Reflection on Cornell’s impact led to Schimmel ’66 study-abroad endowment

As his 50th class reunion neared, Rick Schimmel ’66 began reflecting on what Cornell truly meant to him.

The 2018 French class in Marseille.
The 2018 French class in Marseille.

He realized that many aspects of his life were shaped by those four years on the Hilltop. The job he held for nearly four decades came as a result of a Cornell connection. And most importantly, it was where he met his wife.

“The college fostered many lifelong friendships, and it was at Cornell that I met my late wife Susan,” he says. “My career path had its beginnings on campus when I met a visiting lecturer during the summer before my senior year as a result of being chair of the Men’s Senate. That contact grew into a position with the University of Illinois I held for 37 years.”

Rick and Susan Boehm Schimmel ’66, who majored in French and became a high school French teacher, enjoyed traveling throughout Europe, with France as a favorite destination. They both felt that travel in France, experiencing firsthand what Susan taught in the classroom—art, history, and culture—was invaluable and should be funded as an undergraduate experience.

“With that in mind and in memory of my wife, I decided to help the French department support students participating in the study-abroad program,” Rick says. “As experiential studies become a larger part of the Cornell curriculum, I wanted to take the opportunity to acknowledge the impact that Cornell College has had on my life by providing an endowment that will continue to support students during their time studying abroad.”

He initially established the memorial fund with $3,000 to help a French class travel abroad. The Office of Off-Campus Studies planned to award three $1,000 scholarships for students in need. When Rick found out four students qualified, he provided additional funding without hesitation. He continued to add to the fund and now it is a fully endowed fund, meaning it will exist and provide funding in Susan’s honor in perpetuity.

Building the endowment is a priority for Cornell, especially when the endowment supports experiential learning like off-campus study. The Susan Boehm Schimmel ’66 Study in France Endowed Fund made a big impact for students in the 2018 course Francophone Cultural Immersion who ventured to France to study history, tradition, and identity. The funds underwrote part of the costs of the course and provided scholarships for students in need.

“There’s nothing like a block in France to speed linguistic and cultural comprehension,” says Associate Professor of French Rebecca Wines. “Every student was in a homestay, which greatly benefitted their skills with spoken French and gave them an opportunity to learn about French culture from locals’ perspectives. Such immersive, experiential learning is only possible on location, which made students even more grateful for their scholarships and for having the course underwritten.”

Sara Renaud ’18 in France in 2018 on a Schimmel Endowment scholarship. She has since earned a master’s degree in museum and artefact studies from Durham University in the U.K.

Several of the students majoring or minoring in French told Wines that if not for the Schimmel Endowment, they would not have been able to go abroad for a block. “Seriously studying French without experiencing life in a Francophone location would truly have been a disappointment for those students,” she says.

Sara Renaud ’18 was one of those students.

“I have been a student of French since I was 14, and it has always been my dream to visit, but because of financial difficulties, it has never been possible until now,” she wrote in a letter to Rick. “This trip has forever impacted the way I view what culture means to a person. After living in a place that embraces its past while still moving forward, I hope to incorporate that into my own life. I hope to be a museum curator someday, and my goal is to share how the history of a place can have such a strong impact on culture.”

Because of the Schimmel Endowment, many more students will experience France firsthand as part of their Cornell education. Merci beaucoup to Rick and to the late Susan Schimmel for making it happen.