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Alumni Couple Donates $500,000 to UC San Diego Department of Literature


  • Cynthia Dillon

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  • Cynthia Dillon

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Image: Casey Shen & Matthew Shen

Casey and Matthew Shen. Photo by Casey Shen

Alumni play a key role in a university’s fundraising efforts. Casey and Matthew Shen are prime examples. The University of California, San Diego alumni couple recently donated one-half million dollars to their alma mater to establish the Casey and Matthew Shen Endowment to support graduate student fellowships in the Department of Literature.

“We hope our gift will allow students to succeed in the literature program and find a rewarding career and bring a spotlight onto the Department of Literature at UC San Diego,” said Casey Shen. “We also hope our gift will let other donors know that it’s important and worthwhile to contribute to the arts and humanities on a campus that not only has an amazing engineering school, but also some of the highest ranking humanities programs in the country.”

Casey Shen graduated in 2011 with a German studies degree from the Division of Arts and Humanities, while Matthew Shen, who graduated the previous year, studied computer science at the Jacobs School of Engineering and works as a software engineer. As an undergraduate student in the literature program at UC San Diego and then as an employee in fundraising at the university, Casey Shen explained that she knew that a gift supporting students in the humanities field would have impact.

“I think it's important to have the arts and humanities on campuses that focus on STEM in order to balance out the students and help them gain perspective,” said Shen. “Most of the humanities, especially literature, are reading- and writing-focused, and learning to communicate effectively in a business setting is really important.”

According to, 95 percent of business executives asked what they looked for in college graduates agreed that their company prioritized hiring people with intellectual and interpersonal skills that enable them to contribute creatively in the workplace.

Shen said that while her German studies background does not directly apply to her current work in real estate, the way she thinks and creatively approaches challenges at work directly results from her arts and humanities education.

“I think it helps me consider out-of-the-box ideas,” Shen acknowledged.

She also remarked that some college students seem to feel pressure to pursue degrees that their parents think will guarantee jobs after graduation.

“The undergraduate years might be the only time for students to explore their passions,” she offered, acknowledging that the liberal education she and her husband received at UC San Diego helped give them perspective.

“We are Muir College and Eleanor Roosevelt College alums, so our general education (GE) requirements really helped us to understand different views of the world,” said Casey Shen. “Someone like me who didn’t necessarily excel at math and science still got through the GE classes. It’s important for students to work on their reading and writing skills in order to succeed in the real world after school.”

Shen said that she and Matthew are fortunate that their family business is dedicated to giving back to the community.

“We agreed that the first step in this process is to support our undergraduate university that helped both Matt and me get to where we are today.”

According to Division of Arts and Humanities Dean Cristina Della Coletta, the Shen’s gift underscores the foundational and transferable skills that students gain from studying the humanities.

“We are so grateful to Casey and Matthew for supporting our students so that they have the freedom to concentrate fully on their academic work and professional success,” Della Coletta said.

For more information about the Department of Literature and how to support the arts and humanities at UC San Diego, please visit the website.

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