The SPARC Team

Our Team

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Heather Frost, Director



Christy McTait, Manager of Research Development 

CIHR Foundation Grant

Christy manages SPARC support for CIHR’s Foundation Grant program. Foundation support services include strategic grant writing workshops, application templates, internal peer review and SPARC review. Christy also provides one-on-one funding consultations with both new-to-UBC and new-to-CIHR researchers. Prior to joining SPARC, Christy worked in change management and strategic planning in the health care sector. Christy received her Master’s in Health Administration from UBC and Bachelor of Science from Queen's University.

Meaghan Miller, Health Research Development Officer

CIHR Project Grant

Meaghan leads SPARC's support services for the CIHR Project Grant program.

Tessa Cheng, Health Research Development Officer

Tessa manages SPARC support for the CIHR Strategic portfolio, which includes tracking and communicating new Strategic competitions, providing one-on-one consultations with faculty and research staff, and conducting SPARC review. She holds a PhD in Health Sciences and a Master’s in Public Policy, both from SFU. Tessa has experience conducting CIHR- and NIH-funded public health research in Vancouver focusing on illegal street drug and nonmedical prescription opioid use.

Sharon Marsh, Health Research Development Officer

Sharon Marsh holds a degree in Genetics from Nottingham University in England and a PhD in Medical Genetics from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Following her PhD she crossed the ocean to work in various roles in an NIH funded cancer pharmacogenomics lab at Washington University in St Louis. Subsequently she worked in Montreal as an Associate Scientific Director in a Genome Canada funded centre before returning to academia at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in Edmonton. Sharon joined UBC’s SPARC in 2017 as a Health Research Development Officer.

Elizabeth Cheu, Research Grant Development

Elizabeth Cheu led health-related grant development support for the Faculty of Medicine for almost ten years and, in her new role with SPARC, will continue to expand her health-related grant expertise, including salary awards, across UBC. Elizabeth’s mandate to improve competitive funding for UBC will be to: clarify subject matter; assist with strategy; and help develop peer-reviewed grants. Elizabeth earned her Ph.D. (Chemistry) in 2000. She then trained as a postdoc in photodynamic therapy. Elizabeth spent several years in the biotech industry managing an international patent portfolio.

Stephane Dragon, Manager of Research Development

Stephane is on parental leave returning to the office in July, 2020.

Stephane is a project management professional specializing in the design, administration and evaluation of funding programs that support research, training and knowledge mobilization. He was responsible for the coordination and delivery of funding programs at the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR), and previously reviewed and evaluated policies related to the management and financial administration of grants and awards at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Stephane received his Ph.D. from the Department of Immunology at the University of Manitoba investigating the cellular mechanisms that drive allergic airway inflammation.

Social Sciences and Humanities

Danica Kell, SSH Research Development Officer


Danica manages the SSHRC Insight and Insight Development Grant Internal Review Programs, and assists with other SSH research funding opportunities.  Before joining SPARC, Danica worked as a Special Project Researcher for the David Spencer Endowment Encouragement Foundation, and as Program Manager for the Surrey Choral Arts Project Society. Danica received her BA from UBC.

Natural Sciences and Engineering

Alexander Unterberger, Manager of Research Development 

Alex Unterberger is the NSERC Manager of Research Development. He is responsible for overseeing the unit's mission to provide faculty with strategic research funding development services and resources, develop capacity, build collaborations, increase application success rates and enhance research excellence for UBC's NSERC portfolio.

Alexander received his BSc and PhD from McGill University and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Sick Kids Hospital. He worked at the University Health Network as a Research Communication Specialist and as a Research Grants Facilitator in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UBC. Alexander has experience in developing operating, salary and institutional grants for a diverse set of research disciplines to a variety of funding agencies, such as NSERC, SSHRC, CFREF, CFI, CRC, CIHR, NIH and Genome Canada.

Mika Johnson, NSE Research Development Officer


Mika is a Natural Sciences and Engineering (NSE) Research Development Officer for UBC's SPARC Office. In this role she supports UBC researchers applying to NSERC competitions and other NSE funding opportunities. She currently manages the unit's support services for NSERC's RTI (Research Tools and Instruments) and CREATE (Collaborative Research and Training Experience) programs, and provides reviews and support for other programs including the NSERC Discovery Grants program, the CFI JELF and Innovation Fund competitions, and the New Frontiers in Research Fund competitions. Mika has a particular interest in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) as it relates to research and grant development.

Mika's experience in research development is diverse and spans multiple disciplines within the NSE and Health. Before joining SPARC in January 2017 she worked in grant facilitation at the BC Children's Hospital Research Institute. There she developed grant and award applications for a range of Canadian and international funding agencies and non-profit organizations, such as NSERC, CIHR, CFI, WHO, UNICEF, Grand Challenges Canada, MSFHR and Mitacs. Her educational background is in exercise physiology, cardiovascular disease prevention, and health promotion. Mika received her MSc from UBC in 2010. 

Paolo Marcazzan, NSE Research Development Officer

NSERC Alliance

Dr. Paolo Marcazzan holds an MSc in Industrial Chemistry from the University of Bologna in Italy and a PhD in Chemistry from UBC. He worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Research Council of Canada (Vancouver) and as a Research Associate at UBC Chemistry and Mechanical Engineering on clean energy materials and technologies. Most recently, Paolo worked for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Vancouver) as Head of Science and Policy at the British Consulate General, where he developed and managed UK-Canada relations in science, research and policy across a range of disciplines and involving stakeholders from academia, government and industry.

Pia Smets, Research Development and Awards Officer


Sayre Tripp, Administrative Assistant

Sayre is the Administrative Assistant for the SPARC office. He is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the office, as well as handling general inquiries. He earned his BA in International Relations from the University of Washington, then relocated to Vancouver in 2016, after six years in Boston. Most recently, Sayre worked with UBC Internal Medicine, Post-Graduate Education, as a Program Assistant.