Meet Our Staff

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Jennifer Pigza, Ph.D. (she/her) | Director (925) 631-4755

Jennifer Pigza also serves as a faculty member in the graduate program in Leadership for Social Justice and Leadership doctoral program. She brings to Saint Mary's experiences in nonprofit social service agencies, service-learning, college teaching, living and learning programs and higher education administration. She writes about critical pedagogy, student learning and critical reflection, teaching for social justice, and institutionalizing service-learning. She traces her commitments to faith-justice to early experiences working with homeless people in Baltimore, attending service immersions in Mexico, institutionalizing service-learning in Maryland high schools, and investing four years with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. 

William Besson (he/him) | AmeriCorps VISTA Program Manager (845) 588-0771

Contact William for questions or concerns related to the AmeriCorps VISTA Program.

In his first year at SMC as an undergraduate, William Besson (a.k.a. Will) started working with CILSA as a Jumpstart Corps Member, and continued as an Engaged Learning Facilitator for the remaining three years while earning his B.S. in Psychology (Behavioral Neuroscience) with a Biology (Pre-Med) minor in 2016. He is currently pursuing his M.A. in Counseling, and his master's project addresses issues of hegemonic masculinity online. As a dual-citizen (U.S. & Singapore), he attempts to provide an international perspective to CILSA, in line with our efforts to think globally and act locally. In 2006, he withdrew from high school in Singapore to soul-search. Before moving to California, he waited tables, served in the Singapore Army, and worked as a freelance facilitator and instructor. His experiences in national service and as an educator showed him the importance of and challenges in the pursuit of truth and social justice. His work with CILSA as a student leader gave him the tools to engage in the necessary work; he draws on all of the above in his role as Manager of CILSA's unique AmeriCorps VISTA program.

Samantha Coon, M.A. (she/her) | Assistant Director for Community Engaged Leadership (925) 631-8168

Contact Samantha for questions or concerns related to the MICAH Summer Fellowship, Public Service Internship, and BAY Collaborative.

Samantha Coon developed a serious interest for service and social justice during her high school years at a small Catholic school in southern California.  With its strong sense of community and Lasallian foundation, Samantha found St. Mary's College to be the perfect institution for her undergraduate studies, where she completed her B.A.  As a freshman she became involved in CILSA through the non-profit organization Jumpstart.  Samantha's passion and knowledge for service and social justice continued to grow throughout her SMC career with Jumpstart and CILSA.  This, in combination with her interest in non-profit work, prompted her to study development aid and to travel to Rwanda as a January Term student during her senior year. In Rwanda, Samantha volunteered with several different non-profit and non-government organizations, and had the opportunity to interact with many individuals who have passionately dedicated their lives to service and social justice.  Samantha learned not only about the fundamental details of a successful organization, but was also inspired to make a commitment to service and social justice post-graduation.

Sarah Beth Dempsey, Ed.D. (she/her) | Associate Director, Community Engagement (925) 631-8543

Contact Sarah for questions or concerns related to faculty development, community partner relationships, and community engagement courses for the core curriculum.

Sarah Dempsey is committed to creating opportunities that empower students to be engaged in their own personal and academic development.  Her dedication to higher education administration started when she was a student leader at Sacramento State University where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree.  She earned her Doctor of Education degree in Educational Leadership from Saint Mary's College, Master of Science degree in Student Counseling and Personnel Services at Kansas State University, and continued her counseling training in sexual assault counseling and alcohol and drug counseling in Santa Barbara.  For over nine years she worked for the University of California system coordinating programs and activities designed to enhance student success: undergraduate pathway programs for underrepresented students, enrollment management, and academic advising.  Sarah's area of interest is social justice in higher education.

Tianna Lui (she/they) | Jumpstart / AmeriCorps Compliance and Budget Assistant (925) 631-4855

Tianna has been committed to working with youth in educational sectors for several years now. In their undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley, they were involved with Jumpstart from the very beginning. Starting as an AmeriCorps member, to Team Leader, then Program Assistant, Tianna has seen and worked through various aspects of the program to help ensure that the Jumpstart mission is being met. Currently, as the Compliance and Budget Assistant for St. Mary’s Jumpstart, Tianna is able to further their work within the program by supporting students through administrative processes alongside fostering a connection to Jumpstart as a whole. With her expertise in the hands-on work with children and administrative work, they are hoping to further the values of social justice and community collaboration in the program.

Bianca Meza, M.Ed. (she/her) | Jumpstart Site Manager, 925.631.4855

Contact Bianca for questions or concerns related Jumpstart in Oakland and early childhood education co-curricular community service projects.

Bianca Meza’s journey through the field of education began during her undergraduate studies at Washington State University where she completed a Bachelor of Arts in Human Development with an ECE focus. She continued on to serve as an AmeriCorps College Coach & College Access Coordinator for two years before earning her M.Ed in Student Development at Seattle University. These experiences shaped her commitment to community, education and justice. As the Jumpstart Site Manager, she is committed to establishing intentional partnerships with Oakland Child Development partners/teachers and developing opportunities for students to explore the ways in which they create welcoming classroom spaces that embrace children as individuals, celebrate culture, and promote early literacy.