Meet the Expert: Deborah Moroney

Illustration of Deborah Moroney

Dr. Deborah Moroney specializes in bridging research and practice, having worked as a staff member for out-of-school programs early in her career. She's written practitioner and organizational guides; co-authored the fourth edition of “Beyond the Bell®, A Toolkit for Creating High-Quality Afterschool and Expanded Learning Programs,” a seminal afterschool resource; and co-edited Creating Safe, Equitable, Engaging Schools: A Comprehensive, Evidence-Based Approach to Supporting Students.

POSITION: Managing Director

EXPERTISE: Youth Development, Out-of-School Time, Social and Emotional Learning



Q: What’s been your favorite project while working at AIR?

Deborah: This is a hard one! My current favorite is School’s Out New York City, which is a mayoral initiative for universal middle school afterschool programs. We’re working with dynamic, visionary field leaders in NYC who are ensuring our work informs and improves their own work with youth and community-based programs.

Q: What takes an out-of-school program from pretty good to great?

Deborah: Staff, staff, and staff! Seriously though, inspirational leaders, dedicated staff, youth as active partners in programming, and community involvement.

Image of quote in text from Deborah MoroneyQ: If you didn’t get into this field, what would you have done instead?

Deborah: I would work in environmental science as a field researcher; I was going in that direction at one point. I care deeply about our environment and would like to make a contribution in that area. Alternately, I would be a landscape designer.

Q: Why are out-of-school programs important for youth?

Deborah: Out-of-school time programs provide young people with opportunities to explore their interests, as well as develop meaningful relationships with peers and adults. These programs help them build skills in leadership; social and emotional learning; science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); and the arts, just to name a few areas.

High-quality programs can contribute to participants’ academic success as well. Some early studies suggested that regular participation in out-of-school programs reduced the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors, like substance use. And, I’ve personally seen that these programs are fun—maybe we should study that!

Q: What advice would you give to someone considering a career in social science research and consulting?

Deborah: Remember three things: First, all social science researchers, including those of us at AIR, are mission-driven at our core, so always reflect on how our work contributes to achieving our mission. Second, that we’re here to serve and answer pressing questions in the field and to contribute to the knowledge base. And finally, when we conduct evaluations, it’s our job to provide our clients with meaningful and actionable information in real time. Our findings need to be accessible to and actionable for the field.

Q: What’s your go-to professional resource?

Deborah: I still refer to many of the practitioner resources that were so helpful to me when I was working in the field, like Youth Today. I also read policy and field commentary—Ed Week and Politico—and academic journals—the Journal of Youth Development, Journal of Adolescent Development, and Child Development.

I also try to keep up with podcasts on youth-led arts and civic movements. I don’t have one go-to. I read (and listen) to them all.

Q: What’s the last great book you read?

Deborah: Recently, I enjoyed An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.  

Q: If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be?

Deborah: My grandmother, who ingrained the value of service in my family; Michelle Obama, because I’m so impressed and interested in her work on behalf of girls and women and want to know how we can help in big and little ways; and Margaret Mead, who is one of my first exemplars of a female scientist.

Q: Where can we find you on a typical Saturday afternoon?

Deborah: With my two boys (ages 11 and 13) or in my garden (at least during the three months of the year when that’s possible in Chicago).