Our Staff

Brian Christens, Ph.D
Associate Professor
Faculty Director 
Brian’s research is on civic engagement, community organizing, empowerment, and systems change. He studies processes that enhance people’s and organization’s’ ability to take actions to benefit the groups and communities to which they belong.  Much of this work is action-oriented research taking place alongside community and youth organizing efforts and community-driven health promotion initiatives.  An overarching goal is to identify the mechanisms – at multiple levels of analysis – that account for links between engagement in empowering processes and well-being.

Mary Beth Collins, J.D., M.A.
Director of Centers Research and Public Affairs
Mary Beth has experience as a teacher, attorney, and nonprofit professional, and have always been passionate about the strength and well being of communities, families, and mission-based enterprises.  Using the skills she has gained in her past professional life to help build a robust research and outreach agenda at the School of Human Ecology is a true pleasure.  She is excited about the work of SoHE researchers, and their ability to work with community partners and other researchers on campus to investigate and find solutions for the “grand challenges” of our times.  Her goal is to contribute strategic and practical leadership and support to SoHE Centers and researchers and their collaborators to maximize our collective positive impact.  On Wisconsin!

Amy Hilgendorf
Associate Director
Amy is the Associate Director for the CommNS. A SOHE alumna, Dr. Hilgendorf completed a PhD in Human Development and Family Studies with a focus on engaged and applied scholarship. Dr. Hilgendorf specializes in community-based research and evaluation partnerships to further social justice and equity, especially related to health and education. She enjoys involving undergraduate and graduate students in projects to support their developing skills in community-based work. 

Cynthia Jasper, Ph.D
Associate Professor
Faculty Liaison
Cynthia Jasper, Vaughan Bascom Professor of Women and Philanthropy, is currently chairing the Department of Civil Society and Community Studies, and is a professor in Consumer Science. Dr. Jasper’s research interests include consumer behavior and management within the retailing settings, women and philanthropy, and succession and management issues in family businesses. She authored a publication entitled, “Women’s Leadership in Philanthropy” for the Encyclopedia of Nonprofit Organizations. In addition, she was elected for the second year to serve as Chair of the University Library Committee, and she continues to serve as Treasurer of the American Council on Consumer Interests.

Michael Maguire, M.S.
Faculty Associate
Undergraduate Liaison
When he’s teaching, Michael feels as though he’s living out his purpose in life.  Our students are a significant source of that purpose for him.  Their curiosity, their genuine concern for others, and their sincere commitment to make positive change in the world inspire me!  Our Community Nonprofit Leadership major affords our students and me the opportunity to look at both “big picture” issues that affect our global community, and day to-day challenges that impact individuals and neighborhoods.  We do our best, together, to engage with the world of ideas and the reality of what contributes to healthy community life.  SoHE is the best atmosphere for him to teach what he does and to serve our Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies because it’s one of the places on our campus where big ideas and ‘wicked problems’ collide with creative thinking and our collective search for solutions – every day!

Sara Ansell
Outreach Specialist for Obesity Prevention Initiative
Sara has worked in a variety of settings dedicated to fostering equitable and healthy communities. Most recently, Sara served as Assistant Director of the Roadmaps to Health Action Center, part of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program. Sara worked with the Action Center Director to develop and lead an expansion of the community engagement activities for mobilizing action toward community health across the nation. Prior to her work with County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, Sara directed the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Porch Light Program, a unique juncture of public art and public health. She managed all aspects of the Porch Light Program and worked closely with Yale School of Medicine to support their evaluation efforts of the program. Sara has also spent time at Mathematica Policy Research as a Health Policy Analyst and the Philadelphia Food Trust as a consultant where she conducted research on federal and local food assistance programs. Sara graduated with a Masters of Social Work and a Masters of Social Policy from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009.

Heidi Busse
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Heidi Busse is a postdoctoral research associate for the CommNS, primarily working on the Obesity Prevention Initiative. She is a recent PhD graduate of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and also has an MPH from the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. She has a background in public health and international development, and has managed partnerships in health systems strengthening, youth engagement, and food systems, working in the U.S. and globally. She has published on innovations and successes in community food systems, design and evaluation of multi-sector nutrition programs, and compotencies in global health partnerships. She most recently managed global health partnerships between the UW and academic and community partners in Ethiopia.

Falon Deimler
Graduate Student
Project Assistant
Falon is a graduate student in the Human Ecology: Civil Society and Community Research program. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Chinese Studies. Driven by interests in the realm of trans-geographic community building, social networks, cultural identity, and youth development, Falon is committed to engaging in community-based participatory research using a critical, relational, and ecological systems lens.

Undergraduate Community and Nonprofit Leadership Interns:
Naomi Smith