Staff

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 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

Matt Cochran, DVM, MIA serves as a Program Director at the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases and is responsible for managing IIAD’s federal engagements and portfolio. Dr. Cochran applies diverse work experience, training, and skills to build multidisciplinary partnerships that provide strategic advancement at the nexus of technology, agriculture, veterinary medicine, and One Health.

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.

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 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. Stetter has worked as a freelance illustrator and designer for books published by the University of Nevada, Texas A&M University, Southern Illinois University, and Iowa State University. Stetter received a bachelor of fine arts degree from the California College of the Arts.

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®.

Assistant DirectorJessica Cargill, MPH

As Assistant Director for Evaluation and Portfolio Management, Cargill works across the Institute to develop and implement evaluation strategies, implement research to improve unit-wide performance, and direct evaluation activities operating across multiple thrust areas. Her program evaluation duties include developing evaluation plans, designing data collection instruments, and collecting and analyzing data. In addition, she works with staff to link project-, portfolio-, and unit-level activities to the Institute’s strategic plan and develop methods for tracking and monitoring strategic objectives. 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 Coordinator:
 Barbara Siems

Siems serves as Administrative Coordinator 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.

Extension Program Specialist I: Tyler Vogel, MS

Vogel serves as the Extension Program Specialist I at IIAD. He works closely with the veterinary science programmatic team in supporting ongoing educational efforts in the veterinary science, laboratory science, and one health science curriculum within the Veterinary Science Certificate Program (VSCP). Vogel earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in animal science from Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He brings extensive experience in working with youth in the livestock sector.

Veterinarian: Dr. David Castellan, DVM, MPVM, ACPVM, ACPV

Dr. David Castellan, DVM, MPVM, ACPVM, ACPV serves as a Veterinary Epidemiologist at IIAD. From 2008 to 2015 he was the Senior Veterinary Epidemiologist, FAO ECTAD, Region of Asia and Pacific where he was engaged in supporting the development of regional epidemiology capacity, including the Field Epidemiology Training Program for Veterinarians (FETPV) training centers in Thailand, China and Indonesia as well as delivering FETPV training programs in Southeast and South Asia countries. His work supports evidence-based decision-making using epidemiology and poultry medicine to promote human health, animal health and food security using a One Health approach.

Veterinarian: Susan Culp, DVM

Susan Culp, DVM, is a veterinarian for the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases(IIAD). Culp provides veterinary technical expertise to IIAD animal health-related projects and programs and serves as a subject matter expert related to companion animal veterinary medicine, livestock and poultry regulatory issues, and animals in disaster response and planning issues. Culp holds a Bachelor of Science in Veterinary Science, and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Texas A&M University. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Biology from Texas State University.

Program Coordinator: Justin Buenger, MIA

Buenger serves as program coordinator, assisting with the planning, development, and implementation of projects and programs within IIAD’s International Programs. His primary focus is on the Frontline In Service Applied Veterinary Epidemiology Program (ISAVET) in East, Central, and West Africa. He coordinates training activities, facilitates communications with the FETPV team and international stakeholders, monitors budgets, prepares program reports and presentations, maintains databases, and assists in additional logistical activities. Buenger holds a Bachelor of Science in University Studies (with a concentration in biomedical sciences) from Texas A&M University and a Master of International Affairs from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

Research Specialist: Charluz Arocho Rosario

Charluz Arocho, serves as a research specialist at the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases, assisting with field research for arthropod-borne diseases, specifically those focused on the Cattle Fever Tick portfolio in the Institute. She received a Bachelor of Animal Science with an associate degree in Pre-Veterinary Medicine from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez. She is currently pursuing a Master in Veterinary Entomology from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University.

Veterinarian: Jimmy Tickel, DVM

Jimmy Tickel, DVM is a veterinarian at the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases (IIAD), serving as a livestock emergency management subject matter resource for the Institute. Tickels’ expertise is specifically sought after for issues related to emergency management on a national and international level. In September 2018, Tickel retired and ended his 28 years of service to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, where he had served as the NE Regional Veterinarian for Emergency Programs Division since. Tickel is also CEO of JLT Consulting LLC. Over the years, he has had the pleasure of training/presenting on Transboundary Animal Disease and Disaster Response/Preparedness in 42 states. Tickel holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (summa cum laude) from North Carolina State University.

Program ManagerCarrie Hunt, PhD

Carrie Hunt, PhD serves as a Program Manager at the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases, managing projects within the federal portfolio related to the optimization of organizational workflow for high-containment laboratories. She also assists with managing projects within the Cattle Fever Tick portfolio.

Laboratory TechnicianEfrain Cancel Medina, MS

Efrain Medina, serves as a laboratory technician at the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases (IIAD), assisting with the Cattle Fever Tick portfolio research. He received a master’s degree in animal science and a minor in dairy cattle nutrition from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus.

Program CoordinatorMandy L. Tabrizi

Mandy L. Tabrizi serves as a program coordinator at the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases (IIAD) where she is a member of the AgView team. She assists in the development, enhancement, and implementation of AgView by providing end-user support and by designing educational materials for AgView users. Tabrizi holds a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Science & Horticulture Science, and a Master of Agriculture in Agricultural Development from Texas A&M University.

 Program Specialist II: Sarah Manning

Manning serves as a program specialist (II) at the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases (IIAD) assisting with collecting, analyzing, and evaluating data from the institute’s projects and activities. Manning conducts and compiles statistical analysis sharing detailed feedback to staff for the enhancement and development of programs. Manning holds a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science (with a concentration in Animal Industries and a minor in business) from Tarleton State University.

 Animal Caretaker II: Carlos Aguilar Rodriguez, BS

Carlos Aguilar serves as Animal Caretaker II at the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases (IIAD), assisting with the Cattle Fever Tick portfolio research. Aguilar’s duties include observing animals to report needs for special attention, feeds and waters animals, supports scientists and laboratory technicians with treatments, samples collection, inspections, and activities related with current IIAD Cattle Fever Tick investigation projects.