Michelle Keller’s life-changing study abroad experience in Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy, influenced her to leave a percentage of her estate to the Texas A&M Foundation to fund similar journeys for future Aggies. It was there she attended classes at Santa Chiara, Texas A&M University’s study center.
Though rebuilt in the 1700s for the order of St. Claire, parts of the historic structure date back as early as the 1400s. Texas A&M began sending students there in 1989. An important part of the Santa Chiara program is to ensure students experience the local culture. One day each week is reserved for trips to nearby cities to explore local art, culture and architecture.
During her semester abroad, Keller, a 1992 journalism graduate, took four courses taught by Texas A&M professors, including art history, international marketing and two journalism classes.
The trip provided plenty of opportunities to interact with locals: Keller traveled to several neighboring cities, tasted regional cuisine and learned some Italian from native residents. Members of a nearby Catholic church she attended also treated the Aggies to a lakeside picnic dinner.
“I wholeheartedly believe international travel broadened my mind and made me a better person,” said Keller. “The more you travel, you realize we are more alike than we are different. Through my gift, I want to ensure future Aggies learn these same lessons.”
She Bleeds Maroon
Keller, who now works as a communications strategist at a medical center in Kansas City, decided to attend Texas A&M after visiting her brother, Larry ’89, during Parents’ Weekend.
“I was a sophomore in high school and even though my family relocated to Georgia after that, I still made it a point to go to school at Texas A&M,” she said. “The thing that most attracted me was the military heritage. My father was career Army and I have a strong sense of pride and awe for our men and women in uniform. I still cry every time I hear the national anthem.”
Keller loves Aggie traditions―especially the Aggie Ring—and fondly remembers christening her own at the Dixie Chicken. But her involvement at Texas A&M didn’t allow much free time at the Chicken. She worked on the Aggieland yearbook and The Battalion, and was involved in Underwood Hall Council, MSC Hospitality, cooperative education, Aggie Orientation, Fish Camp, bonfire and St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
Embrace Our Differences
To create her gift, Keller included the Texas A&M Foundation in her will. This ensures that when she dies, a designated percentage of her estate will be given to the Foundation to fund her scholarship for students wishing to study abroad.
Keller hopes the beneficiaries of her gift will get as much out of their time abroad as she did. “My time at Santa Chiara influenced my way of thinking for the rest of my life,” she said. “As a minority, I know what it’s like to be different; it can sting if you let it. But I didn’t. We should embrace our differences as learning opportunities, not as something to fear.”
By Rebekah Lentz ’15
This article was originally published in the fall 2013 issue of Spirit magazine.
Texas A&M Foundation
The Texas A&M Foundation is a nonprofit organization that solicits and manages investments in academics and leadership programs to enhance Texas A&M’s capability to be among the best universities.
To discuss how a planned gift to the Texas A&M Foundation might benefit the university, you and your family, contact Angela Throne ’03 in the Office of Gift Planning at (800) 392-3310, (979) 845-5638 or email@example.com.