Home » Fostering global perspective: A Q&A about paying it forward with alumnus Allan Merrill

Fostering global perspective: A Q&A about paying it forward with alumnus Allan Merrill

The Merrill family: Jack, Sydney, Vera & Allan
The Merrill family: Jack, Sydney, Vera & Allan

Accomplished alumnus Allan Merrill (BBA ’00) was a business student and athlete during his time at SFU, and credits study abroad experiences in Mexico and Chile with changing the trajectory of his life and career. Following graduation, Allan obtained both his JD and MBA from Harvard and went on to build a successful career in New York as a senior executive and portfolio manager in the hedge fund industry.

Through a generous gift to establish the Merrill Family Global Campus Experience at SFU, Allan is now ensuring that other undergraduate students in the Beedie School of Business can benefit from study abroad opportunities. He recently spoke with Engage magazine to share more about the inspiration for his giving and how his SFU experience transformed his journey.

We understand SFU has a special place in your life. You were a first generation SFU student as well as a student athlete. Can you share a particular memory or experience from your time at SFU that stands out for you?

It would be hard to pick just one. Some of the highlights that stand out include residence life and friends I lived with in the townhouses on campus during the first two years of my time there; the late-night exam cramming sessions with fellow business students and lots of coffee in the West Mall Centre; participating in the co-op program; and an inspiring accounting professor, person and associate dean, Maureen Fizzell, who was one of the more impactful people that I was fortunate to spend some time with and someone that I kept in touch with for a number of years after leaving SFU.

We sit through many classes and read a lot of books in any degree program, but for most of us, the memories are really around the people that we’ve shared experiences and developed relationships with.

What impact did student support have on your own student experience?

Scholarships, awards and grants highly influenced my choice to come to SFU and were critical to enable me to make the most of my SFU experience and the opportunities it gave me. Without the financial support, I would have needed to work more part-time hours than I did, leaving less time to get the full intellectual experience and excel academically; to explore clubs, on-campus leadership positions and careers; and to participate in varsity athletics and in business case competitions. And I certainly would not have been able to benefit from two study abroad experiences without financial support.

You had the opportunity while at SFU to study abroad in Mexico City and Santiago, Chile. Can you tell us a bit more about these experiences and why you were inspired to give back to your alma mater?

Study abroad experiences were transformative for me in a number of ways. I grew up in the Lower Mainland and had limited experience traveling outside of British Columbia. Being truly outside of my comfort zone for the first time, living in a foreign culture and trying to communicate in a foreign language was frankly humbling. But the personal growth and confidence that resulted from pushing my boundaries and surviving—and thriving—in that experience inspired me to take more risks and try new things both when I came back to SFU and beyond.

I expanded my world views, made global connections with others for the first time—not only local students in Mexico and Chile but other international students who were on exchange programs there—and learned new perspectives. Altogether, study abroad experiences completely altered my prior career path and led me to dream bigger about the world of opportunities I could pursue after graduation.

My path at SFU and beyond was made possible by the financial aid I was fortunate to receive at the time. Financial obstacles are very real for most students and can prevent them from benefitting from all that SFU has to offer. I was inspired to give back specifically to help more students benefit from the transformative experience of studying abroad.

The Merrill Family Global Campus Experience will make studying abroad much more accessible for SFU Beedie students. What would you tell a young person who might be considering an international learning opportunity?

Just do it! Once you decide to do it, you can overcome any obstacles that appear to be in the way to make it happen. Be prepared to experience a lot of personal growth, and for your view of the world to expand. You will return to SFU a more interesting person as well as a more marketable employee. You will not regret it, and there is unlikely to be a better time in your life to do it than now.  

Can you tell us how your SFU experience and degree prepared you for success after graduation?

When I think of my SFU experience I really think of the totality of different experiences I was fortunate enough to take advantage of that, together, maximized what I got out of SFU. My SFU experience prepared me for success by allowing me to try many new things—co-op internships, study abroad programs, clubs and student government, a varsity sport, and business case competitions against other universities. Together with the rich classroom learning environment, these experiences strongly shaped my goals and career aspirations and nurtured a confidence to pursue them.

What would you say to other SFU alumni or community members who may be considering partnering philanthropically with SFU?

It is very rewarding to know that through philanthropy you can help students in the next generation explore and achieve their full potential. It is even more rewarding if you also have the opportunity to connect with and hear directly from these students about their dreams while helping contribute to their ability to achieve them. I highly recommend reaching out to the Advancement office at Beedie or SFU, and opening a dialogue with the very gracious and professional staff there. There are a variety of ways to give back, and so many student and university needs. The Advancement team can help illuminate these needs and match them to a philanthropic vision that is meaningful to you. 

This story is part of our summer 2024 edition of Engage, our magazine celebrating the impact of SFU’s donor community.
To read more stories, please visit the Engage landing page.