Mindful Giving

With the generous support of David and Dana Dornsife and Joyce J. Cammilleri, the Brain and Creativity Institute advances its groundbreaking research.

David and Dana Dornsife

David and Dana Dornsife continue a family legacy of giving to USC and USC College’s neuroscience program with a lead gift of $6 million for the new Brain and Creativity Institute (BCI) building. This follows a lead gift of $8 million directed to the Dana and David Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center. Cumulatively the Dornsife family has gifted more than $21 million in support of neuroscience in the College.

The new BCI building will encompass approximately 12,000 square feet and will feature a state-of-the-art auditorium designed to accommodate lectures, demonstrations and world-class performances. The architectural firm Perkins + Will has been chosen to develop the project from conceptual plans previously prepared by Michael Maltzan and Associates.

Additional features of the Brain and Creativity Institute building will include a suite devoted to a conference center and executive and staff offices and laboratory space for faculty and students. The new building will enable the BCI team to be housed in a central location where their mission can be accomplished: using neuroscience to promote health, well being and creativity, with groundbreaking research in early brain development, aging, education and learning, emotions and consciousness.

Previous philanthropic support from the Dornsifes in the form of endowed chairs and an imaging center proved instrumental in the College’s successful recruitment of two distinguished neuroscientists, Antonio and Hanna Damasio. “I view the BCI building as an opportunity to move the BCI forward and advance the ground breaking work of Antonio and Hanna Damasio and their staff,” David Dornsife said. “We are thrilled with what is happening and the accomplishments of the center.”

The Dornsife legacy began with David’s parents, Harold and Ester, who were active USC alumni and generous supporters of their alma mater. In time, they passed the torch to their son David, who earned his bachelor’s in business administration from USC in 1965. According to Dornsife, his father Harold arrived at the university with nothing in his pocket. “My dad was awarded a basketball scholarship and was given help in securing a job,” he said. “He believed that his subsequent success was a result of his USC education and believed that it was important to give back.”

Dornsife’s mother Ester, a pre-med major in the College, maintained a lifelong interest in the medical field, and, in particular, its neuroscience program. David and his wife Dana, along with his sister Dody Jernstedt, endowed the Ester Dornsife Chair in Biological Sciences (1998) and the Harold Dornsife Neurosciences Chair (2000) in USC College, as well as the Harold Dornsife Section in USC’s Galen Center (2005). 

Dana Dornsife is effusive about the BCI, the Damasios and the new building. “We are honored to participate in the development of a literal ‘brain trust’ in the College,” she said.

“The progressiveness of the research and most importantly the caliber of the students and postdocs it attracts are a reflection of the high standards we’ve come to expect at USC.”

“USC College is deeply indebted to the Dornsifes for their extraordinary vision and unwavering support,” USC College Dean Howard Gillman said. “Their philanthropy has made a huge impact on both the College and the university and will do so for decades to come.”

According to Antonio Damasio, David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience, the action of donors such as the Dornsifes is essential to create great universities and research. “The Dornsifes are the best of philanthropists. They are generous, they are committed to an ideal, and they know precisely what they want to achieve” Damasio said.

Through the Hedco Foundation, the Dornsife family’s legacy has helped create the Hedco Neurosciences Building, the Hedco Auditorium, and the Hedco Petroleum and Chemical Molecular Biology Laboratories. David Dornsife is chairman and CEO of the Herrick Corporation and a USC trustee. Dana Dornsife is the founder and president of the Lazarex Cancer Foundation — a nonprofit that provides financial assistance to defray the costs associated with patient participation in FDA clinical trials.


Joyce J. Cammilleri

Joyce J. Cammilleri believes in fitness not only for the body but also for the brain.

The owner of World Gym International has given $2 million to support the Brain and Creativity Institute (BCI), housed in USC College.

“I haven’t forgotten how many people believed in me and in my vision and invested their time, talent and money into my dreams,” Cammilleri said. “I feel an obligation to make that same contribution to others, and with research, dreams are unlimited.”

Cammilleri’s gift will support brain research and the construction of a new facility on the University Park campus for the BCI, led by Antonio Damasio and his wife, Hanna. In recognition of her philanthropy, an auditorium in the new BCI facility will be named the Joyce J. Cammilleri Auditorium.

Founded in 2006, the BCI researches the underpinnings of the brain’s functions — from emotion and decision-making to innovation and creativity. Researchers use the newest technology in brain imaging and their fresh insights to probe how the human brain functions at the level of systems, cells and molecules.

Understanding the neurological basis of mental phenomena is indispensable for both medical and social progress, the Damasios said.

They were elated with the donation.

“Mrs. Cammilleri’s gift will have a major impact on the activities of the Brain and Creativity Institute,” said Antonio Damasio, David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience, and professor of psychology and neurology. “First, the new auditorium will become a place where science, music and the visual arts can come together for everyone to enjoy and learn.

“Second, the gift will have great impact on our research activities and allow us to carry out projects that otherwise could not get off the ground.”

USC College Dean Howard Gillman echoed the sentiment.

“Mrs. Cammilleri’s extraordinary gift not only helps ensure that world-class brain research will continue at the BCI,” Gillman said, “but also that the new facility will include an outstanding teaching and performance space that embodies the spirit of the work conducted there in the fields of creativity and the mind.”

The youngest of seven children from a farming community in rural South Dakota, Cammilleri was a schoolteacher for two decades, beginning her career in a one-room schoolhouse. She eventually made her way to teaching elementary school in Southern California. 

With the arrival of her three children — including twins — she became a full-time mother. Once her children were in school, she and her husband created JOICO Laboratories, a well-known hair care product company.

When JOICO was sold in 2001, Cammilleri realized she was in the position to begin supporting important causes.

For the past two years, Cammilleri has also donated to the Keck School of Medicine of USC and USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“I believe USC has the unique capability of bringing the results of their research to patients faster than any other institution,” she said.

She praised USC for its camaraderie among doctors, scientists and staff.

“All successful ventures rely upon open communication and teamwork,” she said. “I love the way that USC is structured; there are so many ongoing projects that cross over into other areas of research. There is a great sense of collaboration and teamwork.”

Upon meeting the Damasios and their distinguished team, Cammilleri knew the best was yet to come from the BCI.

“I’m excited to help further research that will impact countless lives and hopefully reduce human suffering on a macro level.”

Cammilleri looks at giving to USC as a way to invest in her community and in local talent.

“Consider the unique environment USC provides — ongoing cutting-edge research, the best of medical care and a long history of service to the community,” she said. “Just knowing we have a place like this, which is so accessible to so many, offers a sense of security and hope.”

Read more articles from USC College Magazine’s Spring/Summer 2010 issue.