Lebanon Valley College received one of its largest gifts ever early this month to transform its global study programs.

Katherine J. Bishop, CEO, president, and chairperson of Lebanon Seaboard Corp. and longtime college trustee, is directing $5 million towards the college through a donor-advised fund supporting LVC study abroad programs.

Bishop holds degrees from Wellesley College and the Sloan School at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has been CEO of Lebanon Seaboard since 2004. Her father, Vernon Bishop, founded the company in 1947 as Lebanon Chemical Corp.

The family has a long history of philanthropic support towards LVC, where major gifts had previously transformed the Gossard Memorial Library into the modern Bishop Library. Bishop has served on the LVC board of trustees since 1988.

A 2015 photo of LVC’s then-president Lewis E. Thayne with Kathy Bishop following a $1.5 million gift to upgrade the Vernon and Doris Bishop Library at the college. (LVC)

“Students who study off-campus for a week, a month, or more return with expanded perspectives on culture, business, and more,” said LVC president James M. MacLaren in a press release. “This gift is an investment in LVC students.

“They will have increased financial support to study abroad or off campus, and they will have even more opportunities to choose from each year. I extend my deepest gratitude to Kathy for making this fund possible.”

“Kathy has been a trustee since 1988, so she has long been committed to the values of LVC and the outcomes an LVC education produces,” said Weaver.

Weaver said that the roots of this latest gift were in conversations with Bishop about a student trying to arrange study abroad plans for Dubai in the summer of 2020 – a first for LVC and in slightly challenging travel conditions to say the least. That experience demonstrated the need for additional support towards travel and program costs in the wake of the pandemic.

This anecdote was front of mind for Weaver when Bishop mentioned an interest in supporting students who hoped to study abroad, and that Bishop made a focused gift for a pilot program to send about 20 students on study-away trips, including the Netherlands, Italy, and at least one student who finally got to see the Burj Khalifa.

“Kathy saw the impact her gift had on the individual level, and we continued to talk throughout the spring regarding how she could expand her gift and amplify what she was trying to accomplish in terms of global understanding,” said Weaver.

“The process involved envisioning a desired future in a conversation that included a committed donor, our faculty, and our students.”

Bishop ended up using a donor-advised fund at Vanguard Charitable to realize her vision for the gift.

The college says that this new fund, once fully-endowed, will do the following:

  1. Provide grants to LVC students, especially those from higher-need families, to help mitigate travel cost and other barriers associated with studying abroad.
  2. Allow LVC to increase the number of short-term, study-abroad courses offered over summer and winter break.
  3. Enable LVC to increase its one-week study abroad opportunities that augment semester-long courses.
  4. Enhance and expand cultural exchanges through global university partnerships like LVC’s existing collaboration with Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

In the immediate future, the gift is expected to lead to a direct increase of LVC’s study-away programs, up to 50% from current rates. The fund will grow to a $4.5 million endowment, with $500,000 provided in current-use funds to begin assisting students as early as this fall.

“It can take several years to build the principal of an endowed fund so that it generates the full extent of what a donor envisions,” said Matt Weaver, LVC vice president for advancement, in an email to LebTown. “Our team often suggests carving out a portion of a gift for immediate use means that students can begin to benefit now — while the endowment grows and matures.”

The benefit of doing that is that the donor can see an immediate impact, said Weaver, and the college can also use the pilots as a way to fine-tune programs and approaches internally.

“By the time the endowment is fully mature, we have already had a chance to optimize how we can leverage the gift to support our students.”

Jill Russell, LVC’s director of global education, said that pre-COVID, LVC sent 80 students on a study-away program each year, with an average of 20% of graduating students participating in at least one program while at the college. Last year, it sent 60 students on study-away programs.

Russell said that the gift is expected to help bring those numbers back up to 90 students annually, with additional increases in the future.

“We anticipate that the gift will attract prospective students interested in global experiences and encourage more faculty to lead short-term programs for a range of disciplines,” said Russell in an email to LebTown. “Ultimately, sending more students on study abroad and study away experiences will provide them with life-changing experiences while providing more interesting conversations and cultural exploration for our campus community once our students return from being away.”

Russell said that one-week course-embedded study abroad programs during spring break increase access for students who might be able to participate in a longer duration program, while still providing exposure to international travel and possibly seeding future study-abroad participation.

“While we will always encourage students to participate in a full-semester study away program, many students cannot complete a longer duration trip due to curriculum barriers, job responsibilities at home, or a limited desire to leave the U.S. for a full semester of study,” said Russell.

“Short-term programs enable increased access to study abroad and demonstrate an improved development of essential cultural, personal, and professional skills in an accelerated manner.”

“My two study abroad experiences were very impactful parts of my undergraduate education,” said Bishop in a college press release.

“I learned that not everyone does things as we do in the United States. It doesn’t make either culture right or wrong, just different. That understanding of differences has continued to inform my interactions with other people throughout my adult life.”

“I am happy to provide that learning opportunity to future generations of Lebanon Valley College students through this endowed fund.”

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