Retired profs give $500,000 to help low-income students study abroad

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  • Liz Shields gifts $500,000 to Study Abroad.

Retired profs give $500,000 to help low-income students study abroad

Elizabeth “Liz” Shields, and her late husband, John, loved to travel the world to meet people and see places that showed them what life was like in other parts of the globe.

The couple met in Botswana after the southern African country received its independence in 1966. John Shields, professor emeritus at Fresno State, was a Peace Corps volunteer, and Elizabeth Shields, who was a Fresno State lecturer, was a volunteer from Britain.

Liz and John Shields.They married in Turkey and traveled for about five months through Iran, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, into southern and central Russia, then to Scandinavia where they ran out of money — but were rich in experiences.

That was the beginning of the couple’s global adventures together and the start of a lifelong passion for travel that they would eventually share with Fresno State students who want to study abroad but can’t afford to do so.

The Shields family has established a $500,000 endowment with Fresno State Study Abroad, the program’s largest gift ever, to build a legacy of helping low-income students experience and appreciate international travel while learning a foreign language, developing cultural competence and independence.

A tree planting and recognition ceremony in honor of the Shields family will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21, in the Social Science Quad, behind the Social Science building (at Campus Drive and San Ramon Avenue) on the Fresno State campus.

“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 Joseph I. Castro.

The gift comes almost two years after the passing of John Shields, who was a professor of agricultural economics in the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology. Before his death, John and Liz Shields established an annual scholarship grant in 2016 that has helped 15 Fresno State students pay for travel costs and program fees to study at University Studies Abroad Consortium sites, including China, Chile, Japan, Italy, South Korea, Spain, Thailand and Uruguay.

Fresno State is a founding member of the nonprofit consortium of universities in the United States. The universities provide oversight and strategic planning to the consortium and its programs.

“We would just like to give students, especially those who may not have the financial means, an opportunity to go,” said Liz Shields, who was a lecturer of finance in the Craig School of Business.

This allows students the opportunity to travel, to live and to experience a foreign place where they are not comfortable but where they’ll be able to find out how they operate in those environments and what the people are like there, she said.

The Shields’ love of travel and their daughter’s study-abroad experience learning Chinese and calligraphy in Chengdu, China inspired them to give. “It changed her. It gave her so much more confidence,” Liz Shields said.

Studying abroad is a life-changing experience that allows students to learn beyond the classroom. More than 600 Fresno State students participate in study abroad programs each year. The University has student-exchange partnerships with more than 60 universities worldwide and in the United States, and assists faculty in organizing short-term group tours of selected countries.

“We deeply appreciate the generosity of the Shields family and their proactive engagement to help our students who otherwise would not be able to travel abroad,” said Scott Moore, dean of the Division of Continuing and Global Education at Fresno State. “We know how meaningful these experiences have been for our students. The ability to study abroad is truly transformative and will resonate a lifetime.”

Donors support where their passions lie, said Paula Castadio, vice president of University Advancement.

“In this case, travel abroad shaped the Shields’ family in significant ways so they aligned their giving to extend this opportunity to others,” Castadio said.

To help grow the Shields Family Study Abroad Fund, contact Katie Adamo Bewarder at katieadamo@csufresno.edu.