Study abroad programs can help students improve their language skills, experience a new culture, and become more confident and independent.
But just 2% of undergraduates at the University of California, Riverside currently participate in study abroad programs—significantly lower than the national average of 11%.
“It’s not surprising that UCR is so far below other institutions in terms of the participation rate, since the university serves a lot of students from low-income families and financial constraints can make experiences like this prohibitive,” said Byron Pollitt, a member of UCR’s board of trustees.
To change that, Byron and his wife Teri, also a UCR trustee, recently made a $2 million endowed gift to the university to provide scholarships for students who are interested in pursuing international education experiences. Their gift, the “Teresa and Byron Pollitt Endowment for Study Abroad Fund” is in support of Beyond Brilliant, UCR’s first fundraising initiative dedicated to student-focused priorities across the university.
“The generous gift from the Pollitt family promises to give more UCR students the transformative experience of study abroad,” Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox said. “Such learning opportunities broaden intercultural awareness and prepare students for work in a global economy.”
The Pollitts are both UCR alumni, earning undergraduate degrees — and meeting each other — on campus in the 1970s. Byron Pollitt earned a bachelor’s degree in business economics at UCR followed by an MBA from Harvard. His finance career included stints as the CFO for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Gap, and Visa. Teresa Pollitt graduated with a bachelor’s in psychology, an MBA from the University of Southern California, and a Chartered Financial Analyst credential. She spent a 15-year career as a security analyst for the firm Scudder Stevens and Clark, rising to the level of vice president.
Calling their educational experiences “the university preparation that launched our careers,” the Pollitts have remained active members of the UCR community over the years. Byron Pollitt, who received UCR’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2015, has served as an executive fellow and commencement speaker at the School of Business. In 2017, their $1.5 million gift to the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences established the “Teresa and Byron Pollitt Endowed Term Chairs for Interdisciplinary Research and Learning in the Humanities & Social Sciences.” The three chair positions support faculty research projects with a strong component of undergraduate student involvement.
The Pollitts’ latest gift to UCR supports the recently launched Beyond Brilliant fundraising effort. The initiative aims to raise $50 million over five years to build resources that support every aspect of the student experience, including expanding need- and merit-based scholarships and fellowships, experiential learning, and health and well-being.
“When we heard about these opportunities, the one that struck a chord with us was the opportunity to support study abroad programs,” Teri Pollitt said. “Two of our daughters studied abroad and it was an eye-opening experience that broadened their worldview and gave them an appreciation for diverse points of view.”
Marko Princevac, interim vice provost of international affairs and associate dean of engineering, thanked the Pollitt family for helping students pursue a study abroad experience.
“No other experience can be more life changing than education abroad. Hence in 2021 International Affairs put education abroad as one of our strategic initiatives with the goal to send a larger percentage or Highlanders abroad,” Princevac said. “Unfortunately, education abroad comes with expense that is quite often prohibitive for our students. Through this generous donation from the Pollitt family, we are now able to assist our students in pursuing this life-changing experience. We are very grateful to Pollitt family and are looking forward to following the careers and lives of many Pollitt Fellows to come.”
LaSharon McLean Perez, assistant director of the Education Abroad program and a UCR alumna who studied abroad as an undergraduate, said international experiences can “help launch a student’s career and make them more competitive in the workforce.”
“It gives students the opportunity to show future employers that they have skills that are in demand—open mindedness, resourcefulness, and adaptability,” McLean Perez said. “The biggest barrier for most students is financial. By removing this barrier, my hope is that we can increase the percentage of UCR students taking advantage of a rewarding and life-changing international experience that will better prepare them for the workforce.”
That was the case for UCR student Samantha Acosta, who received a national Gilman Scholarship in 2021 that helped fund tuition, housing, and airfare for her study abroad experience in South Korea.
“For me personally, if I had not received my scholarship to go abroad, I would not have been able to go to South Korea and have so many meaningful experiences. So, I am truly grateful to everyone that donates money to scholarship funds, as that money truly changes lives,” she said.
More information about Education Abroad at UCR, visit https://international.ucr.edu/abroad.
For more information and to support UCR’s Beyond Brilliant Initiative, visit giving.ucr.edu/beyond-brilliant.