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
Becca Stearns has worked at KSI since it’s early beginnings 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. At the University of Connecticut one of her roles is supervising and running research studies within the UConn Human Performance Laboratory. Her research interests include the effects of heat and hydration on sport performance and physiological functioning, specifically as it relates to runners and football players. Dr. Stearns also leads the education components to KSI and has worked to create online educational courses as well as co-edit books such as “Preventing Sudden Death in Sport and Physical Activity” and “Emergency Management for Sport and Physical Activity.” Dr. Stearns also serves as the chair of the Eastern Athletic Trainers Associations Sponsorship and Fundraising committee. She is an avid runner, having completed 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; 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.
Director of Operations
Jessica joined KSI in January 2022 as Director of Operations. Jessica received her bachelors in Marketing from Johnson & Wales University. She joins KSI after working in the elementary school system in Hebron, CT. Jessica has years of experience as an event planner for both corporate organizations as well as through her own consulting services. She also has background in non-profit fundraising and hotel management. Jessica originates from West Chester, PA and has lived in CT for 20 years. She currently resides in Hebron with her husband (David) and daughter (Audrey).
Assistant Director of Operations
Mnal joined KSI in January 2022. She graduated from the University of Connecticut in May 2020. Mnal has a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing with a concentration in Digital Marketing and Analytics. Before joining KSI, she was an Executive Assistant at an aerospace technology company in CT. Mnal would like to advance her career in higher education and utilize her marketing background to help with KSI initiatives.
Margaret Morrissey, PhD
Director of Occupational & Military Safety; President of the National Heat Safety Coalition
Margaret Morrissey received her undergraduate degree at Skidmore College in Health and Exercise Sciences. After receiving her undergraduate degree, she worked at Weill Cornell Medicine as a Clinical Research Coordinator evaluating the safety and efficacy of pharmaceutical trials on the treatment of hematological disorders. She also worked at Skidmore College as a Research Assistant examining the thermal and cardiovascular strain of structural firefighting. She received her Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Sports Nutrition from Florida State University. At Florida State, she served as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in Anatomy and Physiology and Sports Nutrition. Her primary research interests include thermoregulation during exercise in the heat, pathophysiology of exertional heat stroke, and prevention of heat illnesses in occupational populations. She serves as the President of a new branch of KSI, the National Heat Safety Coalition (NHSC), that was launched in July 2021 (heatsafetycoalition.com).
Erin Dierickx, MS, CSCS
Director of Athlete 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.
Jeb Struder, MS, CSCS
Director of Research
Jeb Struder joined KSI during the summer of 2019. He received his undergraduate degree from East Carolina University in 2016 earning a Bachelors of Science in Exercise Physiology with a Minor in Nutritional Sciences. Post-graduation, Jeb spent time with the Spartan Performance Clinic of Michigan State University as a Sports Performance Specialist. There he worked with athletes from a variety of ages and athletic backgrounds while providing an integrated approach with programs centered in strength and conditioning, nutrition, and mental preparation. In 2017, he pursued his Masters of Science in Kinesiology with a specialization in Exercise Physiology from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. He was appointed as the lead Graduate Assistant for the Exercise Physiology Laboratory and assisted with all classes taught and research completed within the program. His research interests include skeletal muscle responses to both resistance and aerobic exercise, the relationship between nutritional intake and exercise on skeletal muscle mass adaptations, and the influence of exercise on differing populations.
Michael Szymanski, MS, ATC
Director of Education; Lab Manager, MISSION Heat Lab
Mike received his undergraduate degree from Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland, majoring in athletic training. He then attended Central Michigan University as the graduate research assistant for the Athletic Training Education Program where he received his master’s degree in Exercise Physiology. Mike’s research interests include thermal physiology, exertional heat illnesses, and exercise-associated muscle cramps.
Ayami Yoshihara, MS, ATC
Director of Education
Ayami joined KSI in the fall of 2019. She received her bachelor’s degree in 2014 and her master’s degree in 2016 from Ritsumeikan University in Japan. She received her second master’s degree in athletic training from the University of South Florida in 2018. After graduation, she worked as an intern athletic trainer for women’s tennis/dance team at the University of Tennessee. She is also certified National Registry of Emergency Medical Technician (NREMT). Her research interests include best practice in athletic training, sports safety, secondary school athletic trainer employment.
Gabrielle Brewer, MA, CISSN
Director of Communication; Associate Director of Occupational Safety; Vice-President of the National Heat Safety Coalition
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.
Sean Langan, MS, CSCS, ATC
Associate Director of Research
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.
John S. Navarro, MS, CSCS
Associate Director of Athlete Performance and 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
Associate Director of Athlete Performance and 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.
Ciara Manning, MS, CPT
Associate Director of Communication
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.
Aleksis Monsees, MS, LAT, ATC
Associate Director of Sports Safety
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.
Cecilia Kaufman , LAT, ATC
Assistant Director of Athlete Performance & 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.
Marcus Olson, LAT, ATC
Assistant Director of Education
Marcus graduated from the University of Central Missouri in May of 2021 with his Bachelor’s in Athletic Training. During the Summer of 2020, he participated in an internship with the Arizona Diamondbacks where he expanded his knowledge and passion in the overhead athlete. Marcus is currently working as a Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer with the Capitol Region Education Council Schools. Marcus will be pursuing his Master’s in Kinesiology at UConn this Fall 2021. His research interests include injury prevention and sports performance.