How to Make Your Relay For Life a Success

Since Phi Theta Kappa began its partnership with the American Cancer Society 15 years ago, more than $3.8 million has been raised through chapter participation in Relay For Life events.

The Beta Kappa Chi Chapter at Cerro Coso College in California has only been participating in Relay For Life events for two years, but they’ve learned a lot about fundraising and engaging chapter members. Chapter officers led an educational forum on this topic at PTK Catalyst 2017 — here are a few of their tips.

Start Early

“We really wanted to commit to create change, and we wanted to actively participate in an event that was reputable and successful,” said chapter co-president Gloria Middleton. “Relay For Life is all of that and more.”

While engaging with others working on Relay For Life, she and the other chapter members were inspired to contribute to the fight against cancer — especially when they learned that the amount of money they raised would allow one additional patient to participate in an experimental study that year.

Gloria advises chapters who want to participate to get an early start.

“March is the time they reset the calendar year and the website,” she said. “So plan ahead and start fundraising now!”

Think Big

Jenna Daugherty, the chapter’s services and fellowship officer, encourages groups not to stop at the chapter level, but to involve the entire campus in their Relay efforts.

“Our chapter was very successful because our entire school supported us through donating, walking at the actual event, and helping to spread the word,” she said. “It was incredible to see how the many faculty members, student organizations, and students came together to make our Relay team such a success.”

Jenna added that communication is also key, including the use of Facebook posts, emails, and collaboration with the college’s public relations office.

Reach Out

“Our chapter wanted to amplify our efforts by doing some pre-Relay fundraising as well as activities at the event itself,” added co-president Alejandro Tellez. “The college has an added incentive to participate in the event because it sends a positive message to the community, one that encourages many walks of life to unite and help support a good cause.”

Alejandro recommends that chapters reach out to everyone for help, including local businesses.

“You’d be surprised how many businesses are willing to contribute to your cause,” he said. “The more you can get businesses to participate in any small way (donating food, paper plates, etc.), the less money the chapter has to spend in gathering resources for fundraising.

“This helps the chapter focus more on executing a successful fundraiser.”

Alejandro also suggested that chapters can get members and fellow students engaged by pointing out that cancer affects everyone, whether first-hand or not.

“This event has a great deal of communal meaning to a large number of people,” he said. “Our town has a lot of survivors and victims of cancer, so the Relay event sheds a bit of light and optimism to those affected by this horrible disease.”

Learn more about Relay For Life and report your chapter’s participation.

Tailor Your Training at the Center for Excellence

Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by Dr. Aariel Charbonnet, Phi Theta Kappa’s Manager of Member Support and Outreach.

May is a busy month in academia. Students have final exams, graduation, and “Operation: Summer Vacation” on the brain. Advisors are consumed with grading final assignments, scheduling last-minute meetings, and wrapping up spring term obligations.

Nevertheless, finding time to activate one or more of the four hallmarks of Phi Theta Kappa — scholarship, leadership, fellowship, and service — is a priority for dedicated chapters and regions. A simple, yet rewarding, way to engage in two of the hallmarks, leadership and fellowship, at the end of a tough term is to visit the Center for Excellence in Jackson, Mississippi.

Reward your chapter, either virtually or face-to-face, with a half-day training at Phi Theta Kappa Headquarters, where your group can meet one-on-one with the experts. Build rapport among your officers. Increase your member engagement. Learn, firsthand, what it will take for your team to amplify its impact on your campus, in your community, and among your Phi Theta Kappa local and regional peers.

Prior to your visit, work together to determine what training will best suit your team’s needs. This is not one-size-fits-all. Customize your visit with requests for specific breakout sessions on topics that will benefit you.

Perhaps, you want to use your time at the Center to create goals, objectives, and strategies for the upcoming year.

Maybe, your chapter has committed to completing Honors in Action for the first time. (As novices, you may wonder … Does my team really understand what Honors in Action requires? What time commitment will it take? How do we decide on a theme? How do we engage in scholarly research?)

Your officers may want an off-site retreat to learn about each other and how to work as a leadership team.

If your group is active on the Web, you may want some tips on branding.

If recruiting new members is your chapter’s focus, get insight on REACH Rewards from those who were part of its design and recruitment strategies from our staff members.

The extensive resources and services available through Phi Theta Kappa Headquarters are intended for you, our advisors, officers, Regional Coordinators, and members. The training we make available is part of our commitment to developing robust chapters, regions, and alumni associations.

In March, we were pleased to welcome two officer teams: Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Jefferson Davis Campus, Omicron Alpha Chapter Officers and Mississippi College PTK Alumni Association Officers. This May, we were thrilled to host visits from four officer teams: Copiah-Lincoln Community College, Wesson Campus, Eta Omega Chapter Officers; Itawamba Community College, Fulton Campus, Upsilon Sigma Chapter Officers; Delgado Community College, City Park Campus, Omega Nu Chapter Officers; and Mississippi/Louisiana outgoing and incoming Regional Officers and advisors. And we are eagerly awaiting officer teams and advisors from Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee, and Kansas in the coming summer months.

Each group customized the visit to suit its needs. Several groups received training on Competitive Edge, Honors in Action, and the College Project. Teams that had completed preliminary research for their Honors in Action project shared their topic and research questions with our staff prior to the visit, which personalized the focus of their discussion and brainstorming session.

Another group used an hour of the visit to lead its own goal-setting workshop. The group separated into smaller teams, crafted goals for the upcoming year, and shared their conclusions with the larger group at the end of the hour. Advisors led this session.

Still, for other groups of newly elected officers, the visit to PTK Headquarters served as an opportunity to get to know their fellow officers. At times, introductions and ice breakers characterized morning sessions at the Center. It was wonderful to witness students, in some cases, meet for the first time at the beginning of the day, and leave the Center at the end of the visit with a budding friendship.

Certain staple components add an element of fun to in-person visits. Guests take a tour of the Center that allows them to learn more about the history of Phi Theta Kappa (including a “Fun Facts” quiz), visit our departments, and meet staff members.

A popular request is a visit to the Phi Theta Kappa Store, where guests can peruse and purchase PTK “swag!” From sweatshirts to coffee mugs to jewelry, the Store offers a range of products that students and advisors enjoy.

Photo opportunities abound: in front of the “Phi Theta Kappa Center for Excellence” signage in front of the building; in our very own “Parade of Flags” in the lobby; in the Alpha Courtyard lined with Natchez white crepe myrtle trees; and, if you’re lucky, with President and CEO Dr. Tincher-Ladner in her office.

A special part of every visit incorporates the visitor pin that only guests who have visited the Center for Excellence receive. One of the four members of Phi Theta Kappa’s Executive Cabinet (Tincher-Ladner; Steve Mulhollen, Vice President of Scholarships and Operations and CFO; Dr. Susan Scaggs, Vice President of Membership and Student Engagement; and Dr. Monica Marlowe, Foundation Executive Director) may distribute these pins to our esteemed guests. It is an important tradition at Phi Theta Kappa Headquarters.

I encourage as many groups as possible to visit the Center for Excellence. Treat your officer team and/or members at the end of a long academic term to a PTK Headquarters visit. Use this opportunity as a tool to improve your chapter, region, or association. After your visit, schedule a follow-up team meeting to apply what you’ve learned. The benefits are tremendous.

Those who can, meet us in the capital city of Jackson, Mississippi, and prepare for a taste of Southern hospitality. Those who cannot travel to Headquarters, meet us in cyberspace. We would love to “see” you! To schedule a visit, please contact

Honors Institute Gives Glimpse of Grad School

Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by Heather Schmidt, Phi Theta Kappa’s Director of Membership Services.

We all know the impressive statistics on how Phi Theta Kappa impacts the likelihood of associate and bachelor’s degree completion. In fact, 92 percent of Phi Theta Kappa members complete their associate degrees or transfer to a four-year college, compared to the national average of 40 percent for non-members.

After experiencing my first Honors Institute in 2016, I’m comfortable predicting that the trajectory of success for Phi Theta Kappans will likely include the attainment of a graduate or professional school degree.

Going into the week with no expectations or point of reference, I did not anticipate the déjà vu moments or flashbacks to graduate school. The seminar groups have the structure and feeling of discussion-based graduate school courses, where students learn as much or more from their classmates as they do from the instructor.

If you enjoy the lively exchange of ideas and intellectual stimulation waiting for you at the 2017 Honors Institute at Loyola University, you will appreciate grad school. If you feel compelled to collaborate and reflect AFTER and outside of sessions and seminar groups, then you will not just enjoy but thrive in graduate school.

Even for students who cannot attend Honors Institute, all is not lost. There will be several members and advisors who, as the only representative of their chapter, will attend with the intent of replicating the model at their regional level. If this happens, I’m confident that those students engaging in well-designed Regional Honors Institute programming will also be counted in this number.

I hope you will consider this perspective and, as a result, start exploring opportunities to pursue a graduate school education. If you have your sights set on a graduate or professional degree, then I would strongly encourage you to think about your educational end goal and work backward. This strategy will help you make an informed decision about where to transfer and what major to pursue.

In the same way that you will look to your seminar leader at Honors Institute (likely a new acquaintance), do not be afraid to seek counsel from a graduate school faculty member or program coordinator and ask for their advice regarding your next steps—even while still in community college. What better way to create an early, personalized connection with a graduate school that may result in your acceptance?

At the very least, following their advice will provide you with some solid objectives and motivation to pursue a bachelor’s degree with confidence and purpose.

The 2017 Honors Institute is June 5-10 at Loyola University’s Lake Shore Campus in Chicago. Follow us at #PTKHI on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to see highlights from the event throughout the week.

People of PTK: Dr. Aldena Harris

Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by Dr. Aldena Harris, advisor to the Phi Pi Chapter at Lorain County Community College in Ohio.

Phi Theta Kappans are very much aware of the special nature of our society and the programs and events it sponsors. I was privileged to attend one of those programs, the Leadership Instructor Certification Seminar in Pomona, California, in 2016. I will always remember the experience of the seminar with fondness and appreciation. It was exciting and enlightening that so much insight could be gained from 3 1/2 days of highly engaged dialogue and demonstration.

While participating in the Leadership Seminar, I met individuals who were incredibly knowledgeable but also wonderfully open to sharing. The facilitators, Dr. Lillie McCain, Dr. Jo Marshall, and Monika Byrd, were spectacular in their approach to establishing a dialogue-based learning community around the concept of leadership.

Lillie, Jo, and Monika introduced the hope that all participants would adhere to being “active listeners, give freely of our experiences, and maintain each other’s self-esteem.” This was done in a manner that communicated a knowing that we all would accept those guidelines as not only necessary, but also directly aligned with the purpose of the course we had each elected to take.
Specific aspects of the course that I will forever remember include the explanatory skits and team-building exercises. These tasks required small groups to make quick decisions about how to best represent course materials.

I was in a group with two amazing individuals, Beth and Richard, and the three of us were able to come up with very creative, entertaining, and analytical ways to involve our fellow course participants in examining characteristics of effective leadership. Similarly, our participation in the activities structured by others within our class community was quite thought-provoking and equally grounded in exploring how philosophies of leadership determine decision-making personally and professionally.

Explorations of topics beginning with the virtues of the “Philosopher Leader” led our group at large to discussions about the Power of Beliefs, Guiding Through Conflict, Realizing Change, and Empowering Others. These themes resonated so powerfully with me as I reflected on my journey to becoming a professor in higher education. Moreover, I could relate each theme to an aspect of my role as an advisor to the Phi Pi Chapter at Lorain County Community College.

Being in the advisor role has afforded me the opportunity to engage with students in ways that highlight the importance and impact of the varied aspects of leadership. It has provided me with a lens that is discernibly different than interactions relegated primarily to the classroom. It has expanded my horizons and fostered an understanding that leadership requires ongoing examination, exploration, and exemplification of the characteristics I aspire to embrace fully for the benefit of my students, my community, my college, my country, and the world.

The Phi Theta Kappa Leadership Development Certification Seminar is more than just an academic experience. Yes, it is process of strengthening concepts that many who have spent years in leadership roles find familiar. However, what distinguishes it from the typical professional development experience is the extent to which the participants are asked to represent the consciousness and competencies that are essential to being visionary and leading ethically.

Within our study of leaders with vision, we looked back at inspiring individuals whose leadership fostered human potential and promoted advocacy and coalition-building. The examples provided in the life journeys of leaders such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Cesar E. Chavez, and Paulo Freire, show leadership philosophy personified.

Those individuals never waivered in representing leadership to illuminate connections between who we are or aspire to be, what informs us, and how it guides our conduct. In their actions, we as Phi Theta Kappans do not have to look far for representations of leadership proficiency or leadership through service.

To be a servant leader is indelibly connected to the hallmark of service that is a foundation to Phi Theta Kappa. It is who we hope to be grooming our Phi Theta Kappa chapter officers and members to be through our guidance as advisors and mentors. The Leadership Development Seminar is unquestionably a forum for delving into how to best accomplish that goal.

Coming together with others at the seminar was for me a representation of the fellowship, scholarship, service, and leadership hallmarks to promote the best in all of us.

Join us for one of two Leadership Development Instructor Certification Seminars this summer at the Center for Excellence in Jackson, Mississippi. Register by May 26 for the best rate.

Grow Your Chapter This Summer

Who says you can only enroll new members in the spring or fall? Adding Phi Theta Kappa’s Summer Enrollment Option allows you to add new members as soon as they’re eligible and keeps fresh, friendly faces in your chapter year-round.

We’ve got five reasons for you to consider the Summer Enrollment Option:

1. Opening summer enrollment provides increased access and opportunity to qualified students on your campus.

2. Students may have missed out on accepting membership in previous semesters, and for some, summer may be their last chance.

3. Students may be eager to start enjoying membership benefits ASAP, such as completing Five Star Competitive Edge over the summer.

4. Maintaining a consistent presence and activity through all academic terms helps strengthen awareness on campus; inviting and yielding more members brings your chapter closer to earning REACH Rewards.

5. It’s an opportunity to continue the momentum year round on your path to Five Star Chapter Plan success or to reinvigorate your chapter by adding new members.

Interested? Great! Here’s how you do it.

First, load a list of eligible students. For chapters that are part of the Headquarters Membership Recruitment Campaign (MRC), invitations will only be sent out via email during the summer. Contact your Divisional Specialist to set these up.

We can also send email invitations for those chapters that are not part of the MRC. Log in to; click “Advisors;” find “Your Chapter” and click “View” under “Eligible Students;” and then check the “Allow Invitations from Headquarters” box. Once you check the box, your eligible students will receive the invitation email within 15 minutes, allowing them to instantly pay and accept membership. They will also receive a reminder email 21 days later, and then a “last chance” reminder message three days before your summer enrollment period ends.

No need to organize a special induction ceremony. Students accepting membership over the summer may participate in a future induction ceremony and/or orientation if they continue their enrollment on your campus.

Headquarters staff will be available all summer to assist should your students have any questions. We highly recommend that advisors send an email to pre-notify eligible summer students. This can be done on the Phi Theta Kappa website.

Questions? Email

Secrets of Success from the 2017 Most Distinguished Chapter

For the Lone Star College Phi Theta Kappa chapters in Texas, the third time was definitely the charm.

When the Beta Lambda Mu Chapter of Lone Star College-CyFair Campus was crowned Most Distinguished Chapter for 2017, it marked the third year in a row that one of the Lone Star College chapters received the coveted title. LSC-Tomball received the award in 2015 and 2016, and this year it was CyFair’s turn to shine.

“To receive this recognition once is quite an achievement,” said Debbra Esparza, Lone Star College (LSC) executive director of Organizational Development and PTK Regional Coordinator for Texas. “But for Lone Star College to win it three years in a row is incredible.”

And there’s plenty of credit to go around — the chapter benefited from strong leadership and support on the regional, college, and chapter levels.

“I am very proud of this impressive achievement of our students,” said Stephen C. Head, Ph.D., LSC chancellor. “This award validates our commitment to ensuring excellence in teaching and learning to promote student success.”

The college and chapter have taken the strength of their current members and built on a strong legacy provided by their faculty advisors and previous chapter officers and members.

“The most distinguished chapter showcases the hard work of the members and represents the highest institutional commitment to student learning and student success, both in and out of the classroom,” Phi Theta Kappa President and CEO Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner said.

To be considered for a Distinguished Chapter Award, a chapter must submit entries for both the Honors in Action Project and College Project Award. Selection of the Distinguished Chapters was based solely on the entries for these Hallmark Awards. The scores in each of the two Hallmark Awards categories were averaged to determine a chapter’s overall ranking.

For its College Project, the chapter worked with their new LSC-CyFair president, Dr. Seelpa Keshvala, to establish a program they named “Backpack to Briefcase.” Beta Lambda Mu members partnered with their local chamber of commerce to connect students with jobs available in the community. The new website they created received 1,822 unique visits and connected 226 graduates with relevant job listings.

“We are so proud of our students,” Keshvala said. “This is an amazing accomplishment, and we are very grateful to our chapter advisors for their leadership, Dr. Blake Ellis and Veronica Martinez, who dedicated their efforts to help our students experience such great success.”

Beta Lambda Mu’s Honors in Action Project focused on juvenile justice around the world and resulted in a speaker series on the issue and the development of a mentoring program in partnership with the Alternative Learning Center-East, the district’s school for expelled high school students.

“I knew early in the year that this officer team had a chance to be very successful,” said Dr. Blake Ellis, one of the chapter’s advisors. “They were uniquely curious about ‘how the world works,’ and they were especially dedicated to the hallmarks of Phi Theta Kappa. They spent hours researching the Honors Study Topic, and they resolved to make a positive difference in our community.

“Their projects were life-changing for many people.”

The chapter provided training for 67 Phi Theta Kappa members, enabling them to serve as mentors at the Disciplinary Alternative Education Center.

“Until you came to my class, I thought no one cared,” one mentored high school student explained. “Now, I can’t wait for college!”

For chapter members, making a difference provided unique satisfaction, but receiving the award at PTK Catalyst was definitely an added bonus.

“Beta Lambda Mu’s achievement is more than I ever could have hoped for, but what I will truly relish is the time I’ve been given to work alongside such driven, thoughtful, and creative people,” said chapter president Noah Miller. “It has been a true honor, and I think it’s important to say that this would not have happened without Dr. Ellis.”

As for Ellis, he believes part of the chapter’s success blossomed from their focus on recruiting new members.

“As they pursued their projects, they focused on the benefits of PTK membership, convincing many students to join our chapter in the process,” he said. “Ultimately, they provided a perfect demonstration of why every eligible student should take advantage of Phi Theta Kappa membership.”

Rights, Responsibilities, and The IF Project

“If there was something someone could have said or done that would have changed the path that led you here, what would it have been?”

Seattle police officer Kim Bogucki asked this to a group of mothers serving time at the Washington Corrections Center in 2008. It was a simple, yet critical, question.

Renata Abramson, an inmate serving a nine-year sentence, was struck. Over the next few days, she answered the question in writing and invited her fellow inmates to do the same. When Kim walked into the prison a month later, Renata handed her a stack of 25 essays. The IF Project was born.

The IF Project is a collaboration of law enforcement, currently and previously incarcerated adults, and community partners. Their work focuses on intervention, prevention, and reduction in incarceration and recidivism.

The project provides programs for youth, training for adults who work with youth, a reentry and mentoring program for incarcerated women, and workshops and training for incarcerated men and women. Kim also created a writing workshop for the women, who journal about the “if’s” in their lives.

The IF Project is also now the subject of an award-winning, feature-length documentary that will be shown this fall at North Seattle College. The film focuses on how women are the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated population, increasing at nearly double the rate of men since 1985.

The screening is a part of the Alpha Epsilon Omega Chapter’s Honors in Action Project, which focuses on the theme “Rights and Responsibilities.”

“It’s given understanding to a very important issue,” chapter advisor Michaelann Allen said. “A lot of people don’t realize what’s going on.”

The chapter has focused its Honors in Action Project on homelessness for the last few years, since one of its former officers was temporarily homeless. The Seattle Times reported in 2016 that more than 10,500 people were sleeping outside, in homeless shelters, or in transitional housing.

Housing insecurity among recently released inmates is often a barrier to successful reentry into society and can lead to recidivism. For Michaelann, both the film and the project seemed like a perfect fit in Alpha Epsilon Omega’s honors project.

“Phi Theta Kappa has such an underlying support for everyone,” she said. “Anything that can give people an opportunity for growth and improvement, that’s what PTK does.”

Phi Theta Kappa recently announced that it would extend membership to all eligible students, including those currently incarcerated or serving probation. President and CEO Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner said the move speaks to the core of both Phi Theta Kappa and the community colleges it serves.

“It’s our desire — our mission — to be part of the solution to a set of very complex social problems,” she said. “It’s our way of ‘unchecking the box’ — saying to students that their mistakes shouldn’t follow them forever.”

A meta-analysis by the Rand Corp. found those who actively participate in higher education within prisons have a recidivism rate of just 16 percent. That number further drops for those who earn degrees.

Phi Theta Kappa members receive job skills training and can develop leadership skills through research and service projects that result in increased workforce readiness. And overall, research has shown that PTK members are three times as likely to complete a college degree or certificate than their peers.

“It keeps people on the right path when you’re recognized for what you’re doing right,” Michaelann said.

In addition to screening the film on campus this fall, the Alpha Epsilon Omega Chapter will host a panel discussion on the film. It will be one of several panels focused on homelessness and transitional housing hosted later in the year.

More than 3,000 inmates have participated in The IF Project. If you’re interested in screening the film on your campus, contact Katie Weeks at or 315.750.6341. Once you purchase the license to the movie, your college can keep the movie in its library.