Finding Hope by Studying the Holocaust

For 19 days in July, Dr. Liesl Ward Harris attended the International School for Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem for the seminar, “Teaching about the Shoah and Antisemitism.” She also floated in the Dead Sea, dined with a family in Bethlehem, and met the youngest female member of Schindler’s List.

It was an experience made possible when she received the 2017 Marshall Award, which provides financial support for the completion of a project that leads to personal leadership growth. It carries a $5,000 stipend and was established in 2012.

Liesl, advisor to the Beta Lambda Delta Chapter at Jefferson State Community College’s Shelby Campus in Alabama, is developing a special leadership symposium to teach both as a stand-alone seminar and as part of her Phi Theta Kappa Leadership Development course. She also conducted an intensive study of the leadership failures that ultimately produced the Holocaust.

“It truly was a life-changing experience and would not have been possible without my Marshall Award grant,” she said.

Liesl recently submitted a final report of her experience. Below is an excerpt from that report, including 10 lessons she learned.

Describe the steps you took to complete your Marshall Award project.

While online, I found a course for educators in English at Yad Vshem, the International Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. The course involved listening to lectures from world-renowned scholars.

The lectures ranged from the historical perspective to the religious perspective to representations of the Holocaust in film. The lectures also dealt with the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict. A highlight of the course was meeting and talking with Holocaust survivors, including the youngest female member of Schindler’s List.

My class was made up of scholars from around the world. There were representatives from the United States, Canada, Hungary, Poland, Serbia, South Africa, and Italy. The class very much reminded me of a faculty group at a Phi Theta Kappa Honors Institute. We became close very quickly, and I know I developed lifelong friendships through my brief time in Israel.

We also had time for excursions. We went to Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, Tel Aviv, Masada, and the Dead Sea. We even spent one night at a Kibbutz in northern Israel. One of my favorite excursions was to Bethlehem, which is in the Palestinian territory of the country. Yad Vashem personnel were upfront about presenting us with the “Israeli narrative” of the ongoing conflict. They made many good points, but traveling to Bethlehem brought a much-needed counter narrative.

What did you learn, and what did you achieve by completing your project?

I could write pages in answer to this question! Here is some of what I learned:

  • Antisemitism runs deep. The tendency to label people and groups as “other” and to scapegoat them is an ugly reality that we see again and again.
  • Humans are capable of unfathomable evil.
  • Humans are also capable of stunning courage and goodness.
  • Sitting on the sidelines is not an option. Indifference is as — if not more — insidious than the acts of evil themselves.
  • Going through a trauma can cause some people to lash out and become the oppressor.
  • Geo-political conflicts such as the one between the Israelis and the Palestinians are deep-seated. They cannot be divorced from history or emotions.
  • Listening is crucial.
  • Seeing multiple perspectives is non-negotiable.
  • Never giving up hope takes courage.
  • “Never Again” must be more than a slogan. That the Holocaust happened once means that human beings are capable of unspeakable atrocities; it can happen again. We must be ever vigilant to fight evil, especially the evil within ourselves.

How did you share what you learned by completing your project?

I am scheduled to be a speaker for the Holocaust Education Center in Birmingham. I am also working on a presentation that I am going to give at my home college. I would also love to share about my journey at future regional and international PTK events.

Currently, my chapter is studying non-violent resistance as a mechanism for change. They completed so much valuable research while I was away, but I feel that I can augment their research through what I learned this summer. For example, in Bethlehem, I saw a very ugly concrete wall that separates the city from the rest of Jerusalem proper. The wall has barbed wire at the top and also has stations for armed snipers to watch the residents of Bethlehem.

However, this ugly wall has been made beautiful by graffiti artists ranging from the elusive Banksy to regular people. They have covered the wall with art that expresses their demands for justice and longing for peace. Until my trip, I had thought of non-violent resistance as marches, boycotts, and sit-ins. I had never thought of art as creative/non-violent resistance, but it makes sense! I will definitely use this lesson as I work with my chapter this year.

What was the most significant outcome of the personal leadership development project you completed in fulfillment of your Marshall Award?

My answer to this question also reminds me of my Phi Theta Kappa experience. I learned such valuable information about the Holocaust. I learned about how so many people participated or looked away; but a few brave souls decided to fight these atrocities, even though they often paid with their lives. Two phrases from the summer will always resonate with me. The first is, “There is always a choice.” We can always say no to evil. The second is, “A conspiracy of goodness.” That is what I want my life to be.

Where PTK similarities come in, however, is this. While I will remember the academic lessons I learned, the most significant outcome came through the personal relationships I built over the summer. I learned from friends from around the world. These friends held a multitude of religious and political perspectives. I am keeping in touch with them and hope to work with them and their students through future PTK projects.

I also have Jewish/Israeli and Palestinian friends now. Some of my favorite friends are a beautiful family who live in Bethlehem. When I spent the day there, they truly took me in and treated me as one of their own. I ate lunch in their store, visited their home, and even got to help bathe their beautiful infant daughter! What I am saying is that when I now think of “the Israeli/Palestinian conflict,” I don’t think of just a political and geographical disagreement; instead, I think of faces. These are real people with hopes and dreams that live this conflict on a daily basis. This makes me want to commit myself all the more to the struggle for peace and justice, knowing that this struggle is difficult. I will not, however, throw up my hands and say that there will never be peace. We can’t stop hoping, and we can’t stop loving.

I will also carry with me the importance of individual action in the face of injustice. One person truly can make a difference. I want to live my life as a conspiracy of love. This trip and the lessons I learned have made me, I hope, a more sensitive and brave advocate for justice and truth.

I will end with a quote from Elie Wiesel: “Hope is like peace. It is not a gift from God. It is a gift only we can give one another.” This trip gave me hope, and that is everything.

Applications for the 2019 Marshall and Mosal Awards are due February 13, 2019.

5-Step Prep for PTK Catalyst Speaker Jeff Henderson

Celebrity Chef and best-selling author Jeff Henderson will open PTK Catalyst 2019 as keynote speaker on Thursday, April 4, in Orlando, Florida.

Jeff is a role model for all who seek reinvention and redemption. He grew up in South Central Los Angeles and became a successful and well-known drug dealer, often making $35,000 a week. It came crashing down, though, when federal agents raided his home in 1987 and he was sentenced to 19 years in prison for drug trafficking and conspiracy.

This, though, was only the beginning of his story. Jeff got a job in the kitchen at the prison, and his dreams of working as a chef were born.

He read his first book in prison and completed his GED. He reached out to the top black chefs in the country and asked for a job upon his release. He began putting his instincts for business to good use as he plotted out his life’s trajectory. He started working on his brand.

After serving nine years, Jeff was released. He made his way to Gadsby’s in Beverly Hills and got a job as a dishwasher. This led to work in the hotel business, and he moved to Las Vegas in 2001. He became the first African-American named “Chef de Cuisine” at Caesars Palace, and he was the first African-American executive chef at the Bellagio.

Jeff’s best-selling autobiography, Cooked, was published in 2007. He created Food Network’s reality series, The Chef Jeff Project, hosted “Family Style with Chef Jeff,” and starred in the nationally syndicated series, Flip My Food with Chef Jeff.

Jeff’s transformation story is truly inspiring. Here are five ways you can learn more about him and get ready for his PTK Catalyst 2019 presentation.

1. Read an excerpt from his memoir, Cooked.

2. Watch Jeff share his story on OWN’s “Where Are They Now?” Click on the black-and-white mugshot beneath the video to skip ahead to Jeff’s story.

3. Check out some of Jeff’s most popular “Flip My Food” recipes.

4. Learn more about Felon University, Jeff’s educational platform that helps ex-offenders successfully re-enter society.

5. Check out Jeff’s 2013 book, If You Can See It, You Can Be It: 12 Street-Smart Recipes for Success.

Registration for PTK Catalyst 2019 is now open! Register now.

You Can Be Someone’s Champion

Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by David Parker, International Vice President for Division 2. It contains an emotional topic that may be triggering to some readers.

One in three.

It could be the classmate you share notes with, that sits to the left of you in one of your classes. Perhaps it’s your quiet neighbor on your right. Or, maybe it’s even you.

I’m talking about the one in three college students who say they have felt so depressed during the school year “that it was difficult to function.” Startling statistics such as these remind me of my dear friend Nathan and his struggle in high school with mental illness.

When Nathan was 16 years old, he was fully convinced that he would never make it to his 17th birthday. He simply would not have it. After years of struggling with self-harm, he plotted an attempt to take his own life as a way to end his unforgiving thoughts of hopelessness.

Fortunately, a close and concerned friend was able to contact Nathan’s family before it was too late. The tale of this night has had a lasting impact on himself and me, but his story has remained in the dark. It is time for light to be shown on it.

This story is for everyone who knows there are things at stake that others don’t know about. For those living not just for themselves, but for others. And for redefining “overcoming” something so that it means handling it moment by moment.

The truth? It wasn’t Nathan who planned to take his life that night. It was, in fact, me. This is my story.

Chapter One: Harnessing your struggles, and transforming what drags you into what pulls you

Believe it or not, my time in high school was marked by absences, poor grades, and pervasive depression. I struggled to keep up with my work, and my grades landed me in the bottom half of my class for almost all of my time there. Here, I was not just convinced I wasn’t smart, but that I was a terrible student as well.

My grades limited me to my local community college. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, this would actually be the best thing to ever happen to me. Treating this as a fresh start, I was wholly determined to prove not just others wrong about my academic abilities, but myself as well.

This became my driving motivation, something I had not possessed for as long as I could remember. That semester, I was honored to be placed on my school’s President’s List for my performance and, even better, to be invited to join something on campus called Phi Theta Kappa.

There was a key transformation here, almost a paradigm shift. I harnessed my personal struggle by leaving my comfort zone and striving to always prove myself wrong. Incrementally, I saw myself grow. Against all internal inclinations not to, I pushed myself to join that honor society, show up to that meeting, talk to that officer, apply for that position, try for president. All against the voice in my head that said not to.

It is difficult, but you can find the window of opportunity to take the burden that convinces you to stay in bed and turn it into something that pulls you out of bed every morning.

Chapter Two: Find your loving community — you might be with them right now

I am so grateful to be part of the PTK family. It is honestly unlike one I have ever had. Within this family, I blossomed and found myself surrounded with people I honestly thought were better than me. I have built friendships with spectacular people and made connections with future (and current) world changers, a natural consequence of which has also been seeing myself built up.

My confidence has flourished in the few years I have been a member — you would not recognize me from the formerly shy, insecure version of me from years past. This is all due to the amazing people I have been fortunate to be around.

It’s important to find your community. You may find your ties by blood with your family and kin. Maybe your community bonds over an interest in the same hobbies. Or, maybe it’s an allegiance to four hallmarks of scholarship, leadership, service, and fellowship.

Regardless, surround yourself with those who inspire you and companions who believe in you.

Chapter Three: If you can’t be your own champion, be the champion for others

If it weren’t for my chapter family, I would not be writing this article. I truly owe so much to them. Being an International Officer, I often get asked two questions: Why did I run, and why did I win. I can answer without hesitation: It is because my chapter saw things in my that I did not. They were my champions. They believed in me more than I did in myself.

Running for International Office was when this epiphany hit me and when I began to see the true power in being someone else’s champion. Personally, that has become the mission I now hold as an officer and, frankly, as a person. I encourage you to empower others and be their champion as well.

Even if you feel like you can’t be the champion for yourself, be the champion for someone else. Truthfully, you might already be acting as one.

Chapter Four: Winning wasn’t the cure; this is a continuous journey for us all

Becoming an International Officer has been the biggest honor to ever happen to me. I am so incredibly inspired by the experience and humbled to serve PTK.


Winning wasn’t the cure — this continues to be an ongoing struggle. I am here to speak to those who think they can’t, just simply can’t, whether it’s applying for the scholarship, running for that officer position, or even finding the will to get out of bed.


Push yourself to take one small step forward, moment by moment. Find the place where your burdens transform into something that lifts your spirits. Furthermore, if you cannot do it for yourself, do it for someone else and let their kindled flame light up your own path.

Yes, this is a continuous, arduous journey, but WE can champion through this together.

I AM PTK: Josh Pickering

The Stanford University School of Medicine is one of the most selective schools in the country — only 2.3 percent of applicants were accepted in fall 2017. Josh Pickering joined this prestigious group in the summer of 2018, a move he said wouldn’t have been possible without scholarships he received as a Phi Theta Kappa member.

Josh grew up in the small town of Chatham, Illinois, just south of Springfield. His family often took mission trips to places like Haiti and Ghana.

“My dad wanted to make sure we understood how lucky we were to have what we have here in America,” he said.

He was an okay student and did well on exams, but he was more focused on wrestling and on training for the military. Military service runs in his family — Josh’s dad was in the Navy, and his three brothers also served.

So, it was part tradition that led Josh to enlist when he was 17, but it was also a decision borne from a formative moment in his life: watching the news coverage of September 11, 2001, when he was 10. He graduated high school in 2009 and set his sights on his military service.

Deploying twice to the Persian Gulf, he worked as an Operations Specialist on board the USS Mobile Bay. He spent 16 months overseas as part of the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group, patrolling the Straits of Hormuz and participating in counter-piracy operations in the Northern Arabian Sea.

He had been stationed in San Diego but relocated to Florida when his service came to an end to be near his now-fiancée, who at that time was starting medical school. College was next for him — he got certified as an EMT and worked for a year in an ambulance in Orlando, so he could qualify for in-state tuition.

He enrolled at Santa Fe College in 2014 and joined Phi Theta Kappa. In 2016, he was named to the All-USA Academic Team, and he was selected as Florida’s New Century Scholar, earning $7,000 in scholarships.

“When I started college, I was looking for ways to get involved with my school and the community,” he said. “The two arms of Phi Theta Kappa match that perfectly. You have the academics of the honor society balanced by strong community involvement through volunteering.”

Josh also began volunteering at Shands Hospital, which is affiliated with the University of Florida, and at the VA Medical Center. His prior work as an EMT had sparked an interest in medicine; volunteering in the emergency room at Shands pointed him toward a career in surgery.

He transferred to the University of Florida (UF) — itself fairly selective — and hit the ground running with the goal of getting into a renowned medical school. He knew selective schools wanted to see well-rounded students who were conducting research and had been published. He had actually started doing research at UF while still at Santa Fe College, and he and his fellow researchers have been published three times to date.

“I believe one of the biggest reasons I got admitted to Stanford was because I was able to do research at the University of Florida,” he said. “If not for the Phi Theta Kappa scholarships, I wouldn’t have had the time to do research to the extent that I did.”

Josh, now 27, began at Stanford this summer in the Leadership in Health Disparities Program, during which he worked with patients in free clinics. He is especially interested in influencing the formation of healthcare policy.

Now in his first year of medical school, Josh is working toward a career in pediatric surgery, although he isn’t sure to what specialty that path will lead him. He knows how fortunate he is to have been admitted to Stanford, especially given the competition.

“There’s an Olympic gold medalist in the class above me,” he said. “I’m, by far, not the most impressive person in my class.”

Still, Josh no doubt earned his spot. He doesn’t have any secrets to share regarding his success — it all came down to hard work. He knew what he wanted to do and how he needed to get there. He had a specific plan for his future, and he treated school like a job.

He points to a quote from author and businessman Dave Ramsey as motivation: “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”

“You have to be ready to put more time in your classes than anyone else,” Josh said. “If your grades are good, then devote more time to extracurricular activities. When you get those bases covered, find a lab that interests you and do some research.

“You’re not going to get into these competitive programs by doing what everyone else is doing.”

Share your #IAMPTK story with us at

Your Prospective Transfer School Tracker

Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by Nancy Lee Sánchez, executive director of Kaplan Educational Foundation.

Let’s face it: applying to transfer schools is a complicated process! As a two-year college student thinking about the next step in your educational journey, you could probably use some help keeping track of the multitude of moving parts that make up your applications.

Your Prospective Transfer School Tracker is a free worksheet you can download to help you organize and record your progress applying to the many schools you may be considering.

At the Kaplan Educational Foundation, I work with community college students to help them transfer to the schools of their dreams. One thing our Kaplan Scholars often struggle with is staying organized when family obligations, work, extracurriculars, and more are all competing for attention. The Foundation team created Your Prospective Transfer School Tracker to help them keep ahead of the demanding application process. As you can see in the image below, the worksheet helps you track:

  • Who to contact in each school’s admissions department
  • When you submitted your applications
  • What the status of your applications are
  • When you expect to be notified, and when you have to submit deposits
  • What the status of your financial aid applications are
  • When school visits and special events take place
  • Any comments you have on each school or things you need to follow up on

As a Phi Theta Kappa member, you’ve already developed the tools you need to succeed at top colleges across the United States. If you’re looking at transfer schools, or even if you’re just curious about transfer, we encourage you to download this free resource so you can get ahead of the game and have a smooth application process.

For a complete guide to choosing the right transfer school, getting in, and receiving the best financial aid package, check out Your 2019 Guide to College Transfer. The Guide contains over 100 profiles of top schools for transfer students in the United States, with specialized advice and info for veterans, students with DACA/undocumented status, and students raising families. Each school’s profile also lists scholarship requirements and benefits for PTK members.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned helping students apply to their dream schools, it’s that transfer changes lives. Selective schools are looking for transfer students like you and your PTK colleagues. It’s time to let them know you’re ready for the next step!

New Transfer Scholarship: Salve Regina University

Salve Regina University in Rhode Island is the latest four-year university to offer a transfer scholarship exclusively to Phi Theta Kappa members. It joins more than 750 colleges and universities in offering more than $37 million in transfer scholarships.

Salve is a small Catholic liberal arts college located in Newport and sits on 80 acres overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It was named the best college in Rhode Island for career placement by Zippia and ranked 18th on the list of “Most Transformative Colleges” in the U.S. by Money magazine. Students completed more than 9,800 community service hours in the 2017-18 academic year.

This scholarship for Phi Theta Kappa members is a big one. Learn more about it and Salve Regina in this brief Q&A.

Tell us about your college’s new transfer scholarship for Phi Theta Kappa members.
Salve’s PTK scholarship, launched this past year, is a renewable $23,000 per year (for residential students) and $19,500 per year (for commuter students) award. This past year, it was our highest merit scholarship.

Are there other transfer scholarships that could be stacked with your Phi Theta Kappa award?
If a student receives Salve’s Phi Theta Kappa award, this would be in place of our traditional merit scholarship program that ranges from $5,000 to $20,000 per year. However, all students are encouraged to complete a FAFSA to be considered for other institutional, state, and federal grant programs, work-study, and loans.

What opportunities are available for transfer students at your institution to help them successfully transition from community college?
Joining Salve’s tight-knit community comes with a number of support systems. After experiencing a personalized approach to the application process, you will work with our transfer advisor to determine courses that match your educational goals.

Each semester, we host a one-day orientation, the Friday before courses begin, where transfer students can sit down with their academic advisor, move in, and get to know members of the campus community. Then, each week, transfer students meet in a small cohort with a faculty member and upperclassmen mentor. This transitions course that runs through your first semester helps you to understand the opportunities available at Salve, transition to live in Newport, Rhode Island, and have a weekly touch point.

Finally, all students at Salve are supported by trained professionals in residence life; our academic center for excellence that offers disability support services, tutoring, and our writing center; and counseling services.

What is one of the most impressive things about your college?
Salve was founded by the Sisters of Mercy and is driven by the mission to develop lifelong learners but also to work for a world that is “harmonious, just, and merciful.” This focus inspires our campus community to make a positive impact while also developing the best in one another.

Are there any special events or deadlines on your recruitment calendar that you would like to share?
The transfer process at Salve Regina is rolling. We evaluate transfer applicants as they become complete and issue decisions within two weeks of receiving your documentation. We are also excited to work with you and learn more about your academic journey to date and your goals for the future. Please be in touch with our office and come visit!

Find more transfer scholarships at

I AM PTK: Walter Carr

Walter Carr went viral this summer. It was something he never expected, but it has allowed him to do things he’s always wanted.

You may have heard about it — Walter, of Birmingham, Alabama, walked more than 20 miles to get to his first day of work after his car broke down back in July. He walked all night, making it to Pelham around 4 a.m., where he got help from police officers.

They bought him breakfast and drove him to the home of Jenny Lamey, where Walter was to begin his first day of work with Bellhops, a moving company. Jenny posted about Walter on Facebook, and the story took on a life of its own.

The Bellhops CEO, Luke Marklin, heard about it, too. He drove down from Tennessee to thank Walter in person — and to give Walter his car.

Walter’s story was featured in the Washington Post and on BBC News. He was interviewed on Fox News, and he showed Inside Edition the route he walked.

“I consider it a blessing, and I take it, because now I have the opportunity to go out and spread my message,” Walter said.

Walter, who turns 21 this month, is a student at Lawson State Community College in Birmingham. He will graduate in December 2018 as a pre-physical therapy major, a path he’s been on since he was in the Academy of Health Sciences at G.W. Carver High School. He’s still trying to decide if he’s going to transfer straight to Alabama State University or if he’s going to join the Marines first.

He became a Phi Theta Kappa member this fall, after a professor recommended it as something he might be interested in. Walter was inducted in late September.

“I like to help people,” he said. “Phi Theta Kappa was just another program that I could be in to bring knowledge to others in the community.”

Walter has been mentoring others since high school, although he saw the value in it as early as elementary school, when older students would come to read to younger ones. That may be where his give-back attitude comes from — he said it’s always been in him. He has mentored children through Big Brother, Big Sister and other community programs.

He wants to start his own mentoring program, one that has no conditions about who can participate. While many programs focus on mentoring children who are going through difficult times, Walter believes all students should have the opportunity to get a mentor.

“Everybody deserves to have their voice heard,” he said.

Since his brush with fame, Walter has been speaking at local schools and churches, encouraging kids to never give up.

Walter made the news again a few weeks ago. After his story went viral, a crowdfunding campaign raised more than $90,000 for him, much of which he will put toward college and savings.

But, he also donated $25,000 to the Birmingham Education Foundation, a nonprofit working to increase the number of students in Birmingham City Schools that are on the path to college and a career. Walter was involved with BEF in high school.

“Those programs helped me become who I am today,” he said.

Send your #IAMPTK story to