Research needed before entering honors societies

By Gina Siemplenski

The University offers 71 academic, honor, professional and activity societies. With so many honor societies to choose from, it’s often difficult to distinguish the more legitimate ones.

But Bruce Michelson, director of the campus honors program, said students should research the societies before they write a check to join.

“You should consider how old the organization is, does it have a real history and how much does it cost to join if you are eligible to become a member,” Michelson said.

He said some of the more respectable societies have token membership fees that are reasonable.

“Some cases charge over $100, and those usually aren’t the prestigious ones,” Michelson said.

He also said a student should see if the organization offers more than fancy diplomas and certificates.

“Potential members should see if the society supports scholarships, if they publish a scholarly journal, or if they have distinguished lecturers brought in,” Michelson said.

He also said that if a student had doubts, they can consult the Honorary and Professional Guide in the Campus Honors Office or research the society’s Web site.

The older LAS honors societies such as Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi have more prestige, said LAS Honors Dean Penelope Soskin.

According to the Honorary and Professional Guide, “Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest and most prestigious academic society in the U.S.” This LAS society has around 80 members and graduating seniors must rank in the top 7 percent of the college. The minimum GPA requirement varies from year to year but is typically above a 3.7.

“It’s important for each student to look at what the honor society is actually offering,” Soskin said.

She also said a student needs to decide what they want to get out of their membership.

“Sometimes active members have chances to partake in leadership activities or be eligible for scholarships,” Soskin said.

All societies are slightly different in the amount of participation they require from their members.

Freshman honor societies at the University are making an effort to induce more participation from their members. Phi Eta Sigma and Alpha Lambda Delta are two honors fraternities, among others, available to freshman who scored a 3.5 GPA or above during their first semester at the University.

A $35 membership fee is required for membership in both of these organizations.

“Once you pay your membership fee, you are a member for life with no other obligation, although we encourage our members to stay active,” said Justin Litz, junior in LAS and president of Phi Eta Sigma.

Susan Herbert, advisor to the University’s Alpha Lambda Delta chapter, said that the money is used for legitimate purposes.

“About $15 goes towards nationals (national dues) for a certificate, and we also pay for a lapel pin, key and honorary banquet for the initiates,” Herbert said. “The remainder of the money goes towards the community, and we don’t process any of it for own purposes.”

Herbert said that essentially there is no difference between Alpha Lambda Delta and Phi Eta Sigma.

“Both fraternities were founded in the 1920s, and Alpha Lambda Delta was for women and Phi Eta Sigma was for men, but now both organizations are co-ed,” Herbert said.

Both Herbert and Litz said that one of the major benefits of joining an honors fraternity is to build your r‚sum‚.

“I was eligible for three fraternities, but I chose Phi Eta Sigma because it was the oldest, and I knew I wouldn’t have time to be active in more than one,” said Megan McNamara, sophomore in LAS.

Litz said that there are many benefits besides the status of the honor societies.

“It is not enough today just to be part of something, so that is why we offer tutoring, philanthropy, and service,” Litz said.

In order for the organization to be more meaningful to its members, Litz said that they are going to start offering incentives for participation.

“We are going to start offering points to members who participate in events and stay active,” Litz said. “These points will then be used to determine if a member can wear Phi Eta Sigma honors chords at graduation.”

Litz said that when the fraternity determines who is eligible for recognition, total accumulations of points would be relative to what year you were when the system was instituted.

“We’re not going to prevent a senior from getting honors recognition this year since we didn’t keep track of points in past years.”

McNamara said that the point system is a good idea.

“It’s not fair that an active member will get the same recognition as a non-active one,” McNamara said.

Both fraternities offer tutoring services for philanthropy as well. Alpha Lambda Delta offers tutoring for members only in 100 level courses, but in Phi Eta Sigma, members can find tutors for different levels.

Litz said that Phi Eta Sigma is still trying to get its tutoring program off the ground.

“We are working on a Web board to help students find others who need help in classes,” Litz said.

McNamara said the Web board is a great idea.

“It seems that so many organizations offer tutoring opportunities for community service, but if I can benefit too, I’d be more inclined to participate,” McNamara said.

For students trying to build a r‚sum‚, Soskin said they should find out what’s available to them.

“Each society has its benefits, individual though they might be,” Soskin said.