing our communities, partners and clients are becoming more complex, and I know AIR has the expertise and experience to develop and test solutions so that we can help improve outcomes and increase opportunities for all.”

Kochanek joined AIR in 2014. In addition to leading REL Midwest, she has recently helped form and guide three research-practice partnerships funded by the National Science Foundation and is the project director for an evaluation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Networks for School Improvement initiative.

Prior to joining AIR, Kochanek was a principal research scientist at the Education Development Center and a senior research associate for Learning Point Associates. She received her Ph. D. in sociology from the University of Chicago, a master’s degree in African studies from the University of California, and a bachelor’s degree in government and French from the University of Notre Dame. She is a member of the American Educational Research Association, the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness, and the National Network of Education Research-Practice Partnerships. Her work has been published in several prestigious journals and she has served as a reviewer for Educational Researcher, American Educational Research Journal and Education Policy Analysis Archives.

Lesley Sepanloo
Senior Vice President, Human Resources

As Senior Vice President, Sepanloo will lead AIR’s human resources organization, including the teams that handle recruitment; human capital partners; human resources information systems; compensation and benefits; learning and development; and human resources policies and compliance. She is a member of AIR’s Executive Leadership Team and is also responsible for AIR’s facilities management team – as they continue to support the evolving workplace – as well as global security and risk management.

Image of Lesley Sepanloo

“Lesley’s promotion to Senior Vice President is an acknowledgement of the outstanding job she has done managing human resources during a very challenging time,” Heppen said. “She has helped guide AIR through changes to our workforce and workplace due to the coronavirus pandemic and is helping us manage permanent changes to human capital development and envision the future of work at our institution.”

Sepanloo has been with AIR for 18 years and started as a recruiting assistant. She has also served as Vice President for Human Capital and Human Resources Operations (2021-2023) and Senior Director for Human Capital Partners and Recruitment (2018-2021). She is a seasoned executive with several certifications, including Maximizing Leadership Potential from the Center for Creative Leadership and Strategic Workforce Planning from the Human Capital Institute. She received her bachelor’s degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“AIR is in a unique position to help bring about meaningful change in the world through research, technical assistance, and partnerships,” said Sepanloo. “We have a very talented and dedicated staff that has made AIR one of the preeminent behavioral and social science institutions in the world. I look forward to continuing our pursuit of mission through hiring, supporting and retaining outstanding people and ensuring they have the training, tools and resources they need to be successful.” 

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education and the workforce. AIR's work is driven by its mission to generate and use rigorous evidence that contributes to a better, more equitable world. With headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, AIR has offices across the U.S. and abroad. For more information, visit

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