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Meet the Team

The Strategic Partnerships and Research Collaborative (SPARC) has established an institutional hub to position the University of Minnesota’s faculty, staff, and students for innovative projects and global opportunities. The SPARC core staff is made up of individuals who are experienced in administratively complex and unique projects and programs. Our Advisory Board also plays a key role in SPARC activities.


Leadership Team

Amy Kircher, Dr.P.H., Co-Director

Amy Kircher has been Director of the Food Protection and Defense Institute (FPDI) for the past seven years. As director, she provides overall strategic leadership for the Institute, an internationally recognized organization working to mitigate food system disruption, through interdisciplinary research and development of innovative solutions in collaboration with external partners and stakeholders. She has led and managed the Institute with a $85M research portfolio, completing over 200 research projects with subawards to over 50 research partners. Dr. Kircher has partnered with international universities, foreign governments, UN agencies, USG agencies, and NGOs on food and global health projects. Her current research portfolio includes identification and warning of food system disruption and emerging disease through data fusion and analysis; supply chain characterization and assessment; and disaster preparedness. Prior to FPDI, Dr. Kircher was an epidemiologist with the DOD focused on emergency preparedness and response policy, operations and research.

Amy Kircher | akircher@umn.edu | @fooddefender

Katey Pelican, D.V.M., Ph.D., Co-Director

Katey Pelican, DVM, PhD was one of the founding Co-Directors of SPARC in 2019 and has led large-scale trans-disciplinary, multisectoral programs at UMN since she arrived in 2007. She was initially hired by the University to start an Ecosystem Health program at the College of Veterinary Medicine, a program that has now grown into a 16 member One Health Division focused on addressing local and global health challenges at the intersection of humans, animals and the changing environment. Since then, Dr. Pelican has overseen over $85 million implementing programs in the One Health realm. She was Principal Investigator of the USAID One Health Workforce Project (ceiling $63 million, UMN Prime) which supported university networks in Africa and Asia to build a global workforce to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease threats (>85 Universities in 16 countries total). Dr. Pelican has also developed, with USDA, FAO, CDC, WHO, and USAID, a suite of tools to help countries and agencies better manage and prevent One Health challenges. The OH-SMART toolkit, for example, has been implemented in 20 countries to support zoonotic disease, One Health, and Antimicrobial Resistance Action Planning as well as climate change disease risk and community impact planning. Dr. Pelican is currently running the University COVID Action Network (U-CAN) for SPARC, a program that mobilizes a coalition of willing volunteers from UMN and beyond to respond to requests for help and find solutions to the many challenges that are facing our university, communities, state, nation for better response, recovery and resilience to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to UMN, Dr. Pelican was a wildlife veterinarian and researcher with the Smithsonian Institution and helped initiate an Environmental Change and Species Survival Initiative and lead the Smithsonian-wide Cryobanking initiative.

Katey Pelican | pelicank@umn.edu | @katey_pelican

SPARC Team

Ian Allen, M.A., Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist

Ian manages monitoring & evaluation efforts for the University of Minnesota's Strategic Partnerships and Research Collaborative. His work is focused on developing and tracking performance indicators to support organizational learning, informed decision-making, and strategic planning. He also provides project management support for the SPARC CDC Laboratory Capacity Building project in Puerto Rico as well as evaluation support on a number of initiatives across the university. Previously, he worked as an M&E Specialist on the USAID One Health Workforce project, which supported university networks around the globe to build a global workforce aimed at preventing, detecting, and responding to infectious diseases. He is currently working on a PhD in the College of Education and Human Development.

Expertise: Program Evaluation, Indicator Development & Monitoring, Reporting

Ian Allen | allen595@umn.edu | @ian_k_allen


Brittany Mader, Finance Manager

Brittany Mader is the Finance Manager for the University of Minnesota's Strategic Partnerships and Research Collaborative. She has led the fiscal management of over $100M in sponsored funds and external sales, which includes partnerships with domestic and foreign universities, nonprofit organizations, industry partners, and federal and local government agencies. Her experience is in the pre and post-award management of proposals and funding from a multitude of government agencies, industry stakeholders, and nonprofit organizations utilizing a large range of funding mechanisms, including grants, cooperative agreements, contracts, and external sales.

Brittany Mader | mader027@umn.edu


Kendra McCormack Grahl, M.A., Communications Officer

Kendra McCormack Grahl manages strategic communications and design efforts for the University of Minnesota's Strategic Partnerships and Research Collaborative. Her work focuses on using narratives and information design to translate research into compelling and informative content for global initiatives. Her previous work includes managing communications for the USAID One Health Workforce Project and the Food Protection and Defense Institute, as well as consulting on strategic communication initiatives for various University of Minnesota departments and centers. She holds an M.A. in Strategic Communications from the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Expertise: Strategic Communication, Graphic Design, Marketing, Information Design, Editing

Kendra McCormack Grahl | mccor145@umn.edu | @kcmccor


Amanda Krueger, Office Coordinator

Amanda is the Office Coordinator and IT Support Specialist for the Strategic Partnerships and Research Collaborative. Her work is focused on facilitating SPARC connections with University of Minnesota contacts and industry groups. She coordinates and supports all SPARC events. Amanda is the main contact for all SPARC purchases and SPARC technical support. Contact Amanda if you have any questions about connecting with SPARC staff.

Expertise: Coordination, Purchasing, IT Support

Amanda Krueger | amandak@umn.edu


Penny Norquist, Project Manager

Penny is currently the program manager at the Food Protection and Defense Institute (FPDI) for the Information Technology platform. Penny joined FPDI with over 17 years of R&D experience in the Food & Beverage Industry. At the University of Minnesota, she has coordinated projects with various government agencies focused on development secure collaboration systems, preparedness tools, and implementation of food regulations. She holds a Master’s in Public Affairs from the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota.

Expertise: Food Systems, Project Management, IT

Penny Norquist | pennyn@umn.edu


Stephen Streng, Proposal Developer and Editor

Stephen Streng leads SPARC efforts to identify and evaluate research funding and partnership opportunities. He helps UMN faculty, staff, and partners with strategic planning and designing effective programs and proposals to secure opportunities. Stephen has over twenty years of experience in proposal development and researching funders and opportunities.

Expertise: Strategic Planning, Group Facilitation, Proposal Development, Writing and Editing

Stephen Streng | stephen@umn.edu


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