After serving a year as the USC Law School dean of students, Associate Dean Lisa Mead has become very involved in student life, from greeting new arrivals at orientation to celebrating with graduates on commencement day.
Perhaps because she’s a 1989 USC law graduate herself, Mead connects easily with students, giving them a voice in the Law School’s administration.
As a student, she helped found the Public Interest Law Foundation. After graduation, she worked at Public Counsel as the directing attorney for its homeless advocacy project.
In 1994, she returned to USC, relying on her experience at the Law School to empower students to accomplish their goals.
Mead recently discussed her position and experiences of the past year.
Q: How would you describe your role as dean of students?
A: I’m responsible for both academic and non-academic counseling. In that role, I see myself as a student advocate, a counselor, an adviser, a problem solver and a safe haven for students. It’s also my job to help students develop into lawyers who have a solid sense of what it means to be ethical advocates and responsible members of the legal community. And, every once in a while, I have to deal with the more difficult issues of student discipline. Additionally, I work closely with the Student Bar Association and other student groups.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about your job?
A: The real joy of the job is working with the students. The people who choose to come to USC are very talented, diverse and smart. I find it invigorating, challenging and incredibly fulfilling to work with them. I assist them as they work toward their goals, try to find positive solutions to their problems and provide support as they deal with difficult issues – whether those are academic, personal or emotional. For example, I recently met with a student who indicated she wanted to drop out of law school. During our conversation, it became clear that she didn’t see herself in the traditional role of a private firm lawyer, so she thought she had made a bad decision to come to law school. I suggested she consider an internship for academic credit with a government office that focuses exclusively on public policy matters and is headed by a lawyer. She recently e-mailed me to let me know she was incredibly happy in her internship.
Q: What sorts of student issues do you deal with on a regular basis?
A: I often counsel people who have not done as well academically as they had hoped to do. I help them deal with the emotional pain and disappointment, as well as the recovery. I let them know that some of the best and most successful lawyers did not start out at the top of the class, and it certainly takes more than good grades to be successful in the profession.
Q: How would you describe the environment of USC Law School, from a student’s perspective?
A: What students consistently say about being here is that they are very impressed by the collegial, supportive environment at the Law School. They like the personal attention they receive. Students say things like, “I can’t believe it’s so easy to come and see you, that someone actually cares.” We are very conscious and deliberate about being service-oriented, responding to students and providing personal assistance to the extent that we can do it.
Q: How many students do you get to know in the course of a typical year?
A: Well, I meet them all at orientation, so I start working with them right away. I go to lunches with the first-year students. I meet regularly with the Student Bar Association president and other student leaders. I also work with students enrolled in the internship program, which can involve as many as 130 students each year. In one way or another, I work with at least half of each class on a one-on-one basis each year. By graduation, I’ve talked to, met with or had some experience with nearly every student.
Q: People say that the level of student involvement in the actual administration of the Law School is unusual. When have students been able to make a significant change regarding their own education or other policies at the Law School?
A: Last year, we implemented a grade-system change that was really driven by the students. We changed to a four-point and letter-equivalent grading system from our 90-point scale. Students believed that the four-point scale would make it much easier for national employers to compare systems favorably. Changing the grading system was significant, but the faculty and administration paid attention to the students’ views. The change would not have happened without student initiative.
Because of significant student interest, we now have a sports law course. And this spring we are offering two entertainment law courses with an entertainment practicum component. This will allow students to work at for-profit entertainment corporations like studios and record companies and receive academic credit for that experience.
Finally, we are experimenting with having commencement on a Sunday rather than a Monday. All of these changes were the result of requests from students.
Q: Do you believe administrators are generally responsive to students’ needs?
A: Yes, we are responsive because our students are smart and thoughtful – and they have very good ideas. It’s really important for students to know that administrators here welcome the opportunity to work closely with them and help them think about their course selection or career choices. For students who are frustrated or have problems or feel like they don’t have a voice, that’s where I can really act as a resource.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
A: I want to continue to improve student life by enhancing our support of students as they select their classes, supporting the growth of peer mentoring programs, assisting with additional student-sponsored events – perhaps including faculty and/or graduates in more of their activities – and holding outreach meetings with students. Also, I want to work closely with and support the Career Services Office and students on job search-related activities. As much as possible, I want to continue to support the sense of community students have here at the Law School and make sure each of our students has the best possible experience at USC.
More stories about: Commencement 2003