Core faculty members are comprised of faculty from affiliated departments who serve as liaisons between MNLEND and the academic departments that participate in LEND.

Sarah Angerman


Sarah Angerman, PhD, is the clinical supervisor in the Davis Speech-Language-Hearing Center. She enjoys working with graduate students enrolled in our audiology clinical doctorate program as they perform hearing evaluations and provide hearing aid services for clients from the community.

Muhammad Khalifa

Educational Leadership

Muhammad Khalifa is a Professor in CEHD Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development and servs as the Beck Chair of Ideas in Education. His current research focuses on culturally responsive school leadership (CRSL) practices for minoritized students. His research in CRSL addresses how school leaders can engage multiple areas, most notably: school climate, inclusionary practice around student identity, community engagement, and CRSL of pedagogy, curriculum, and development. Since CRSL can look so different from one context to the next, he has focused on Black and Brown minoritized urban contexts in the U.S. However, he recently participated in CRSL projects in East Africa and Central Asia. His most recent book, entitled Leading during Trouble Times: Culturally Responsive School Leadership for Minoritized Youth (2018), empowers principals to become CRSL leaders. He has been instrumental in helping districts perform Equity Audits, and addressing achievement gaps in their schools.

Heather Zierhut

Genetic Counseling

Heather Zierhut, PhD, Assistant Professor. Heather Zierhut’s major area of interest focuses on the education and clinical preparation of Genetic Counseling professionals as well as the implications of genetics on public health. She is the associate director of the Graduate Program of Study in Genetic Counseling, which offers a Master of Science degree in molecular, cellular, developmental biology and genetics with an emphasis of study in genetic counseling.Dr. Zierhut is also interested in the psychosocial and public implications involved with the provision of genetic counseling services. Her previous research has focused on decision making of parents of children with Fanconi Anemia regarding Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis combined with HLA-typing. Heather’s current research is focused on genetics in public health screening programs, implementations of whole genome sequencing, and outcomes of genetic counseling.

Peggy Martin

Occupational Therapy

Peggy Martin, PhD, is Program Director of the Masters in Occupational Therapy, Medical School, and a licensed Occupational Therapist in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Her practice focuses on rehabilitation of childhood disorders in all practice settings including community-based school, outpatient, and inpatient medical settings; management; program development; human resource development. Dr. Martin's research interests include: cultural competency, adult education, clinical reasoning, development of expertise, childhood and disability, movement analysis, sensory integration, substance use screening.

Soraya Beiraghi

Pediatric Dentistry

Soraya Beiraghi, DDS, MS, MSD, is Professor, Director, Division of Pediatric Dentistry, Department of Developmental and Surgical Sciences, School of Dentistry. She has been a staff member of craniofacial programs for the past 20 years at the U of MN. She is Director of the IADR/ AADR Craniofacial Biology Section as well as a member of the Society of Craniofacial Genetics and ASHG. She has been trained as NIH/NIDCR Fellow at Indiana University School of Medicine, both in medical and molecular genetics. Her primary research focus is in the area of craniofacial anomalies; specifically, she is currently working on genotype-phenotype correlation and underlying molecular mechanisms.

Andrew Barnes


Andrew (Andy) Barnes, MD, MPH, is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School, where he directs the fellowship program in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics. Dr. Barnes’s clinical work with children and families focuses on helping children gain mastery of their own mind-body interactions. Some of the ways that he helps children become more competent in this regard includes teaching them how to use biofeedback, mindfulness, and self-hypnosis to help themselves better regulate their own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Dr. Barnes’s research focuses on promoting resilience in children under stress, and on the interplay between behavior and biology. His current work focuses on the health and self-regulation of children growing up in homeless families. Dr. Barnes also enjoys teaching pediatric trainees about self-regulation and the fundamentals of early child development and behavior and helps direct professional trainings in pediatric clinical hypnosis. He frequently presents and teaches on these topics at local and national symposia and conferences.

Amy Esler


Amy Esler, PhD, is a psychologist in the Autism Spectrum and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Clinic and directs the Fragile X Clinic. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics. She joined the U of M in 2008 and is a member of an interdisciplinary team that conducts comprehensive evaluations for ASD. Dr. Esler specializes in early screening and diagnosis of ASD and is interested in the interaction between culture, diagnostic practices, and access to services. She is a certified trainer on the ADOS2 and ADI-R and has trained researchers from around the world.

Rebekah Hudock


Rebekah Hudock, PhD, is a Pediatric Neuropsychologist and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics. She received her PhD in school psychology from Indiana University and completed her pre-doctoral psychology internship at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, where her training specialized in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and neurodevelopmental disabilities. She is licensed as a psychologist through the Minnesota Board of Psychology and also holds certifications as a school psychologist in MN and a Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP). Dr. Hudock’s research focuses on services for individuals with ASD and other neurodevelopmental disorders and their families. Within this research area, her interests include social skills intervention; services for children with ASD and co-occurring mental health diagnoses; socialemotional development; parenting stress; school-based services, and transition services. Clinically, Dr. Hudock specializes in assessment and intervention for children with ASD and other neurodevelopmental disabilities. She conducts comprehensive diagnostic evaluations and leads treatment services for children with ASD and their families.

Suma Jacob


Suma Jacob, PhD, graduated from University of Chicago with honors the College and in Psychology before completing an MD/PhD program in Neurobiology. She went to UCLA for general psychiatry training and completed an extended clinical-research child fellowship at UIC. She is board certified in general adult as well as child & adolescent psychiatry. The Suma Jacob Research Lab conducts studies that examine effects of novel interventions on social functioning and repetitive behaviors for both children and adults.

Robin Rumsey


Robin Rumsey, PhD, is a Pediatric Neuropsychologist and Assistant Professor in U of M’s ASD and NDD Program. She is a neuropsychologist and member of an interdisciplinary team that conducts comprehensive evaluations for possible autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Rumsey’s clinical interests include early identification of autism spectrum disorders, evaluation of the neuropsychological functioning of children and adolescents with ASD, and facilitation of care coordination between caregivers, providers, and educators. Her research interests pertain to early identification of children with ASD.

Amanda Sullivan

School Psychology

Amanda Sullivan, PhD. Dr. Amanda Sullivan's research focuses on identifying education and health disparities among children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, understanding equity in and effectiveness of the educational and health services they receive, and how ethics and law shape practices and students' experiences.  She is particularly interested in elucidating disparities in the educational treatment and outcomes of students with and at-risk for disabilities and identifying malleable factors related to outcomes in order to inform policy and practice to better support students’ educational needs. Much of her work entails secondary analyses of large-scale datasets that allow for population estimates of students’ characteristics, experiences, and outcomes.

Traci LaLiberte

Social Work

Traci LaLiberte, PhD, is the Executive Director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare in the School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota. She focuses on child welfare practice and policy with special interests in comprehensive family assessment, system change, permanency for children in out of home care, and work with children and parents who have disabilities. She has served as principal investigator on studies of comprehensive assessment, evidence-based practice in treatment foster care settings, child welfare leadership, and the intersection of child welfare and disability. Dr. LaLiberte is an active  member of the child welfare community, both locally and nationally. She participates in a variety of service activities, including the MSW Redesign Steering Committee, the School of Social Work’s Consultative Committee, the Department of Human Services’ Supervisor Initiative Leadership Team, and outside evaluation advisory boards.

Amy Hewitt

Social Work

Amy Hewitt, PhD, MSW, is director of the Institute on Community Integration (ICI), A University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD): Dr. Hewitt serves on doctoral and master’s committees for students across a wide variety of academic and professional departments. Her responsibilities within the UCEDD include outcome and data reporting on the effectiveness of the UCEDD training program and post training leadership roles of ICI Fellows. She also directs several federal and state research, evaluation and demonstration projects in the area of direct support staff work-force development and community services. She has an extensive background and work history in intellectual and developmental disabilities and has worked in various positions over the past 29 years. Dr. Hewitt lives with an adult family member who has a diagnosis of autism and for whom she helps coordinate Consumer Directed Support Services through Minnesota’s Home and Community Based Waiver Services.

Frank Symons

Special Education

Frank Symons, PhD, research emphasizes understanding the severe behavior problems of children and adults with special needs, primarily those with developmental disabilities and emotional or behavioral disorders. For these two groups, much of his research has focused on self-injurious behavior and classroom aggression, respectively. The majority of his research has been observationally based, theoretically grounded in behavioral principles, and driven by a commitment to meaningful, functional outcomes. He has two current specific areas of interest. One is the development, assessment, and treatment of problem behavior among children and adults with a range of neurodevelopmental and emotional/behavioral disorders. The other is the problem of pain among children and adults with significant cognitive impairments and associated developmental disabilities. Related areas of interest include observational research methods.

Lizbeth Finestack

Speech Language Pathology

Lizbeth (Liza) Finestack, PhD, describes her long-term research aim to identify efficient and effective language interventions for children and adolescents with neurodevelopmental disorders, including children with primary language impairment, Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, or autism spectrum disorder. She has built a research program focused on developing new child language intervention techniques, better understanding the language profiles of children and adolescents with differing neurodevelopmental disorders, and measuring intervention outcomes of individuals with different language and cognitive profiles. She also runs the Finestack Child Language Intervention Lab

Guest and community faculty

MNLEND invites a number of community and academic faculty who are not part of the core faculty to provide guest lectures and other learning opportunities for Fellows. These instructors are some of the most valuable teachers in the LEND year.


MNLEND also utilizes the teaching, coaching, and mentoring capabilities of Faculty-Mentors. Faculty-Mentors may come from the LEND Leadership team, Core Faculty, Post Doctorates, or the below additional partners.

Each Fellow is assigned a LEND Faculty-Mentor. Faculty-Mentor serve as the primary guide throughout the LEND Fellowship. Fellows work closely with their Faculty-Mentor in creating their Individual Leadership Learning Plan (ILLP) and meet at least bi-monthly to check in on progress.

LEND Faculty-Mentors are responsible for reviewing Fellow responsibilities, helping Fellows navigate interdisciplinary systems, and guiding Fellows' year-long projects Fellows create in the areas of research, clinical studies, community service/technical assistance or policy and advocacy. Faculty-Mentors consult with department-based academic advisers and/or Core Faculty and the Leadership team to provide a well-coordinated LEND experience.

Macdonald Metzger


Macdonald M. Metzger, M.S. is DirectCourse Quality Coordinator at the Institute on Community Integration, Research and Training Center on Community Living, University of Minnesota. He provides quality assurance for the on-line College on Direct Support curricula. He supports the DirectCourse writing team to clarify roles and responsibilities; ensures that resources and structures are in place, authors are meeting their deadlines, and keeps a calendar of content development. He also serves as a writer and reviewer of College of Direct Support materials.

Macdonald has a Master's degree in Human Services, with a specialization in Nonprofit Management and Leadership. He has over five years of hands on experience providing quality services and supports to people with disabilities in residential, vocational, and community settings. His personal connection to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, underscored by the memory of his elder brother Amagashie, can be seen in every aspect of the passion, willingness and commitment he has shown towards advocating for programs and services that promote the quality of life for people with disability.

He has over ten years of work experience as a multi-media journalist. Previous employers include, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, MN Department of Human Services/MSOCS, Catholic Charities New York City, and the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL Radio) as a Broadcast Journalist.

Macdonald has also consulted and volunteered for various local and international nonprofit organizations including the International Center for Transitional Justice (New York/Liberia Program), Afrobeat Radio (WBAI 99.5 FM New York), and KFAI 90.3 FM (Minneapolis).

Beth Fondell

Community, Family

Beth Fondell has been affiliated with MNLEND since its inception and provides leadership to the program by ensuring vibrant engagement from a Community Advisory Council comprised of parents, community leaders and self-advocates. In addition, Beth serves as the coordinator of the Families-as-Teachers component of the LEND program along with all activities associated with fostering competency in the area of public policy and systems advocacy. She is an instructor for the OLPD 5356 course called Disability Policy and Services where her 30 years of experience engaged in legislative advocacy to increase family support and community living options for children and adults with NDD provides substance to each student’s learning. After receiving her degree from the University of Minnesota and prior to joining the faculty there, Beth served as the director of policy and program development within The Arc and two other community-based organizations serving people with disabilities and their families. In providing oversight to the Families-as-Teachers experience through which MNLEND Fellows advance their knowledge and practice of family and youth-centered policy, programs and service delivery, Beth promotes the utilization of tools that reflect person and family-centered approaches. Her leadership spans career affiliations on several boards and committees with current roles focused on the work of the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living, AAIDD, Gillette Lifetime Specialty Clinic, and the AUCD LEND Family Discipline Network.

Jennifer Hall-Lande

Early Screening, Intervention, and Prevalence

Jennifer Hall-Lande, PhD, is a Research Associate with the Institute on Community Integration (ICI). She is currently CDC’s Act Early Ambassador for Minnesota. Dr. Hall-Lande’s principal research and community outreach activities have been focused on screening, assessment, and interventions for children at risk for neurodevelopmental disabilities. Additional areas of focus have been ASD prevalence rates in diverse populations and policy issues around children and adult ASD waivers. Further, Hall-Lande has a focus on outreach to culturally and linguistically diverse communities with an end goal of increasing screening rates and reducing the age of diagnosis for children from culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Minnesota.

Rebecca Dosch Brown


Rebecca Dosch Brown provides day-to-day operational support to MNLEND faculty, staff and trainees. She coordinates data collection, required Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) reports, and the LEND grant renewal processes. Her work includes website management, clinical rotation coordination, curriculum and event planning, technical support, and coordination of the LEND application and awarding process. She also works as an editor of training curriculum for the Research and Training Center on Community Living at ICI. Rebecca came to her role after 20+ years in higher education as a lecturer, teacher trainer, editor, and adviser both overseas and stateside. She is currently enrolled as a PhD student in the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School in Public Policy, with a focus on disability policy and its intersection with race, class, and gender. Her teenage son is on the spectrum.

Mollika Sajady


Mollika (Molly) Sajady, DO, MPH, is a MNLEND Post Doctoral Fellow. As a pediatrician with a focus on helping children with developmental and behavioral concerns, Mollika strives to partner with families to facilitate shared decision-making for maximizing each child’s unique strengths and abilities. It is important to first develop a trusting relationship and understand that an individualized and coordinated approach is often the most helpful way to assist a family in achieving their goals. Some of the therapeutic strategies that she provides in her practice include: behavioral modification strategies, parenting guidance, mindfulness therapies, biofeedback, medication management, as well as coordination of care and identifying appropriate resources across different contexts for developmental, behavioral, mental health, or school concerns.

Asli Ashkir

Public Health

Asli Ashkir, MPH, RN. is an experienced public health nurse with 40 years combined experience in clinical nursing, public health, and nursing education. She has worked with various public and private health institutions throughout the world including World Health Organization. For more than 25 years, she provided direct clinical care to Somali families in different clinical settings (primary health care, specialty care clinics and maternal and child health) both in Somalia and in the United States.

Ms. Ashkir recently retired from a Senior RN Consultant position with Minnesota Department of Health’s Children and Youth with Special Health Need’s section. In this role, she focused more broadly on increasing parent and community awareness of early developmental milestones and autism using her knowledge and respected role in the community to connect effectively with the Somali Minnesotans.

Ms. Ashkir got her basic nursing diploma from Hargeisa School of Nursing, Somalia, has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from India, and a Masters of Public Health in Maternal and Child Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Katrina Simons


Katrina (Trina) Simons joined the Institute on Community Integration as a Community Program Specialist in 2017, where she now serves as an ambassador, advisor and consultant on its many existing research, training, outreach, and instructional projects and provides guidance in strategic planning. Trina has worked on a variety of projects and legislation around the areas of chronic illness and disability and quality of life. She is passionate about empowering people with developmental disabilities to make informed choices and enjoys working to promote autonomy across the lifespan. Trina is a graduate of the LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities) Fellowship program at the University of Minnesota. She has worked as a survey interviewer on the Olmstead plan pilot survey and served on the State Rehabilitation Council and currently sits on the Region 10

Quality Council. Trina also serves as a client instructor for Physical Therapy and medical residency programs on the Twin cities campus. Most recently, Trina has been working in the Department of Pediatrics to support a web-based intervention designed to enhance self-efficacy in youth living with epilepsy.

Jessica Simacek

Telehealth and Positive Behavior Supports

Jessica Simacek was a past MNLEND Post Doctoral Fellow and is now a Research Associate at ICI. Her PhD is in Educational Psychology, Special Education with a minor in Applied Behavior Analysis from the University of Minnesota. She also earned her undergraduate degree in Psychology at 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. She has over 10 years clinical experience in early intensive behavioral therapy for children with autism and related neurodevelopmental disabilities, spanning home, center, and school-based settings.

Adele Dimian

Telehealth and Positive Behavior Supports

Adele Dimian, PhD,  Advanced Rehabilitation Research and Training (ARRT) Fellow at ICI. Adele's research focus is on the early development of self injurious behavior among young children at risk for and with I/DD. More specifically, she is interested in identifying the early risk factors for developing self- injury. She is also interested in the assessment of challenging behavior and providing support for families and providers throughout Minnesota via telehealth.

Kelly Nye-Lengerman


Kelly Nye-Lengerman, PhD, is a Research Associate at the University of Minnesota's Institute on Community Integration (ICI). Kelly's projects include Promoting Readiness in Minors in Supplemental Security Income (PROMISE) TA Center, Think Work, and the College of Direct Support (CDS). Her interests include inclusive employment practices and policy, interdisciplinary collaborations, early screening and identification disabilities, poverty, and Autism. Kelly is the President of MN Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) and involved with the MN Employment First Coalition and MN Employment Learning Community. She is also a licensed graduate social worker (LGSW) in Minnesota.