The actress who plays fledgling lawyer Riley Kessler on NBC's First Years well remembers her first day at New York University in 1991. When an administrator called her name, Sidney Poitier, before a group of fellow freshmen, "The whole room burst into laughter," she says. "Everybody looked around to see who was going to answer. Of course, it was just me."

Since then, Poitier, 27, the younger of two daughters of Oscar winner Sidney Poitier, 74, and his second wife, former actress Joanna Shimkus, 57, has determined to make the name her own. In 1999 she copped small parts in True Crime and the miniseries Noah's Ark. "She's a fine actress," says her father. "I'm proud of her." Sidney, who lives in an L.A. bungalow, credits both parents for her social conscience. "How could we grow up and travel all over the world without being open-minded?" says Poitier, who has been dating musician Dorian Heartsong, 33. She also needs to be strong-minded; critics gave First Years low marks. "I'm not worried," she says. "I'm an actor, and I'm in it for the long haul."