From Iowa to Haiti, With Love

For its Honors in Action Projects, the Beta Zeta Mu Chapter at Western Iowa Tech Community College often adds a global touch. One year, the chapter raised $14,000 to build a school in Togo, Africa. Another year took chapter members to the Dominican Republic.

Their 2015 project raised $15,000 to build a water well in Haiti; and in May, seven students, chapter advisor Sima Dabir and college president Dr. Terry Murrell traveled to the country for the well’s inauguration.

“Phi Theta Kappa is an international honor society, so we feel we need to do things not only at the local, regional and national levels, but also beyond,” Dabir said. “We always include some global aspect.”

As chapter officers researched the 2014/2015 Honors Study Topic, Frontiers and the Spirit of Exploration, they became interested in comparing the global economies of the United States and a more underdeveloped country. Haiti stood out to them, particularly for the state of its economy in the wake of the 2010 earthquake as well as its close proximity to the United States.

Research uncovered that Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. They also learned that only 50 percent of the population in urban Haiti — and only 30 percent in rural areas — had access to safe drinking water and sanitary facilities.

Furthermore, the chapter desired to somehow help the thousands of orphans living in the country.

“Our group decision was that clean water, being a basic necessity for a healthy life, would not only benefit orphanages and education but the Haitian society as a whole,” chapter co-president Bill Clifford said.

Beta Zeta Mu then began researching charities they could partner with. They discovered Haiti Outreach, an organization that not only builds a water well but also trains the surrounding community to care for and manage the well.

“They want to empower the people of the community to improve their own lives,” Dabir said. “We knew it would fit with the mission of Phi Theta Kappa of empowering people and providing opportunities to people, and it would go beyond a simple service project.”

In December 2015, Haiti Outreach representatives spoke during a community convocation seminar at Western Iowa Tech. More than 350 college faculty and staff members, students, community members, business leaders and state legislators attended the presentation, which even featured authentic Haitian desserts.

The event raised the $15,000 needed for the chapter to adopt a well through Haiti Outreach.

“We did not just raise money to build a well in Haiti,” chapter president Abigail Ferreira said. “Our funds were put toward improving the community as a whole.”

Upon the well’s completion, the group made its journey to Haiti for the inauguration May 25-31. They began in Port-au-Prince before flying north to Pignon. From there, they drove to Mon Repos, a community in the city of Quanaminthe, where the well was located.

“The entire journey was extremely educational, not only to our students but to us as well,” Dabir said.

Navigating rutted, dirt roads, rain and a lack of modern conveniences like traffic lights and gas stations proved eye opening for the students as they saw the Haitian people living happily without some of the amenities they often took for granted. Their van broke down; they had to drive a truck through a river — but still, the positive attitudes of their Haitian guides and the helpfulness they encountered from locals along the way pushed them through the challenges.

“The daily struggles we have pale in comparison to the lives of the Haitians,” chapter officer Megan Beaver said. “It did not matter where our van broke down; there was always help and a friendly smile.”

The people of Mon Repos came to the well inauguration dressed in their finest clothing. It was a true celebration, and everyone in the community participated in the music, speeches, dancing and laughter.

For the Beta Zeta Mu chapter, it was a celebration of their hard work and dedication to making a difference for the people occupying this one small corner of the world.

“It was the most emotionally straining event that happened throughout the whole trip — how a little drop of clean water can make a whole community so happy when we wonder in the U.S. if the shower will be hot,” said Kevin Miller, Beta Zeta Mu Vice President of Membership and a regional vice president. “They viewed it as a parting from being slaves to diseases, problems and struggles that they endured from dirty, unsanitary water.”

First Person: “Phi Theta Kappa Changed My Life”

Editor’s Note: This post has been submitted by the University of North Texas, a four-year college partner.

My name is Katrina Estelle Gibson, and my experiences with Phi Theta Kappa changed my life.

I started attending Cedar Valley College in Lancaster, Texas, in 2011 at 17 years old after earning a GED. I had been home schooled since fourth grade and seriously lacked social skills.

After a year of quietly taking classes, I joined a Student Leadership Institute and met a woman who inspired my journey in student leadership: Miyoshi Holmes. She was the director of the Office of Student Life, and she encouraged me to join Phi Theta Kappa and run for an officer position.

All members of our outgoing officer team were graduating, so I got thrown into the deep end as chapter president with a group of new members as officers. With guidance from our advisors, we maintained our status as a Five Star Chapter and won awards at the state and national levels for our Honors in Action Project.

Being so involved for the first time in my life taught me time management, patience and how to work with a very diverse group of people. I found that the friends I made at conventions and working on projects came from all walks of life and that Phi Theta Kappa gave us all a chance to have this special type of academic experience together. I did not have the most stable home life, and having a home away from home was vital to my success.

One of the proudest moments in my life happened the following year, as my vice president of service became chapter president and led the Alpha Zeta Omicron chapter to win 2014 Most Distinguished Chapter. It felt like all the time holding things together and mentoring was worthwhile because in addition to gaining new skillsets, I was also giving back by volunteering.

As I drew closer to graduating, I worried about where my next step would be. At the time, I was interested in Interior Design and was searching for different programs. The University of North Texas (UNT) had an excellent fine arts college, and I was thrilled to be accepted.

I applied for Phi Theta Kappa scholarships on the fall scholarship application and was awarded a position on the All-Texas Community College Academic Team. I was also awarded the Volunteer of the Year and Amidon-Beauchamp Student Leader of the Year awards within my community college district.

I used these awards to bolster other scholarship essays, and ultimately I was awarded a Terry Foundation transfer scholarship in the amount of $36,000. This was such a blessing and would pay for most of my tuition and expenses for six semesters and meant I would only need small student loans to get through school. To date, being a Terry Foundation Scholar is my biggest accomplishment.

At a previous regional conference, I had met Dr. Myra Hafer in UNT Admissions. I started meeting with her in my first semester, and she told me about Sigma of Texas, an alumni chapter of Phi Theta Kappa based at UNT. I got involved with Sigma and ran for chapter president again.

We participated in several resource fairs, hosted meet and greets and partnered with other organizations on campus. Our goal was to help new transfer students get involved by offering them resources and networking connections. One officer, Iris Le, went on to participate with the homecoming committee and many other organizations and is a shining example of a successful transfer student.

One of my absolute favorite experiences has been public speaking with Phi Theta Kappa. We were able to travel to the 2015 annual convention in San Antonio and participate in college fairs, and I was also given the chance to address the general assembly of 4,000 students and tell them about UNT. What a fantastic opportunity!

After arriving on campus at UNT, I was amazed at how vibrant and active the campus was. As I completed my first semester, I discovered a degree program closely related to interior design and switched my major to home furnishings merchandising with a minor in marketing. The specific business application in merchandising as well as the fantastic networking opportunities and lectures supplied by UNT’s College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism (CMHT) led me to work with several regional furniture markets in Dallas. It has been invaluable in preparing me for my career.

Last summer, I participated in a study abroad program with UNT and spent two and a half weeks in China visiting businesses and factories and seeing a new culture. It was my first time leaving the country and was such an amazing experience. It has been a lifetime goal of mine to travel outside the country, and the experience ignited a passion in me. I now intend to travel more at any given opportunity.

I feel like I have all the experience I need to be able to contribute to a company in the future. I intend to work in global sourcing or furniture manufacturing. I know that I am setting up lifelong habits and skills that will benefit my future career. I even intend to earn my MBA and perhaps open my own furniture chain.

At times, it really is hard to believe I’ve had the opportunity to participate in so many diverse experiences. As I near the completion of my bachelor’s degree, I am thankful for the friendships and opportunities that both Phi Theta Kappa and UNT have afforded me, and I look forward to the next chapter in my life.

5 Things You’ll Experience at Honors Institute

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Lionel Barzon, a member of the Sigma Lambda Chapter at Calhoun Community College in Alabama. He served as a Social Media Intern during the 2016 Honors Institute, June 20-25 at Wake Forest University.

I recently traveled to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, as both a first-time attendee and a social media intern for Phi Theta Kappa’s Honors Institute. The overall experience was so powerful and life changing that I’m still in awe of the events that transpired.

In summary of this amazing event I was a part of, here are five things you’ll experience at Honors Institute.

1. Making new friends. MANY new friends. SOOOOO MANY new friends.

When you experience Honors Institute for the first time, you’ll feel like you’re the new kid on the block who’s trying their best to fit in. Walking from your dorm to the main events, forums, cafeteria and socials throughout the day, you’ll notice that PTK members from all over the nation are with you wherever you go. However, what initially feels overwhelming and intimidating is quickly replaced by attraction and a sense of belonging. These very same faces that were once strangers quickly become your new friends who develop strong bonds with you and can’t wait to see you every day.

The atmosphere within Phi Theta Kappa events, such as Honors Institute, is always one of welcoming and belonging, so take full advantage of this and make new and meaningful friends that you’ll most definitely value for life!

2. Meeting the PTK leadership team and realizing…they’re humans just like you!

Maybe it’s just human nature, but there’s always a sense of intimidation whenever you’re in a position to meet and talk with Phi Theta Kappa’s executive staff members at events like these. Right before you meet them for the first time, you’ll think to yourself, “Oh no, they’re probably all super crazy smart and use words so big I’ll need a dictionary to understand whatever they say to me. And they will definitely ask me a deep philosophical question about how our world works on a global scale…why me?! Why me?!”

I’ll be completely honest and say these were my actual thoughts right before meeting Phi Theta Kappa’s President and CEO, Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner, on the first day of Honors Institute. But once I mustered enough nerve to accept my supposed fate and introduce myself to Dr. Tincher-Ladner, the craziest thing happened: she responded in the most normal and down to earth way! Dr. Tincher-Ladner thanked me for being one of the social media interns for Honors Institute and told me she was incredibly excited to see how this week would play out. Just like that, I realized Dr. Tincher-Ladner and all the other executive Phi Theta Kappa staff members were fun-loving and approachable people like the rest of us.

It is such a comforting and inspiring notion that our leaders are just like us and have our best interests at heart.

3. Those guest speakers, though…encore, please!

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be the pins in a game of bowling when someone gets a strike? The caliber of guest speakers you’ll hear at Honors Institute will knock you off your feet in the same way. Just hearing the guest speaker’s life stories and incredible testimonies of success are enough to inspire you to achieve only the best for your future.

Throughout the week, we listened to the first female photojournalist from Palestine, heard from a cultural arts professor explaining the societal influence of Disney, learned of the cultural myths and realities in America, sang as an entire group in two-part harmony to some powerful songs, heard from a science evangelist about the impact of technology on humans and witnessed an illusionist who stunned us all with his mind-bending presentation.

Yes, the guest speakers you’ll hear at Honors Institute, in one way or another, will greatly influence and impact how you view the world in which we live.

4. Incredible educational forums to help your chapter and region grow BIG.

Being part of the world’s largest honor society, you may feel like a small cog in a roaring engine at times. When analyzing what your part can be when contributing your time and effort toward your local chapter and region, Honors Institute has your back. For regional officers, there are sessions that teach you the most effective and proper ways to carry out your duties in office over the region you represent. For chapter officers, there are insightful lessons on how to recruit new members from under-represented groups within your college. And for all members, you can learn how to construct your Honors in Action project from a multi-linear approach, ensuring a top-notch result.

In essence, be prepared for multiple forums and sessions on different ways to educate yourself with key knowledge and facts that help you return to your chapter and region armed with compelling information to pass along to those who need it most.

5. Sights, sounds, travel, food, memories and the whole nine yards.

For those of you that read both my business blog and my travel blog, you know first-hand how much I advocate for expanding your horizons by traveling whenever you get the opportunity and learning from your travels on how to better yourself. Honors Institute fits perfectly into this category. During the week, you’ll be provided with a daylong opportunity to explore and adventure the surrounding areas as you (and your newfound friends) see fit.

For my group, this meant a morning hike on the east side of the Appalachian Mountains to see beautiful rock formations, a heavenly lunch at Guy Fieri’s personally recommended seafood restaurant Krazy Fish and a historic stroll through downtown Charlotte to admire the early 19th– and 20th-century housing architecture. All of this, plus many smaller adventures on the side, made for a day of thrilling excitement and lifelong memories.

Honors Institute is a trip like none other you’ll experience as part of Phi Theta Kappa. It’s intimate enough to challenge you personally in ways you never imagined, yet broad enough to expand your personal network of close friends and global perspectives. If you are presented with the opportunity to travel and be a part of next year’s Honors Institute, take it. You’ll never regret it, but you will forever cherish it.

Wrapping Up the 2016 Honors Institute

The final day of the 2016 Honors Institute — held June 20-25 at Wake Forest University in North Carolina — gave participants more detailed forums focused on Honors in Action and left them dazzled by the science, wonder and magic in the world around us.

The day began with a presentation by Dr. Ainissa Ramirez, a science evangelist who spoke on the ways our lives are changed and impacted by technological advancements.

Closing out the week was David Kwong, an illusionist and puzzle creator whose entire presentation was one grand trick — he created a crossword puzzle from scratch live on stage using suggestions from the audience and encompassing tricks he’d performed throughout the session.

Honors Institute attendees were treated to an in-depth look at the International Honors Certificates (IHC) program as part of the Educational Forum series held during the week. They also explored Honors in Action further in breakout sessions, and Regional Officers participated in a special training track.

The topics covered during the week’s Educational Forums, special training tracks and breakout sessions will be explored more in depth in the coming weeks on The Reach blog; for now, here’s a glimpse at some of the info that was shared.

International Honors Certificates
Presenter: Monika Byrd

Phi Theta Kappa’s IHC program seeks to provide two-year college students access to international education through course offerings at top universities around the world. Highlights of the special forum included:

  • Only one-tenth of one percent of community college students studied abroad in 2013/2014.
  • The lack of world language programs, world area studies and the like at community colleges are leaving students behind.
  • Employers are concerned that today’s college graduates lack the ability to communicate and collaborate in multicultural groups and will pay an average of $7,000 more in annual salaries for employees with demonstrated global proficiencies.
  • Distance education is not new, but the opportunity to take a course from any number of worldwide institutions is.

A variety of barriers keep community college students in particular from participating in study abroad programs. These students often require their college credential as soon as possible, and study abroad programs are not in their degree plans or on their timeline.

The IHC program offers students a way to gain a global certificate without investing a lot of time or money. Courses are self-paced and independently completed, and they contain a capstone unit that prepares students to submit competitive scholarship applications for study abroad opportunities and matches them with opportunities based on their educational and career goals.

Four courses are currently offered through these top universities:

  • University of California Los Angeles — Global Entrepreneurship
  • Beijing Language and Culture University — Contemporary China and Chinese Culture
  • University of South Carolina — International Human Resources
  • University of Johannesburg — Organizational Leadership

Watch the info video.

SMALL Chapters’ Roadmap to Success for Honors in Action Projects
Presenters: Cindy Armijo and Dr. Twila Quintana

You don’t have to have a large chapter to execute a successful Honors in Action Project; you only have to remember to keep things SMALL.

Start with a well thought-out plan that considers your resources!
Make sure to assess and re-evaluate throughout your project to stay on course.
Adjust as needed. Flexibility helps overcome obstacles.
Laugh and have fun along the way, as your chapter becomes your extended family.
Lasting impact can be achieved by few.

And, when you think your chapter has taken on too big of a project, remember this simple quote from anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Honors in Action at Honors Institute

The 49th annual Honors Institute is officially underway at Wake Forest University in North Carolina!

The week kicked off Monday evening with a Readers Theatre performance written and directed by Steve Schroeder, advisor to the Phi Beta Chapter at the College of DuPage in Illinois. Advisors and Faculty Scholars took the topic of gold through the eight themes of the 2016/2017 Honors Study Topic, How the World Works: Global Perspectives.

A welcome social/game night followed the first general session, giving participants a chance to meet fellow attendees. Tuesday morning began with a moving presentation by photojournalist Eman Mohammed, the first female photographer to document the conflict in Gaza, and the evening wrapped with a wildly entertaining presentation on Disney by University of Virginia professor Dr. Carmenita Higginbotham.

Wednesday brought Dr. Stephanie Coontz and a presentation on nostalgia and “The Way We Never Were.” An afternoon tour of Old Salem followed, and the day ended in a big way as Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman, the duo behind Choir! Choir! Choir! brought down the house by sharing the secret behind what they do and leading the group in a sing-along. Check out the video on our Facebook page.

During the day Tuesday, a series of Honors in Action educational forums were held to give attendees an in-depth look at Honors in Action overall as well as best practices for completing an Honors in Action Project. See the schedule.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing the information presented in each session with you here on the blog. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at two of Tuesday’s presentations.

Session: Using the Honors in Action Planning and Judging Rubric
Presenters: Monika Byrd, Dr. Liesl Harris and Martha Petry

Four best practices for using the Honors in Action Rubric:

1. Study the rubric before, during and after your project. Do not use the rubric as a mere evaluation tool once your project is complete. Go ahead and see what will be expected of you before you begin working.

2. Highlight words that differentiate the quality of the content you provide in your Honors in Action write-up. For example, what is the difference in engaging in “substantial” versus “considerable” research? Figuring out these differences will result in a stronger project.

3. Note the subtle differences in what is asked of you via the rubric. For example, what is the difference between exercising leadership skills and advancing leadership skills? Again: knowing this difference will increase the Honors in Action experience and the overall effectiveness of your project.

4. When you have written your Honors in Action entry, have at least three outside readers “grade” the entry using the rubric. This review/grading process will allow readers not familiar with your project to point out gaps or confusing sections of your write-up. Remember: you know your project inside and out. You need readers who are not familiar with your project to provide fresh eyes. Revise your entries based upon their feedback.

Session: Best Practices for College Projects
Presenters: Cassie Bryant, Dr. Molly Harris and Mary Linder

Six strategies for developing a College Project:

1. Focus on the process.

2. Remember that the emphasis should be on intentional and on-going communication.

3. Create purposeful leadership development opportunities.

4. Your project should support the college’s mission.

5. Answer the questions, using the rubric as a guide.

6. Outcomes should be both qualitative and quantitative.

On the HuffPost Blog: CollegeFish Eases Path for Transfer Students

In a recent editorial on the Huffington Post Blog, Dr. Brian C. Mitchell, Director of Edvance Foundation and a former college and university president, calls creating a “seamless pathway among the various higher education sectors” one of the most persistent problems facing American higher education today — community college students in particular. His answer?

From the post:

“More positively, the work and pledge commitments — in both financial and political capital — are encouraging signs that state, federal and foundation policy planners see the problem and are working to address it. Phi Theta Kappa, the honorary society established for two-year college students, offers one of the best and most practical approaches to address the transfer problem.” is Phi Theta Kappa’s free online tool that helps community college students identify their best-fit four-year college or university by listing available transfer scholarships and offering resources for students It’s available for all community college students to use, although Phi Theta Kappa members get exclusive access to more than $37 million in transfer scholarships.

Students are matched with colleges based on their learning preferences, majors, career plans and financial goals.

“ provides a proven admissions building block that will produce more robust transfer classes to globalize campus perspectives,” Mitchell writes.

Read the full post.

See You at Honors Institute!

Next week, June 20-25, we’ll be coming to you from Wake Forest University and the 49th annual Honors Institute!

We’re expecting a full house — nearly 500 members and advisors will be on site to learn more about the Honors Study Topic, How the World Works: Global Perspectives, and hear from our full lineup of dynamic speakers.

Don’t worry if you can’t be there with us. We’ve got some new, exciting ways for you to follow along from home.

On Social Media

New this year — we’ve invited students like you to take over our social media channels to bring you highlights from the general sessions, Educational Forums and general on-campus life throughout the week.

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to see posts, pictures and videos from our International Officers — serving as Social Media Ambassadors — and our five new Social Media Interns:

  • Katie Nowlin, Phi Pi Chapter, Lorain County Community College, Ohio
  • Tatiana Bowling, Chi Epsilon Chapter, Valencia College, Florida
  • Melinda Dourte, Rho Zeta Chapter, Big Bend Community College, Washington
  • Courtney Crane, Eta Gamma Chapter, Coffeyville Community College, Kansas
  • Lionel Barzon III, Sigma Lambda Chapter, Calhoun Community College, Alabama

Follow the hashtag #PTKHonorsInstitute to keep up with all of the posts.

On The Reach

Check the blog daily for recaps of the general sessions. Later in the summer, videos of many of the featured presentations will be available on

You’ll also find highlights from the Honors in Action Educational Forums that will be held Tuesday and Friday afternoons. And in the weeks following Honors Institute, we’ll look more closely at the individual topics covered in the Educational Forums, so you’ll get the same information that was shared with Honors Institute attendees.

We’ll also be sharing highlights from the special Regional Officer Training Sessions after Honors Institute for those unable to attend.

Communication 101

For some time, many people believed that good communication skills were something you were born with and could not be improved. Today, we know that’s not true.

During NerdNation 2016 in National Harbor, Maryland, Cengage Learning presented an Educational Forum entitled “Communication 101,” in which they outlined the importance of effective communication skills in today’s world and workforce as well as the simple steps you can take to improve your communication skills. Here are some takeaways from that presentation.

Why does communication matter?

  • Even if you’re not a communication major, these transferrable skills are critically important for success in the classroom, in current and future jobs and in your interpersonal relationships.
  • The majority of the public speaking situations you’ll encounter outside the classroom will be impromptu speaking.
  • Communication can help you meet your goals. Get and keep the job you want; get a promotion; develop and maintain meaningful personal and professional relationships; do well in all of your classes; be more perceptive of others; and be a more informed consumer.

In a recent study by the Pew Research Center, adults were asked which of 10 skills they believed were more important for children to have in order to get ahead in the world today. Ninety percent of respondents said communications skills were the most important, followed by reading, math, teamwork, writing and logic.

Why do communication skills work?

  • They’re employable and transferrable. No matter what career you have, these skills — soft skills — are important to all employers.
  • They’re necessary for success at all employment levels and in all sectors.
  • They are as important as job-specific and technical skills.

The U.S. Department of Labor has a training program called “Soft Skills to Pay the Bills — Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success,” which focuses on the importance of communication skills in gaining employment and succeeding in the workplace. The No. 1 soft skill in the program? Communication.

Putting your communication skills into practice.

Effective communicators adjust their message to their audience. Analyze your audience by asking yourself these four questions:

  • What is the size of my audience?
  • What do I know about them?
  • What can I observe?
  • What can I infer?

You should also adjust your message to the context of the situation.

  • Social Context — the norms, values, laws and other restrictions of a society to communicate within a specific limit. Examples include greeting people when meetings, thanking, apologizing, etc.
  • Cultural Context — the lifestyle and identity of a person, such as their caste, class, race, ethnicity, gender, etc.
  • Relational Context — this relates to relationship history and manners. You talk with an old friend differently than you would a stranger.

Communication helps you manage your relationships. Relationships develop, evolve, are maintained and deteriorate through communication. Through self-disclosure, we reveal information about ourselves that others are unlikely to discover on their own. Some guidelines to keep in mind when self-disclosing information with others:

  • Share what is appropriate to the relationship.
  • Match how much and to what extent is shared with you.
  • Before disclosing further, observe how the other person responds to your communication and what he or she does with it.
  • Pay attention to the purpose of the disclosure — disclosure is meant to enhance the quality of relationships.

Communication is more than words.

Listening is not the same thing as hearing. Hearing is passive; listening is an active process that involves being mindful, physically receiving a message, selecting and organizing material, interpreting and responding.

The best way to understand people is to listen to them.

  • Listening helps us confirm others.
  • Listening helps us understand.
  • Listening helps us learn.
  • Listening promotes civic engagement.
  • Listening helps promote social justice.

Effective communicators are aware of and attempt to minimize obstacles to listening.

Adapt your listening to your communication goals.

  • Be mindful — choose to pay attention.
  • Minimize distractions (these can be external or internal)
  • Ask questions — clarify or elaborate
  • Suspend judgment and don’t evaluate
  • Try to understand the other persons’ perspective
  • Express support

Body language, or nonverbal communication, is a critical part of the communication process. Studies estimate that between 65 and 93 percent of the meaning of a message is derived from nonverbal signals, so even if you don’t think you’re communicating something, there’s a good chance you actually are.

What’s more, when what you communicate nonverbally contradicts what you say verbally, people more often trust the nonverbal cues over the verbal ones.

Pay attention to others’ and your own

  • Facial expressions
  • Movement and posture
  • Gestures
  • Eye contact
  • Touch
  • Space
  • Voice

It’s not just what you say — it’s how you say it.

Simple Ways to Gain a Big Acceptance Rate

In the spring of 2016, the Iota Zeta Chapter at Northeast Mississippi Community College inducted 300 new members, keeping it on track to once again have one of the highest membership acceptance rates among Phi Theta Kappa chapters. How do they do it? It’s surprisingly simple.

Iota Zeta is a large chapter — in 2016 it had 672 members on its roll. An 85-member induction ceremony in the fall of 2015 gave the chapter a 59 percent membership acceptance rate for 2015, ranking it sixth on Phi Theta Kappa’s President’s List, a listing of the Top 25 chapters by their 2015 acceptance rates.

“We make a concerted effort to not marginalize ourselves, assuming that the ‘right students’ will find their way to us,” chapter advisor Ray Harris said. “We try to use PTK membership as a way to encourage and incentivize students to develop themselves academically and intellectually.”

The chapter also uses a personal approach when issuing invitations to prospective members. Harris meets with each potential inductee to explain the benefits in person.

“We issue a personal invitation from the chapter and ask the students to come to the advisor’s office to join,” he said. “We take time to meet each candidate and talk to them. We believe that it really does make the invitation more prestigious.”

The chapter also works to keep its one-time membership fee low — it’s currently $70. And, it has gotten creative in helping members pay the fee.

Iota Zeta has a strong relationship with Northeast Mississippi Community College’s Foundation and, until the start of the 2015-16 school year, depended on the Foundation to provide loans to help members pay the induction fee. This past school year though, the chapter successfully persuaded the school administration to let new members pay their induction fees through their financial aid packages.

Additionally, a fund has been established to cover the fees for members who have no other means to pay.

“The need for loans has all but disappeared,” Harris said. “The Foundation can still provide the loans, but none were needed in the past year.”

Iota Zeta has a presence at campus events such as NE NOW and Freshman Orientation so incoming freshmen can learn about Phi Theta Kappa early. Senior colleges who recruit at Northeast often include the benefits of Phi Theta Kappa membership in their presentations so students can see the transfer scholarships available to them.

The chapter participates in many projects throughout the year including an Honors in Action Project and a College Project. Currently, the chapter has about 180 members who are active participants in their projects.

In the 2016-2017 school year, the chapter will implement an Enhanced Membership program that will include a service component.

“We work very hard to provide service activities for the general membership, such as blood drives, canned food drives, Relay For Life and fundraisers for organizations such as the American Red Cross,” Harris said. “This helps keep the Phi Theta Kappa name in front of the student body.”

All of these things work together to show the college’s students that Phi Theta Kappa is more than just another club on campus. The chapter values personal interactions and word-of-mouth marketing to keep its induction rate high.

“We try to show students that the life of the mind is not exclusive to an ivory tower setting,” Harris said. “I think we do a good job of using our members as down-to-earth ambassadors of the PTK experience.”

This story is part of a series highlighting chapters on the 2015 President’s List.

Vintage Convention Pins Now Available

Collectors, get ready. You can now collect vintage lapel pins released exclusively for Phi Theta Kappa annual conventions, and the proceeds will help fund a new scholarship that will help put Phi Theta Kappa membership in reach for those who can’t otherwise afford it.

Pins from the last 15 years’ conventions are available for $5 each from the Phi Theta Kappa Store.

Convention pins were first introduced in 2000 for the convention in Orlando, Florida. The 1999-2000 International Officer Team developed the pins to fund the Leaders of Promise Scholarship, a program they established to provide scholarships to students continuing at a two-year college.

“When I was campaigning for International Office, I heard over and over from other members that paying for classes at their community colleges was a challenge,” said Laura Dupree, 1999-2000 Southern Vice President and a current chapter advisor at Lone Star College-North Harris in Texas. “My fellow officers were saying the same thing. We all heard it time and time again.”

Once the team worked out the details of the scholarship, they needed a way to fund it. Dupree had previously designed lapel pins to benefit the honors college at her school, and the team liked the idea of doing something similar. Thus, the convention pin was born.

“I’m glad that it’s worked out as well as it has and that we’ve had so many students benefit from it,” Dupree said. “It’s really great to see the new pins keep coming out each year.”

The Leaders of Promise Scholarship is now fully funded by the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, freeing proceeds from the pins to help fund other initiatives.

Over the years, convention pin proceeds have helped meet the challenges to fund the Hites Transfer Scholarship and the Oberndorf Lifeline to Completion Scholarship. Proceeds will now help fund the new Golden Opportunity Scholarship, which will launch this fall and help students cover the one-time Phi Theta Kappa membership fees.

“These vintage pins are a wonderful way to commemorate past conventions while also funding a much-needed scholarship that will allow a new generation of students to take advantage of the benefits and opportunities that come with Phi Theta Kappa membership,” said Dr. Nancy Rieves, Executive Director and CEO of the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation.

Each of the pins is different and lists the year, location and theme for the annual convention. There are limited quantities of each style — only 10 of the 2000 convention pins are available. Collect them all!