Political science professor gifts $100K to study abroad program

By Cynthia Haro, Apr. 26, 2022

Renford Reese, a professor in the Department of Political Science, left his mark on the Cal Poly Pomona community by donating $100,000 to the university’s study abroad program this semester.

After selling a parcel of land in Pomona to a nonprofit organization, Reese immediately made the decision to use this opportunity to give back to students. For 26 years, Reese has dedicated his career to providing students with an ample number of lessons and support to help them become global citizens.

Renford Reese’s NGO & Social Services Outreach course on their study abroad trip to India in 2020. (Courtesy of Renford Reese)

“I want to be able to take the classroom outside of the traditional campus and immerse my students in the experience of learning in various places around the world,” said Reese. “I think that really expedites their own learning and their growth.”

Although study abroad programs have been available to students of all backgrounds at the university, many often feel deterred due to the cost and restrictions from their personal lives. Reese’s goal became to challenge this, providing a different perspective to hopeful students.

Prior to Reese’s contribution, students were encouraged to apply for scholarships or loans which would aid their travel for a couple of weeks. However, the cost of the trip itself is not always the obstacle but rather the number of applicants.

Matthew Walters, director of the university’s International Center, which oversees the program, explained that the number of students applying determines the selectivity of the program. According to the enrollment trends, in the 2018-2019 academic year, the last before the pandemic, 1% of undergraduate students participated in a study abroad program, about 255 students.

“With donations like these, it makes it more possible for students to be able to take part in these experiences without the worries of what’ll happen,” said Walters, discussing worries first-generation students may have about study abroad programs.

More money means more ability to fund the trips of a larger number of students to travel as the list of interested applicants continues to grow.

For Reese, the program’s value does not lie in the ability to travel with his students. Rather, it lies in being able to introduce them to new mindsets and perspectives that challenge them.

Reese’s social service outreach course provides students with the opportunity to apply their knowledge through introduction to the study abroad program.

NGO & Social Services Outreach course students on their Palm Desert fieldwork trip during the 2022 winter intersession. (Courtesy of Renford Reese)

Prior to the pandemic, most of these trips took place outside of the country; however, they were temporarily paused and later moved to Palm Desert, California, for a more local experience.

Many students who took his course found it to be eye-opening, giving them the ability to engage with different learning methods and ideologies uncommon in the United States.

“It was a really life-changing and humbling experience because we got to see an extreme change of a society where everybody is living in this organized chaos but it’s very community oriented,” explained alumni Josie Rodriguez (‘20) who partook in the study abroad trip to India in 2020.

Rodriguez has continued to work alongside Reese since graduating from Cal Poly Pomona. As a part of his non-profit organization, they have worked together to help the incarcerated population.

During the fall semester, students can take the NGO’s, or non-governmental organization, and social services outreach course and work on the creation of their own NGO for the duration of the term. For their second semester, they are encouraged, not required, to sign up for the study abroad program to fulfill their experience in the course.

“I think his contribution will allow people who can’t afford it (the program) and who are eligible for a scholarship to go on a trip like this one and experience these opportunities to network and make relationships with people,” said Rodriguez. “You’re always going to remember it and remember working in the nonprofits hands-on.”

With this contribution, Reese hopes to encourage others to contribute to causes such as these that help students achieve their goals by providing them with memorable opportunities. Reese is continuing his efforts to match the number of his donations through his nonprofit, the Reese Student Travel Fund.

“I think it inspires them as students when they come back; I really think these trips are the most memorable and the highlight of the student’s entire college career. These are experiences that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” Reese explained.

Although learning in the classroom is beneficial to many, the study abroad program provides an opportunity to be immersed in the hands-on learning experience Cal Poly Pomona is known for. As more donations become available, more students can take part in these experiences.

The NGO course Professor Reese directs dedicates itself to pushing students to become selfless activists that work together for others. For this reason, Reese explains that the common theme that runs through his teachings revolves around the South African concept of “ubuntu,” to unite students.

“‘Ubuntu,’ it’s the South African concept that means humanity,” Reese explains. This concept instilled in his course teaches students the art of humanity through community. “I am because we are.”

For students who wish to join the study abroad experience, the program’s website provides a variety of workshops, program listings and information on events both online and in-person.

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