LEND Class of 2018-19


Tessa Balsiger

Tessa Balsiger

Tessa did her undergrad at UW-Madison, where she researched the language development of young children with ASD. She is a second year master’s student in speech-language pathology. An interest of hers is promoting culturally and linguistically competent delivery of evidence-based interventions, so she is involved in the Bilingual Multicultural Emphasis Program. Through the LEND training program, she hopes to gain valuable teamwork skills essential to working on an interdisciplinary team. She also wants to gain knowledge and skills in accessing resources available for families (especially multicultural and multilingual families experiencing disability). Her overarching goal is to help children and their families live their best lives!


Catherine "Casey" Burrows

Catherine "Casey" Burrows

Casey is a MNLEND post-doctoral fellow based primarily in the Autism Spectrum and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Clinic at the University of Minnesota. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Miami, where she studied neural and behavioral risk factors for co-occurring anxiety and depression in youth with autism spectrum disorders. She completed her pre-doctoral psychology internship in the autism track at Duke University Medical Center. In LEND, Casey hopes to gain skills to better translate her research into improved quality of life for individuals with ASD and their families and advocate for policy change at the state and national levels.


Pang Chaxiong

Pang Chaxiong

Pang is a third year predoctoral student in the Educational Psychology - Special Education program.  Pang cares about identifying children with autism earlier and connecting individuals with autism and their families to evidence-based practices.  At the heart of this work, Pang is interested in examining the role of culture and how it influences the identification and treatment decisions of families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.  Pang is also a proud sister of a brother with autism.  As a second year fellow, Pang is extremely excited to be surrounded and reenergized by another cohort of peers who are passionate about improving the lives of individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities.


Maren Christenson Hofer

Maren Christenson Hofer

Maren is the parent of an amazing autistic child. Her work in the autism community includes serving on the Governor’s Interagency Council for Early Childhood Intervention, work as the coordinator for MAPS (Minneapolis Autism Parent Support), and working as a volunteer advocate with autism families in the Oromo community.

Her goal for the LEND program is to add some depth and breadth to her own experience of neurodevelopmental disability as a parent, to be able to see this world through some different lenses, and hopefully share some of the wisdom passed on by her son, who is by far her greatest teacher.


Doaa Elgaali

Doaa Elgaali

Doaa graduated from the University of Iowa School of Social Work with minors in Psychology and Global Health Studies. After graduation, she completed her practicum at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics Dialysis unit as a student social worker. Then, she travelled and worked aboard as an executive assistant. She is currently a youth coordinator for different summer programs with Muslim immigrant students. This fall, she will be a first year Master of Public Health graduate student with a concentration in Maternal and Child Health.

By participating in the MNLEND program, she hopes to advocate for and learn how to provide evidence-based care to children with neurodevelopmental disorders from underprivileged communities so that they have access to resources to lead successful independent adult lives.


Sarah Garcia

Sarah Garcia

Sarah is a PhD candidate in the department of Sociology. She studies the ways in which health and disability intersect with other identities and how this impacts the lives of people with disabilities. Her training in sociology has given her an understanding of how social structural factors affect disability, but she lacks an applied perspective that will be useful in understanding the lived experiences of people with disabilities as well as the policy implications of her work. She will use the knowledge and skills that MNLEND provides to inform her research in a deeper, more meaningful way.


Tera Giardin

Tera Giardin

Tera has been a family photographer in the Twin Cities for 13 years. Her work led to her publishing “Faces of Autism,” a photography based book that tells the stories of local children with autism. Along with her photography business, she is also a graphic designer for Fueled Collective in Minneapolis. She is mom to three teen boys (her youngest has autism).

“I am excited to broaden my knowledge, expertise and advocacy through the LEND fellowship. I hope to continue to incorporate my photography and storytelling to shine a positive light on those with disabilities.”


Antonio Gonzales Ogas

Antonio Gonzales Ogas

Antonio “Tonio” Gonzales Ogas is a Native of Silver City, New Mexico. He graduated with his B.S. in Sociology in 1997 and M.A. in Educational Leadership in 1999 from his hometown college, Western New Mexico University. Tonio is a 2018 graduate with his master’s in social work from the University of Minnesota with an emphasis in clinical social work and childhood trauma. Prior to starting work on his MSW, Tonio worked in various social service roles for 15 years which included public health education, case management, HIV/AIDS prevention, education and research, youth advocacy, LGBT+ community engagement, and direct mental health and case management with seniors in the Inner City of San Francisco. Tonio relocated to Minnesota in August 2016 to accept a position as Site Coordinator for Reading Partners Twin Cities, a program of AmeriCorps. Tonio began his career in Minnesota at Maxfield Elementary School, engaging with children for the first time, tutoring reading comprehension to a highly traumatized and disenfranchised population. Through his experience at Maxfield, Tonio became interested in working more with children as a clinical therapist and petitioned to work part of his internship at Maxfield as an advanced standing social work student at UMN. After completing his work at Maxfield, Tonio transferred to HealthStar Home Health to work with the Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services (ARMHS) and the Children’s Therapeutic Services and Support Program to complete his internship requirement. Tonio has been hired on permanently by HealthStar where he is working towards his LICSW. Tonio also plans to apply for his doctoral studies in hopes of beginning in the fall of 2019.                                              


Olivia James

Olivia James

Olivia is an autistic woman who currently works at the Autism Society of Minnesota as Marketing and Communications Specialist. Her research interests are focused on gender, accessibility and accommodations, and community building for autistic adults. Through the LEND program she hopes to find new ways to connect with her community, advocate for autistics in medical and therapeutic settings, and voice the concerns of adults.  She also aims to bring an intersectional lens of disability advocacy to the program that acknowledges the role that race, gender, sexuality, and other identities impact the autistic experience.


Brianna Julius

Brianna Julius

Brianna is a second-year graduate student in the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program to become a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner.  She has been working for the last 2 years in Children’s Minnesota in the CVICU.  Upon graduation, she intends to work as a pediatric primary care provider in Minneapolis serving low income families.  Brianna is excited to be a part of the LEND program in order to learn how to provide better care to children with neurodevelopmental disabilities within this community. 


Quentin Knutson

Quentin Knutson

Quentin is in his final year at the School of Dentistry to become a Doctor of Dental Surgery. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Genetics, Cell Biology & Development at the University of Minnesota in 2012 where he also was a member of the Tom Burnett Advanced Leadership program. Quentin is committed to making an impact that goes beyond the dental chair through efforts such as Give Kids A Smile, Philips Neighborhood Clinic, and Special Smiles. Quentin has worked with children with disabilities while employed with ACR Homes, Children’s Intensive In-Home Services, and as a paraprofessional educator at an elementary school. He hopes to continue working with families of children with disabilities as a dentist, providing person-centered dental services as well advocating for their rights at the state and national level.

As a LEND fellow, Quentin is eager to collaborate with individuals from various backgrounds that share the same goal of providing superior service to individuals with disabilities. He is grateful for the opportunity to gain knowledge that will enhance his clinical skills and advocacy efforts.


Olivia Maccoux

Olivia Maccoux

Olivia has multiple neurological/neurodevelopmental conditions herself and as a result she has undergone 100+ brain surgeries, physical/emotional pain, and learning disabilities. She has been a self-advocate her entire life and has become really good at it, and absolutely loves it.

She has developed skills in advocacy, leadership, health-care, empowerment, community outreach, and philanthropy. This all leads to her passion for helping people, and knowing what she wants to do with her life.

As she starts senior year of college, she is confident that LEND will foster these skills, provide valuable insight/experience/knowledge, and give her even more confidence that she is doing what she was meant to do. She feels that she can make a difference, we will find a cure, and make a positive impact in the world.


Korrinna Maddix

Korrinna Maddix

Korrinna attended School in '99 to become a certified nursing assistant. She's worked with every age group from children (including her one child with autism and another child of hers with ADHD) to senior citizens. She is pursuing the Minnesota LEND Fellowship to gain more knowledge and skills to advocate and get a better understanding of NDD. Leadership means to create an inspiring vision of the future. To motivate and inspire to engage and manage delivery of a vision. To be able to coach and build so that it is more effective to achieve said vision. Korrinna is an outspoken person and a great advocate and she believes that the LEND Fellowship can help further educate, help her ascertain skills needed to become a better advocate and gain training and get an in-depth perspective to make an educated decision on furthering her schooling, knowledge, and career. She is very excited to be joining the team. 


Mira Martin

Mira Martin

Mira received her undergraduate degree in English Literature with a minor in French from the University of Oregon and her graduate degree in Communication Disorders with a minor in educational psychology from the University of Minnesota.  She has been an educational speech-language pathologist for the past 13 years in the Minneapolis Public Schools.  She started her speech-language career in hospitals and clinics working with both adults and children at Courage Center, Fairview and Abbott Northwestern Hospital. She believes that everyone has a voice that deserves to be heard, and it’s her job to help them develop it. 


Alyssa Merbler

Alyssa Merbler

Alyssa is a 3rd year PhD student and graduate research assistant in Special Education, previously completing her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Minnesota. Her current research interests include biobehavioral relations in individuals with disabilities, specifically Rett syndrome and cerebral palsy, and the development of valid outcome measures for clinical trials. Her goals for LEND include observing a variety of interdisciplinary teams and clinical settings, interacting with families of individuals with disabilities to gain their perspectives on research and clinical care to be more family-centered in her research, and to continue to develop her leadership and collaboration skills. 


Patrick Mitchell

Patrick Mitchell

Patrick likes to think he’s found the perfect work-life balance. He’s spent his career working for social justice with an emphasis on empowering people with disabilities to be better connected to their communities. Patrick enjoys an active lifestyle alongside his energetic dog and nature loving partner. He likes to listen to podcasts, follow the local sports teams, play Settlers of Catan and watch prestige tv. As a LEND fellow he is excited to gain a better understanding of disability services, challenges facing the field, and to network with other leaders. 


Nasteha Mohamed

Nasteha Mohamed

Nasteha is an experienced social worker, who serves the underprivileged communities. Nasteha has her BA in social work and is currently working on a Master of Social Work degree at the University of MN. She works at the Community University Health Care Center (CUHCC) as Psychiatric Care Coordinator. For past eight years, she has worked with a diverse population in a variety of settings, including people experiencing serious and persistent mental illness, children with severe emotional disturbance, neurodevelopmental disorders, marginalization, poverty, homeless, trauma, domestic violence, complex medical conditions, and substance use disorder. Nasteha’s creed is facilitating equitable, accessible, and culturally responsive mental health services for the Somali diaspora in the Twin Cities and the larger community.

As a social worker, she understands that poverty and health disparities play a huge role for children and youth with neurodevelopmental disorders. With the LEND program, she hopes to acquire knowledge, training, and practice to close those gaps. 


Catherine Moss

Catherine Moss

Catherine is a second-year graduate student in the Social Work program at the University of Minnesota. Her concentration is families and children with a sub concentration in community practice. She received her undergraduate degree in Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. In her first year of the program she interned at a kindergarten through eighth grade school with the Autism Spectrum program and the Emotional Behavior program. During this internship she learned about the challenges of creating inclusive environment in schools as well as what happens after high school in the transition process. She is the younger sister of a brother who has autism and has experience with the transition process first hand. During LEND she is excited to learn more about inclusive schools and to further her knowledge of neurodevelopmental disabilities. 


Rebecca Nelson

Rebecca Nelson

Rebecca is a second-year occupational therapy student at the University of Minnesota. She is originally from Willmar, Minnesota and has a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology. After graduating she worked at Lionsgate Academy, a high school for students with ASD, for two years. Her ultimate career goals are to create more inclusive communities, facilitating the integration of individuals with ASD and other disorders or disabilities. As a LEND Fellow, Rebecca hopes to learn about creating community-based interventions and programs based on the needs of individuals with ASD and their families.

In her free time, Rebecca enjoys doing yoga, making sourdough bread, as well as spending time with her friends, family, and pets!


Michael Nguyen

Michael Nguyen

Michael is a second year resident in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at the University of Minnesota.  He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Washington and a Master of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles.  He completed his medical degree at the University of Washington.  His research interests are at the intersection of medicine, public health, and disability studies. Through the MN LEND post-doctoral fellowship, Michael is excited to gain exposure to children with intellectual/developmental disabilities and their families’ needs and to understand more about the ways to support them as a physiatrist, researcher, and advocate. 


Molly Peterson

Molly Peterson

Molly is currently the pediatric physical therapy resident at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare. She graduated with her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Missouri and received her bachelors degree from Drake University. She looks forward to continuing her LEND journey with the University of Minnesota. She is very excited to have such an array of disciplines to collaborate with and learn from and is looking forward to the community projects that arise from this year's LEND class.


Bobbi Rohwer

Bobbi Rohwer

Bobbi is a ASHA-certified pediatric speech language pathologist who has practiced in the Twin Cities for six years.  She received her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. After relocating to the Kansas City area, she worked with children with special needs in an integrated preschool setting, as well as in a level-six psychiatric hospital for children.   During this time, she grew passionate about early intervention with at-risk children and those on the autism spectrum. Wanting to give them a voice, Bobbi pursued her graduate degree in Speech Language Pathology & Audiology from the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Missouri.  After graduation and a move to Minnesota, she began to develop an explicit-visual intervention method to increase verbal productions in minimally verbal children. As a LEND fellow, Bobbi seeks to gain valuable information for client and family advocacy through a variety of experiences with other disciplines.


Mollika Sajady

Mollika Sajady

Molly is a second year fellow in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. She completed her Pediatric Residency at the University of Minnesota with a focus on global health and child development. She attended medical school and completed a Masters of Public Health degree at Des Moines University. She also received a B.A. in Child Psychology from the University of Minnesota in 2009. Her current areas of research interest include: nature-based interventions, early childhood developmental screening, and promoting resilience in high-risk populations. As a second year LEND fellow, Molly is interested in pursuing community based research efforts to improve preventative care practices and promote well-being for children with developmental and behavioral concerns. Also, continuing to strengthen her advocacy skills for children with disabilities by learning from the unique experiences of other interdisciplinary fellows and parent leaders.


Suad Salad

Suad Salad

Suad is one of the many Somalis who arrived as refugees fleeing a civil war in their homeland.  Her family was one of the earlier immigrant communities to arrive in MN in 1995. She comes from large family, and she is the second youngest out of nine siblings. Both of her parents are alive and well. She works for the Early Childhood Division for Minneapolis Public Schools. Suad feels it is an honor to be a participant in the MNLEND Program in 2018-2019. She looks forward to learning much from the program, most importantly, ways in helping families with children with NDD who need screening, treatments, and interventions because more often underserved populations are unaware the importance of early treatment and early detecting of delayed learning and development. She would like to be part of the movement for change in the world of neurodevelopment disabilities.


Sana Siddiqui

Sana Siddiqui

Sana is a second-year graduate student pursuing her Master’s in Public Health Administration and Policy at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health with interests in disability policy and advocacy, Medicare and Medicaid, incarceration and employment, children’s welfare, immigrant and refugee health outcomes, and the intersections of the above. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Arts in Physiology and minor in Public Health. She grew up with a sister with cerebral palsy which has opened her eyes to the systemic influences and policies that impact her and many other individuals with disabilities. She comes to LEND with a lifetime’s worth of advocacy alongside her sister as well as through other platforms such as non-profit work and research. As a fellow, she hopes to participate in interdisciplinary work and gain more knowledge on how to influence policy and better advocate for children with disabilities at a systems-level.


Andrea Stoddard

Andrea Stoddard

Andrea is a second-year genetic counseling student at the University of Minnesota. She earned her B.S. in Cellular/Molecular Biology at Utah State University. Andrea has worked for local resource support centers, a women’s abuse shelter, and is a big sister in the Big Brother Big Sister program. She enjoys serving and learning from her community members. During this LEND year, Andrea is excited to learn how to better work in an interdisciplinary team, specifically focused on assisting individuals and families with neurodevelopmental diseases. In addition, she is looking forward to developing her counseling and advocacy skills for childhood onset conditions.


Kalia Thor

Kalia Thor

Kalia is currently a second-year graduate student in the MPH program with an emphasis in nutrition. She is from Siloam Springs, AR and received her undergraduate degree from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma in nutritional sciences. In the recent years, Kalia has increasingly found interest in working with a diverse population and figuring out what kind of nutritional deficits or needs that exist in those with neurodevelopmental disorders. Being a part of MNLEND, Kalia hopes to use her knowledge and skills that she has with previous experiences and apply those skills in working with children with neurodevelopmental disorders and their nutritional intake. She hopes that with MNLEND, she will be able to expand and increase her knowledge on working with those with neurodevelopmental disorders, be able to advocate for them, and be able to serve the community.


Sheba Vincent

Sheba Vincent

Sheba grew up in Kolkata, India. She received a BS in Criminal Justice from California State University, Sacramento. She linked her commitments to social justice and health through volunteer work at the Berkeley Free Clinic in Berkeley, CA. She received an MS from the University of California, San Francisco in Global Health Sciences, and is currently a third year dental student at the University of Minnesota, School of Dentistry. Her research experience and interests include expanding understanding and addressing human rights issues and economic health inequities that affect the most vulnerable. As a dental student, she has volunteered at Special Smiles, where she witnessed oral health care challenges that affect children with NDD/ASD. As a LEND fellow, she is looking forward to developing the knowledge and skill set necessary to take committed action addressing oral health disparities and improving clinical outcomes for children with NDD/ASD and related intellectual and developmental disabilities.