In 1987, Fresno State student Danny Swartz departed for London. It was only his second trip on a plane — the first had been a short hop from Fresno to San Francisco — and his first time out of the country. Up until that point, he had only left the state a couple of times to go to Reno and Las Vegas. Now he would be spending his spring semester in England as part of the Fresno State London Program.
“It was definitely a mind-blowing experience going from Fresno to London,” said Swartz.
While there, Fresno State rented flats for the students. Every morning he and the other students would ride the tube downtown to attend classes taught by Fresno State faculty in rented classrooms. It allowed the students to get the feel of living and learning in one of Europe’s great cities.
As a theatre arts major at Fresno State, Swartz quickly learned about the “student rush” where theatres in London would sell empty seats to students right before the show started for 5 pounds — about $8.50 USD at the time. He took full advantage and went to a total of 42 plays during his time in London.
One night, after he and a few other students enjoyed Anthony Hopkins as King Lear at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, they waited outside until Hopkins came out.
“He was just a great guy. He stopped, and he talked with us. He asked us where we were from and asked us what we thought of the production,” recalled Swartz.
Between the plays and the occasional weekend trips to other countries in Europe, about halfway through his semester, he realized that he was running out of money.
“We ate a lot of spaghetti and white rice and lots of cheap bread,” Swartz said as he, and other students, desperately tried to keep the costs down.
Then a small miracle happened. The chair of the London Semester, Dr. Ray McKnight, called Swartz into his office and handed him a check for $500. McKnight told him it was a Pell Grant.
“It was a gift. I have no idea why they decided to give me, in the middle of the semester, a $500 Pell Grant. I have no idea where that came from. But I took it,” said Swartz. “That $500 went a long way for me that semester.”
The total experience of leaving Fresno to live like a local in one of the world’s largest cities had a profound effect on Swartz.
“I think it was life-changing,” he said. “That may sound dramatic, but it’s really true. It opened up my eyes to all the different cultures, city life, and travel, and it’s basically why I travel the world today.”
For students who are looking to travel abroad, Swartz says, “Just do it. Just find a way and do it.”
He went on to add, “It opens up your eyes to different cultures, different people. You get a glimpse into people’s lives that you normally wouldn’t have an insight into. It forces empathy, it forces humility.”
“It is so inspiring to see how study abroad changed Danny’s life and opened the door to his exciting career, and it’s amazing to witness how his generosity now changes our students’ lives,” said Dr. Honora Chapman, interim Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities.
He worked as a professional actor in New York and Regional Theatre for about ten years and was an actor at several Tony Award recipient regional theatres including The Acting Company in New York City, Playhouse in the Park in Cincinnati, Denver Center Theatre Company and Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts.
He later relocated to the Bay Area, where he received a master’s degree in Human Resources and Organizational Development from the University of San Francisco.
Swartz is now the Vice President of Human Resources for Global Operations at Align Technology. The medical device company is the maker of Invisalign clear braces and the iTero 3D dental scanners, which has operations in countries across the globe including Asia, Europe, Russia, North America, and Latin America. In his position, he oversees the Human Resources function for manufacturing plants as well as supply chain, software development, and automation engineering.
“It’s a fun job. It’s exactly what I want to do after the London semester.”
Now, every year, Swartz financially supports one student in the London Program.
“We are truly grateful to Danny for supporting our London program since study abroad is certainly the most exciting and life-changing experience a student can have,” said Chapman. “By ‘paying it forward’ through support for current students to participate in the London Mini-Semester, Danny is allowing students who would otherwise not travel gain the confidence, knowledge, and global awareness that comes from this transformative educational travel.”
“I just have so many great memories from the London semester, and it had a big impact on my life,” said Swartz. “I hope that I’m able to give back, and someone else can have as great an experience as I had.”
He added, “I hope others will give, and we can keep this program going.”