Meet the Team

Joe Gaugler, PhD

Robert L. Kane Endowed Chair in Long-Term Care and Aging

Faculty Biography


Robyn Birkeland

Robyn Birkeland, PhD

Study Counselor

Robyn earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of South Florida. She then moved to the frozen tundra where she completed her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Minnesota. She has over 20 years of experience providing counseling adults and families.

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Robyn’s personal experience of having three grandparents develop dementia in their senior years drove her to further her understanding of dementia and its effects on families. Her career followed her passion, allowing her to provide support to the families of individuals with dementia.

Robyn is a Study Counselor at the University of Minnesota. She provides a 6-session counseling and support protocol to families whose loved one has recently moved into long-term care using the Residential Care Transition Module (RCTM). This intervention is specifically designed to support this caregiving experience. Robyn collaborates with family members, typically adult children or spouses, guiding them through the transition process of moving a family member into long term care. Over the course of the 5-year study and with the help of the 240 participating families, Robyn and the RCTM team will evaluate the effectiveness of this counseling intervention.

Ann Emery, MS, CRC

Robert L. Kane Long Term Chair in Aging Coordinator
Research Coordinator

Ann is a research coordinator for several projects on the Families and LTC Projects team. She received her Masters of Science from the University of Minnesota in 2010 and her Clinical Research Coordinator certificate in 2016.

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Her areas of specialty include data management and quality assurance. Prior to joining this research team she worked in the UMN School of Dentistry as a research scientist and lab manager where she worked for over 10 years. Ann particularly enjoys the community aspect of this work and the direct interaction with families of those living with memory loss.

Kate Heckathorn

Executive Office and Administrative Specialist

Elma Johnson, MPH

Research Coordinator

Elma joined the Families and Long-Term Care Project team in December 2019 and currently works as bilingual Research Coordinator for ADSPlus. She earned her Bachelors in Business Administration and Management from the University of Oviedo in Spain and her Master’s in Public Health at the University of Minnesota in 2019.

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After arriving to the U.S in late 2004, Elma first worked as a Community Outreach Coordinator with small, immigrant-owned businesses in south Minneapolis. She later became a Spanish and Bosnian medical interpreter at Hennepin Healthcare, where she has since worked as supervisor of interpreter services, innovations project manager and patient experience project consultant. Her professional and research interests include health communication and person-centered care, minority health and health innovation.

“Working at a large safety-net health system like Hennepin Healthcare has been a truly eye-opening and humbling experience. It has given me the opportunity to understand the complexities of our healthcare systems and see first-hand the many barriers people encounter in leading healthy and fulfilling lives. There is great value in understanding people’s cultural experiences of care, and leveraging diverse approaches to health to address the many health inequalities we collectively face. I am passionate about building supportive communities that will create opportunities for everyone to thrive and contribute, at all stages and paths in life.”

Katie Louwagie

Katie Louwagie, DNP, APRN, AGNP-C

Research Nurse

Katie is a research nurse on the Families and Long Term Care Projects team. She earned her doctorate in nursing practice, with a focus in adult-gerontological health, at the University of Minnesota.

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Prior to joining our team, she practiced as a nurse practitioner providing on-site primary care in the long term care setting. She is involved with various projects including the Residential Care Transition Module (RCTM), PorchLight Project, and Care to Plan.

Robert L. Kane Post-Doctoral Fellows

Zachary G. Baker

Zachary G. Baker, PhD

Robert L. Kane Postdoctoral Fellow

Zach earned his PhD from the University of Houston in 2019 with a minor in quantitative methods. Before joining the Families and Long-Term Care team his work focused on how people could live their best lives, largely through their relationships with others. This work had a heavy application of theory, complex methodology, and statistics.

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Zach now applies the theoretical, methodological, and statistical rigor that were essential to his work in social psychology to persons living with dementia (PWD) and their caregivers. Specifically he aims for PWD and their caregivers to have the technological tools and psychosocial resources at hand to live their best lives.

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Manka Nkimbeng

Manka Nkimbeng, PhD, MPH, RN

Robert L. Kane Postdoctoral Fellow

Manka received her PhD in Nursing from Johns Hopkins School of Nursing where she explored the relationship between acculturation, discrimination and physical function in African immigrant older adults.

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Manka graduated Magna cum Laude with her Bachelors of Science in Nursing from the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst) and worked as a nurse at a community health center. After witnessing numerous health disparities with her patients, she returned to school to study how to change policies for improved health outcomes for vulnerable populations. She obtained her Master’s in Public Health from Boston University. Manka’s research interests center around understanding the causes of health inequities in minorities and improving health outcomes for older adults. Her long-term goal is to develop and test interventions that can be translated into health policies and practice to improve health and eliminate health inequities for older adults.

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Post-Doctoral Research Associates

Colleen Peterson, MS, PhD

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Colleen earned her PhD in Epidemiology from the University of Minnesota in 2020. She joined the Families and LTC Projects team as a graduate research assistant in 2016. Her research focuses on roadway safety, with an emphasis on vulnerable roadway users like older persons and persons with dementia. Her latest efforts in this area include piloting CarFreeMe, a driving cessation counseling project for persons living with dementia and their caregivers. She has a Master’s degree in Behavioral and Social Sciences Intervention from Brown University and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Chicago.

Christy Rosebush, MPH, PhD

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Christina received an MPH in Epidemiology at the University of Minnesota in 2013. She is currently completing a PhD in Occupational Health Services Research and Policy, an interdisciplinary training program supported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Her research focuses on evaluating policies to reduce the injury and illness burden in Minnesota’s long-term care workers. Christina joined the Families and Long Term Care team as a Graduate Research Assistant in 2019 and works primarily with Senior Companion volunteers participating in the PorchLight Project.

Graduate Research Assistants

Elle Albers, BS

Graduate Research Assistant

Elle is an MPH student majoring in Epidemiology. She received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Zoology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Ashley Millenbah, BS

Graduate Research Assistant

Ashley is a Public Health Administration and Policy MPH student. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in Kinesiology. Her interests fall within physical activity and aging.

Hank Stabler, MPH

Graduate Research Assistant

Hank received an MPH in Health Management & Policy from the University of Michigan in 2009. He is currently a doctoral candidate in the University of Minnesota Health Services Research, Policy & Administration program. His research focuses on hospital-community relationships and population health. Hank joined the Families & Long-Term Care team in 2019 where he works on the PorchLight Project.

Rachel Zmora, MPH

Graduate Research Assistant

Rachel Zmora completed her MPH in Epidemiology at George Washington University in 2015. She anticipates graduating with a PhD in Epidemiology minoring in Biostatistics in December 2020.

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Her primary research interests are in clinical epidemiology with a focus on cardiovascular diseases. She has worked with the LTC team on implementing reproducible data science. In her future work, Rachel intends to incorporate her experience in mixed-method analyses developed while working with the LTC team to study patient well being and quality of life beyond traditional clinical outcomes.

Undergraduate Research Assistants

  • Zoe Gabrielson
  • Kobe Perez
  • Aneri Shah
  • Ayush Shah
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