link to: University of Minnesota

Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities

Meet the LEND Fellows

Meet the Class of 2015-16
Meet the Class of 2014-15
Meet the Class of 2013-14
Meet the Class of 2012-13
Meet the Class of 2011-12

LEND Class of 2016-17

Sahaam Abdi

Sahaam Abdi

Sahaam Abdi is a first year graduate student in the Speech Language Pathology program. She received her bachelors at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, where she majored in linguistics and minored in neuroscience. Her research interests revolve around the neuroscience of language and how language and speech are impacted by neurodevelopmental disorders or traumatic brain injuries. Sahaam looks forward to being in a variety of settings such as clinics and communtites as well as connecting and interacting with families and with her fellow colleagues.
Julia Anderson

Julia Anderson

Julia is Accessibility Coordinator and Education Department Coordinator at the Walker Art Center. As a museum educator and an arts administrator, it is her professional and personal goal to champion inclusion and access in all aspects of her career. She implements best practices to serve the Walker’s audiences with disabilities, ranging from exhibition design, to program planning, to general ADA compliancy. In the coming year at the Walker, she looks forward to planning an audio description tour program for patrons who are blind or low vision, in addition to writing an arts-based curriculum for school-age students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Prior to coming to the Walker, Julia worked as an Applied Behavioral Analysis line therapist for an elementary-age student with Autism Spectrum Disorder and in development at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. She holds a degree in history from Kenyon College. Julia has a special interest in improving opportunities for youth and adults with disabilities in cultural organizations.
Kathryn Anderson

Kathryn Anderson

Katie is a third year dental student at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry working on her Doctorate of Dental Surgery degree. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota with dual Bachelor of Science degrees in Chemistry and Business, with a focus on Entrepreneurial Management. She is president of the University's American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry (AADMD) chapter- a group that is committed to providing care to people with neurodevelopmental disorders and intellectual disabilities. Through AADMD and the American Student Dental Association she participates at Special Smiles - a dental initiative that provides oral screenings, mouth guards, and hygiene education to athletes and their families. During the summer, she volunteers with Kid's Abilities Pediatric Therapy program coaching some spunky and sporty kids with special needs. Katie is passionate about identifying and eliminating barriers to care and fostering clinical practices that best serve patients with disabilities. In her free time Katie enjoys yoga, cuddling with her kitties, football Sundays and experimenting in the kitchen.
Kathryn Curry

Kathryn Curry

KT Curry is a second year graduate student in the Genetic Counseling program at the University of Minnesota. She is originally from Portland, Oregon and received her B.S. in Psychology from Eastern Oregon University. Before starting her graduate program KT worked as a Radio City Rockette for 8 years in New York City. During this period she volunteered at Gigi's Playhouse in Harlem teaching ballet and interacting with students with Down syndrome She is excited to be in the LEND interdisciplinary fellowship to learn more about how genetic testing and diagnostics contribute to the clinical care and experience for patients and families with neurodevelopmental disabilities.
Sharyn DeZelar

Sharyn DeZelar

Sharyn is a third year PhD student in Social Work. She has been a social worker for over 18 years, working primarily with families with a variety of needs including poverty, child welfare involvement, homelessness, mental health and other special health care needs. In her work as a mental health professional, she has had the opportunity to provide support to parents who have a child with a disability. This work, along with her personal experience of having a child with special needs, inspired her to pursue her PhD. With her PhD, Sharyn hopes to contribute to research efforts that improve the lives of children with disabilities and their families. Further, Sharyn is very passionate about public policy issues and using research to inform better policies and improve access to essential early interventions, services and supports for families impacted by disability.
Marianne Elmquist

Marianne Elmquist

Marianne is a first year PhD student in Educational Psychology-Special Education, at the University of Minnesota, where she also received her B.A. in Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences. Marianne’s academic and research interests include the assessment and intervention of challenging behaviors, utilizing telehealth to disseminate behavioral interventions, parent-implemented interventions, as well as teaching communication and social skills to individuals with disabilities.

Marianne has worked with several organizations providing various services and support for individuals with disabilities, including in home applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy for children with autism, education assistant in special education classrooms, and home support worker to facilitate independent living. She also volunteers and has lived in a non-profit organization that lives and works with adults with developmental disabilities.

In her free time Marianne enjoys being outdoors backpacking, camping, and canoeing and spending time with her husband, family, and friends.
Afton Emich

Afton Emich

Afton is a second year graduate student in the Master of Occupational Therapy program at the University of Minnesota. She graduated with a B.A. in Psychology in 2014 from St. Catherine University. Afton has worked previously worked with children and adults with disabilities through her work as a PCA, camp counselor at both Camp Friendship and Camp Cambria, and as a program counselor at ACR Homes. Afton also worked as a behavior therapist at Partners in Excellence where she utilized ABA or applied behavioral analysis strategies for children ages 2-13 who were diagnosed with ASD. She hopes to work as an Occupational Therapist in a clinic or hospital setting with children with disabilities.

Through the MN LEND fellowship program she hopes to further develop her knowledge and skills in culturally relevant treatment approaches, client and family centered care, community education, and promoting advocacy for individuals with disabilities as well as their families. Afton also looks forward to collaborating with and learning from other professionals from various disciplines.
Rachel Franz

Rachel Franz

Rachel is a second year graduate student in the Public Health Nutrition Coordinated Program at the University of Minnesota. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Throughout her LEND year, Rachel hopes to strengthen her leadership skills, but more importantly she hopes to gain the ability to communicate more effectively with people from different backgrounds and increase her expertise in the health field to help children with neurodevelopmental disabilities. This fellowship is personally rewarding to her because it combines her passion for working with children and providing nutritional care to reduce health disparities within at-risk populations.
Daniel Hatfield

Daniel Hatfield

Dan is completing his final year of study in pursuit of a Masters degree in Speech-Language Pathology at the University of Minnesota. He previously received a BA in Psychology at the University of Minnesota. Between these degrees, Dan worked with children with autism providing ABA therapy in the Twin Cities. During LEND, Dan hopes to extend his knowledge base about autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders beyond the scope of intervention by seeing services and systems provided to individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders from their perspective.
Abdi Hussein

Abdi Hussein

Abdi Hussein is a financial analyst with an MBA from Hamline University and a BS in Business Management from Saint Mary’s University. Abdi became active in the autism community when his son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 24 months. Abdi has a passion for helping parents within the Somali Community who have children on the autism spectrum and need help in navigating services.

Abdi worked with St. Paul Public School’s Office of Family Engagement in helping families of children with special needs. He has interpreted on the special education services provided by the school and worked with communications and outreach to Somali families with children on the autism spectrum. He became an advocate when he saw the extensive need within the community and is an active member of Somali Parents Autism Network to support families who need support.

Abdi hopes to learn and expand his knowledge through University of Minnesota’s LEND program. Abdi hopes to engage his fellow community members by learning about policies and advocacy specific to autism spectrum disorders and related developmental disabilities through the competencies taught in the LEND program.
Kristen Kessler

Kristen Kessler

Kristen is a board certified pediatrician and currently a third year fellow in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. In addition, she has participated in the Leadership and Education in Adolescent Health fellowship. She completed Pediatrics residency at the University of Minnesota. She received her MD and MPH in International Maternal and Child Health from the University of Arizona. She also received a BA in Hispanic Studies from St. Olaf College. She enjoys clinical work with children and families with a variety of complex developmental and behavioral challenges. She has particular interest in parenting and the parent-child connection and how these relate to developmental and behavioral outcomes.
Ismahan Mohamed

Ismahan Mohamed

Working with the Minneapolis Public School district as an Associate Educator as the voice for parents with children in the Special Education program settings, Ismahan has encountered children with Speech Sound Disorder, Childhood-Onset Fluency Disorder (Stuttering) Autism Spectrum Disorder Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, language disorder and etc. She completed her BA in Psychology and Masters of Public Health Degree in October of 2014. She is excited to be part of the LEND community Fellowship.

Ismahan finds it a very rewarding opportunity to make a difference in the Somali Community, helping families and schools understand the language barriers they face when it comes to communication in the education system. She also worked for St. David Center as a Mental Health Paraprofessional for 2 years where she taught social interaction, communication, sensory processing, and self-regulation. Working with diverse community in Minnetonka site and the day treatment site that was mainly Somali children gave Ismahan the passion to teach and the desire to make differences in children themselves. When St. David’s Center for Child and Family Development decided to establish a new autism day treatment (ADT) preschool program in Northeast Minneapolis, Ismahan and her co-workers went door-to-door to talk to parents and recruit potential students.
Fatima Molas

Fatima Molas

Fatima is a mother of 4 children, her second born son with autism. Ever since her 3 years old son, Noah, was diagnosed with autism, Fatima has immersed herself in educating herself about the condition and connected with stakeholders in the Minneapolis metro and neighboring counties. Being a Somali, she has also reached out to hard to serve mothers in her community and engaged in promoting autism awareness, destigmatizing autism, and assisting them in accessing resources and services on a timely manner. Fatima has catapulted her community outreach activities and became a delegate of University of Minnesota’s ACT Early and Learn the Signs project. During her year as a delegate, Fatima has utilized innovative effective methods of outreach, promoting early intervention in a culturally and linguistically meaningful way. As a result, her outreach methods reached out to Somali mothers in the diaspora across the globe. She has also been appointed to serve on the Governor’s Interagency Coordinating Council on Early Childhood Intervention as a parent. As a current MN LEND fellow, Fatima will continue her efforts in promoting early intervention. She will also continue her efforts in engaging Somali mothers of children with autism in a culturally meaningful mode so they can assist their children access services at the earliest, and learn how to manage and engage their children.

Since 2008, Fatima is a registered and certified respiratory therapist at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, MN. She is also a member of several parent support groups aiming in providing support and education. Fatima also extends her volunteer work to stakeholders including but not limited to Minnesota Department of Human Services, Disability Services Division (MN DHS DSD), Minneapolis School District, Special Education (MPS), autism day treatment centers, in sharing her story and perspective educating all in effective ways of engaging Somali families of children with autism and culturally competent approaches to child development and disability. In her spare time, Fatima enjoys, exercising, reading, going for walks, and spending downtime with her supportive husband.

In Sum, Fatima is a passion driven mother and not only is she dedicated to assure that her son lives achieving his highest potential, but strives to extend her experience to the rest of the community, marginalized families of children with autism in particular.
Kelli Morrell

Kelli Morrell

Kelli is a third year Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) student in the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP) specialty at the University of Minnesota. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Bethel University and spent time working as a Registered Nurse (RN) for Pediatric Home Service, providing care to children with complex medical needs. She currently works as an RN in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit at Hennepin County Medical Center, caring for the tiniest of patients and their families at the beginning of their journey. She hopes to become a PNP providing family-centered care to children with special health care needs and has a passion for disability awareness.
Michele Olson

Michele Olson

Michele graduated from the University of Minnesota with her DDS in 2008. She worked as a general dentist in an inner city community clinic in Minneapolis as well as adjunct faculty at the U of MN School of Dentistry for six years prior to returning and completing a two year residency in pediatric dentistry. Michele works at Maplewood Pediatric Dentistry and is currently one of the dental directors for the Minnesota Special Smiles for Special Olympics and the faculty adviser for the University of Minnesota student chapter for American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry. Michele hopes to continue to focus her practice to treating children with developmental and intellectual disabilities as well as advocating for them regarding access to care.
Kate Onyeneho

Kate Onyeneho

Dr. Kate Uche Onyeneho is the President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Center for Africans Now in America, Inc. (CANA-Health Care Clinic), one of the premier multicultural/multilingual health care services organizations in Minnesota since 1998. She is also the founder and president of All Star Academy (ASA), an organization which focuses on microenterprise economic education and development for individuals and families with disabilities. She earned a doctorate in Educational Administration and Special Education from the University of North Dakota, ND; and a Masters degree in the same fields from Moorhead State University, Moorhead, MN. Dr. Kate also is a licensed and experienced Director of Special Education in Minnesota, a licensed K-12 school principal, and licensed in Autism Spectrum Disorders as well. She is a Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW). Dr. Kate has a certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy; she is currently a mental health treatment director at CANA-Health Care Clinic: Center for Africans Now in America, Inc. She has many years of classroom teaching experience on Special Education both in Elementary and High Schools. She is an expert in multicultural competency training, IEP development, Special Education Laws, and Transitions in Special Education. She provides Special Education workshops and training to private, public, and charter schools and mental health agencies. Dr. Kate is an inclusive, transparent, and collaborative leader with proven commitment to work for the success of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities and their families.

She is currently a member of the Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities. Dr. Kate is passionate to utilize the LEND program to develop more specific best practices knowledge and leadership skills that will enable children with neurodevelopmental disabilities to access meaningful and quality life for better outcomes in their self-determination, adjustment, productivity, inclusion, and independence (SAPII) in the community.

Quannah Parker-McGowan

Deeqo Qanyare

Deeqo Qanyare

Deeqo Qanyare is a Public Health Nutritionist for the Hennepin County Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). She has a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Community Health from Mankato State University. Through her position at WIC she helps families find ways to improve their diets during pregnancy and early childhood. She has had many opportunities to interact to families who are coping with the challenges of having a child with neurodevelopmental disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder. She is passionate about connecting families to resources in the community and learning about how prenatal nutrition can help reduce the risks of a baby being born with a neurodevelopmental problem. Through the LEND fellowship program, Deeqo aspires to expand her understanding of neurodevelopmental disabilities and programs that support families. Deeqo is fluent in Somali.
Jack Reagan

John (Jack) Reagan

Jack is a University of Minnesota ICI staff member as well as a PCA. He is currently pursing his graduate degree in Public Health through the University of Minnesota. He graduated from the class of 2014 from the University of Saint John’s in Collegeville, receiving a degree in Political Science with a focus on Public Health. Jack has worked for a variety of organizations including: Arc GTC, NASDDDS, University of Delaware, and Hammer Residences. Through the LEND program Jack hopes to continue and expand on his research concerning: person centered care, sibling caregivers, and the family I/DD dynamic. He has a particular interest in early intervention for children with I/DD and their guardians.
Heidi Rieck

Heidi Rieck

Heidi is a second year graduate student in the University of Minnesota School of Public Health working to complete a master’s degree in Epidemiology and a graduate minor in Integrative Therapies and Healing Practices. After finishing her bachelor of science degree in Biology with minors in Spanish Studies and Fine Arts, she spent three months in Spain at a contemporary art school. There she was introduced to the field of art therapy. Upon discovering this method of healing she became interested in integrative medicine and creative problem solving; a desire to merge these big-picture ideas led her to public health. Heidi is passionate about mental health, relationships, positivity, and wellbeing. She has a particular research interest in understanding components of flourishing. She is excited to engage with families and the community through LEND!
Sarah Schraufnagel

Sarah Schraufnagel

Sarah is a second year graduate student in the Audiology program at the University of Minnesota. She received a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders with a minor in psychology from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. She became interested in audiology when my younger brother was diagnosed with a hearing loss at a very young age. She has been a camp counselor working with children and adults with disabilities for the past three years and currently works for Fraser providing support for adults with disabilities in their home. Sarah enjoys spending time outdoors, reading and learning new things. She has a basic competency in American Sign Language and enjoys advocating for the Deaf community. Through LEND she hopes to gain the skills necessary to advocate for and serve those with developmental disabilities through her chosen profession. Sarah looks forward to sharing what she learns with her classmates.
Elizabeth Sharer

Elizabeth Sharer

Liz is a second year doctoral student in the Joint Clinical and Child Psychology program at the University of Minnesota. She graduated with a Bachelors of Science in the neuroscience track of psychology at Yale University in 2013. She worked two years at Kennedy Krieger Institute on projects involving neuroimaging, motor development, and autism spectrum disorder. She is interested in the building blocks of social cognitive development motivated by the need for early identification of autism. She works with her adviser Dr. Jed Elison at ICD on a variety of projects involving infant brain and behavioral development. Through the LEND fellowship program, she hopes to broaden her clinical skillset in a way that will enrich later research as well as develop a working knowledge of disability policies and advocacy.
Jessica Simacek

Jessica Simacek

Jessica is a MN LEND post-doctoral fellow. Jessica’s PhD is in Educational Psychology, Special Education with a minor in Applied Behavior Analysis from the University of Minnesota. Her undergraduate degree in Psychology was also earned from the University of Minnesota. During her doctoral program, Jessica worked in the Minneapolis Public Schools on implementation of multi-tiered systems of support, served as key personnel in the development and oversight of the Telepresence Behavior Laboratory, taught courses on classroom management and applied behavior analytic problem solving, and conducted studies in the areas of telehealth and communication intervention in autism and Rett syndrome. Jessica’s related clinical expertise in early intensive behavioral therapy for children with autism and related neurodevelopmental disabilities spans over 10 years, across home, center, and school-based settings.

Jessica’s primary research interests include: (1) communication intervention for children and adults with severe disabilities, (2) functional analysis and intervention for challenging behavior, and (3) the use of telehealth as a service delivery mechanism for communication and challenging behavior interventions for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities and their families.
James Taborda-Whitt

James Taborda-Whitt

James completed his MA degree at Brandeis University in Women’s and Gender Studies where he explored how structural barriers frame and limit the success of underrepresented students. He is now a program manager with East Side Neighborhood Services, a nonprofit that provides family services and out-of-school time programming for Minneapolis communities. His interests involve disability policy, sensory sensitivities in learning spaces, and the gender and cultural intersections of ASD/NDD diagnostics and caregiver support services. James is very excited about the opportunity to engage with other scholars and immerse himself within a network of researchers and future medical practitioners. He is hopeful that this experience will help him contribute to bridging the gap between the abundant resources available within the Twin Cities and the youth workers who are uniquely positioned to sustain support for local families over time.
Liliana Torres Nordahl

Liliana Torres Nordahl

Liliana is from Colombia. Her formal Education includes a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a Master’s degree in Spanish Language and Culture. Working for more than 20 years with nonprofit organizations, private and public administrations, in Colombia, Georgia and Minnesota, she has acquired some skills and developed significant experiences in different areas of education. As a teacher, she has worked with children from diverse cultural, ethnic, economic and religious background. Liliana has worked over 10 years in curriculum developing, implementing and evaluating instructional strategies to improve literacy outcomes of Non English speaking students and low income children who are at risk of academic failure.

Currently Liliana is the executive director of Women’s Alliance MN, a non-profit organization promoting appropriate delivery of services, that meet the unique needs of Latino Women and children; their culture and language. She is also a Parent Peer Specialist, assisting parents during the process of navigating the mental health system. Last year, she got involved with the Act Early project as the Latino Liaison, promoting early identification, screening, and interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorders and related neurodevelopmental disabilities.

Working with my students and families, Liliana has heard powerful stories that changed her perspectives and understanding about the critical impact of mental health in a child’s development. Living with a neurodevelopmental disorder, it’s difficult no matter who you are, but if you happen to be Latino, only speak Spanish, have little formal education, the difficulties are drastically greater.

Liliana’s interest is in the areas of advocacy in policy and research. Her hope through the MN LEND fellowship program is to redefine how school systems can more efficiently use Federal funds to deliver culturally competent school-based mental health services for children with non-English speaking parents.
Lucinda Wasserburg

Lucinda Wasserburg

Lucy recently completed her BA in English Literature at Carleton College and currently works as a Personal Care Assistant. In the next couple of years, Lucy hopes to go back to school and obtain her Masters of Social Work degree. Following this, she hopes to work in a case management or care coordination capacity, particularly working with families or individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders in the juvenile justice system. As a LEND Community Fellow, Lucy is excited to learn more about how she can both advocate for individuals with NDDs and work with individuals to build self-advocacy skills. She is also excited to gain insight into how to most effectively work with individuals with challenging behaviors, and to learn how to she can become more involved in disability policy.
Joseph Wentzel

Joseph Wentzel

Joe received his Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Minnesota. He has worked with childhood disability in both school and hospital-based settings and is currently the inaugural pediatric resident at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. His plan is to become certified as a Pediatric Clinical Specialist in July 2017. Joe’s current interests are within the fields of Cerebral Palsy and Autism research, but he cares deeply for the lifelong growth of all children with neurodevelopmental disabilities. Through the LEND program Joe hopes to enhance his clinical skills with patient-centered care, a greater knowledge of patient advocacy, and a deeper understanding of the impact neurodevelopmental disability has on individuals and their families.

Ganesh Babulal-2009-2010 U of M LEND Fellow

“My fellowship in the MN LEND program has been a remarkable exploration into the research, academic and clinical realms and a rigorous study of neurodevelopmental disorders as a lifelong phenomenon. Throughout the past year, I have learned new skills and strengthen others including, becoming an inquisitive researcher. In order to provide quality treatment, one must be well versed in the research, clinical implications and has to be capable of explaining the process to the client/patient in simple language. Another lesson I learned was the import of being a patient and empathetic practitioner. Additionally, patience permits for a greater understanding of human life, especially in OT. The weekly seminars have taught me that each practitioner, researcher or academic does not exist in a vacuum as much as our discipline or place of work may dictate individualization. It is more important for each discipline to work with an open mind and understand the role of others in healthcare from policy to practice to education.”

Ganesh Babulal MOT, OTR/L, 2009-2010 U of M LEND Fellow