UROC Staff


Marilyn Higgins
Interim Executive Director
612-626-8762 | higginsm@umn.edu 

UROC Interim Executive Director Marilyn Higgins comes to the University and the UROC community with a distinguished career built on more than 30 years of experience in cultivating community-campus partnerships in metropolitan settings. Most recently, she served for nine years as vice president for community engagement and economic development at Syracuse University in New York, where she led urban community revitalization initiatives that brought together residents, business leaders, and university personnel. Marilyn began her appointment on September 25 and was formally welcomed at UROC Community Day on Thursday, October 5.

James De Sota
Director of Administration and Projects
612-624-4514 | jadesota@umn.edu

James De Sota pairs up University researchers and community needs. He oversees a variety of projects, including the Northside Achievement Zone 2013 Neighborhood Survey and the Northside Job Creation Team. James also served as lead coordinator for UROC's $3.6 million, federally funded Broadband Access Project. Prior to joining the University, James served as the neighborhood director for the Southeast Como Improvement Association, an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Minnesota Literacy Council, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Gambia, and researcher and consultant for several for-profit industries in the geographic information sector.

Lauren Martin
Director of Research
612-624-0435 | mart2114@umn.edu

Lauren Martin is an expert on community research methods and oversees UROC's research projects and grant operations. A researcher with the University's Children, Youth and Family Consortium and Center for Early Education and Development, Lauren is also an instructor at the University’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She received her doctoral degree in anthropology and historical studies from the New School for Social Research in New York and has been conducting research with community partners since 2006. She is the author of many community and scholarly publications and the principle investigator on several research projects including, Mapping the Market for Juvenile Sex Trafficking in Minneapolis, the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) community survey, and a validation study of the NAZ Family Academy. She is the 2016 recipient of the University's President Community-Engaged Scholar Award.

Makeda Zulu-Gillespie
Director of Community Outreach
612-626-9829 | zulug001@umn.edu

Makeda Zulu-Gillespie works with the North Minneapolis community to establish relationships with the University. She coordinates the University-Northside Partnership's Community Affairs Committee, responds to community inquiries, represents UROC at community forums, and develops activities to strengthen long-term partnerships between the University and community members. A native of North Minneapolis and a former community organizer, Makeda has worked with area youth, families, and community for more than 25 years. She is a graduate of the University's President's Emerging Leaders program, a recipient of the University's Outstanding Community Service Award and a master's degree student in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. 


Leola Crawford
Administrative Specialist
612-624-4470 | leola@umn.edu

Leola Crawford is responsible for UROC's events, communications, and scheduling. She joined the staff in 2009 and helps plan UROC’s annual events such as Community Day and the Family Resource Fair. She also serves on the UROC's Effects of the Foreclosure/Mortgage Crisis on Individual, Family, and Community Health and Wellness Action Research Team.

Hawona Sullivan Janzen
Gallery Curator & Special Projects Coordinator
612-626-1526 | janze005@umn.edu

Gallery curator Hawona Sullivan Janzen brings arts and cultural programs to UROC's gallery. She has coordinated exhibits and events involving more than 100 artists and arts organizations on topics ranging from the Cambodian refugee experience to African-American storytelling and a children's photography exhibit of life in North Minneapolis following the 2011 tornado. She is a volunteer with the Minnesota African American Museum, Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented, and the African American Leadership Forum.


Christina Melander
Research Fellow
612-624-4618 | melan108@umn.edu

Trained in community-based and participatory research approaches, Christina Melander focuses her research at UROC on sex trafficking, gender equality, and structural work inequalities.  She comes from a diverse background in social work practice, including working with sexual assault/domestic violence survivors, homeless populations, low-income communities, and immigrant in the Chicago and Twin Cities areas. Christina has a master's degree in social work from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Chicago.


Anna Orr
Executive Office and Administrative Specialist
612-624-5881 | arorr@umn.edu

As UROC's administrative specialist, Anna Orr is responsible for a range of operational and administrative duties, including overseeing building operations and supporting the UROC's leadership team. Anna has a bachelor's degree in speench communication/radio and television studies from Southwest Minnesota State University and was born and raised in North Minneapolis.


Sabrina Yang
Principal Office and Administrative Specialist
612-626-8762 | yang3889@umn.edu 

Sabrina is responsible for all of UROC's front desk operations— from greeting and registering visitors, to managing phone calls and UROC's reception area operations. She is fluent in Hmong, English and American Sign Language.