The Pathfinders Programme at Balliol was started in 1955 by Bill Coolidge (1924), who funded some eight Balliol students to go to the USA, post Finals, each year. A particular feature of the scheme is that the students stay with Old Members and other close friends of the College all over the USA (and more recently Canada), with the result that they have an experience far deeper than that of tourists. While in the USA, they also carry out a project and this, too, takes them behind the façade.
To name but a few, Tom Bingham (1954), Chris Patten (1962), Christoper Hitchens (1967) and Nigel Sheinwald (1972) were all Pathfinders and they and many others speak with passion of what a remarkable experience it proved to be and of their gratitude to the many Balliol hosts.
Bill Coolidge died in 1992, and from then until 2002 his niece, Kitty Lastavica, together with her husband, John, generously provided funding for the programme, as well as welcoming many Pathfinders to their superb house at Coolidge Point. In more recent years, the scheme was funded first by three anonymous donors before Matthew Westerman (1983) took over the funding of the programme in honour of his father, William A. Westerman (1946).
On 16 November 2010, Balliol held a dinner for Pathfinders hosts (plus those Pathfinders able to attend) at the British Embassy in Washington, kindly hosted by Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the current UK Ambassador to the USA. It was a superb occasion and, at the end, Matthew Westerman announced that he and his wife, Siân, had made a very significant gift to Balliol. This would not only support the existing programme in perpetuity but also provide extra funding to allow additional students with the requisite energy and vision to visit (willing) Pathfinder hosts throughout Asia, thus, for the first time, enabling US students to participate in the programme. The Master at the time, Andrew Graham, responded: ‘With the world rebalancing and with Balliol people spread all round the globe, this is a gift not just of great generosity, but also of great imagination.’
In February 2014, thanks to the generosity of Martin Foley (1951), the scheme was extended, enabling two Balliol students to travel together throughout Mexico.
Feedback from hosts and Pathfinders in recent years has been extremely encouraging. Both found that the centralised administration of the programme from Balliol was successful. Pathfinders were better prepared than ever, and were able to arrange their time abroad with an eye to meeting particular hosts who could help them in their areas of interest. We could not have done this without the information prospective hosts have sent us, and for this we are very grateful.
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