$1.5 million Gift to Support Humanities and Social Sciences Research

Teresa and Byron Pollitt’s endowed professorships will promote interdisciplinary problem-solving that engages undergraduate students and community partners

Teresa and Byron Pollitt and Scott Bear

Teresa and Byron Pollitt view their $1.5 million gift is an investment in UCR and future students.

RIVERSIDE, California – University of California, Riverside alumni Teresa and Byron Pollitt have given $1.5 million to establish three term professorships that will support interdisciplinary research in the humanities and social sciences at UCR.

The gift establishing the Teresa and Byron Pollitt Endowed Term Chairs for Interdisciplinary Research and Learning in the Humanities & Social Sciences was announced today. The professorships in the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (CHASS) will support research that invites collaboration among disciplines within CHASS and across UCR as well as with other universities and research institutions, and will engage undergraduate students and community partners, both local and global.

“UCR has a long tradition of interdisciplinary scholarship aimed at solving society’s most pressing issues, and the generosity of Teresa and Byron Pollitt ensures that this legacy will live on for years to come,” said Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox. “Teresa and Byron are both distinguished alumni who have dedicated themselves to the public good their entire careers. We are grateful for their support that benefits our students and the communities we serve.”

Research for the public good is a primary goal of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and the Pollitt Chairs will further that effort, said CHASS Dean Milagros Peña.

“I am so excited about the opportunities this gift will provide,” she said. “I love the idea of research for the public good and involving undergraduates in that experience, whether it is participating in fieldwork or some other activity. The requirement to partner with a community organization makes it clear that we expect research undertaken by the Pollitt Term Chairs to contribute new insights or understandings of issues that will have a lasting impact in our communities.”

The Pollitts said they view their support as an investment in UCR and future students.

“We’re huge believers in giving back,” Byron Pollitt said. “Your undergraduate education is the early foundation which, for us, led to two very successful professional careers. At the time when Teri and I went through UCR, the university had a science side, but it was a classic, liberal arts-oriented campus. It made us better citizens, better parents, better people, and more worldly.”

Byron Pollitt graduated from UCR in 1973 with a B.S. in business economics and later earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he graduated as a Baker Scholar. He began his career at McKinsey & Company, and served as CFO for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Gap, and Visa, where he helped lead the then-largest IPO in U.S. history in terms of money raised. Now retired, he serves on the board of Voya Financial and the Finance Commission of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. He received UCR’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2015.

Teresa Pollitt graduated from UCR in 1974 with a B.A. in psychology and later earned an MBA from the University of Southern California and the Chartered Financial Analyst credential. She worked for 15 years as a security analyst with the investment counsel firm of Scudder Stevens and Clark, rising to the level of vice president. She has also served on the national board of the National Charity League and held numerous volunteer leadership positions supporting Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, the Junior League, and the public schools that educated their three daughters.

Teresa Pollitt said the opportunity as an undergraduate student to participate in research projects enabled her to work closely with tenured professors and hone skills that helped propel her career as a research analyst for an investment firm. “When I was being interviewed for a promotion I was asked what my degree was in,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Psychology.’ The Director of Research commented that was a pretty good degree to have on Wall Street.”

That experience was a major factor in their decision to support research that provides significant, hands-on learning opportunities for undergraduate students, the Pollitts said.

“At the end of the day a university exists to train and prepare students,” Byron Pollitt said. “We have a maniacal focus when we invest that it will provide a meaningful learning experience for students.”

The couple also wanted to support interdisciplinary research that makes a difference, has a lasting impact, and involves collaborations with community partners and the humanities and social sciences.

“It has been our experience that the research of the future that holds so much promise is going to be interdisciplinary,” Byron Pollitt said. “Through the work of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies we saw that demonstrated during the Ebola crisis. The social sciences played a critical role, along with medical treatments, that allowed a successful response to that deadly outbreak. Understanding how to effect change, mobilizing people in cultures you’re not familiar with; these are just a few of the ways the humanities and social sciences can help bring about the changes needed for complex issues to be successfully addressed.”

Establishing term chairs means that research topics “will be constantly refreshed with new opportunities for research and learning,” he added. “Over time, these interdisciplinary chairs will create a portfolio of impacts that are only limited by the imagination of the professors who propose the projects.”

Pollitt Chairs will be selected for terms of up to five years for each of the three professorships based on research that focuses on one or more of the university’s six strategic priorities, is interdisciplinary across the humanities and social sciences, strengthens the vitality and resiliency of communities, and creates meaningful learning experiences for students, particularly undergraduates.

The university’s six strategic research priorities include:

  • Social Innovation and Empowerment – Strengthening our social fabric through quality education, robust public policy, and community engagement
  • New Voices and Visions – Expressing and celebrating our humanity through the visual and performing arts, and nurturing voices from across the rich tapestry of society
  • Health and Wellness – Advances in the study of human health, reducing health care disparities, and prevention and wellness
  • From Genomics to Harvest—The basic science, cultivation, and production of plants and food
  • Emerging Technologies – Innovations that enrich how we experience and interact with our world
  • Renewable Nature – The environment, energy, and sustainable development for a healthier planet.

UC Riverside last fall announced a $300 million comprehensive fundraising campaign to increase support for students, faculty research, and infrastructure. The campaign, which has raised $173 million to date, will conclude in 2020.

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