She’s known simply as “Dean Joan,” but her contributions to USC have been anything but simple.
Joan Metcalf Schaefer came to USC as Dean of Women Emerita in 1955, counseling and inspiring generations of students, and has not stopped.
For her 90th birthday Tuesday, Schaefer received boxes of letters, dozens of flower arrangements and countless phone calls from former and current students, proving her legacy at USC to be timeless.
“USC is very lucky to have had her all these years,” said Jerry Papazian, who graduated in 1977 with a bachelor of science in economics and now acts as Schaefer’s power of attorney. “She is what makes USC a special place. There are now two to three generations that have known Joan. She developed friendships with so many of those students and former students.”
Though Schaefer is 90 years old, she still makes the trip to her office in the Hancock building about once a week to see old friends, visit faculty members and inspire students.
“She loves students,” Papazian said. “What is keeping her going now is her ability to come to school.”
Coming to USC reminds Schaefer of why she does what she does.
“It’s been a lovely journey, really lovely,” Schaefer said. “I love teaching and I like counseling. You have to know what you’re doing and how to listen to the students.”
And listening is what Schaefer does best, said colleague Mona Cravens, director of Student Publications, who first got to know Schaefer in 1970 while working in the Student Affairs office.
“She has been extremely influential in my life, to be able to watch her work with students, and to try to hone in on my own listening skills,” Cravens said. “She taught me how important it is to really strive to help our students to believe in themselves. She helped me learn to listen well and really see the good in students.”
But it is more than her listening skills that mesmerize students and faculty alike; it is her charisma and ability to tell students exactly what they need to hear, said James Grant, a 1983 graduate who received the Order of Troy, awarded to students who demonstrate commitment to USC and the community, at Schaefer‘s request.
“She is this unique combination of charisma, fierce intelligence and I think there is a brutal honesty to her that is tempered in a very, very warm, loving person,” Grant said. “It is very rare for someone to be that brutally honest and so loving; it is a very unique trait. I think that is why she has been able to accomplish great things and impact so many people’s lives. That is why people love her. I know that is why I love her.”
Students are her life, according to Papazian. Her entire day would be filled with meetings and students would wait in line for hours to seek her advice.
“If students had a problem, they would tell their friends to go see Dean Joan,” Schaefer said. “So I always had so many students but I love them.”
While at USC, Schaefer’s favorite task was leading the International Summer School in Cambridge program. Every year, she would select 20 to 30 students to study abroad and experience Cambridge University in an interactive environment.
“If they were interesting and creative they would get along in a strange place when they went,” Schaefer said. “When we got over there I saw them all the time. So it was like a family.”
Schaefer is also on the executive board of Phi Beta Kappa, Mortar Board and has a scholarship named after her, the Dean Joan Metcalf Schaefer Scholarship, awarded to students who demonstrate leadership, scholarship and service.
Even after all these years, Schaefer has not left USC. Her legacy and the impact she made in individual students’ lives will carry on for generations to come, Grant said.
“I think about her as a beacon of life that will go on forever,” Grant said. “That is interesting because she is ageless. She is the same now as she was when she started.”