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May 13, 2009

A Lasting Impression

Mary Beth Fielder wins 2008-2009 Mellon Mentoring Award

By By Teresa Lo

According to Greek mythology, when Odysseus left for the Trojan War, he entrusted the safety and upbringing of his son Telemachus to his wise friend Mentor. Though thousands of years have passed, the spirit of nurturing and inspiring others to succeed lives on in the USC Mellon Award for Excellence in Mentoring, which the university has conferred upon SCA Senior Lecturer Mary Beth Fielder.

SCA Senior Lecturer Mary Beth Fielder, recipient of a 2008-2009 USC Mellon Award for Excellence in Mentoring.

Fielder and nine other USC colleagues were among the select group of educators recognized for their work with graduate students when the award was announced on March 26. From helping them improve their scripts and films, to arranging for Hollywood legend Robert Zemeckis to serve as a mentor on a student's project, Fielder's influence has made a lasting impression on the people she's worked with.

Production graduate student William Olsson, from the M.F.A. class of 2005, recalled how Fielder offered guidance on his thesis film Rosa. "Her support, thoughts, and feedback were crucial in making my thesis film," said Olsson, who added that Fielder still mentors him even though he's no longer a student. "She encouraged me to follow my instincts and brought out the best of my creativity. At the same time, she was careful in guiding me through the process. There was a constant dialogue not only in regards to creative matters but also in terms of the logistical and technical demands of the film."

The purpose of the USC-Mellon Awards for Excellence in Mentoring is to recognize individual faculty for helping build a supportive academic environment through mentoring. To be considered, a mentor needs at least two nomination letters from students, and then a committee evaluates the applications. Candidates must meet certain criteria, among them offering sound counsel; sharing their time and expertise; serving as a role model; creating an engaged academic community; involving students in publications, grants and conferences; and promoting awareness of the men and women they mentor.

"In an artistic field like cinema, mentoring is about encouragement, understanding the possibilities, and passing knowledge to the students," said Vice Dean and Associate Professor of Architecture Amy Murphy, who serves as a co-chair on the campus-wide mentoring forum. "Mary Beth tends to be recognized for her engagement with her students, and she is able to make connections that go beyond teaching."
USC Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Martin L. Levine (left) and USC Vice President for Student Affairs Michael L. Jackson (right) present SCA Senior Lecturer Mary Beth Fielder with the 2008-2009 USC Mellon Award for Excellence in Mentoring.

"I feel incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to have helped foster the creative development of so many bright and talented students," said Fielder, who teaches beginning and advanced production workshops, screenwriting, and directing for writers. "To receive an award which was initiated and supported by the students themselves is an incredible honor." This is the second time Fielder has received the Mellon nod, the first being in 2007 for her work with undergraduates.

Fielder has taught different classes in both the Writing and Production divisions. Many of the students who nominated her for the undergraduate Mentoring Award in 2007 were from CTPR 480, an advanced production course, and she has been an individual mentor (CTPR 581 and 582) every year since 1996.

Production graduate Nick Delgado (M.F.A.) was a student in two of Fielder's courses, including the CTPR 581 course, where she mentored him individually. He credits her for his success.

"She not only made me work harder at my script, but she was also essential in me getting Robert Zemeckis to mentor my project," Delgado said. "She wants you to succeed and challenge yourself continuously."

Said Fielder, "My goal in mentoring new filmmakers is to provide both a safe place to explore and the tools to articulate their personal truths. My students and I both passionately want the same thing: to create films that will move an audience to tears or laughter, to reverence or revolution—and often to all of these things and more. There's nothing more gratifying than seeing the excitement in a student's eyes when they talk about their dreams or the passion that is unleashed when they connect to the truths that they've discovered about life."

Fielder was introduced to Kibera by M.F.A. Nathan Collett ‘06, while he was still at USC.
Fielder earned an M.F.A. in film from USC in 1987. Her final project, Tell Me, won the Nissan Focus Award, and she has since earned several directing and writing credits including Thirtysomething and American Primitive. Her most recent project Togetherness Supreme is the first feature film shot in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa. The script, which she developed in collaboration with one of her former mentees, Nathan Collett, grew out of a series of screenwriting workshops that she did with 50 youths from Kibera.