Penny Kamkourkong A Force of Positive Changes

Pananya “Penny” Kamkourkong found her way to Felician College in 2009 via her role as president of her high school’s international club. Working to expand her school’s existing program to set up student interviews to attend high schools abroad, Penny worked with an agency to book an expo on her campus to showcase international colleges and universities. It was there that she met an admissions representative from Felician College. Penny had long been interested in studying in America, finding long-term value in receiving an education in an English-speaking country. She was impressed by the amount of time the Felician representative spent with her and his genuine interest in her aspirations, and decided that Felician College was her best choice to achieve her goals.

Now that she has spent almost four years majoring in accounting at Felician, Penny is still happy with her decision to come here. The most positive aspect of her Felician education has been the many opportunities she has had to interact with faculty and staff. The low ratio of students to professors has helped her to create close and productive relationships with many faculty members, generating great opportunities and support. She also finds support in her fellow students, especially within the Honors Program, mentioning their moral mindset and the many common experiences she has shared with them at Felician.

Since she became a Felician student, Penny has taken the College, and the world, by storm. In 2010 she spent three months as a volunteer at Ma’on San Simon Home for the Disabled in Jerusalem. For three weeks in 2011 she volunteered at Katitawa School in Ecuador through a literacy program. Immediately after, Penny volunteered with the New Era Galapagos Foundation in the Galapagos Islands. She later spent three weeks volunteering in post-hurricane Haiti through the Haitian American Caucus. While there she slept in a tent without electricity, taught school, assisted a doctor, and helped out at an orphanage. Through Felician’s Study Abroad program, Penny spent a month studying at ULSAN University in South Korea. She also earned a scholarship to travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands through the National Collegiate Honors Council’s Partner in the Parks program, learning about local history, marine biology, music, and medicinal plants.

When not traveling the world to learn and lend a hand, Penny has been extremely active on campus. As president of the Honors Students Association she has overseen service and volunteer opportunities,collecting school supplies for Nicaragua and putting together gift bags for Eva’s Village, a Paterson, NJ organization dedicated to fighting homelessness and poverty. Through the Honors Program she has presented research at the Northeast Regional Honors Council Conference and will do so again this year. Every year that she has been at Felician College, Penny has participated in the Model UN Program, and will represent Lichtenstein and serve on the Aging Committee at the Model UN this spring. A Resident Assistant on the Rutherford Campus, Penny was among 12 students nationally to receive a scholarship to attend a conference held by the Mid-Atlantic Association of College and University Housing Officers in 2012. She also serves on the President’s Student Advisory Committee and the Presidential Inauguration Committee, and has participated in Felician College’s Midnight Run efforts.

Penny ascribes her passion for service to a tragic car accident which injured her artistically talented friend when Penny was in the eighth grade, leaving her friend disabled, unable to walk or stand properly, control her hand or create art. Penny’s reaction was frustration over her inability to help her friend, followed by a commitment to embrace any opportunity she could to be a force of positive change. “I have come to realize that life is so short,” she says. “Things can happen in a second and it can change life forever. I started to think of what I can contribute to … society to benefit many people. If I were to die today, how would I want people to remember me? I am more mature and [have learned] to think about others more than myself.”

During her years at Felician, Penny has had a profound effect on our community. Dr. Beth Castiglia, Dean of the School of Business, refers to Penny as “one of the most remarkable young women I have met over my 25 year career in higher education.”This sentiment is echoed by Dr. Maria Vecchio, faculty advisor for the Honors Program, who lauds Penny’s leadership, “beyond which I have not experienced in my entire teaching career.” Corry Spring, Director of International Enrollment Services, agrees. She finds Penny to be exemplary of “the perfect college student: academically successful, well-involved, and an overall genuinely nice person.” Dr. Castiglia applauds Penny’s “real intellectual curiosity” and her“gift at applying what she has so eagerly learned to the real world through her volunteer and intern experiences,” whileDr. Vecchio calls her “one of the most caring people one would ever find, always helpful and taking the initiative in so many different projects.”

When Penny graduates in May she has lined up some options to choose from for her future. She has applied to graduate programs in accounting in New Jersey and New York. She is confident that her paid internship, secured through the School of Business with the commercial photography agency Apostrophe, could be converted into a full-time position should she decide to pursue one there. She also has discovered a strong interest in the area of student affairs, and is considering a possible move in that direction.

Long term, however, Penny plans to return to Thailand in order to use her experiences and considerable skill set to assist development efforts in her native country. She then hopes to settle down within alocal community in a third world country to provide assistance in whatever way she can.

When asked if she had any final thoughts for this article, Penny leaned forward, saying, “I would want to say to people that they should make the uncomfortable thing comfortable. The impossible can be possible. With hard work, you can achieve it.” Given the number of accomplishments and the high level of regard this dynamic student has generated during her four years at Felician College, Penny Kamkourkong is living proof that it can be done.