Director: Melissa Hefferin Berquist, Ph.D.

As Director, Berquist oversees executive operations of the center – providing scientific leadership, ensuring overall strategic continuity, facilitating communication with stakeholders, and synchronizing and coordinating the Institute’s efforts related to strategic management, budget, regulatory compliance, and efficiency. Berquist served as the Institute’s associate director for six years and joined IIAD following almost three years at BAI, Inc., a professional services company in Alexandria, Va., first as a senior biosurety analyst and then as  a senior analyst and program coordinator. A graduate of Northwestern University with a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering, Berquist earned her doctorate in molecular medicine/molecular and cellular biology from the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine.

Associate Director: Heather Simmons, DVM, MSVPH

Heather Simmons, DVM, MSVPH, serves as IIAD’s associate director and as Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s associate department head and extension program leader for Veterinary Medical Extension. As associate director, Simmons assists the Director in the executive operation of the Institute. She provides scientific leadership for all day-to-day project management oversight, works in close concert with the project directors/management and provides direct supervision to employees. Simmons also oversees ad-hoc project teams, coordinates development and submission of associated proposals and budgets, works closely with the Director to ensure overall strategic continuity and, along with the Director, is responsible for facilitating ongoing communication with stakeholders in partner universities, agencies and private industry. Simmons holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine, a master’s degree in veterinary public health focusing on epidemiology, and a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences, all from Texas A&M University.

Chief of Staff: Rachel Whisenant

Whisenant serves as IIAD’s Chief of Staff. She works closely with the IIAD Director in managing day-to-day office activities, including oversight of administrative staff and directing logistical activities to promote program success and the Director’s strategic vision. She also oversees the coordination, logistical planning, and implementation of IIAD events and manages IIAD special projects. Whisenant holds a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and has served at IIAD since 2009. She brings extensive experience and training in project and organizational management, executive level support and financial management.

Program Director: Matt Cochran, DVM

Cochran serves as program director for the Institute’s AgConnect® suite of tools, providing strategic vision, management and implementation for the project. He also works closely with the IIAD leadership team to manage day-to-day operations, support strategic planning and direct logistical activities to promote program success and strategic vision. Cochran came to IIAD in September 2015 from the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, where he served as assistant agency director since 2012. Prior to that, he held multiple roles at the Texas Animal Health Commission and worked in large and small animal private practice – giving him the ideal background to interact with veterinarians/producers, veterinary diagnosticians, and state animal health officials regarding requirements, implementation, and transition of AgConnect® technologies.

Program Manager: Heather Manley, Ph.D.

As a program manager, Manley primarily works with efforts related to development of the AgConnect® suite of tools. Manley came to IIAD in December 2014 with extensive experience in managing large-scale, federally funded research efforts and serves a joint appointment with the Texas A&M University System Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. Previously, she worked as a research scientist and director of neurobiology for the Texas A&M Institute for Preclinical Studies (TIPS). Manley received her B.A. in Psychology and Biology from Creighton University in Omaha, NE and her Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Medicine in Rochester, MN. She is a trained clinical neuroimmunology immunofluorescence technologist and conducted her post-doctoral research in the neurotoxicology branch at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Chemical Defense.

Veterinarian: Maryn Ptaschinski, DVM

Maryn Ptaschinski, DVM, is a veterinarian for the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases (IIAD), as program manager. Ptaschinski provides veterinary technical expertise to IIAD animal health-related projects and programs and serves as a subject matter expert related to livestock for IIAD commodity-related projects. In addition, Ptaschinski provides technical expertise for projects focused at the nexus of animal health and information technology, international capacity building and industry extension.

 Financial Manager: Chris Scarmardo

Crhis-ScarmardoAs Financial Manager, Scarmardo serves as the point of contact for overall fiscal management for IIAD, including management of federal contracts, grants and sub-awards. He is the liaison between principal investigators, DHS, the Office of Sponsored Research at Texas A&M University, and researchers who are interested in collaborating with the IIAD. Scarmardo manages the IIAD’s financial transactions and prepares reports to The Texas A&M University System and to IIAD management as needed. As property office, he is also responsible for making purchases. Scarmardo earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from Sam Houston State University.

Strategic AdvisorGerald Parker, DVM, Ph.D., M.S.

Parker_Gerald_5x7 (2)As strategic advisor, Parker provides leadership and strategic oversight for the Institute’s theme leaders, principal investigators and staff. Parker joined the Institute as Interim Director in July 2015 and previously served as Vice President for Public Health Preparedness and Response at the Texas A&M Health Science Center. Parker has 26 years of distinguished active U.S. Army service, serving multiple roles, including Commander and Deputy Commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Parker graduated from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor of Science in Veterinary Medicine in 1976 and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine the following year. He holds a Doctorate in Physiology from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and a Master of Science in Resourcing the National Strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

VeterinarianDee Ellis, DVM, MPA

Dee Ellis, DVM, MPA, is a veterinarian at the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases (IIAD), serving as a livestock and animal health subject matter resource for the Institute and Texas A&M AgriLife Research. Ellis’ expertise is specifically sought after for issues related to zoonotic diseases such as bovine tuberculosis, and bovine and swine brucellosis, avian influenza, cattle fever ticks, transboundary diseases, feral swine issues, and animals in disaster response and planning issues. In December 2015, Ellis retired and ended more than 30 years of service to the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), the state’s livestock and poultry health regulatory agency, where he had served as the state veterinarian and executive director since 2010. Ellis holds a Bachelor of Science in Veterinary Science, and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Texas A&M University. He also holds a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science and a Master of Public Administration from Texas State University.

Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist: Joe W. Mask, Ph.D.

Mask, Joe-Hat-4x5Mask is housed in the Institute, serving the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the Institute as an assistant professor and extension specialist, primarily working with the Veterinary Science Certificate Program (VSCP). Mask came to IIAD in September 2014 with a strong background in VSCP that includes enrolling more than 100 participants in Fort Bend County and using the program as the topic of his dissertation research. Mask’s duties include planning, training and evaluating results of the program. He spends the majority of his time providing training on subject matter, career skills and instruction techniques to VSCP participants across the nation. Mask holds a Ph.D. in agricultural leadership, education and communication from Texas A&M University. He also holds a Master of Science in agricultural education from Tarleton State University and a Bachelor of Science in agricultural science from Texas A&M University.

Program ManagerSarah Caffey, MPH

Caffey, Sarah-4x5

Sarah Caffey, MPH, serves as a program manager for the Institute, providing daily management oversight of research and training programs, specifically those focused at the nexus of animal health and information technology. She also assists in developing and tracking program objectives, milestones, deliverables, timelines, and budgets; ensures timely completion of milestones and oversees individual program reporting; and drives program to achieve stakeholder goals and vision. A graduate of Texas A&M University with a Bachelor of Science in biomedical science, Caffey also earned a Master of Public Health from the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health. She also has experience as an intern working with the Texas A&M University Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital in infectious disease prevention.

Program CoordinatorKristen Moss

As program coordinator Moss works with the Institute’s AgConnect® team and assists in managing day-to-day logistical activities in support of specific large-scale project efforts. Moss will be provides customer support, assistance and outreach to program participants in the AgConnect® program. In addition, she assists in the development, review and evaluation of training materials; coordinates the management and distribution of program equipment and resources; monitors participant feedback; and assists in coordinating training for program participants. Moss is a 2015 graduate of Texas A&M University with a Bachelor of Arts in communication and a minor in business administration. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Public Health in Health Promotion and Community Sciences from the Texas A&M University School of Public Health.

Communications SpecialistLesa Muehlstein 

Teer, Lesa-4x5As communications specialist, Muehlstein is responsible for promoting the Institute through producing promotional materials, implementing strategic communications, attending industry events, and other various communications and branding efforts. Muehlstein holds a Bachelor of Science in agricultural communications and journalism, Master of Agriculture in agriculture leadership, education and communications and a graduate certificate in nonprofit management from the Bush School of Government and Public Service – all from Texas A&M University. Prior to joining IIAD, Muehlstein worked as a communications specialist in the electric cooperative industry and as an editorial and marketing intern for the High Plains Journal.

Program SpecialistChristine Stetter

Stetter has 35 years of experience in curriculum development, illustration, and book design. She serves as graphic designer and editorial assistant for print and web-based publications at IIAD and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. 



Program ManagerMiguel Gonzalez, MIA

Gonzalez serves as program manager at IIAD, managing and overseeing the planning, development and implementation or projects and programs within the Institutes international portfolio. He prepares and monitors budgets, implements timelines, develops portfolio objectives. Gonzalez holds a Bachelor of Science in public administration with a minor in Spanish from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and a Masters of International Affairs from the Texas A&M University Bush School of Government and Public Service. He is also a certified Project Management Professional®.

Program DirectorJessica Cargill, MPH

Cargill serves as program director and works across the Institute to evaluate the outcomes and impact of IIAD activities. Cargill provides expertise in developing evaluation plans, designing data collection instruments, and collecting and analyzing data. A leader in program evaluation, Cargill ensures that staff are provided with valuable, actionable feedback which is used for continuous improvement of programs, projects, and daily operations. Cargill holds a Masters of Public Health from the Texas A&M Health Science Center, School of Public Health and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Texas A&M University.

Administrative Associate:
 Barbara Siems

Siems serves as Administrative Assistant V for the Institute, where she coordinates the administrative support functions and maintains the ongoing and daily operations of the office. Her everyday duties include: answering phones, receiving and routing mail, maintaining office equipment and conference rooms, and keeping up with office supplies. She also serves as liaison for departmental service contracts and with service providers for IT, phone/fax and facilities services.

In addition to her office duties, Siems coordinates extensive and complex domestic and international travel for IIAD staff and visitors, ensuring all travel policies and procedures are followed. She also anticipates travel needs to assist with productivity and safety for all travelers, while working with the travelers and system agencies on back-up documentation, voucher compliance, submission and tracker.