Meet the Team

Joe Gaugler, PhD

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

Faculty Biography


Manka Nkimbeng

Manka Nkimbeng, PhD, MPH, RN

Assistant Professor, Division of Health Policy and Management, School of Public Health

Faculty Biography


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.

View more information

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.

Ashley Millenbah, MPH

Research Coordinator, RLK Chair Coordinator

Ashley received her Master’s in Public Health degree from the Public Health Administration and Policy program at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh in Kinesiology. Her interests include physical activity and aging.

Elle Albers, MPH

Research Coordinator 

Elle is a Research Coordinator on the Families and Long-Term Care team. She completed her MPH in Epidemiology from the University of Minnesota in 2020, and received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Zoology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prior to joining the team as a graduate research assistant, Elle was a project manager specializing in health care market research. She currently works on various studies including the Residential Care Transition Module (RCTM), Adult Day Service Plus, A Mobile Informatics Solution to Aid in Memory, and TBI/AD-ADRD Caregiver Support Intervention (TACSI).

Robyn Birkeland

Robyn Birkeland, PhD

Study Interventionalist

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.

View more information

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.

Steph Ingvalson, BSc

Project Coordinator

Steph joined the Families and LTC Projects team in 2021 as a Coordinator for the CarFreeMe research study and the BOLD Public Health Center of Excellence on Dementia Caregiving. She has a background in stroke/TBI rehabilitation and community resource navigation.

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.

View more information

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.”

Maya Koffski, BS

Research Professional

Maya is a Research Professional on the Families and Long Term Care projects team where she assists with the Public Health Center of Excellence, Center for Healthy Aging and Innovation, and the Smartwatch Memory Aid research study. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota in Health and Wellbeing Sciences. Her interests include research and community engagement

Rylie Birkeland

Research Assistant

Rylie is a senior at Roseville Area High School and captain of the Roseville Dance Team. She has received academic letters for freshman, sophomore, and junior years. She joined the FLTC projects team in 2022. Her interests include psychology, physical activity, and communication.

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.

View more information

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.

See Biography

Graduate Research Assistants

Dionne Bailey

Dionne Bailey, MPH

Graduate Research Assistant

Dionne is a PhD student in the Health Services Research, Policy and Administration program. She has research interests in health and racial equity, access to affordable healthcare, and gentrification. She would like to focus her research on Black older adults.

Paul Espinoza Kissell, BS

Graduate Research Assistant

Paul graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology and is currently a student in the Health Services Research, Policy and Administration PhD program in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota. Paul’s research interests include dementia and the dementia caregiving experience in the Latino community. Paul recently joined the Families and Long-Term Care team in 2022 to help culturally adapt the Porchlight project for the Latino community.

Hawking Ren, MS

Graduate Research Assistant

Hawking received his master’s degree in Healthcare Decision Analysis from the University of Southern California. Hawking is a Ph.D. student in the Health Service Research, Policy and Administration program at the University of Minnesota, School of Public Health. Hawking is particularly interested in investigating how Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia impact patients and their family’s socioeconomic status. Hawking joined the Families Long-Term Care team in 2021, where he works on the Residential Care Transition Module (RCTM) and the Immigrant Memory Collaborative studies.

Undergraduate Research Assistants

© 2015 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved. The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy Statement