Nov 18, 2019
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Courtesy Fresno State

Study Abroad program receives largest donation, $500,000

Elizabeth Shields and her late husband John Shields, retired professors at Fresno State, have donated the largest gift to date for the Study Abroad program at Fresno State to help low-income students study abroad. 

The Shields’ gift of $500,000 comes with the hope of giving students the opportunity to experience and appreciate international travel by learning about another country. 

“Many students in the Central Valley have very limited opportunities to travel, sometimes it’s a matter of finances, matter of family obligations,” Shields said. “Sometimes they don’t really think about it as an option and with this program, they can earn credits toward graduation. So it’s not a waste of time in terms of graduating.”  

The Shields married in Turkey and took about five months to travel to other countries, such as Iran, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, southern and central Russia and lastly Scandinavia. 

Their travels were filled with meeting new people, seeing new places and learning about what life was like in other countries. 

The Shields’ daughter had a study abroad experience in China. They acknowledged the way the program had changed their daughter’s confidence.

The vision to help students at Fresno State will become a legacy and provide an unforgettable moment for many students. 

The Shields family was honored with a tree planting and recognition ceremony on Oct. 21 at the Social Science Quad, recognizing their generosity and support that allows students to get an unforgettable, life-changing experience. 

The university’s Study Abroad program has student-exchange partnerships with over 60 universities worldwide, giving a life-changing experience to more than 600 students that participate each year. 

“The Shields’ impactful and generous gift will fundamentally change our students’ worldviews in positive ways by providing them the opportunity to experience cultures and perspectives often vastly different than their own,” said Fresno State President Dr. Joseph I. Castro in a news release. 

The University Studies Abroad Consortium provides learning experiences in China, Chile, Japan, Italy, South Korea, Spain, Thailand and Uruguay.

In 2016, the Shields family had established an annual scholarship grant that has helped 15 Fresno State students with the travel cost and program fees to study abroad. 

Jennifer Duran, one of the students who received the Shields family’s grant, earned a bachelor’s in speech-language pathology. Duran said she believes that the study abroad experience can be scary at first, but it challenges you to overcome fear and enjoy the experience. 

She had chosen to study abroad in Seoul, South Korea, because she had made Korean friends at Fresno State who taught her about their culture and sparked her interest to visit their homeland. 

“I am very happy and have an indescribable feeling that can only be simplified as gratitude toward the Shields family,” Duran said. “Thanks to their scholarship, I was able to complete one of my dreams of studying abroad. Receiving the scholarship helped to reduce my financial burden and provided me with assistance in continuing to pursue higher education.”

For Duran, the experience taught her “independence, openness, confidence and happiness.”

“We would like to support students who would like to go abroad but did not have the financial means,” Shields said.  

Over the years, the Shields family has contributed by donating to the Study Abroad program. There are two criteria; one being students should go to a non-English-speaking country and the other is going to a country they were not so familiar with.

Shields said this experience would get students out of their comfort zone and prove to themselves how much they can grow from such a life-changing experience. 

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