Photo of Shannon Gottewsman and her daughter Ellie, a Dornsife student at USC.

Fight On for Something That Matters

As a volunteer with USC Dornsife’s Joint Educational Project (JEP) while a student in the early ‘90s, Shannon Gottesman experienced first-hand the power of one-on-one tutoring on young students.

During bi-weekly sessions at a local elementary school, Gottesman would pull four students individually from their classrooms to work on language arts or reading assignments. After receiving regular feedback from the students’ teacher on their progress, Gottesman soon realized that “the one-on-one attention motivated students to focus and want to learn,” she said.

She also came to realize the transformative effect the JEP experience was having on her, forcing her to think about volunteering in a critical and reflective way.

Empowering Education 

Gottesman drew on this experience as motivation when making a recent pledge to support JEP, with the hope that her gift will play a part in helping change the lives of both USC students and those in local elementary schools.

As a parent navigating the educational system with her own children, Gottesman has seen the power of community involvement.

“After raising my own kids in a community where an army of parents volunteered daily,” she said, “I saw how incredibly appreciative teachers were for the extra help.”

According to Gottesman, community volunteers, such as JEP tutors who work one-on-one with students, “make a huge difference for the kids and the teachers.”

Gottesman, who graduated in 1994, was drawn to USC because she could combine her academic interests in journalism and speech communication at a large research university with the advantages of a private college, such as smaller class sizes and the opportunity to develop close relationships with professors.

Though her major, communication arts and sciences, no longer exists, it was a combination of journalism, speech communication, debate and rhetoric at the time housed at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

She engaged in lively seminars with professors and classmates, wrote an honors thesis on how relationship attachment styles affected communication and had an internship at a not-for-profit arm of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, an experience that ultimately led to her decision to attend law school.

On campus, she was an active member of Torch & Tassel, USC’s chapter of Mortar Board senior honor society, where along with other campus leaders she planned philanthropy and academic events.

Since her time as an undergraduate, Gottesman has marveled at how USC has grown in both size and reputation. “USC was always a highly respected institution, but it has become even more elite and more competitive from an admission standpoint.”

Trojan Mother and Daughter Duo 

She recently navigated this competitive admissions process with her daughter, Ellie, a sophomore psychology major at USC Dornsife who was drawn to the university for its creative energy and the fact that she could combine her academic interests in psychology and education.

When, as a freshman, Ellie started volunteering with JEP as an online tutor during the height of the pandemic, Gottesman understood the impact that a gift to JEP could have. “I realized that a gift to JEP could support a program that had been a meaningful service-learning opportunity for me and was even more important during a time when so many kids in L.A. were in online school without the usual support systems in their schools.”

During this time, donor support has been crucial in allowing JEP to continue its mission to collaborate with campus and community partners to develop service-learning activities for USC students that address community-defined needs, complement coursework and encourage critical reflection on contemporary social issues.

Recent USC Dornsife graduate and JEP tutor Daniela Cruz reflected on the donor funding that helped support her position. “Growing up in the community and wanting to give back during my time at USC, I cannot imagine any better way to have done this than JEP,” she said. “Donor support provided me the opportunity not only to give back to the place that has seen me grow up, but also to learn more from it.”

In JEP, Gottesman sees a program that benefits both USC undergraduates and the elementary students they serve. “My hope is that young students feel respected, motivated and inspired by JEP volunteers,” she said, while noting that at the same time, the program helps USC students “put theory into action and reflect on learning in the real world, something that is so important to their educational journey and career exploration.”

Gottesman’s view on philanthropy is inspired by the words of Professor Emeritus of Political Science and International Relations and Spatial Sciences Steve Lamy in his 2015 “last” lecture to the Mortar Board: “Fight on for something that matters.”

What matters to Shannon Gottesman is contributing to USC to make it a better place — something she’s done as a student, alumnus and parent.



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