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.

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.

Chief Veterinarian: Elizabeth Parker, DVM

Parker, Elizabeth -4x5As Chief Veterinarian, Parker utilizes her extensive national and international experience and network to develop collaborations between IIAD and animal health stakeholders, including private business, agriculture associations and veterinary practitioners, as well as federal and international governments. In addition to her work with IIAD, Parker holds a joint appointment with the Office of the Director, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, serving as a subject matter expert related to livestock and animal health. In this role, she assists with research proposals, technical and operational responses, grant writing and other funding requests for veterinary and animal health efforts.  She holds a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine and two Bachelor of Science degrees, all from Texas A&M University.

Theme Leader for Information Analysis: Keith Biggers, Ph.D.

biggers-imageAs the Theme Leader for Information Analysis Systems, Biggers’ focus is on the development of simulation to support large-scale training exercises, tools for supporting command and control and the decision-making process, and visual analytics. Biggers is also the director of Computing and Information Technology for the Texas Center for Applied Technology (TCAT), a center within the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. Biggers received his Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering at Texas A&M. He also holds a Master of Science in Computer Science from Texas A&M and Bachelor of Science degrees in Computer Science and Mathematics from Texas Wesleyan University.

Program Manager and Theme Leader for Education and Outreach Systems: Heather Simmons, DVM, MSVPH

As IIAD’s education and outreach systems theme leader and program manager, Simmons provides leadership in establishing the Institute’s vision related to educational programs and directs all efforts related to the Institute’s outreach and training portfolio. Her programs span the K-12, graduate, and professional realm within the United States and internationally. Simmons is the program manager for the Institute’s Homeland Security Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (HS-STEM) Career Development Program, international training programs and Veterinary Science Certificate program. 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.

 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.

Project ManagerDee Ellis, DVM, MPA

Dee Ellis, DVM, MPA, serves as part of the Institute’s AgConnect® team and works closely with the AgConnect® Program Director, Matt Cochran, DVM, MIA, in order to extend the outreach of the program and provide professional oversight. Ellis also provides targeted management of research, training, design and implementation of the AgConnect® suite of tools. In addition to AgConnect®, Ellis will also be assisting the Institute with other projects, preparing performance reports, writing proposals, assessing programs and identifying funding opportunities. 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.

Project ManagerAndrew Stokes

Andrew Stokes works with the AgConnect® team to manage project activities and to provide support for system users and expertise on architecture and implementation. He also systemizes AgConnect® delivery and support in accordance with enterprise IT practices and assists in business process analysis with AgConnect® system users to offer meaningful system deliverables and streamlined data management. In addition, Stokes provides guidance, direction and support to application developers and technical designers and analyzes change requirements and IT opportunities in enterprise business. He also works with other enterprise architecture staff, experts and decision makers to accurately define client requirements.

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 CoordinatorSarah Caffey, MPH

Caffey, Sarah-4x5

As program coordinator for the AgConnect® team, Caffey develops training materials on AgConnect’s® mobile technologies, tailors them to each agricultural industry and promotes the use of the system for supporting animal health. In addition to training materials, Caffey delivers training programs to participants — agriculture industry representatives, government personal and veterinarians — as well as identifies future training needs. 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.

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 CoordinatorMiguel Gonzalez, MIA

Gonzalez serves as program coordinator at IIAD and work closely with the EOS theme leader, Heather Simmons, DVM, MSVPH, in designing and implementing international training programs to facilitate program goals for visiting scientists. He prepares and monitors budgets, implements timelines, updates training materials and delivers training sessions. Gonzalez also develops educational materials for the program and identifying prospective donors and fundraising efforts for the Institute’s international training programs. 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 Coordinator: Kelly Soltysiak, Ph.D.

Kelly Soltysiak

Soltysiak serves as program coordinator at IIAD where she assists in project management and daily operations. Prior to joining IIAD in November 2012, she worked for biotechnology companies and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. Soltysiak received her doctorate in medical science (microbiology and immunology) from the Texas A&M Health Science Center in Bryan, Texas. Soltysiak also holds a Bachelor of Science in microbiology from the University of Maryland in College Park, Md. in and a Master of Science in oceanography from Texas A&M University.

Project SpecialistJessica Cargill, MPH

Cargill serves as a project specialist and is largely responsible for the evaluation of the international training and higher education programs within the Institute’s Education and Outreach (EOS) portfolio. From coordinating evaluation components and developing program data collection to conducting interviews and analyzing findings, Cargill works to ensure that all trainings are effective and impactful. Cargill holds a Master 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.

Program Coordinator: Rachel Whisenant

Whisenant-RachelRachel Whisenant serves as program coordinator for IIAD, where she assists in coordination, logistical planning and implementation of seminars, trainings, workshops, meetings, events, and other special programs. Whisenant also assists in monitoring agency compliance with rules and procedures and assists in implementing changes to existing programs; preparing and editing correspondence, agendas and miscellaneous reports.


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.

Administrative Coordinator: LaNita Jackson

LaNita Jackson

As administrative coordinator, LaNita Jackson supports daily operations by coordinating administrative and business support functions across the Institute. Jackson provides support to administrators within the Institute, works with pro-card holders to submit required receipts monthly, maintains and allocates expenses for all IIAD pro-card holders, maintains inventory records and reconciles records with the Property Officer, and pays non-subcontractural invoices.

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.