Honor societies struggle to remain relevant

[email protected]

Annie Nybo, a double major in history and English, received an invitation to Phi Alpha Theta, the history honor society.  Her grades qualified her for an English honor society invitation as well, but she never got one.

“I was waiting for one from Sigma Tau Delta because they have the same basic requirements but it never came,” said Nybo, ‘11. “I was really confused.”

Nybo found out soon after that the faculty had stopped running Sigma Tau Delta because they were concerned students were just using it as a resume builder.  Nybo set forth to reinvent the English honors society this semester with Assistant Professor of English Terra Caputo attached as Sigma Tau Delta’s new adviser.

“The Sigma Tau Delta chapter [at Allegheny] has always been legitimate, it just hasn’t been active,” said Caputo. “I know Annie through the Writing Consultant program and when she expressed interest in getting started and they needed an adviser and I said I’d be willing to step up,”

Professor M. Soledad Caballero (currently on sabbatical) was the last faculty adviser for Sigma Tau Delta before it stopped initiating members at Allegheny.

“I actually wasn’t here at its inception and I wasn’t here when it sort of dissolved so I’m not sure what happened there,” Caputo said. “The faculty sort of put the onus on students to recruit members and get things going, which is problematic because the faculty needs to go through the registrar so that was almost impossible for students to do.”

Caputo sees the tides turning with fresh faces hoping to fill those previously empty roles.

“It seemed that the group maybe just lacked leadership and I think Annie has done a good job of stepping up and trying to fill that role,” Caputo said.

Caputo also noted there was a substantial list of potential members and significant student interest.  Nybo is excited to give the society’s role on campus another try.

“I love being able to take the initiative and have a part in the English department’s future,” Nybo said.

For Sigma Tau Delta, the motivation of using it solely as a “resume-booster” remains a concern.

“I think that’s always a possibility with a Greek honor society, especially because students at Allegheny are so overloaded,” Caputo said. “I think there needs to be some incentive for people to be involved in this organization in a meaningful way.”

As secretary of Lambda Pi Eta, Jennifer Reinwald, ‘11, shares the “resume” concern with the Communication Arts honors society.

“I do feel that many people join Greek Honors societies so that they can put it on their resume,” Reinwald said. “It’s unfortunate that this happens more often than not because it makes it difficult to organize as a group.”

According to Reinwald, Lambda Pi Eta visited the upper-level communication arts classes to talk about the group and to encourage people to apply this year.  The response was disappointing.

“If our members do not care about the group then it is really hard to get people to join,” Reinwald said. “We tried having an information session for people to come and ask questions but no one ended up coming.”

The Women’s Studies department is also trying to get their honors society Iota Iota Iota off the ground and running into problems.

According to Samantha Stanko, ‘11, two Women’s Studies students who wrote the constitution for Tri-Iota are barred from actually joining because of the 3.2 cap on grade point averages. Stanko said committees have been denying the inclusion of a larger range of GPAs, making recruitment a problem.

“They’re being really strict about it,” Stanko said. “Women’s Studies is interdisciplinary so it’s supposed to make things more inclusive but honors societies are exclusive in a lot of ways.”

Stanko voiced her frustrations for the disparity between the science honor societies and humanities honor societies.
“I don’t know if the sciences have more legitimacy,” Stanko said. “We just don’t have any established societies like the sciences do.”

Lambda Pi Eta will continue their efforts to recruit but dependence on generating student interest remains a constant setback.

“The biggest problem we have as a group right now is trying to get people interested in us,” Reinwald said.

Honor societies in science, like psychology’s Psi Chi, have been consistently active forces on campus by bringing speakers to visit, doing charity events, and setting up panels on graduate schools and medical schools.”

Psi Chi President Lisa Smith, ’11, believes the success of Psi Chi is rooted in cooperation.

“We’ve been around for a long time and we’ve been collaborating with other people and clubs to get do events and be active,” Smith said.

Beta Beta Beta is the honor society for students taking sciences such as biology, neuroscience and biochemistry. Tri Beta President Camille Syrett believes the biology society has been successful because it appeals to a wide demographic of students in different disciplines and has been around longer.

“BBB has been active on campus for over 25 years and throughout that time has been closely connected to the Biology faculty,” said Syrett, ’11, in an e-mail.

Smith admits that the “resume-builder” problem can be inevitable with some students but suggests ways to keep it from being the society’s main function.

“I think it’s a big draw to put on resumes but with Psi Chi, there are a lot of opportunities and benefits like attending conferences and grants you can get if people take advantage of them,” Smith said.