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Meet Our Director: Dr. Sarah Desmarais

Dr. Sarah Desmarais sitting in courtroom

Dr. Sarah Desmarais is a Professor in the Applied Social and Community Psychology Program with the Department of Psychology at North Carolina State University (NCSU). In addition to her work as a professor with NCSU, she is the Director of the Center for Family and Community Engagement (CFACE). We at CFACE have been very fortunate to have Dr. Desmarais as our director and wanted to highlight the incredible work she does for and with the Center. 

Dr. Desmarais initially became involved with the Center several years ago after our founding director, Dr. Joan Pennell, invited her to join our team as a faculty partner. In this capacity, Dr. Desmarais supported work on evidence-based policy and implementation science with the North Carolina Division of Social Services. As our new director, the main focus of her work is on the development, implementation, and evaluation of evidence-based policies and practices to promote public health, safety, and well-being. She is also responsible for developing and maintaining existing and new programs to support families and communities in North Carolina. Her other responsibilities include, but are certainly not limited to: Center administration, contract development and oversight, research and scholarship, and acting as a liaison to other academic institutions and departments, government agencies, and community organizations.

With a strong interest in interdisciplinary partnerships, Dr. Desmarias is continuously looking for ways to engage students and faculty from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. She has been supporting and leading efforts focused on community engagement, and regularly recruits and mentors faculty and staff, so they can join in the Center’s efforts as community partners. Through Dr. Desmarais’ hard work and dedication to diversifying the Center, we have been able to work with a wide variety of faculty, staff, students, and community members. This has certainly helped our Center build stronger connections across North Carolina, and grow more deeply dedicated to our service. 

When asked what her favorite thing about working with CFACE is, Dr. Desmarais stated, “I love being able to help agencies identify strategies they could use in their work that have been used in other jurisdictions or settings and that have been shown to be effective. I’m a big fan of not having to reinvent the wheel, but rather learning from the successes/failures, both our own and those of others.” In this way, she has been able to skillfully apply her knowledge and background in psychology to organizational management. Dr. Desmarais fosters the idea that different perspectives are essential to running a successful organization. This is why she focuses much of her energy on establishing interdisciplinary partnerships and seeks to recruit faculty, staff, and students from diverse disciplines who are interested in making a difference in the community. 

Dr. Desmarais has been able to translate some of her knowledge and research in criminal justice, mental health, and public health and apply them to the work of CFACE. In addition to leading the Center’s work in child welfare, she is currently working on a couple of projects related to criminal justice reform. In this work, Dr. Desmarais looks at the use of risk assessment tools that estimate an individual’s threat to public safety to inform judicial decisions regarding pretrial release while they are awaiting trial and/or to divert them from jail to treatment in the community in lieu of traditional court processing. Her current research interests include the development, implementation, and evaluation of assessment and treatment strategies designed to prevent (or reduce) criminal justice involvement and violence among individuals with behavioral health problems (i.e., mental health and/or substance use problems). As a result of her research interests, the Center has been able to take on more projects from a variety of disciplines. This has helped our growth as an organization, including new faculty and community partnerships. 

When it comes to the future of CFACE, Dr. Desmarais hopes to diversify funding sources and partnerships, and increase/expand upon the work we do with communities that are responsive to current and emerging issues (e.g., the opioid epidemic). With regard to the Center’s future, Dr. Desmarais stated, “My vision for CFACE is that it truly becomes a hub for facilitating community engagement and partnerships within NC State and across North Carolina more broadly that advances the safety, health, and well-being of families and communities.” We have no doubt that under Dr. Desmarais this vision will become a reality. 

From all of us at the Center for Family and Community Engagement, we would like to thank Dr. Desmarais for her excellent work as our director. Her skill and expertise have helped our organization in immeasurable ways. We are very grateful she joined us as a faculty partner several years ago, and look forward to the next chapter in our Center’s history that she will usher in. 


For more information on Dr. Desmarais, please see her staff page. Additional information on Dr. Desmarais’ research can be found on her research lab’s website