Traveling Generosity

Danny Heitman
Sep 12, 2022

Thanks to her McKenzie Study Abroad Grant from Phi Kappa Phi this year, Felicia Helmlinger got a $1,000 stipend to spend part of her summer in Chile. She also got a little something extra: homemade ice cream at the home of Wendell and Georgie McKenzie, the couple who decided to support one of the Society’s Study Abroad Grants several years ago.

Phi Kappa Phi Study Abroad Grants are designed to help support undergraduates as they seek knowledge and experience in their academic fields by studying abroad. A total of 125 $1,000 grants were awarded this year.

Applicants do not have to be Society members but must attend an institution with an active Phi Kappa Phi chapter. Applicants also must have a cumulative grade point average of 3.75 or higher on a 4.0 scale. 

Helmlinger is in her senior year this fall at University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she’s majoring in international studies with a concentration in Spanish. Helmlinger had previously traveled abroad to Nicaragua, where she visited the coastal village of Jiquillo. “Climate change is not coming; it is already here. Hundreds of families who settled on the coast to support their fishing livelihood have lost their homes to sea level rise,” Helmlinger mentioned in her grant application.

Helmlinger sought a Study Abroad Grant to stay in Viñ del Mar, another coastal community in Chile. “My goal is to improve my Spanish oral communication skills to deepen my interpersonal relationships and broaden my future professional opportunities so I can support more communities locally and internationally,” Helmlinger wrote.

Since Helmlinger lives not far from the McKenzies’ Cary, North Carolina residence, it was easy for her to visit them this summer before her trip to Chile. The McKenzies served homemade ice cream to their honored guest. “Felicia Helmlinger is a gem! She is bright, engaging, talented, and eager to serve,” said Wendell McKenzie, a former national president of Phi Kappa Phi and an Alumni Distinguished Professor Emeritus at North Carolina State University. “Her study abroad in Chile will surely augment her UNC Wilmington international studies major and Spanish minor.”

The McKenzies have been able to meet with nearly all of the recipients of the Phi Kappa Phi Study Abroad Grant that bears their name. “Georgie’s and my interest in study abroad grew out of our own international experience,” McKenzie said. “Decades ago, our family lived in Sweden while I participated in a research sabbatical in Stockholm. This was an extremely valuable time for our entire family: gaining exposure to varied cultures, witnessing beauty and wonder beyond our own shores – in short, broadening our perspectives.”

McKenzie said he and his wife have been inspired by their meetings with recipients of McKenzie Study Abroad Grants. “The gratitude they express, the excitement they share, the experiences they gained clearly indicate our investment was minuscule compared with the wonderful return,” he said. “It is one of the best things we have done for others.” 

Click here to learn more about the Study Abroad Grants and other Phi Kappa Phi award and grant programs.

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