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Inside DELTA: 5 Questions with Alin Yalcinkaya

a woman posing in an apple orchard
Yalcinkaya enjoying upstate New York's apple abundance at Fishkill Farms Orchards in Hopewell Junction, New York.


Get to know Alin Yalcinkaya (pronounced uh-LEAN) even a little bit, and the word will almost certainly come to mind. 

Born in Erzincan, Türkiye, Yalcinkaya was educated in Türkiye, Italy, New York City and Raleigh, has lived in Istanbul, Salerno, and Manhattan and has traveled across Europe, the eastern U.S. and some of East Asia. 

She is also multilingual, an Italian-influenced fashionista, a coffee aficionado, a terminal-degree data visualization specialist and a generative artist. She doesn’t drive, following the European inclination to walk, bike and take public transportation. 

And she LOVES New York City. 

Indeed, Yalcinkaya embodies the very definition of cosmopolitan with her international sophistication. As the first in her family to travel, study or live abroad, she has affectionately become a bit of a black sheep — though her family is very supportive of her endeavors. 

When she’s not researching the effectiveness of various approaches to educational technology or transforming data into brain candy, Yalcinkaya is dreaming of her next visit to the Big Apple — where you’ll probably find her installed in a craft coffeeshop near Bryant Park, watching the world go by. 

What is your role at DELTA?

Yalcinkaya joined DELTA as a Postdoctoral Research Scholar in January after completing her doctorate in Learning Design and Technology from the NC State College of Education last August.

Hoping to continue researching instructional technology design — fueling a passion she developed in graduate school during an internship focusing on data visualization and learning module design — she specifically sought out postdoctoral research opportunities after graduation. 

She didn’t have to look far: The DELTA position matched up almost perfectly with her professional interests and skills. 

A woman smiling and holding a butter knife, about to cut a celebratory cake
Yalcinkaya celebrates passing her NC State College of Education oral dissertation defense unconditionally in July 2023. The celebratory cake she is about to cut was cropped out, but we promise it was there.

As a member of the research and analysis team, Yalcinkaya uses data from DELTA grant projects and programs to examine the effectiveness and consequences of different technological approaches to teaching and learning. This includes conducting external grant searches, offering research support to the DMI and CQ teams and assisting fellow faculty in CQ research — all while weaving data visualization into her work. 

Her job, Yalcinkaya says, is enormously energizing: “Every day, I am excited about my work and look forward to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead,” she explained. “The projects and initiatives here resonate deeply with my experience and aspirations, making my decision to join DELTA feel more rewarding every day.”

What is your background?

In Türkiye, Yalcinkaya’s earliest jobs revolved around education, and she has never left the field — the students have just gotten older. 

As a young adult, she was a youth leader, mentoring K-12 students and organizing after-school events. Skilled at math and fascinated by geometry and shapes, she completed her undergraduate degree in secondary math education, during which she studied abroad at the University of Salerno, Italy, and developed her Italian. 

She worked for a time as a private math tutor. Lacking opportunity for professional development, however, Yalcinkaya started a Master’s degree in differential geometry (a branch of mathematics that studies the geometry of curves, surfaces and manifolds). 

But it turned out she didn’t really like the “math” part of studying math — she likes shapes and designs and thinking about how they might work together in creative new ways. 

So Yalcinkaya pivoted again: Offered a study abroad scholarship to study English language at Pace University in New York City, she packed her bags and kicked differential geometry to the curb.

Within six months, she considered herself an adopted New Yorker. Her English had improved enough that she was ready to resume her graduate studies — in the U.S. She wanted to leverage her interest in design and her experience in tutoring high school and college students.  

She applied to, and was accepted at, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Digital Media Design for Learning, earning her Master of Arts in 2018. “Being accepted to NYU, one of the top-ranking schools in the world, was a cornerstone of my life,” she said. 

A woman in graduation regalia in a baseball stadium
Yalcinkaya prepares for her NYU graduation ceremony at Yankee Stadium in May 2018.

During her Master’s program, Yalcinkaya attended the UN UNLEASH Innovation Lab, traveling to Copenhagen, Denmark to meet with 1,000 other young global citizens concerned with sustainability issues. At the conference, Yalcinkaya and her international team — which included members from Palestine, Nigeria and China — presented a mentoring app designed for youth activists.

The experience was transformative, and prompted Yalcinkaya to pursue her Ph.D. 

She didn’t know much about North Carolina, or NC State, but she had a friend who was in graduate school here. The Learning Design and Technology doctoral program turned out to be a perfect fit. 

She is grateful to her mentor and adviser, Assistant Professor Shiyan Jiang, for her unwavering support of Yalcinkaya’s research interests during her studies. The partnership resulted in a unique dissertation project in which Yalcinkaya taught data visualization to high school students. 

“My graduate experience at NC State solidified my passion for research and motivated me to continue my academic and professional journey,” she explained. “I am thrilled to be working at DELTA as a research scholar, where I can apply my skills and contribute to meaningful projects.”

What do you enjoy about your job?

DELTA’s deeply collaborative and welcoming atmosphere, Yalcinkaya said, truly sets it apart from every other place she’s worked and studied. 

“The sense of belonging and community at DELTA is palpable, and I genuinely feel that I am part of something significant and impactful,” she said. “This environment not only fosters my professional growth but also makes me feel appreciated and motivated to excel.”

In only five months with DELTA, Yalcinkaya has developed a strong connection to the various people and projects she works with. While trying to choose a favorite project so far has proved impossible, she particularly enjoys transforming data into dynamic visual insights that amplify the cutting-edge work DELTA is doing. 

Yalcinkaya acknowledges Research Scholar Dan Spencer for encouraging her to develop her data visualization skills. “I feel incredibly lucky to work under Dan’s mentorship,” she said. “His guidance and support have been invaluable in helping me navigate my new role and maximize my contributions to the team.” 

She looks forward to many additional collaborations on impactful research at DELTA. 

“What truly makes my job special is people’s openness to the power of brainstorming and inspiration,” she explained, “and what I cherish most about my work here is the environment that nurtures and embraces my creativity.” 

What is something people may not know about you?

Yalcinkaya has a cool side project: For the last year or so, she’s been channeling her data visualization creativity into the creation of unique generative artwork

“I blend human inspiration with the algorithmic capabilities of AI to guide the creative process and create visually distinctive and original art pieces,” she explained. 

An AI-generated image of a woman with an iguana.
One of Yalcinkaya’s generative art pieces, “Iguana 3.” See more of her work on Instagram @alin_the_seagull and be sure to ask her about the seagulls of Istanbul.

So far, her creations are just for fun and skill development, but Yalcinkaya is open to monetizing her work. She’s been thinking a lot about the ways generative AI is revolutionizing traditional photography techniques by blurring the lines between traditional and digital art and offering innovative ways of reflecting our world. 

“I enjoy creating interior and exterior designs, landscapes, accessories and outfits, but my favorite motif is editorial photography,” she said. “I apply different effects and challenge the AI, and I particularly enjoy how it combines words from my inputs to create aesthetically pleasing results.”

What do you do in your free time?

Between her research position at DELTA, attending and presenting at conferences, and her creative pursuits, Yalcinkaya does not find herself with too many free hours. When she does, she enjoys exploring Raleigh on foot and trying new coffee shops. 

At home, she brews Lavazza coffee — an Italian brand — and drinks it black. “I’m picky about my coffee,” she laughed. 

Every weekend, Yalcinkaya sets aside time to curate the week’s outfits, an activity that both saves time during the week and brings her joy. And perhaps unsurprisingly, she loves shopping — but, having made a commitment to embrace minimalism, she is shopping considerably less these days. 

A fashion enthusiast, Yalcinkaya’s tastes run to European minimalism — if you know your retailers, think Zara and Mango, both based in Spain.

She enjoys trying out influencers’ trends, such as “sandwich dressing,” which envisions an ensemble as bread slices accentuated by layers of “filling:” contrasting shapes, colors or textures worn in the middle of the body. 

We may have lost you there. Suffice to say, if you need fashion advice, Yalcinkaya would be a great person to talk to. 

A woman poses with a sculpture of Edvard Munch's "The Scream."
Yalcinkaya poses with Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” sculpture at the Grounds for Sculpture Museum in Hamilton, New Jersey.

She also loves to cook. In the small kitchen of her Raleigh apartment — this is the first time she’s lived alone in her own place — Yalcinkaya crafts innovative recipes according to her fairly strict diet. An observant Muslim in the Sunni tradition, she doesn’t consume pork or alcohol and her meals are halal. She also avoids gluten and processed foods, making dining out challenging. 

She does indulge in high quality dark chocolate, however. Preferably with a strong cup of Italian coffee. 

Yalcinkaya hopes to eventually move back to New York City, when finances and status in the U.S. make it feasible (she’s currently on a J1 visitor visa, which allows foreign citizens to stay in the U.S. for five years). For now, however, she is deeply invested in her work at NC State and enjoying life in Raleigh, where she loves to meet new people. 

“From the moment I joined DELTA,” she said, “I have been increasingly convinced that I am in the right place.”

Luckily, it’s only a 90 minute flight to New York City.