International Women's Day Spotlight, Film Prof. Lucy Gebre-Egziabher

March 8, 2022

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow,” which honors all women in the movement against collective biases and fuels gender inequality. International Women’s Day is observed annually on March 8th and celebrates the global “social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.”

Prof. Lucy Gebre-Egziabher

NOVA ‘s International Woman’s Day Spotlight is Lucy Gebre-Egziabher, NOVA Alexandria film professor and 2015 Fulbright recipient who has always had a passion for film, international development and education. Her passions led her to merge these ideas and teach at NOVA.

As a Fulbright scholar, she taught a Film Studies program at Rift Valley University, Bole Campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The critical studies area included studying American Cinema and its contribution to the craft, the history of African-American cinema and the various European, African and Latin American film movements.

Prior to NOVA, she held roles in international development as senior program officer for the Africa America Institute (AAI) for over seven years and was an associate for the Academy for Educational Development.

Gender equity and balance was a key point in her Fulbright work. Gebre-Egziabher worked hard before leaving for Ethiopia to ensure that extra efforts were made to recruit female students for the program. As is the case in many developing countries, male students have a tendency to be larger in numbers in film classes and tend to dominate the discussion in class. She made this a top priority in talks with the host institution, and consequently, a good number of female students were recruited. When the program started, their participation in class discussion was initially minimal. However, as the program went on, the female students started to take leadership roles and became more active in class discussions as well as on production sets.

Tell us a little bit about yourself (background):
I am half Egyptian and half Ethiopian American. I am a film maker and cinema educator.

I did my undergrad at Wilson College, at the time it was an all-woman’s college in Chambersburg Penn. and got my bachelor’s degree in communications, journalism and international relations. After my undergraduate, I moved to Washington, D.C. because I knew wanted to be involved in the international education field.

I started working with various international development organizations that focused on education. Then at one point, I decided to pursue my passion, which is cinema and film making. So, I enrolled at Howard University for their Master of Fine Arts in film.

While at Howard, I founded my production company, Teret Productions. An Amharic word, Teret means folk tale or folklore productions. I made a few films and developed scripts under my production work. Being a professor was not on my radar screen at all. I always joke and say – but it’s the truth – that teaching found me. I didn’t find it, it found me.

What brought you to NOVA?
I started teaching at NOVA because I have a passion for cinema, film and the subject matter itself. It excites me to share my passion with young and old people.

I came to NOVA to develop a cinema program on the Alexandria Campus. I co-developed the AFA degree curriculum at NOVA, now in its fourth year, and it is boasting an enrollment that rose farther than expectations. It’s one of the rising new programs.

What do you enjoy about NOVA?
NOVA has some of the best faculty members I have known; and not just experts in their fields but also those who go to great lengths to help and nurture their students. Not only will students get intellectual insights, but they will also get a lot of personal development through the cultivation of the faculty and staff.

What do you do to really connect with students?
For me, it is encouraging students to travel and get experience. In the absence of that, I use cinema to connect students. One year, it was students in Ethiopia and another year it was students in Mexico. I use this powerful experience.

I have been able to continue mentoring students abroad. The advantage of having prior work in international development or when short term training occurs overseas I always say, ‘What about the afterwards?’ So, one thing I have been diligent about is continuing to mentor students abroad with resources, networking, etc.

How was your Fulbright experience?
In October 2015, I received a Fulbright award for a specialist program to teach Film Studies in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The program was to be delivered at the Rift Valley University, Bole Campus, one of the largest private universities in Ethiopia.

A Fulbright award is one of the greatest experiences out there for educators because it gives U.S. faculty and staff members in higher education a wider world perspective and a reality check on a lot of things. For instance, when I went – there were power outages, and you have to think on your feet and adapt to the realities.

One thing I really really appreciated from my experience is how my international students were thirsty for knowledge. When you go to parts of the world where education is not a given, that is what makes you appreciate being an educator, and it really widens your world perspective and makes you appreciate everything that you have.

I would encourage faculty and staff members to not give up; keep applying toward a Fulbright. I am of the mindset that things happen in their own time, and the time that you are supposed to go is still waiting for you. Keep thriving in your field and keep applying.

After my Fulbright experience, I started the Film Collaborative International, in which I paired my NOVA students with students overseas for them to compare a different reality. With film as their passion, I brought together these students. I asked them to make a film together. I gave them the parameters – and I had them collaborate. They downloaded these apps like Viber to get together virtually and keep in touch. They worked immensely on projects.

The collaboration between my students in Ethiopia from the Fulbright and my NOVA students created a film shot in two parts, with one part in Ethiopia the other was done in the U.S. The film is titled: “Final Exam.” It juxtaposes a student’s reality while also sharing common feelings.

Do you have specific advice you give to incoming students?
Perhaps because I come from a different part of the world, I have such an appreciation for travel. You are part of a human race that comes from different parts of the world. So, travel is very important, and I have always encouraged my students to travel as much as they can.

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