The Mercyhurst University Civic Institute staff is comprised of individuals with decades of combined experience in the social science field including practical work experience. The staff at the Civic Institute follow an action research model, analyzing issues and assisting in developing data-driven interventions accordingly.

Our Team

Amy Eisert


Amy C. Eisert, Director, received her Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice from Bowling Green State University and her Master’s of Administration of Justice from Mercyhurst University. Prior to joining the Civic Institute in 2002, Amy worked in the areas of juvenile and family services and programming. Amy is the key contact for Communities That Care in Erie County and served as the primary evaluator for the School Resource Officer Evaluation for the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. She is the primary facilitator for the Erie County Policy and Planning Council for Children and Families. Her areas of expertise include juvenile delinquency, young female offenders, incorrigibility, mental health, community assessment, and research-based programming.

Ellen Reifenberger


Research Analyst

Ellen Reifenberger is the new Research Analyst at the Mercyhurst University Thomas J. Gamble Civic Institute. Originally from Poughkeepsie, New York, Ellen received her undergraduate degree in Intelligence Studies and Political Science from Mercyhurst University. Shortly after graduating in December 2019 she moved to Erie permanently. She is now the newest member of the Civic Institute, and is thrilled to start working with the Erie community. As a former student and Ambassador, Ellen is excited to be welcomed back to her alma mater. She enjoys baking and painting, and some day hopes to have her own ceramic studio.

Laura Lewis

Research Fellow

Dr. Laura Lewis joined the social work faculty at Mercyhurst University in 1998 and currently serves as Chair of the Sociology/Social Work Department. Her practice experience includes administering an organization that provides services to single parents, working with survivors of domestic abuse, individual and group counseling, and advocacy work to address hunger. She also served as Program Director for the Institute of Politics at the University of Pittsburgh where she organized forums for civic leaders to come together to discuss social policy issues. Her research efforts have largely focused on poverty, and she helped spearhead a community movement to address poverty in Erie County.  She teaches social work macro practice, social welfare policy, human behavior and the social environment and contemporary social problems.

George Fickenworth

Assistant Director

George Fickenworth, Assistant Director, received his Master’s of Business Administration degree from Gannon University after graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Speech Communications from Edinboro University. George joined the Civic Institute after serving much of his previous employment in the fields of development and marketing for local not-for-profits, specializing in fundraising activities, grant writing and donor/member cultivation. He also worked as a project manager for a local firm. At the Civic Institute, his main focus of work is within the criminal justice and court systems, specializing in program evaluations with drug and mental health treatment courts and activities with criminal justice advisory boards.

Carla Kuebler






Carla Kuebler received her Bachelor's degree in Business Management from Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. Carla worked in both the financial and manufacturing sectors before joining the Civic Institute in 2008. Her primary focus is supporting data analysis and evaluation. As administrative support, she is the point of contact at the Institute and also maintains our website.


John Villa

Director of the Neighborhood Resource Organization (NRO)

John Villa is a retired United States Navy Cryptologist. He is qualified as NRA Chief Range Safety Officer and Pistol instructor, also as Physical Fitness and Defensive Tactics instructor, for the Municipal Police Academy and ACT 235. John is the Director of the Neighborhood Resource Organization (NRO) that provides resources, support and technical assistance to neighborhood watch groups in Erie County. He has also been a Neighborhood Watch Coordinator for the last 22 years.


Kristen Burillo

Senior Evaluation Analyst

Kristen Burillo received her Bachelor's degree in psychology and neuroscience from Allegheny College and then went on to earn her master's degree in clinical psychology from the University of Dayton. Before joining the Civic Institute in 2007, Kristen worked as a mental health therapist with adolescents. Many of her projects focus on programs and initiatives that support youth and families. She also writes the Civic Column newsletter, which summarizes key issues and highlights data to share with the community.

Jacqueline Spry


Action Plan Coordinator

Jacqueline Spry received a Bachelor's in urban studies from the University of Pittsburgh and a master's degree in urban planning from the University of Pennsylvania, School of Design. Jacqueline joined the Civic Institute in 2019 to lead UnifiedErie's prevention efforts, She worked as a planner and project manager in the public, private and non-profit sectors of planning; including housing and community development, master planning, and neighborhood revitalization plans. She has also led community outreach efforts, managed interdisciplinary teams, and engaged a multitude of stakeholders to foster a collaborative decision-making process. Jacqueline is an Erie native, enjoys spending time with her husband and three girls, running outdoors, and finding new and interesting places to explore!