Photo of Adina Savin

Honoring a Lifetime Friend and Mentor

Adina Savin was a freshman at USC Dornsife when USC Dean of Women Joan Metcalf Schaefer, known affectionately as “Dean Joan,” asked her into her office. After hearing about Savin’s academic and extracurricular achievements, Dean Joan wanted to meet the political science major and offer to mentor her. Savin accepted, and Dean Joan became an important advisor and professional role model for Savin, encouraging her mentee to take on new opportunities and, eventually, to pursue a law degree.

“She saw something in me,” Savin says. “She was always looking for ways to make a difference in students’ lives.”

Unlocking Potential 

In 37 years as USC’s Dean of Women, Dean Joan mentored thousands of undergraduate and graduate students, forming a community of support that produced countless leaders in business, the nonprofit sector, law, government and academia. Many of these students maintained contact with Dean Joan over the years, and they formed the original executive committee that designed, launched and administered the Dean Joan Metcalf Schaefer Scholarships. The fund has disbursed more than $2 million to needy students in the 25 years since it was established.

Savin has been a member of the committee from the beginning. For her, the relationship with Dean Joan lasted decades, fueled by common bonds of experience and interest and a deep well of mutual affection. That long relationship influenced Savin to endow the Adina Lei Savin Scholarship in 2016. Housed within the Dean Joan Scholarships program, the Savin Scholarship will provide essential support for one or more undergraduates each year.

Today, Savin is executive vice president of business affairs at Disney ABC Networks Group, managing complex business and legal issues relating to the development, production and distribution of programming at The Walt Disney Company.

Born in modest circumstances in Southern California, Savin graduated at the top of her high school class and entered USC on a full-tuition scholarship. She became involved in numerous causes and activities while at USC, but credits a summer in Washington, D.C., interning with the office of her Congressman, as a particularly formative and important one. It was an experience enabled by Dean Joan. Savin says she was not able to secure parental or university support for the trip and was about to turn down the opportunity when Dean Joan offered to provide money for travel from her “discretionary account.” Later on, Savin discovered that there was no discretionary account. “She had made it up,” she says. “It was money that she took from her own pocket. That was the way she was.”

Memories of a Lifetime 

After graduating from USC in 1970, Savin’s mentor-mentee relationship with Dean Joan changed into something more enduring, fueled by love and mutual respect. She traces it back to one night shortly after she returned to Los Angeles to work as a lawyer. She asked Dean Joan out to dinner, and afterward they went for a walk on campus. When they stopped to sit and talk, Savin took out her checkbook and wrote Dean Joan a check, repaying the money that Dean Joan had given her for the trip to Washington, D.C., years before. “Spend it on someone else like me,” Savin recalls saying.

In the decades that followed, Savin and Dean Joan enjoyed lunches, dinners, and ballet and opera performances together. It became a regular ritual for them to attend such events, indulging in Dean Joan’s love for classical music. “She adored music and poetry,” Savin remembers.

Dean Joan Metcalf Schaefer passed away on Sept. 3, 2017. Savin considers the scholarship that she has endowed and the Dean Joan Scholarships fitting tributes to the spirit of the woman who was one of the key influences in her life.

“All of the scholarships are a part of Dean Joan’s legacy,” Savin says, “but her real legacy is all the countless students she touched and guided and made better people. And that includes me.”



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