Meet Our Staff

Like what you see here? We'd love to meet you in person. 

Jennifer Pigza, Ph.D. – 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. The highlight of Jennifer's 2013-2014 academic year has been collaborating with Marshall on the new peer-reviewed journal Engaging Pedagogies in Catholic Higher Education (EPiCHE).

William Besson -AmeriCorps VISTA Coordinator (925) 631-8544

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. 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. During his 16 years in Singapore prior to enrolling at SMC, he served in the Singapore Army, and later worked as a freelance facilitator/instructor. His experiences in national service and as an educator showed him the importance of and challenges in the pursuit of social justice, and 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 Coordinator of CILSA's unique AmeriCorps VISTA program (link to VISTA page).

Samantha Coon – Coordinator for Civic Leadership (925) 631-8168

Contact Samantha for questions or concerns related to the Public Service Internship, the Social Action Leadership Team, and CILSA Living-Learning Communities. 

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. - Assistant Director, Community Engagement and Faculty Development (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.

Ryan Lamberton, M.A. - Assistant Director for Programs (925) 631-4015

Contact Ryan about Summer Fellowship Programs, Social Justice Speakers, & CILSA Alumni Affinity Groups, and trainings on student leadership for social justice.

As a student at Saint Mary's, Ryan Lamberton served as a Bonner Leader, enrolled in several social justice courses, and participated in immersion trips to the Dominican Republic, Washington, DC, and West Oakland. After graduating in 2005, Ryan served as a volunteer with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship while also substitute teaching in the East Bay. Ryan followed that experience by working as a coordinator for a non-profit organization that provides services and housing to adults with developmental disabilities. These undergraduate and post-graduate experiences solidified Ryan's desire to accompany college students as they ask questions about faith, justice and leadership for the common good. Ryan initiated the regional Leadership & Social Justice Conference in 2009 which has taken place for the past three consecutive years.  Ryan has also played instrumental roles in bringing guest speakers to campus. In the Spring of 2012, Ryan received a Master of Arts degree in Counseling; his master's project examined how faculty and student affairs professionals can foster the spiritual development of college students through summer service-learning programs.

Teresa Ramirez- Jumpstart Site Manager, 925.631.4855

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

As an undergraduate at Saint Mary's, Teresa studied Latin American and United States History and became involved with CILSA through Jumpstart for Young Children, a national non-profit. She participated in Jumpstart in three different capacities as a student leader, which solidified her investment in social justice and non-profit work. After graduating in 2014, Teresa worked in a professional position with Jumpstart as a Site Manager at San Francisco State University. She joined the CILSA staff in January of 2017 to oversee the Jumpstart program at Saint Mary’s. Teresa’s major interest area in social justice is education & community building, which her CILSA student leaders address directly through service-learning in higher education and early childhood intervention.