By Cynthia Haro, April 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 piece of land in Pomona to a non-profit organization, Reese immediately made the decision to take this opportunity to give back to the students. For 26 years, Reese has dedicated his career to providing students with a wealth of lessons and support to help them become global citizens.
“I want to be able to get out of the traditional campus classroom and immerse my students in the learning experience in various places around the world,” Reese said. “I think it really accelerates their own learning and growth.”
Although study abroad programs have been offered to students from all walks of life at university, many often feel discouraged due to the cost and restrictions in their personal life. Reese’s goal became to challenge this, offering a different perspective to hopeful students.
Prior to Reese’s contribution, students were encouraged to apply for grants or loans that would help them travel for a few 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 enrollment trends, in the 2018-2019 academic year, the last before the pandemic, 1% of undergraduate students participated in a study abroad program, or about 255 students.
“With gifts like these, it allows students to participate in these experiences without worrying about what’s going to happen,” Walters said, referring to concerns first-generation students might have about curriculum. abroad.
More money means more ability to fund travel for more students to travel as the list of interested applicants continues to grow.
For Reese, the value of the program does not lie in the ability to travel with his students. Rather, it is about being able to introduce them to new mindsets and perspectives that challenge them.
Reese’s Social Services Awareness course offers students the opportunity to apply their knowledge through an introduction to the study abroad program.
Before the pandemic, most of these trips took place outside the country; however, they were temporarily discontinued and later relocated to Palm Desert, California for a more local experience.
Many students who took his course found it eye-opening, giving them the opportunity to engage with different learning methods and ideologies not common in the United States.
“It was a really upsetting and humbling experience because we got to see an extreme change from a society where everyone lives in this organized chaos but it’s very community driven,” explained Josie Rodriguez (’20) who participated in the study. overseas trip to india in 2020.
Rodriguez has continued to work alongside Reese since graduating from Cal Poly Pomona. As part of his non-profit organization, they worked together to help the prison population.
During the fall semester, students can take the NGO Outreach or Non-Governmental Organizations and Social Services course and work to start their own NGO for the duration of the semester. For their second semester, they are encouraged, not required, to enroll in the study abroad program to complete their experience in the course.
“I think his contribution will allow people who cannot afford it (the program) and who are eligible for a scholarship to take a trip like this and take advantage of these opportunities to network and build relationships with people,” Rodriguez said. “You will always remember that and remember your hands-on work in nonprofit organizations.”
With this contribution, Reese hopes to encourage others to contribute to causes such as these that help students achieve their goals by providing memorable opportunities. Reese continues his efforts to match the number of his donations through his non-profit organization, the Reese Student Travel Fund.
“I think it inspires them as students when they come back; I truly think these trips are the most memorable and highlight of a student’s entire college career. These are experiences they will remember for the rest of their lives,” Reese explained.
While classroom learning is beneficial for many, the study abroad program provides an opportunity to immerse yourself in the hands-on learning experience that Cal Poly Pomona is known for. As donations become available, more students can participate in these experiences.
The NGO course that Professor Reese leads is dedicated to inspiring students to become selfless activists who 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’ is the South African concept for 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 want to join the study abroad experience, the program website offers a variety of workshops, program listings, and online and in-person event information.