Our Team

Christopher Pennell, PhD
Associate Director, Education

Dr. Pennell serves as the center’s faculty-education liaison. His long-standing research interest is to harness the immune system to treat cancer. His role in the center is to help ensure the Cancer Center meets the needs of Minnesotans, and to encourage students to pursue careers in cancer care and research.

Jenny Poynter, MPH, PhD
Associate Director, Community Outreach and Engagement

Dr. Poynter serves as the leader of community outreach and engagement. Dr. Poynter is trained as an epidemiologist and has focused her career on understanding why children and adults develop cancer. Her role in the center is to understand the cancer burden in Minnesota and ensure that the Cancer Center is responding to the needs of the population of Minnesota through research and clinical care.   

Kiara Ellis, MSW
Senior Manager, Community Outreach and Engagement 

Kiara is the center's Community Engagement and Education Senior Manager. She completed her Bachelor's in Family Social Science and a Masters in Social Work: Community Practice at the U of MN. She held previous positions coordinating grants at the University and at HealthPartners, focused on creating support services that lessen the burden of cancer and diabetes on diverse populations. Her passions lie in serving as a change agent for the community and impacting systemic change that will further cancer health equity in the state.

Patty Beckmann, RN
Oncology Patient Access Nurse

Patty Beckmann, RN, served as a Research Nurse for 22 years here at the University of Minnesota working on a variety of NCI-funded cancer clinical research studies as well as a major Parkinson's disease study. Her professional experience and passion for helping patients navigate clinical research make her great fit to educate and provide resources to our patients and community members through our Cancer Information Line.

Lissa Martinez Huebner
Senior Event and Project Coordinator

Lissa comes to the Masonic Cancer Center with a background in events and logistics in health charities. She received her bachelor's degree in Recreation and Tourism from Winona State University. Her professional experience includes working on awareness and fundraising events across the upper Midwest. She is passionate about creating top-notch events to educate and engage the community.

Abdifatah Ahmed, MS
Community Engagement and Education Coordinator 

Abdi joins the Masonic Cancer Center with previous Community Engagement experience working with diverse communities in the Twin Cities and in San Diego, California. He is passionate about new and innovative opportunities to engage and educate our communities. He is responsible for coordinating student research internship opportunities and developing ongoing programs to engage communities in Minnesota.