Our Staff

Juan Benitez

Dr. Juan M. Benitez

Title: Executive Director

Contact: Juan.Benitez@csulb.edu

Dr. Juan M. Benitez is the Executive Director for the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB).  As Executive Director, he oversees university-wide community engagement projects, programs, and engagement initiatives; including but not limited to Community Service Learning, Community-based Participatory and Action Research, Academic Internships, and campus-community partnerships & collaborations.  At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), he received B.A. degrees in Political Science and in History and went on to receive his M.A. and Ph.D. in History.  His areas of expertise are: U.S.-Latin American affairs, U.S. immigration, Latinx history, asset based community development, civic engagement and the ethnic experience in the U.S..  

He has over two decades of experience leading multi-stakeholder projects and initiatives focused on: strategic planning, action planning, community-based action and participatory research, asset mapping, civic engagement, community visioning, systems and policy change, and community building among others.

Dr. Benitez focusses on the implementation of equitable High Impact Practices in education and is driven by his passion for supporting student success.


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Carina Sass

Title: Associate Director

Contact: Carina.Sass@csulb.edu

Carina Sass joined the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) more than 20 years ago and now serves as Associate Director, providing oversight for the administrative, financial, and strategic planning aspects of the Center, mentorship and guidance to program staff, and serving as CCE liaison and representative with the Chancellor’s Office and other CSU campuses. Carina also champions the implementation of Cal State S4 (known on campus as “S4 @ The Beach” or “S4”), a CSU online database to support community-engaged academic programs at CSULB, by providing training and support to programs across campus who use S4.  

A Lakewood native with deep family roots in Long Beach, Carina made her way through the public education system, graduating from Mayfair High School, Cerritos College, and CSU Fullerton, where she earned both her BA in Business Administration/Human Resources and MA in Communication Studies (focusing on interpersonal/intercultural communication and rhetorical studies).

Carina has been involved for well over 30 years in service learning, community service, and volunteerism in both higher educational institutions and non-profit organizations. Guided by a lifelong passion for social justice and peacebuilding, Carina has taken on leadership roles in collaborative community/campus partnership development around place-based, community-identified needs, strategic planning, and capacity building. She has a quirky love for Excel, strategic planning, writing federal grants, and garden gnomes.


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Isabelle Garcia, MPA

Title: Administrative Coordinator

Contact: Isabelle.Garcia@csulb.edu

Isabelle joined the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) team in November 2022, bringing with her 13 years of experience serving the California State University system (CSU). As an alumna of CSU, Los Angeles, she completed her undergraduate degree in Political Science and received a master's degree in Public Administration. Isabelle currently works as the Administrative Coordinator at the CCE, where she helps with the day-to-day administrative tasks that keep the center running smoothly.

She is passionate about enhancing educational access and improving the college experience through the exploration of different avenues.

Outside of work, Isabelle is a proud cat parent to her 12-year-old feline friend, Spaghetti. Isabelle enjoys spending her free time reading, watching bad TV, and crafting. She also loves to travel and explore new places. Isabelle is always looking for ways to learn and grow.

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Mitra serves as the Community-Engaged Learning Programs Coordinator at the Center for Community Engagement (CCE). In this role, she is responsible for developing, planning, and implementing innovative campus-wide outreach programs that promote community engagement and support for students, faculty, and community partners. Her work involves collaborating with internal and external partners to facilitate access to related programs and services. Mitra uses her expertise in Service Learning, community practice, and intergroup and intercultural dialogue to provide leadership development, strategic planning, assessment, and evaluation for educational programming.

Mitra's dedication to promoting community engagement and supporting student success is evident in her work at the CCE and in previous roles. Her work has been recognized with numerous honors and awards, including the Advancement of Women Award and Community Service Honor from the City of Long Beach, Leadership Awards, as well as the University Achievement Awards-Community Service Award from CSULB.

In addition to her role at the CCE, Mitra is a candidate for a doctoral degree in Education with a focus on leadership and community-based research from California State University, Los Angeles. She is an active member of several professional organizations, including The Institute of Global Homelessness (IGH), The Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA), The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU), Homelessness & Housing Insecurity Hub.

Contact: Mitra.Baghdadi@csulb.edu

B’Jon Jones is the Community-Engaged Learning (CEL) Programs Assistant for the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). In 2022 B'Jon became an alumna of CSULB, receiving her B.A in Journalism with a minor in Hospitality Management. While working towards her degree, she served as a Student Assistant for the CCE and became a Senior Student Lead for Service Learning. Before rejoining the CCE, she served as an Administrative Support Coordinator in the College of Education's Office of Clinical Practice. B'Jon is passionate about providing quality support and pushing the CCE's mission forward. Her favorite quote is, “The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit.” (Fabienne Fredrickson)

Contact: Bjon.Jones@csulb.edu

Faculty Fellow

Dr. Sarah Taylor serves as a Faculty Fellow for the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) at California, State University Long Beach (CSULB). She has worked on various CCE projects, including the service learning curriculum design series, resources for service learning faculty, community-based research, and research on service learning and student success. Dr. Taylor received her PhD in Human Sciences from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She also earned a PhD minor in Women's and Gender Studies and a Graduate Certificate in Mixed Methods Research. Dr. Taylor's background includes work in community programming, where she has developed, delivered, and evaluated youth and family programs at the local, national, and international levels. As a family scientist, Dr. Taylor's work is rooted in strengths-perspective, which she applies to her work to bridge students, campus, and the community through the CCE.

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Director, Academic Internships Office

Michelle brings a wealth of experience in academic internships, career services, and career counseling. Most recently, she served as the Internship Specialist in the College of Liberal Arts Dean's Office where she established and ran a successful college-wide internship program which now serves over 9,000 students. Through her efforts, she has bridged her student affairs and academic affairs experiences to help build our campus infrastructure for academic internships focusing on culturally inclusive programing. Prior to that, Michelle served as a member of CSULB's Career Development Center.  

Additionally, she is the co-founder of the Long Beach Community Internship Program, whose mission is to provide access to and equitable participation in local, paid internships for students who are historically underrepresented. She currently is co-authoring a book with CSULB professors, Dr. Beth Manke and Dr. Bonnie Gasior; under contract with Routledge Publishing focused on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA) approaches to internships in higher education. Furthermore, Michelle brings her knowledge in design thinking to her new role — she has been involved with the Stanford Design School and helped revamp Design Your Life activities for our campus' successful multi-million dollar academic internship program, College Corps @ the Beach. 

Michelle received her BA in Social Ecology from the University of California, Irvine, and her MS in Counseling, specializing in Student Development in Higher Education from CSULB. 

Contact: Michelle.Chang@csulb.edu

Senior Faculty Fellow, Internships

Dr. Manke has over 20 years of experience building institutional capacity at CSULB for equity-anchored undergraduate internship programming. As a faculty member, Dr. Manke served as coordinator for HDEV 470, the required internship course in Human Development, and directly supervised over 400 students in their internship placements. As Associate Dean for the College of Liberal Arts CSULB, she created a centralized internship office and a college-level internship course that now serves over 9,000 undergraduates from 25+ majors.

In 2021, she initiated the Long Beach Community Internship Program, a collaborative effort between CSULB, Long Beach nonprofits, city departments, and local businesses, which closes the loop on the Long Beach College Promise building a bridge back to the community for students to work, live, and thrive. Along with her Co-PI's Dr. Juan Benitez and Dr. Christine Whitcraft, Dr. Manke also leads the College Corps@the Beach program, a grant-funded internship program that places cohorts of 60 students each year with local nonprofits to address three foci: environmental sustainability/climate change, food insecurity, and K-12 education. 

Dr. Manke received her B.S. in Child Development and Family Studies from the University of Arizona and her masters and Ph.D. in Human Development from the Pennsylvania State University.

Contact: Beth.Manke@csulb.edu