Alumnus’ gift supports study abroad in Spain

In honor of his entrepreneurial father, Rice alumnus Jean-Pierre Baizán ’90 has established an endowment at the university that will provide undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to travel to Spain to improve their proficiency in speaking Spanish and/or conducting research on a facet of the country’s history, culture, literature or music. The Gabriel Baizán Fellowship is to be awarded annually to one student and will be administered by the School of Humanities with assistance from its Center for Languages and Intercultural Communication.

From left, Dean of Humanities Nicolas Shumway hosted Maria and honoree Gabriel Baizán, their son, Rice alumnus Jean-Pierre Baizán '90, and other members of their family for a dinner at Rice earlier this year.

From left, Dean of Humanities Nicolas Shumway hosted Maria and honoree Gabriel Baizán, their son, Rice alumnus Jean-Pierre Baizán ’90, and other members of their family for a dinner at Rice earlier this year.

Duncan College sophomore Elizabeth Asonye is the first Gabriel Baizán Fellow. She is currently in Spain through early July as part of Rice-in-Spain Pamplona, an innovative six-week intensive Spanish language and intercultural communication summer program led by Spanish Lecturer Victoria Abad. The fellowship paid for her living and education expenses.

Jean-Pierre, a member of the School of Humanities Advisory Board, said his father, Gabriel, originally from Spain, became a successful self-made entrepreneur in Cuba first and then the United States. In Houston, Gabriel founded Packaging Service Co. Inc., a chemical consumer-products company, and SolvChem Inc., a chemical-distribution and contract-blending and packaging business. Jean-Pierre is now president and CEO of both companies.

“My father has dedicated his life to building businesses, raising a family and seeking knowledge,” said Jean-Pierre, whose three siblings, Jordi Baizán ’88, Kristina Baizán Devereux ’91 and Katia Baizán Gonzalez ’00, are also Rice alumni. “Not only has he made numerous contributions to those he has mentored and employed, but he has also funded scholarships supporting high school and college students as well as educators both in Houston and his hometown of Molins de Rei, Spain.”

Gabriel’s passions and values motivated him to provide his children with a Rice education, studies abroad in Europe and the opportunity to learn several languages and study music, and also engendered a deep interest in the study of the humanities, Jean-Pierre said. “It is his vision for education that inspired this endowment,” he said. “This gift will provide Rice students with the opportunity to focus on personal growth and learning during their time in Spain, enabling them to work toward proficiency in the Spanish language while studying other areas of Spanish history and culture.”

Fourteen members of the Baizán family attended the dinner.

Fourteen members of the Baizán family attended the dinner.

Dean of Humanities Nicolas Shumway hosted a dinner at the Humanities Building earlier this year at which Jean-Pierre surprised his 90-year-old father with the gift announcement. The father had been led to believe his son was the honoree.

Shumway said immersive-language experiences are critically important and a priority for the School of Humanities.

“One of the things that most concerned me when I came to Rice was how few of our students were spending time abroad, and if they were, they were not necessarily developing the kind of foreign-language proficiency I think is important,” Shumway said. “This has changed radically over the last two or three years. Gifts of this sort help a great deal.

“The other thing that has changed is that the Center for Languages and Intercultural Communication is developing exciting programs that we call Rice-in-Country programs. These are basically Rice summer courses that, instead of being taught on campus, are taught abroad. Jean-Pierre’s gift is part of this overall strategy, and we’re grateful for it,” he said.

Shumway praised the Baizán family’s support of Rice and higher education.

“Jean-Pierre is a successful businessman, but his first degree was in history from Rice,” Shumway said. “His father basically told him from a young age, ‘To be the leader of a business, you need to learn how to build teams, develop relationships and understand people and the world. You will learn the technical elements of your business and industry on the job. Focus your pursuit of knowledge in the areas of history, language, philosophy, literature, etc., to achieve that goal.’ Jean-Pierre is one of our most loyal supporters of the humanities.”

For more information about the Gabriel Baizán Fellowship and how to apply, contact Paola Lam, administrator for the Center for Languages and Intercultural Communication, at 713-348-5844 or pag5@rice.edu. For more information about the center’s courses and study-abroad opportunities, go to http://clic.rice.edu.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.