Douglas Casa, PhD, ATC, FACSM, FNATA, FNAK
Chief Executive Officer; Professor, Department of Kinesiology, University of Connecticut
For Douglas Casa, the opportunity to maximize athletic performance in the heat and prevent sudden death in sport is the culmination of a life-long path; his passion for the study of exertional heat stroke started in 1985 when he suffered an exertional heat stroke while running a 10K race. This experience motivated what has become his life’s cause: the study of exertional heat stroke, heat illnesses, hydration, and preventing sudden death in sport – his ultimate goal is to find ways to maximize performance in challenging circumstances while working prevent needless tragedy during sport and physical activity. “I was fortunate to receive amazing care on-site from the athletic trainer; the EMT’s in the ambulance; and at the hospital from the emergency room physicians and nurses. I only survived because of the exceptional care I received. I was just 16 years old at the time, but I have been driven by this experience since that day,” Dr. Casa explains when asked about what motivates him. He celebrated his 30th anniversary of surviving his exertional heat stroke on August 8, 2015. In April 2010 Kelci Stringer (Korey’s widow), James Gould (Korey’s agent), and the NFL asked Dr. Casa to develop and run the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) at the University of Connecticut. Korey was an All-Pro offensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL. He died from exertional heat stroke in August 2001. The mission of the KSI (ksi.uconn.edu) is to provide research, education, advocacy, and consultation, to maximize performance, optimize safety, and prevent sudden death for the athlete, warfighter, and laborer. Additionally, he is the editor of a book titled: Preventing Sudden Death in Sport and Physical Activity (2nd edition, 2017), published by Jones & Bartlett in cooperation with the American College of Sports Medicine. His new book titled Sports and Physical Activity in the heat: Maximizing Performance and Safety was published by Springer in the Winter of 2018.
For the past 20 years, Dr. Casa has worked toward his goals at the Department of Kinesiology, College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources, University of Connecticut. During this time he has published more than 250 peer-reviewed publications/book chapters and presented more than 600 times on subjects related to exertional heat stroke, heat-related illnesses, preventing sudden death in sport, and hydration. He has been the PI for over 8 million dollars in research funding/foundation donations and an additional 4 million dollars as Co-PI. Dr. Casa has successfully treated 325 cases of exertional heat stroke (with 0 fatalities). In October 2005 and 2010 the Department of Kinesiology doctoral program at the University of Connecticut was ranked number 1 in the country by the National Academy of Kinesiology (for 2005-2015). Additionally, in September 2010 the National Research Council ranked the faculty in the Department of Kinesiology number one for research productivity.
Dr. Casa was named full professor at the University of Connecticut in August 2010. In 2008 he was the recipient of the medal for distinguished athletic training research from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. In 2016 Dr. Casa received the highest honor in his field when he was named a fellow of the National Academy of Kinesiology (FNAK #556). He was named a fellow of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association in 2008. He received the Sayers “Bud” Miller Distinguished Educator Award from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association in 2007 and has been a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine since 2001. In 2011 he was inducted into the University of Florida alumni hall of fame. He has been a lead or co-author on over 15 sports medicine (ACSM, NATA, US Military, IAAF) position statements/consensus statements/roundtables related to heat illness, hydration, and preventing sudden death. He is an associate editor of the Journal of Athletic Training, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports and on the editorial board of Current Sports Medicine Reports, Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, and the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Dr. Casa has worked with numerous media outlets across the country in discussing his research including the NBC Today Show, Good Morning America, ESPN, HBO, CNN, PBS, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. In 2018 the IOC and the IAAF asked Dr. Casa to serve on heat mitigation committees to help prepare for Tokyo 2020 and Qatar 2019, respectively.
Dr. Casa earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Allegheny College, in 1990; his master’s degree in athletic training from the University of Florida in 1993; and his doctorate in exercise physiology from the University of Connecticut in 1997. He has been happily married to his wife Tutita Casa, PhD for 23 years and they have 3 kids; Montana (15), Navia (14), and Alessio (13).
Rebecca Stearns, PhD, ATC
Chief Operating Officer
Rebecca Stearns, is the Chief Operating Officer for the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) and has worked at KSI since it began in April of 2010. Dr. Stearns is a certified athletic trainer and has experience as an athletic trainer at the high school level and at various mass medical tent events including Boston Marathon, Marine Corps Marathon, New York City Marathon, Falmouth Road Race and the Ironman Lake Placid. She has co-authored multiple position statements related to preventing sudden death in sport and published over 75 research articles. Her particular research interest is in the effects of heat and hydration on sport performance and physiological functioning in addition to identifying the risk of future exertional heat stroke episodes. Dr. Stearns also led the creation of an online educational course specific to preventing sudden death in sport, as well as co-editing books addressing these topics which include “Preventing Sudden Death in Sport and Physical Activity” and “Emergency Management for Sport and Physical Activity.” She is an avid runner, having completed 7 marathons which include the Boston, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Marine Corps marathons. Dr. Stearns earned her bachelor’s degree in athletic training at Duquesne University in 2006. She completed her master’s and doctoral degrees in kinesiology at the University of Connecticut in 2008 and 2012, respectively.
Robert Huggins, PhD, ATC
President of Research & Athlete Performance and Safety; Director, ATLAS Project
Dr. Robert Huggins is currently the President of Research and Athlete Performance at the Korey Stringer Institute. His responsibilities include the supervision, management, and coordination of major research initiatives currently conducted by KSI. Specifically, Rob oversees the initiatives supported by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association related to the Athletic Training Locations and Services (ATLAS) Project. Rob also assists in the daily management and operations of KSI including the proposal development, research budgeting, and management and mentor-ship of KSI staff. Additionally, Rob conducts performance testing on athletes who are looking to enhance their performance through the use of scientific insights in the state of the art MISSION Heat Lab at UCONN’s Korey Stringer Institute. Rob has been a licensed Athletic Trainer since 2007 and has experience at mass medical events such as the Falmouth Road Race, Boston Marathon, and Marine Corps Marathon where he has treated more than 60 cases of exertional heat stroke. Prior to his role at KSI, he developed the club sports Athletic Training Programs at both Sacred Heart University and the University of Connecticut.
Dr. Huggins focuses on two major areas of research, athlete health and safety and athlete performance. From a health and safety in sport perspective, his research has focused on improving Athletic Training services at the secondary school level, emergency best practices in youth athletes, and the economic impact of medical services rendered by Athletic Trainers. From an exercise science perspective, his research interests include heat illness, hydration, and the assessment of physiological biomarkers, exercise stress, and training load on sport performance. Dr. Huggins is the 2013 EATA Frank George Award winner and the 2013 NEACSM David Camaione Award winner. He has spoken at national conferences including the NATA and ACSM meetings and the 2016 Boston Athletic Association medical meeting. He served on the 2017-2018 NATA Appropriate Medical Care For the Secondary School Aged Athlete Task Force, co-chair of the 2016 Youth Sports Safety Governing Bodies Meeting and member of the organizing committee and speaker for the 2016 Collaborative Solutions for Safety in Sport Meeting. He has been a lead or co-author on ~25 publications including the 2013 “Inter-Association Task Force for Preventing Sudden Death in Secondary School Athletics Programs: Best Practices Recommendations.” He has also co-authored one chapter on Technology in the book “Sport and Physical Activity in the Heat” and two chapters in “Quick Questions in Heat-Related Illness and Hydration”. Recently Rob has studied elite soccer athletes, collegiate soccer players, professional football players, cyclists, and ultra marathoners. Rob received his bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training from the University of Connecticut in 2007, his master’s degree in Athletic Training from the University of Virginia in 2008, and his doctoral degree from the University of Connecticut in 2014 and completed a post-doctorate from University of Connecticut in 2017.
Christianne Eason, PhD, ATC
President of Sport Safety & Education; Director, innovATe Project
Christianne Eason returned to the University of Connecticut to join the Korey Stringer Institute team as the director of innovATe and a contributor to the TUFSS project in the summer of 2020. Dr. Eason is a certified athletic trainer and has worked clinically in the NCAA Division I, NCAA Division III, and secondary school settings. She continues to serve as a medical volunteer at mass medical tent events including the Boston Marathon and Falmouth Road Race. Christianne has provided testimony on behalf of athletic training scope of practice legislation before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Health multiple times and continues to be a strong proponent of professional and personal advocacy.
Prior to joining the KSI team, Dr. Eason worked as an Assistant Professor of Athletic Training and the graduate school coordinator for the School of Health Sciences at Lasell University. During her time at Lasell, Dr. Eason was able to assist in the professional level degree transition of the Athletic Training program. Her research interests focus on the work-life interface of athletic trainers and the examination of individual and organizational level factors that impact retention, professional commitment, work-life conflict, and patient care. Dr. Eason is a lead or contributing author on nearly 50 peer reviewed articles, including the NATA Position Statement, Facilitating Work Life Balance in Athletic Training Practice Settings, and authored five textbook chapters. She has presented at numerous national, regional, and state conferences on topics including professional commitment, career intentions, organizational structure, and mentoring. Dr. Eason has expertise in qualitative and mixed-methodologies.
Christianne is a recreational runner and has completed half marathons in the Grand Tetons and Rocky Mountains. She is a self-proclaimed paddle board aficionado and travel enthusiast. Dr. Eason earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Athletic Training from the University of Connecticut, her Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Physical Activity from James Madison University and her Doctorate in Sport Management from the University of Connecticut.
Gabrielle Brewer, MA, CISSN
President of Occupational Safety, Director of Communication
Gabrielle received her master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she conducted research in the Applied Physiology Lab on body composition, metabolism, nutrition, and performance while serving as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for Lifetime Fitness courses. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota where she spent her collegiate years working on various physiology and sport science research projects and coaching figure skating and hockey. Gabrielle is a former competitive collegiate figure skater and Gopher Cheerleader; she competed at the 2014 US Figure Skating Intercollegiate Team Nationals, and the 2012 and 2013 National Showcase competitions. She is a Certified Sports Nutritionists through the ISSN and rated skating coach through the Professional Skaters Association. Gabrielle’s research interests surrounding health and performance include thermoregulation, wearable technologies, textiles, and women’s health.
Jessica R. Correia
Director of Operations
Jessica joined KSI in January 2022 as Director of Operations. Jessica received her Bachelors in Marketing from Johnson & Wales University. She joined KSI after working in the elementary school system in Hebron, CT. Jessica has over 20 years of experience as an event planner for both corporate organizations as well as through her own consulting services. She also has a background in non-profit fundraising, catering and hotel management. Jessica relocated to CT from from West Chester, PA. Jessica is involved with HAMR Softball and RHAM Youth Football & Cheerleading. She currently resides in Hebron with her husband (David) and daughter (Audrey) and travels every chance she gets.
Assistant Director of Operations
Nicole joined KSI as the Assistant Director of Operations in the fall of 2023. Nicole earned her bachelor’s degree in health education from Western CT State University in 2010. In 2012, she also received a teaching endorsement in physical education. Nicole played on the women’s soccer team while at WCSU, so KSI’s mission feels close to home. For over 8 years, Nicole has been working as an office manager for a private family dental practice. She has extensive experience in creating more efficient administrative systems, establishing patient financial arrangements, accounts receivable, staff training, and event coordination. Nicole is very excited to make her home here at KSI and provide administrative support to the department. She currently lives in Tolland with her husband Mike, and two kids, Tyler and Ella.
Athlete Performance & Safety
John S. Navarro, MS, CSCS
C0-Director of Athlete Performance & Safety
John received his bachelor’s degree in Physical Education: Sports and Fitness from Florida International University in 2016 and his master’s degree in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology from the University of Florida in 2018. At UF, John joined the research staff in the Physiology & Functional Genomics Lab at the College of Medicine. He also interned in the Applied Neuromechanics Lab at the College of Health and Human Performance. After graduation, John served as the Director of Sports Performance for Miami Rush Kendall SC. He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist with coaching experience of youth, collegiate, and professional athletes. His research interests include physiological determinants of training, thermoregulation, and enhancing sports performance. John is a Miami native who loves Colombian food, cheering for the Dolphins and drinking café.
David Martin, MS, CPT
Co-Director of Athlete Performance & Safety
David Martin is a 2x All American and 2x Team USA elite amateur triathlete. David is a USA triathlon certified coach. In 2019 he competed on behalf of team USA at the ITU Triathlon World championships in Lausanne, Switzerland where he placed 13th in his division. He received his undergraduate degree at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. He received his Master’s degree from Southern Connecticut State University where he was a graduate assistant in the human performance laboratory. During his master’s thesis, David focused on the effects of creatine supplementation on thermoregulation and endurance performance in well trained endurance athletes. David is excited to be a part of KSI as he looks forward to contributing to research, improving race performance for elite athletes, and continuing his own race career while representing KSI on the world stage.
Associate Director of Athlete Performance & Safety
Andrea earned her master’s degree from UConn in 1999 and now serves as the Director of Sports Performance for Women’s Basketball. She has previously held coaching roles with the Texas Longhorns and the Kansas Jayhawks.
In 2017, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) honored Andrea with the Impact Award, given to an individual whose career has greatly contributed to the advancement of the national or international strength and conditioning or fitness industries. In the summer of 2014, her book, Power Positions, was published. In January 2013, she was named the National College Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year by the NSCA for her dedication to improving athletic performance with safe and effective science-based programs.
Hudy graduated from Maryland in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. She earned a master’s degree in sport biomechanics from UConn in 1999 and an MBA from Kansas in 2019.
Assistant Director of Athlete Performance & Safety
Frances received her Bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in Human Biology with a concentration in Human Anatomy and Performance. At Stanford,Frances was a student-athlete and a member of the Field Hockey team. She also served as President of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee in her final year. During her time at Stanford she was also an undergraduate Teaching Assistant for Kinesiology, Human Anatomy and Public Speaking while working as a volunteer Research Assistant for the Healthy Aging Research and Technology Solutions Lab. After graduating, she worked for the Stanford School of Medicine’s Center for Clinical Research as an Associate Clinical Research Coordinator. Frances joined KSI in the Fall of 2022 in pursuit of a Master’s degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science at UConn. Frances continued her student-athlete career at University of Connecticut and completed her 5th year of eligibility with the Field Hockey program. Frances is passionate about athletic performance and safety at the highest level and is excited to be working with KSI during her time at UConn.
Warfighter Performance & Safety
Erin Dierickx, MS, CSCS
Director of Warfighter Performance & Safety
Erin is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and licensed coach through the US Soccer Federation. She has experience coaching at the collegiate NCAA Division l, NCAA Division ll, and NAIA levels, as well as the youth, developmental, club, and high school levels. A native of Washington State, Erin received a dual bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science and Human Performance and Fitness from St. Ambrose University, Iowa in 2013. She earned her master’s degree from Arizona State University in Exercise and Wellness with a focus in Fitness and Conditioning in 2017. At ASU she taught kinesiology lab courses, performed research in measuring and quantifying muscle quality, and gained experience with coaching strength and conditioning at the Division l level with various sports. Her research interests include elite athlete health and performance and application of performance research in practical team and coaching settings.
Associate Director of Warfighter Performance & Safety
Peter Figueiredo received a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology from The University of Massachusetts, Lowell in 2016, followed by a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim. His thesis research was the first investigation of the effects of a sprint interval training intervention in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients and healthy older adults to enhance performance and improve medical outcomes. He started as a Research Fellow at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) in 2019 serving as Research Coordinator for the largest high altitude field study conducted by the USARIEM with four different collaborating associations and three separate field sites. He continued with USARIEM as a Research Physiologist in 2021 serving as Associate Investigator on two protocols, contributing to 3 in total. Peter’s research interests include environmental physiology, military performance, exercise physiology, and wearable tech.
Assistant Director of Warfighter Performance & Safety
Kaylie joined KSI as a summer research fellow in the summer of 2022 while completing her undergrad at Springfield College. She graduated with a bachelors of science in athletic training from Springfield in 2023, then returned to UConn to pursue her Masters in Exercise science. Currently, Kaylie works as a Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer with the Capitol Region Education Council High Schools, and at UConn with club sports. Her research interests include prophylactic training programs to decrease risk of ACL tears, reconstructive ACL rehabilitation and muscle activation, as well as thermoregulation. In her free time she enjoys playing with her two cats, Moose and Momo, her dog, Avery, and her Guinea pig, Oliver (aka Bubbles).
Research & Laboratory Operations
Sean Langan, MS, CSCS, ATC
Director of the MISSION Heat Lab
Sean Langan received a bachelor’s degree in athletic training from Rowan University, New Jersey in 2018, followed by a master’s degree in sports medicine at Georgia Southern University’s Armstrong campus in Savannah, GA. At Georgia Southern, he served as a research assistant and lab coordinator in their Biodynamics & Human Performance Center, where he worked on a wide variety of projects including biomechanical analysis of running & Olympic weightlifting, and the effects of nutritional supplementation on cardiovascular exercise performance, central hemodynamics, and gut microbiome composition. During this time he also worked clinically as an athletic trainer for various road races and sporting events. Sean’s research interests include whole-body exercise adaptations, pathophysiology of heat stroke, cardiac, and metabolic diseases, and improving performance and health across the lifespan.
Ciara Manning, MS, CPT
Director of Research Operations
Ciara joined KSI as an intern in the summer of 2019. She is graduated from Temple University in August of 2019 with her Bachelor’s in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science and a minor in clinical health psychology. At Temple University Ciara was founder and president of the Exercise and Sport Science Association where she helped students become active and engaged in the field of exercise science and research. Ciara is a Certified Personal Trainer through NASM and has experience training people of various ages and skill levels. She completed her Master’s degree at UConn in Spring 2021 where she investigated autonomic nervous system recovery, fluid replacement strategies, and perceptions of recovery. She is excited to continue her work in this field as she pursues her PhD.
Monique joined KSI in the fall of 2022 in pursuit of a PhD in Kinesiology. She graduated from Springfield College in 2018 with my Bachelor’s of Science in Athletic Training. After graduation, Monique worked for the Chinese Olympic Committee as an athletic trainer where she worked with the Chinese Speed Skating team and got to travel and live in China, Netherlands, and Canada. In the summer of 2019, she came back and started an athletic training internship with the University of Hartford. Monique worked with the Women’s Volleyball and Women’s Lacrosse team there primarily but helped with other sports as well. She then went to Central Connecticut State University in the summer of 2020 as a graduate athletic trainer and obtained her Master’s degree in physical education with a concentration in exercise science in the spring of 2022. She is interested in research with athlete performance, thermoregulation, and wearable technology.
Assistant Director of Education
Olivia joined KSI in the fall of 2023 for a Masters in Exercise Science with a concentration in Exercise Prescription. She is originally from Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University in the spring of 2023 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Athletic Training and a minor in Leadership. In 2021, she gained her national certification as an Emergency Medical Technician and continues to work in her community. Olivia has experience working with Drum Corps International, Michigan State University Women’s Rowing, and Alma College athletics. She is currently providing Athletic Training services to CREC high schools as an extension of KSI and UConn. She is excited to continue her education with KSI and live in Connecticut. Olivia hopes to expand her knowledge of athletic performance, biomechanics, and para-athletes.
Aleksis Grace, MS, LAT, ATC
Director of Sports Safety, Associate Director of Communication
Aleksis joined the Korey Stringer Institute as a research fellow in the summer of 2021 and stayed to pursue a PhD in Kinesiology. She received both her bachelor’s in Health Sciences and her master’s in Athletic Training from the University of South Florida in 2019 and 2021, respectively. Currently, Aleksis works as a Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer with the Capitol Region Education Council High Schools. Her research interests include public health initiatives for secondary school athletes, the epidemiology of sudden death in athletics, and thermal stress in active populations.
Associate Director of Sports Safety
Donghyeon joined KSI in the fall of 2023 to pursue a PhD in Kinesiology. Donghyeon graduated from Kyung Hee University in South Korea with a degree in sports medicine. During his undergraduate years, he completed his mandatory military service as a medic in the Korean Air Force. He also served as an assistant athletic trainer for 1 year and head trainer for 2 years for his undergraduate school’s Taekwondo team. After graduating from Kyung Hee University, he came to the US for further study and received his Master’s in athletic training at UConn. Donghyeon is excited to continue his work as a KSI PhD student, and his research interests include athletic performance and thermoregulation.
Amir Defino, LAT, ATC
Assistant Director of Sport Safety
Amir joined the Korey Stringer Institute as a Graduate Assistant in the fall of 2022. Amir graduated from Towson University in May of 2022 with a Bachelor’s in Athletic Training. During his time at Towson, he worked with football, women’s basketball, women’s soccer, men’s lacrosse, and local high schools where he discovered his passion for rehabilitation. Amir is currently serving as the Head Athletic Trainer at Windham High School while he pursues his Master’s in Exercise Science. His research interests include athlete performance and advocating for Athletic Trainers in secondary schools. Amir is also an avid sports fan who loves his Baltimore Ravens.
Cecilia Kaufman, LAT, ATC
Director of Occupational Safety
Cecilia Kaufman joined KSI as a Graduate Assistant in the Fall of 2021. She received her Bachelor’s degree from University of Michigan in Athletic Training in Spring of 2021. During her time at University of Michigan, she served as the Philanthropy Chair for the Organization of Athletic Training Students and worked with many U-M teams including Swim and Dive, Women’s Soccer, Men’s Gymnastics, Field Hockey, and Ice Hockey. She also worked to publish a critically appraised topic in psychosocial impairments following osteosarcoma. After receiving her undergraduate degree, she worked for Michigan Performance and Research Laboratory as a Research Assistant during the Summer of 2021. Cecilia is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science at UCONN, and is working as an Athletic Trainer for Capitol Region Education Council Schools. Her research interests include thermoregulation, heat and cold physiology, psychosocial impairments following athletic injury, and advocating for the Athletic Trainer’s role in health care.
Associate Director of Occupational Safety
Rebecca graduated from Penn State with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Kinesiology. During her time there, she completed an undergraduate thesis that focused on knee joint implant biomechanics and, more specifically, the patellofemoral joint. She spent a summer and her senior year working in the biomechanics lab collecting and processing data on knee implants for the medical technology company Stryker to contribute to the improvement and approval of their clinical use. She discovered a passion for research during these experiences and decided to pursue graduate school at the University of Connecticut. She joined KSI in the fall of 2023 to follow her research aspirations and pursue a Master’s degree studying thermoregulation and wearable technology.
Fredy Celedon, MS
Assistant Director of Occupational Safety
May of 2022, Fredy received his undergraduate degree from California State University Northridge in Athletic Training. During his undergraduate covid was a big part of the program, however this brought more opportunities such as telemedicine and different approaches to emergency action plans. While in undergrad Fredy worked in high schools, community colleges, sport medicine facilities and primary care facilities. He had the opportunity to be the coordinator for the national sport medicine competition at the High School level in LA. Shortly after graduation, Fredy took my national certification test and started working as an Athletic Trainer for the industrial setting. Fredy realized he wanted to pursue a master’s degree in human performance related with athletes and individuals from an industrial world and found that the Korey Stringer Institute was the perfect fit. Currently working for UCONN club sports and Eastern Connecticut State University as an Athletic Trainer allows me to develop his clinical skills with a variety of different contact sports and promote the Sport Medicine career. He is interested in emergency medicine and clinical practice.