M.D. Program – St. Joseph

Staff and Faculty

Wacker, MichaelMichael Wacker, Ph.D.
Associate Dean Academic Affairs and Preclinical Medical Education
Professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences

Dr. Wacker obtained his PhD in Molecular Biosciences from the University of Kansas where he also completed a NIH-post doctoral fellowship. He joined UMKC in 2007 and through his tenure has worked as an instructor, course director, researcher, and administrator. He has taught primarily cardio-pulmonary and neuro-physiology to UMKC medical, physician assistant, and anesthesiologist assistant students. He runs a cardiovascular research laboratory and is currently investigating how changes in factors released by bone and kidney alter cardiac and skeletal muscle function. Previously Dr. Wacker has served as Assistant Dean of Medical Student Research. Dr. Wacker serves as the Primary Investigator for a HRSA funded grant supporting training for rural medical education to increase the number of physicians practicing in rural and medically underserved areas. This grant has helped fund and develop training opportunities at the new UMKC rural regional campus in St. Joseph, MO. Dr. Wacker is passionate about assisting students to reach their potential, dive into medical questions, and ultimately fulfill critical healthcare needs. Dr. Wacker is excited to lead rural initiatives, continue to work with the great team of faculty and staff, partner with our valuable health care affiliates, and increase the number of physicians practicing in rural and medically underserved areas of the state and region.

Kristen Kleffner, Ph.D.
Assistant Dean, Student Affairs

Dr. Kleffner serves as the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at the new St. Joseph Campus; she began her new role as of October 2020. Dr. Kleffner has spent her career in medical education. She attended the University of Missouri–Columbia where she completed a Master’s degree in Counseling and Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration.  She worked for the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia before coming to the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine in 2010. During her time at the UMKC School of Medicine, she has served in progressive roles in Admissions, Advising, Career Services, and now as Assistant Dean of the St. Joseph campus. Dr. Kleffner has a passion for serving students, and in each of her respective roles has found joy in advocating for student needs. She has served on several committees including the Chancellor’s LGBTQIA Initiative, the General Education 2.0 Committee, and currently as the advisor for the Student National Medical Association. She intends to use her years in service to medical students to manage endeavors to support our new campus in St. Joseph, Missouri. Dr. Kleffner’s email address is kleffnerk@umkc.edu.

Kathleen Spears, Ph.D.Kathleen Spears, Ph.D.
Assistant Dean of Student Success

Dr. Spears serves as the Assistant Dean of Student Success at the St. Joseph Campus and has joined the team to promote academic achievement and a student-centered learning environment. Dr. Spears is a career health sciences educator and patient advocate for Northwest Missouri, where she has lived for the last decade.  She attended the University of Missouri–Columbia where she completed a Doctorate in Neurobiology, specializing in stem cell-based therapies for neurodegenerative disease.  She then collaborated with University Hospital in Columbia’s neurosurgery and pathology departments as a neurooncology post-doctoral associate before joining the faculty at Northwest Missouri State University in 2012. During her time at NWMSU, she served as a physiology professor, an academic advisor, an EMS instructor, and coordinator of the Biology Graduate Program.  Dr. Spears is dedicated to student achievement, advocating for student resources, and building excellent medical professionals to serve rural communities. Dr. Spears is a licensed EMT and member of the Nodaway County Mass Casualty Response Squad, where she continues to provide care and training to Northwest Missouri first responders.  Dr. Spears cares intently for the wellbeing of her students, her patients, and her community; she intends to leverage her years in medical research, basic science education, rural community dynamics, and clinical correlations to make the St. Joseph Campus the premiere site for creating exceptional Rural Medicine physicians. Dr. Spears’s email address is kmspears@umkc.edu.

Meghan Rodriquez, Ph.D.Meghan Rodriquez, Ph.D.
Assistant Teaching Professor

Dr. Rodriquez serves as the Assistant Teaching Professor of Anatomy and Histology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the Saint Joseph Campus. She has joined the team to mentor students in their courses, with a special emphasis on providing on-site anatomy, histology, and dissection labs, as well as small group activities, anatomy lectures, and to provide anatomy-based outreach programs to high schoolers and incoming medical students. Dr. Rodriquez attended the University of North Dakota (UND) where she earned a Doctor of Philosophy in Anatomy and Cell Biology. Her dissertation involved investigating transcriptomic and epigenetic links associated with increased susceptibility to persistent depressive and anxiety-like disorders in neonate mice exposed to Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) during a critical window of neurodevelopment. Her research paralleled and expounded upon published findings indicating that humans exposed to SSRIs during their third trimester of development are at increased risk for depression diagnoses by the age of 15.  Dr. Rodriquez is experienced working with DNA, RNA, proteins, cell cultures, the serotonin and dopamine transporters, and with maintaining a mouse colony and performing rodent behavioral testing and dissections. In addition, while attending UND she mentored students in research laboratory techniques, taught and managed undergraduate human cadaver-based labs and led cadaver dissection teams. During the summer of 2021, she taught a dissection-based anatomy lab course to Doctor of Occupational Therapy Students at Casper College in Wyoming, while also training two faculty members to teach and run the course for future semesters. Dr. Rodriquez is passionate about supporting student success, providing excellence in education, and helping her students become the best Rural Medicine Physicians they can. Her email address is meghan.rodriquez@umkc.edu.

Caroline Kelly
Senior Education Team Coordinator

Caroline Kelly serves as the Senior Education Team Coordinator for the new St. Joseph Campus. Caroline is a graduate of the Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri–Columbia, where she earned a master’s degree in public affairs with an emphasis in non-profit management. She brings knowledge of the public and non-profit sectors, as well as experience advising students, both academically and personally, through their medical education. Caroline is excited to build impactful relationships with the students and other members of the St. Joseph team, assist students in their educational and personal journeys, and be part of the Roo family!


Hilary Yager
Senior Student Recruitment Specialist

Hilary Yager serves as the Senior Rural Recruitment Specialist for the St. Joseph and Kansas City campuses.  Hilary is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia but having worked as the Program Coordinator in her previous role for UMKC the past couple of years, she easily identifies as a ‘Roo now too!  She has worked each year with the incoming students, on site staff and faculty at the St. Joseph campus since opening in 2020 and has built and maintained several of the connections with many of our St. Joseph partners including Mosaic Life Care Hospital, the Missouri Northwest Area Health Education Center and the Chamber of Commerce.  Born in St. Joseph, Hilary is a perfect fit for targeting and recruiting rural talent in and around the surrounding areas of northwest Missouri.  She looks forward to playing a part in combatting the physician shortage and disparities in rural healthcare.

Rashaun Riggans
Curriculum Coordinator

Rashaun serves as the Curriculum Coordinator on the St. Joseph Campus. She has been with the UMKC School of Medicine since 2015 starting in Student Affairs and the Council on Curriculum. In 2021, Rashaun graduated from the UMKC Henry W. Bloch of Management with a Master of Business Administration. Rashaun is excited about the growth of the curriculum in St. Joseph and looks forward to the future opportunities for the students.

Mohannad Abu Omar, M.D.
Student Ombudsperson

Dr. Abu Omar is a graduate of University of Jordan. He completed his post graduate training in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine at UMKC School of Medicine. He is now practicing at Mosaic Life Care in St. Joseph . Dr. Abu Omar’s primary clinical interests are Lung Cancer prevention and diagnosis. Dr Abu Omar will serve as the ombudsperson for the MD only students based at the UMKC School of Medicine St Joseph campus. He can be reached at m.abuomar@mymlc.com.