AERDF honored as one of Fast Company’s 2024 World Changing Ideas

Celebrating Achievements of AERDF Co-Founder Dr. Melina Uncapher


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Over the past 14 months we at AERDF have been fortunate to be able to work with so many visionary education professionals, researchers and leaders at AERDF, and yet one among them stands out for her uniquely important role in our work. Please join us in celebrating the significant contributions of educational neuroscientist Dr. Melina Uncapher, co-founder of AERDF and founder of EF+Math. This year Melina transitioned from her full-time role in our organization, concluding a six-year tenure marked by tremendous achievements. 


Melina’s imprint on this organization’s story runs deep and predates our founding. Prior to AERDF’s public launch, in 2018, we began to seek solutions to persistent education challenges by gathering insights through a Request for Information, focus groups, surveys and listening tour with education leaders. Many ideas were submitted covering a broad range of subject areas. That call to the education sector led to the launch of EF+Math, founded by Melina and co-built and now led by Dr. Aubrey Francisco. EF+Math’s launch proved the viability of an Advanced Inclusive R&D model that paved the way for a launch of AERDF and ultimately, Assessment for Good and Reading Reimagined.


The EF+Math team established the initial foundation for AERDF while also pursuing their breakthrough goal to dramatically improve mathematics learning by embedding in math instruction the strengthening of executive function (or “EF”) skills. With AERDF’s launch, Melina was named Chief of Research and Development, a role through which she helped pioneer the application of R&D, already a powerful “engine of innovation” in other sectors, to the PreK-12 sector.


Among Melina’s many contributions to AERDF was creation of a framework to understand how our R&D projects progress from basic research to advanced application at scale. She also brought in new thinking around how to improve collaboration across traditionally rigid boundaries experienced by educators, researchers, and developers, which we now call “Inclusive R&D.” Additionally, Melina built a robust infrastructure that provides our programs the scientific, engineering, and policy support to accomplish our bold goals; this includes a highly secure technical infrastructure, legal and ethics support, scientific and technical reviews, data management plan development, and general research and evaluation support to strengthen equitable approaches to R&D. We are excited to share that these foundational services will now be available outside of AERDF through a new organization called SETA-ED (Scientific and Engineering Technical Assistance for Education). SETA-ED operates independently from AERDF to bring the lessons learned in our 5 years conducting Advanced Inclusive R&D to strengthen the broader education R&D ecosystem.


“I’ve learned a lot from Melina in the time we’ve been able to work together.” Auditi Chakravarty, CEO of AERDF, reflects “One of the frequent sayings I will carry from her is the advice from now Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Arati Prabhakar that a great Program Executive Director should have their  ‘head in the cloud and boots on the ground.’ This continues to serve as a powerful motto for our program leaders as they pursue their bold breakthroughs. I thank Melina for that and other indelible contributions to this organization as we continue to innovate and apply Inclusive R&D to transform learning experiences for Black and Latino learners and learners experiencing poverty. I asked Melina to sum up what she was most proud of during her time at AERDF and very fittingly she spoke to what could be possible for the future of PreK-12 education if we dared to dream big.”


Melina shared “As a field we’ve come together to think and do things we couldn’t have imagined before AERDF. We’ve been inspired by what is most important–the brilliance and potential of every learner–and we’ve built new ways of revealing that brilliance using science and engineering, but also heart and soul. I hope that in 10 years, every young learner in the US will be positively impacted by the work AERDF is up to.”


Melina’s new organization, SETA-ED, will operate as a scientific and engineering technical assistance (SETA) provider, which is a familiar model in other Advanced R&D sectors that provides on-demand expertise and robust infrastructure services to reduce start-up friction, amplifying R&D teams’ expertise and impact by helping them envision, plan, execute and scale their R&D efforts. This SETA continues to support AERDF, and now extends its support to the  education R&D sector, particularly in the face of pervasive PreK-12 teaching and learning challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. More information can be found by contacting or visiting


We look forward to continued partnership with Melina in her new capacity and are excited for the many ways the R&D ecosystem is poised to benefit from her leadership. Please join us in congratulating Melina for her incredible service to AERDF!


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