Commencement Spotlight: Julianna Montano

Earning two degrees in four years, Montano examined the intersections between pharmacology and drug development and philosophy, politics and law.

Julianna Montano receives her degree, standing between USC Mann Dean Vassilios Papadopoulos and Daryl Davies, associate dean for undergraduate education and professor of clinical pharmacy, at the 116th USC Mann Commencement on Saturday, May 13, 2023.

As ethics are key to philosophy and the proper practice of pharmacy, Julianna Montano wanted to explore both fields while pursuing her bachelor’s degree at USC. So she took an interdisciplinary path that broke boundaries and, she said, let her “curiosity run wild.”

Inspired by her parents to fuse the health sciences with the realms of ethics and policy, Montano became a dual-degree candidate in pharmacology and drug development at the Mann School, and philosophy, politics and law at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

“I cannot thank enough the professors who spearheaded the multidisciplinary curriculum that allowed me to do so,” Montano said. During her academic career at USC, she took pharmacoethics classes, analyzed the social implications of drug use and development, and investigated how artificial intelligence will reshape modern healthcare.

Montano (third from left, front row) with members of Cannabis at USC after a general meeting. (Photo courtesy of Julianna Montano)

Creating her own rigorous curriculum, Montano is graduating with two degrees in four years—a remarkable achievement, according to Whitney Ibarra, student services adviser at the Mann School’s undergraduate program. Ibarra noted the major undertaking of pursuing two degrees in two programs with little course overlap.

“There is nothing double major about it. It is two different degrees,” added Randa Issa, academic program manager at USC Mann undergraduate programs.

Montano chose USC because of the freedom to try new things and learn from other majors. She appreciated the flexible yet rigorous academic programs. “I can be a scientist and a social scientist in the same way,” she noted.

Her own academic rigor was rewarded with a Town and Gown scholarship, which enabled Montano to connect with experts and trailblazers in numerous industries. “Every meeting has been a hub of great support and motivation,” she said.

In 2021, Montano joined with alumni Caroline Souza and Amber Shealy to relaunch Cannabis at USC, formerly known as CannaclubUSC. Montano, who served as president of the 500-member club, said she wanted to provide resources for students to destigmatize cannabis while providing trustworthy cannabis education.

Montano organized a community goat yoga session, part of her advanced writing class with Mark Marino at USC Dornsife. (Photo courtesy of Julianna Montano)

Montano was born to two nurses who immigrated from the Philippines. She grew up in a conservative household, and her family was originally from a country where cannabis use is punishable by death. Her work in the club combatted negative stigmas against “lazy stoners,” and promoted civil and open dialogues about the drug.

annabis at USC is developing CannabisEdu, a program similar to AlcoholEdu, to educate college students across the country.

During her tenure at the club, she created a safe space for transparent discussions of cannabis, and organized Grass on Grass, the club’s biannual networking fair with nonprofit and industry partners. Her team initiated an internship matching program and paired 50 students with opportunities in the research, law, finance and marketing sectors of the cannabis industry.

She previously worked as a coordinator for the Cannabis and Aging Center of the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, and served as liaison for the Maternal Cannabis Lab at Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Montano moderating a Cannabis at USC event “Grass on Grass,” a networking and brand showcase conference with industry players and recruiters, in March 2022. (Photo courtesy of Julianna Montano)

Through an USC alumni mentor, Montano found an opportunity to work as a technical product manager at Endocanna Health, a Burbank-based biotechnology research company in the cannabis therapeutics industry. “I learned things in class one day and applied it to work the next day,” Montano said.

Her work about cannabis on campus is one of the many instances that united her two degrees. She is now heading to Southwestern Law School for an accelerated program. Her interest in healthcare, biotech, malpractice law and patient advocacy made her confident that law school will be a great fit.