Koontz, Cooper, Grindle, McKernan Take New Director Roles

The Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) would like to congratulate Alicia Koontz, Rosemarie Cooper, Garrett Grindle, and Gina McKernan on their new roles on the HERL Directorship Team.

They join the other members of the HERL Directorship Team, namely: Rory A. Cooper, PhD, HERL Director; Brad Dicianno, MD, HERL Medical Director; Michael L. Boninger, MD, Senior Associate Medical Director; Stacy Eckstein, BS, MT (ASCP), Assistant Director for Clinical and Regulatory Affairs; Daniel Kysela, MAT, Assistant Director for Finance and Research Administration; Randy Williams, MBA, Assistant Director for Education and Outreach; and Andrea Bagay, BS, CRA, Administrative Officer and Assistant Director for VA Finance & Research Administration.


HERL is pleased to announce the promotion of Alicia M. Koontz, PhD, ATP, RET within the Directorship Team to Senior Associate Director for Research. In this role, Dr. Koontz will continue to broaden and expand HERL’s research portfolio by finding new grant opportunities and identifying resources or establishing new partnerships to make HERL more competitive for receiving grants. “As we build and expand our leadership and partnerships as a whole, I’m excited to see to see us become more competitive and successful with larger grants,” said Dr. Koontz. “In the end, however, it’s really about impact. It’s important to remain focused on the end goal and produce outcomes that continue to make a real and important difference in the lives of veterans, persons with disabilities and their loved ones.”

Dr. Koontz received her PhD degree in Rehabilitation Science from the University of Pittsburgh and B.S. and M.S. degrees in Biomedical Engineering from Wright State University.  Dr. Koontz’s research is aimed towards improving the health, function and quality of life of wheelchair users.  She has expertise in the areas of rehabilitation biomechanics, assistive technology, and secondary injury prevention.   Dr. Koontz has a 12 year track record of grant funding from sources including the VA, NIH, and the PVA and has authored over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles, conference proceedings and book chapters.


Rosemarie Cooper, MPT, ATP joins HERL as Associate Director for Stakeholder Engagement. Her role will be to enhance and extend stakeholder engagement into HERL’s clinical, research, education and outreach, and administrative programs by interacting with community partners, affiliated organizations, Military and Veteran organizations, disability advocates, research participants, and more groups and individuals in order to establish cross-communication among all of HERL’s stakeholders and providing value-added support for HERL’s future growth. Ms. Cooper states, “I am especially excited to help strengthen our stakeholders’ bond with HERL by providing greater opportunities for education, participation, and strengthening, HERL’s vision.”

Ms. Cooper received a BA degree with a concentration in International Business from California State University, Sacramento in 1994 and received an MPT degree in Physical Therapy from University of Pittsburgh in 1998. She is a RESNA certified Assistive Technology Professional (ATP).  She was recently the Director the UPMC Center for Assistive Technology and worked as a Clinical Instructor/ Wheelchair Seating Clinician.


Garrett Grindle, PhD, has been promoted within HERL’s Directorship Team into his new position as Associate Director for Engineering. As Dr. Grindle’s primary role at HERL is to oversee device design, development, and prototyping for HERL’s portfolio of projects, this promotion was an acknowledgement that HERL’s Engineering Core has grown in team members, equipment, and in scope of projects since the directorship position was created – as well as a recognition of the effectiveness with which Dr. Grindle has performed it. “I will continue to ensure that all our stakeholders’ projects, both internal and external, get the right resources at the right time in order to be successful,” said Dr. Grindle, who added, “With 30 or more projects this is can be a bit of daunting challenge – but our team members have always come through to solve problems for our Veterans and people with disabilities.”

Dr. Grindle received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Bioengineering and his doctorate in Rehabilitation Science at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Grindle’s primary role at HERL is to oversee device design, development, prototyping, and technology transfer for HERL’s portfolio of projects. He has extensive experience with designing and fabricating assistive and medical technology prototypes that are suitable for use in field trials. Dr. Grindle also leads the technical side of the Technology Transfer Assist Program, which helps move VA inventions to commercial licensees through the creation of high-fidelity prototypes. Dr. Grindle’s research interests include: assistive robots, adaptive sports equipment, power wheelchair interfaces, and the use of device smart device to assist with transfers.


Gina McKernan, PhD joins HERL’s Directorship Team as Assistant Director for Data Sciences. In this role, Dr. McKernan plans to elevate HERL’s data science capabilities in collaboration with HERL’s researchers, faculty, staff, and students. “We will bring traditional statistical approaches, machine learning methods, NLP, and spatial and geographic mapping to study new technologies, approaches, and innovations designed to improve the quality of life for veterans and people with disabilities,” affirms Dr. McKernan. “I’m very excited about the chance to bring new ideas and generate original research content and educational opportunities for HERL.”

Dr. McKernan is a statistician and data scientist with expertise in applying machine-learning (ML) algorithms to current healthcare problems. She is a Research Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Dr. McKernan has led research efforts to develop value metrics of individual healthcare consumers on both the payer and provider sides by applying ML techniques, such as Markov Chain Monte Carlo methods and Negative Binomial Distribution to create customer lifetime value. In addition, Dr. McKernan has constructed and advanced several large-scale customer and clinical segmentation studies. Recently, Dr. McKernan was responsible for developing and validating a virtual patient-physician matching tool, using a distance-matching response algorithm and item response theory.  Dr. McKernan received an MA and PhD in Research Methodology from the University of Pittsburgh and has held several key academic and industry positions.