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Jane Pisano lauded for exemplary professionalism in public service

USC Price professor and Natural History Museum president honored with the first Nesta M. Gallas Lifetime Achievement Award

Jane Pisano serves as president and director of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Jane Pisano has excelled in higher education and public administration. (Photo/courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County)

Over the course of her career in both higher education and public administration in Los Angeles, Jane Pisano has made an extraordinary impact in the community through her vision and leadership.

Given this record of service, the USC Price School of Public Policy professor and current president and director of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County was named inaugural recipient of the Nesta M. Gallas Award for Exemplary Professionalism in Public Service by the American Society for Public Administration. Pisano will receive the award in March at the ASPA conference in Chicago.

Pisano and Gallas share extensive connections to USC Price. Pisano served as dean of the school when it was known as the USC School of Public Administration; Nesta, who passed away three years ago at age 94, earned her doctorate in public administration from USC in 1967 and later served on the faculty.

“As a woman, Nesta Gallas was a pioneer in the field,” Pisano said. “She blazed a trail for women in public administration and did it in a strong and ethical way. She’s a wonderful role model for future generations, and I’m honored to be the first recipient of this award.”

Blazing trails

Pisano has similarly blazed trails during her remarkable career.

I’ve enjoyed both startups and transformations that take institutions from a place that was ready and needed to change to something new.

Jane Pisano

“I’ve enjoyed both startups and transformations that take institutions from a place that was ready and needed to change to something new,” she said.

Born in New York City and raised in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Bethesda, she gained an early appreciation for public service.

“My father was an FBI agent,” she said. “And my mother worked at NIH [National Institutes of Health] after her kids were launched. So I’ve had a deep respect for what public administrators do my entire life.”

Pisano considered joining the Foreign Service, but decided on a career that would allow her to alternate between teaching and public service. With a B.A. in political science from Stanford University and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in international relations from Johns Hopkins University, she began teaching at the School of Foreign Service and the Department of Government at Georgetown University in 1972.

She served as a White House Fellow for national security affairs at the National Security Council from 1976 to 1977. 

What began as a temporary assignment to help Mayor Tom Bradley launch the 1980-81 Los Angeles bicentennial celebration turned into a decades-long involvement with the city. When the 1984 Olympic Games came to Los Angeles, she planned and directed the programs and events sponsored by the Times Mirror Co.

She next served as a member of Los Angeles 2000, a strategic planning effort that resulted in a report with policy recommendations in areas ranging from economic development to transportation to housing. She later worked to implement these recommendations as head of the 2000 Partnership.

Joining the Trojan Family

In 1991, she joined the Trojan Family as professor and dean of the USC School of Public Administration.

Under her stewardship, the school experienced substantial financial growth. She worked with faculty members to reinvent the undergraduate and master of public administration degrees, and to strengthen the master’s degrees in public policy and health administration. These accomplishments set the stage for the merger of the schools of Public Administration and Urban Planning and Development.

While still serving as dean, Pisano became USC’s vice president for external relations in 1994 and senior vice president for external relations four years later.

With a portfolio encompassing government, civic and community, public and alumni relations, she had the opportunity to conceptualize and implement the Good Neighbors Campaign, which funds university-community partnerships for neighborhood improvements.

Since its inception in 1994, GNC has raised more than $17 million to enhance local educational opportunities, health and fitness, public safety and economic development.

In 2001, she moved across Exposition Boulevard to head the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

“I was looking for an opportunity to not only lead but also to be a change agent,” she said.

Nights at the museum

Physically and philosophically, she opened up the Natural History Museum and the affiliated Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, increasing attendance by nearly 70 percent and ensuring financial solvency.

With Pisano at the helm, the museum unveiled a striking glass entrance hall with a fin whale skeleton, blockbuster permanent exhibits such as Dinosaur Hall and the Age of Mammals, and an interactive nature garden and lab showcasing Southern California’s native flora and fauna.

“The most important thing that all of us can do in this field is to keep clear in our minds that this is not about us, this is about the public that we serve,” Pisano said.

When I see people from all walks of life enjoying this museum and learning about science, that’s my reward.

Jane Pisano

“When I see people from all walks of life, all kinds of backgrounds, ethnicities and income levels enjoying this museum and learning about science, and I know that it’s a place where everyone can and does come, that’s my reward,” she added. “Because if I’m doing something that is meeting their needs and providing a great educational experience for a wide variety of people, then as the head of a public-private institution, I’ve done my job.”

Stepping down

Having accomplished her goals for the museum, she plans to step down from her post, once the museum board finds a replacement.

“It’s time for a new leader with vision and energy,” she said. “When I left the School of Public Administration, I had such a good feeling about the future, and I feel the same way here. The museum is in wonderful shape. It has been a joy to be here all these years. I’ve learned so much about the scientific research and the natural world. I have treasured my time here.”

While Pisano contemplates her next career move, the Nesta M. Gallas Lifetime Public Service Achievement Award recognizes the indelible contributions she has already made to the field of public administration and to the city that she calls home.

“In many personal and professional ways, Jane Pisano’s outstanding lifetime devotion to the elevation of public affairs through personal responsibility has reflected those values also held dear and practiced by Nesta and her husband, Ed Gallas,” said Chester A. Newland, Frances R. and John J. Duggan Professor Emeritus in Public Administration at USC Price. “Jane Pisano is a most splendid exemplar for this inaugural public administration award.”

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Jane Pisano lauded for exemplary professionalism in public service

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