The head of the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland is joining the University of Akron as its first advisory trustee.
Sandra Pianalto was appointed Wednesday as a nonvoting member.
“From my perspective, the real question was not whether to select her, but whether she would have the time to serve as an advisory trustee,” said trustee Roland Bauer, who headed the search committee. “She is, in many ways, uniquely qualified to serve the university and board.”
UA trustees created three advisory trustee positions in November 2011 to attract new and different kinds of talent to the board. Currently the nine-member board makeup is lopsided in favor of attorneys, of which there are five.
All, plus two nonvoting student trustees, are appointed by the governor.
“These are times that are calling out for innovation,” UA President Luis Proenza said. “We need to identify drivers of change and put together appropriate strategies to address change.”
Proenza said trustees considered about 100 candidates before reaching out to Pianalto, 58.
For her, it will be a homecoming of sorts. In 1975, she was one of the first UA students to be named as an observer — now called a trustee — to the board.
That early appointment reflected her position at the time. During her undergraduate days studying economics, she edited the yearbook and was president of her senior class. Like almost all students of the time, she commuted from her parents’ Akron-area home.
It was Elizabeth Erickson, a UA associate professor of economics, who learned from a UA graduate that the Federal Reserve System, the central bank of the United States, was looking for people.
When Pianalto got job offers as an economic analyst for both the Fed and the CIA, Erickson suggested she accept the banking position.
“I thought it had more potential,” Erickson said. “At the top level of the Fed, the one she’s in now, she’s still in her own field.”
The rest is history.
In 2003, she became head of the federal bank district in Cleveland, where she oversees almost 300 chartered banks in Ohio and parts of three other states. As a president of one of the 12 district banks, Pianalto is a member of the Federal Open Market Committee that decides national monetary policy.
She is involved in other nonprofit organizations that include University Hospitals and the Cleveland Foundation and has honorary degrees from UA and other area universities. Her master’s degree is from George Washington University.
She will miss the next few UA board meetings because of work conflicts, but UA officials said they would adapt their eight-times-a-year meetings to suit her schedule.
She said she has a vested interest in ensuring UA’s success: Her niece and goddaughter is a freshman in UA’s Honors College, and other nieces and nephews are poised to enroll in coming years.
Trustees might name their second advisory member in January. All will have three-year terms and can be reappointed to a second term. They will not be paid, but like regular trustees can be compensated for expenses.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.