Phi Beta Kappa Inductees at Allegheny

By KATRINA TULLOCH

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When Trista Szocs went to pick up her mail last semester, she had no idea she was about to be accepted by the oldest and most prestigious honorary scholastic society in the United States.

“Phi Beta Kappa is a national honors fraternity that distinguishes senior students for their academic success and interest in many fields of study,” said Szocs, ’09, an English major and psychology minor who graduated early last semester.  “There is no application process, so I was extremely surprised when I received a letter of acceptance because I had not applied.

The Phi Beta Kappa Society was founded on December 5, 1776 at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Eta Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa started in 1902 at Allegheny College.  Professor Glenn Holland of the philosophy and religious studies department is the current president of the Allegheny chapter.

“When I received my acceptance letter and attended the induction ceremony, I just felt extremely honored,” said Szocs.  “I have always been extremely passionate about academics and it’s great to be recognized for that. The other accepted seniors and the professors who were inducted at their own colleges were those I truly admired—I just felt really proud to be distinguished along with them.”

Induction into Phi Beta Kappa has been beneficial for Szocs after her early graduation.

“I plan to attend law school next year,” she said.  “I tend to underestimate my academic success, so I’m a little intimidated about law school. Receiving this honor gave me that extra confidence I needed to enter the real world after Allegheny.”

Throughout history, many notable people of law have also been members of Phi Beta Kappa such as John Quincy Adams at the Harvard University chapter and Sonia Sotomayor at Princeton University.

Dave Valentine, ’10, an English major and chemistry and psychology double minor, found out about his acceptance in the same, unexpected way.

“I haven’t a clue how the nomination process happens, for the letter simply showed up in my mailbox one day,” Valentine said.

Dr. Joshua Searle-White, Associate Professor and Chair of the Psychology Department, is the secretary of Phi Beta Kappa at Allegheny.

“The only students we consider are graduating seniors, including mid-year graduates,” Searle-White said.  “There are minimum credit and GPA requirements that students have to meet, but the basic idea is that we select a small number of our highest-achieving students based on their academic work and character.”

According to Searle-White, the Allegheny Phi Beta Kappa chapter is made up of Allegheny faculty, staff and administration who were elected to Phi Beta Kappa when they went to college.

The chapter meets twice every year to elect new members – typically ten students in the fall, and 15-20 students in the spring, although the numbers depend on the particular students who are eligible as well as the size of the graduating class.

Szocs and Valentine were two of the ten students elected for Phi Beta Kappa this fall.  The other eight were Andrea Charbonnel, a physics major and history minor, Geoffrey Lim, a biochemistry major and economics minor, Michael Peroski, a biochemistry and philosophy double major, Eugene Raggi, a biochemistry major and philosophy minor, Monica Schaffer, a biology major and economics minor, Brittany Schneider, a biology major and psychology minor, Noah Snyder, a biochemistry and neuroscience double major and a Chinese studies and physics double minor, and Sandra Wayman, an environmental science major and music minor.

Searle-White is quoted on the Allegheny press release commending these students for “the highest achievement that Allegheny students can attain.”  Valentine, however, sees the honor differently.

“I strongly doubt the absolute truth of that statement…Allegheny graduates often go on to do simply extraordinary work across the world quite outside of the realm of academia, and I have no doubt that in the years to come the accomplishments of our peers will bear testament to the truth of that belief in ways that I cannot possibly predict.”

After Allegheny, Valentine plans to attend medical school and possibly spend two years with Teach for America.

“At this point in time, I’m not sure what [Phi Beta Kappa] means for my future, other than, perhaps, the honor of answering in the affirmative if someone asks about my membership in the society.”