January 25, 2016
You could say that the seeds of Mellissa Betts Hedges' career as a producer for the television series "Who Do You Think You Are?" were planted in the fall of 1998, when, as a first-year student, she received her assigned list of courses from Susquehanna's registrar. It included one class she was unsure of: African History. She decided to stick with it.
The rest, as they say, is history.
That class influenced Hedges to eventually double major in history and philosophy. When it came time to decide where to study abroad, she knew she wanted to go to Namibia to continue what she learned in that course.
After graduating from Susquehanna, Hedges earned a Ph.D. in African history from UCLA and received a Fulbright grant to continue research in Namibia, work she credits with preparing her well for her current role.
"I hadn't had any previous interest in Africa, but I met with the professor teaching the course at the time, Dwayne Williams, and he intrigued me," says Hedges. "I took that first class and never looked back."
About to graduate into an unfavorable academic job market, in 2010 she took a chance and applied for a job as a researcher for "Who Do You Think You Are?"
She uses her research skills to track down celebrities' family histories. Once, she was even able to trace actor Rob Lowe's family tree to Germany, based on a baptismal record she found in an Eastern Pennsylvania church.
"While I ended up leaving academia, my love of history and my move across the country to Hollywood would never have happened if it weren't for the SU history department," says Hedges, who encourages students to keep an open mind.
"I love my job and would not trade it for anything in the world. But if I had not thought outside the box, I would never have thought it was possible to be a TV historian."
Hedges says her liberal arts education prepared her for her role in many ways—most importantly the critical thinking and analysis.
"As far as I'm concerned, 'how' you think is just as, if not more, important than what you know," says Hedges. "Being able to tackle information and problems with critical thinking can get you incredibly far."
Hedges is featured in the Spring 2016 issue of Susquehanna Currents!