Joan Dusa, PhD, is an independent scholar and educator with nearly five decades of expertise in her field. She is currently affiliated with the Los Angeles County Office of Education and has dedicated her career to policy, advisory, and classroom work benefiting at-risk and underserved youth, including youth in the juvenile justice system. Raised in a civic-minded family who prized community involvement and service to others, Dr. Dusa was inspired by her parents, a steelworker and an army nurse, to give back to others in her work and life. Naturally drawn to academia, Dr. Dusa felt called to use her skills and education to help improve educational access and equity for learners from communities burdened with structural and economic barriers to success.
She began her studies at the University of Pittsburgh, where she completed a Bachelor of Arts in classical languages and history in 1971, and pursued graduate-level coursework at the University of California Los Angeles, where she completed a Master of Arts in 1974. Dr. Dusa was awarded her Doctor of Philosophy by UCLA in 1988. Her scholarly focus has been on medieval European history with a focus on secularization and the intersection of Church and state political interests in medieval Balkan states. She has published numerous papers, articles, and reviews, and is best known for “The Medieval Dalmatian Episcopal Cities: Development and Transformation,” published in the Journal of American University Studies.
Dr. Dusa began teaching in 1988 in the Los Angeles Unified School District’s adult education division, where she remained until 1996. Beginning in 1994, she spent a decade as an educator for the Los Angeles County Office of Education Juvenile Court and Community Schools. During this time, Dr. Dusa helped to establish a transitional education program for young men exiting the prison system and began a support group for parents of incarcerated youth. She remained invested in working with youth involved in the criminal justice system until her retirement from full-time teaching in 2012 and spent the last 11 years of her career as a teacher for the Central Juvenile Hall Boys School in Los Angeles.
In addition to her classroom activity, Dr. Dusa has served as a board member and policy adviser for the California State Board of Education’s framework committee and textbook adoption committee, the Los Angeles County Central Juvenile Hall Site-Based Council, and has sat on the board of several nonprofits, including Inside Out Writers, Power Sharing and the Alethos Foundation. She was instrumental in the revision of California state social studies and history education frameworks, leading to industry-wide changes in how textbooks and curricula were written, and has helped to develop visual art and writing enrichment programs that led to many participants finding professional success in those fields.
Dr. Dusa is one of the co-founders of Parents in Crisis, a nonprofit offering legal, social, and health care support to parents lacking access to services, and she has been involved in legal education and outreach projects throughout her career. In recognition of her commitment to service, Dr. Dusa has been presented with a 2002 Los Angeles County Office of Education Teacher of the Year Award; a 2001 Family, School, and Community Partnership Teacher of the Year Award; and a Distinguished Service Award from the Los Angeles County Office of Education, among others. She continues to work as a substitute teacher while focusing on her independent research and policy work and credits her career success to the sense of fulfillment she gained from helping others achieve success.
Outside her work in education, Dr. Dusa is passionate about animals and the environment. She is a volunteer for the Sierra Club and a longtime animal handler for Wildlife Waystation.