John Gaspari, executive director of the USC Center for Work and Family Life (CWFL), is the 2013 recipient of the USC President’s Award for Staff Achievement, which recognizes a full-time staff member who has made outstanding contributions to university life and enhanced morale, and demonstrated an enthusiastic Trojan spirit.
A 15-year employee at the university, Gaspari serves as both the clinical and administrative lead for the center, which is USC’s employee assistance, work-life and wellness program, and an affiliate of the USC School of Social Work. While his duties may change from day to day—from counseling faculty and staff members to providing management consultation and coaching—Gaspari’s dedication to improving the workplace environment at USC is steadfast.
“My professional mission has been constant over my entire career thus far: to humanize workplace settings,” Gaspari said. “I want to help others to be successful at all levels and to leave this place better than the way I found it. I think the president’s recognition tells me that I’m on the right track here at USC.”
Gaspari first became a Trojan more than 25 years ago when he chose the USC School of Social Work to pursue a master’s degree with a focus on workplace social work. Since becoming a staff member, Gaspari enjoys the freedom USC has given him to create and have a tangible impact on the university, while growing professionally and personally. He said that as relationship experts, he and his staff have earned people’s trust and confidence, which allows them to meaningfully assist in addressing the social and behavioral health needs of the faculty and staff.
His staff members are able to earn people’s trust because Gaspari shows confidence in them. Jeff Harris, the Health Sciences Campus program manager for CWFL, remembers Gaspari giving him four high-profile projects to establish his credibility and value at USC on his first day.
“John is a thought leader, and he’s always asking how we can contribute in concrete, meaningful ways in the life of our staff and faculty throughout the university,” said Harris, who has worked with Gaspari for three years and known him professionally for about 10. “I loved that he intended to be selfless and work behind the scenes for my own professional success, and that he trusted me, literally, from day one.”
Harris also praised Gaspari for his idea of “insourcing compassion,” or that every member of USC should show empathy through actions. CWFL administrative assistant Susan Ritchey also echoed Gaspari’s support on both a professional and personal level as one of his best leadership attributes.
“John has always been very supportive of our staff as not just a boss but as a friend,” said Ritchey. “In my most trying times, he provided me with the support and trust I needed. His ‘practice what you preach’ approach guides the staff and how we all function in our positions.”
Gaspari’s practical, empathetic approaches and high energy inspire senior employee assistance professional Jason Sackett and make him excited to come to work every day.
“For over 15 years, John has worked tirelessly, but artfully, with the specific goal of making USC's community better—and he has delivered time and time again,” said Sackett, who has worked with Gaspari for seven years. “John’s ongoing daily contributions and overall positive impact on the quality of life at USC are unequivocal and, in my opinion, unmatched.”
Gaspari is excited for the future and is currently working with Harris to expand the center’s presence at the USC-affiliated hospitals and Health Sciences Campus by developing relationships and a proactive approach to employee stress in both problem-centered and strengths-based ways.
Being passionate about making a positive impact on the work environment at USC also includes Gaspari’s own experience as a staff member.
“Obviously, winning this award is a highlight of my time working at USC,” he said. “But, honestly, the fact that I love coming to work, have a great staff that I care deeply about, and get to do work that I’m good at—that matters—and that is fun for me is really the highlight of my career.”