Meet the New State Director

I'm excited to be getting started as CALPIRG's new State Director. Here's why I'm motivated more than ever to do this work.

Jenn Engstrom

I’m excited to announce that I’m taking on the role of state director for CALPIRG and CALPIRG Education Fund. I’d like to share more about myself and why I’m motivated to do this work, especially now. 

Growing up in Sacramento, I was raised in a fairly civic-minded household. My mother brought me to marches and rallies at the Capitol and we talked about problems facing our country and world – climate change, threats to public health, and human rights abuses. At a pretty early age, I knew I wanted to do something about the problems I was learning about from my mother and at school. I thought if I just got the word out, I could help enact change. As a high school student, I got my friends to write letters to elected officials, I wrote articles for the school newspaper on problems with the meat industry, and I organized a silent protest for human rights.  

In college at UC Berkeley, I sought out ways to make social change, and was drawn to CALPIRG Students because they were one of the few groups doing more than just talking amongst themselves about the problems, but actually out on campus engaging the community. I got involved in CALPIRG’s campaign to rein in the increasingly high cost of college textbooks. We campaigned for common sense legislation that increased price transparency and banned some of publishers’ worst practices to drive up prices and rip off students. We educated our campus community on the issue, generated support from students, faculty and school administrators, and met directly with decision-makers. We faced opposition from the publishing industry, but by joining efforts with other student organizing groups across the country, built enough support to pass these reforms through the federal Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. 

Through this experience, I learned what it really takes to make social change. It takes more than just being right and more than raising awareness about a problem.  And in fact, on most of our country’s biggest issues, the public is already aware and generally in agreement on the problem. Change isn’t easy because we often face opposition from powerful special interests, but we can overcome opposition and make real change for the public by organizing lots of people to collectively call for action. 

Since then, over the past 14 years, I’ve worked with CALPIRG and other PIRG groups across the country to organize the public and win concrete reforms. I’ve worked on dozens of campaigns to protect the environment and consumers, and trained thousands of volunteers and organizers. Most recently as the Student PIRGs National Deputy Director, I helped run our national effort to mobilize hundreds of thousands of students to vote. And now I’m thrilled to take on the role of director of CALPIRG. 

Our state faces more problems than we should tolerate. Our children are at risk from lead contamination in school drinking water, our transportation system is outdated and threatens public health, and waste from single-use plastics pollutes our communities. 

The good news is that we already have solutions to many of the profound problems facing our state, and we can make real progress if we bring people together around common sense ideas. 

That’s why I’m excited to be leading the charge at CALPIRG. We know that even in this deeply divided moment, everyone wants a healthier, safer, more secure future. By working one step at a time and activating support from the public, we can urge decision makers in the legislature, corporate boardrooms and city hall to act for the public interest here in our state, and set standards that the rest of the country can follow.   

To move towards our vision of a better future, this year we will continue to prioritize our work moving our state beyond single-use plastics that we don’t truly need and produce harmful waste. We will also work to transform our transportation system, working to get more electric cars on the road, persuade school districts to buy electric buses to replace unhealthy diesel buses, improve transit, and make cities better for walking and biking so we can drive less and live more. We are also continuing our work to Get the Lead Out of California’s schools, advocating for stronger consumer protections, and promote the right to repair our stuff to reduce waste and save money. 

I also want to thank Emily Rusch for her 20 years of dedicated work as the CALPIRG director and years of mentorship for me. Californians can thank Emily for her advocacy to stop the overuse of antibiotics on California’s livestock operations, and to reduce the high cost of healthcare and protect consumers in the marketplace.  Fortunately, Emily will continue working with us as the senior director for state organizations for The Public Interest Network, of which CALPIRG is a member.  

I’m excited for this new role and welcome your thoughts and ideas for working together.


Jenn Engstrom

State Director, CALPIRG

Jenn directs CALPIRG’s advocacy efforts, and is a leading voice in Sacramento and across the state on protecting public health, consumer protections and defending our democracy. Jenn has served on the CALPIRG board for the past two years before stepping into her current role. Most recently, as the deputy national director for the Student PIRGs, she helped run our national effort to mobilize hundreds of thousands of students to vote. She led CALPIRG’s organizing team for years and managed our citizen outreach offices across the state, running campaigns to ban single-use plastic bags, stop the overuse of antibiotics, and go 100% renewable energy. Jenn lives in Los Angeles, where she enjoys spending time at the beach and visiting the many amazing restaurants in her city.