Phi Beta Kappa

The Phi Beta Kappa Society is the oldest, and arguably most prestigious honor society in the nation as over 140 Nobel Prize winners, 40 U.S. Supreme Court members and 17 U.S. presidents have been members. Now, 40 years after its first application in 1979, Mississippi State University houses its very own chapter, and will soon host its first induction ceremony.

According to a press release from MSU, this is an honor only 10 percent of U.S. universities and colleges can boast.

Creating MSU’s own chapter has been a long and grueling process, and happens in a three-year cycle, contributing to the time the university spent attempting to install a chapter. The effort was started by Bill Collins in 1979, and was continued by many other devoted faculty members throughout the years, according to the press release.

English professor Robert West spearheaded the successful campaign.

“This has been a long-term goal for the university for about 40 years, a goal that’s involved whole generations of faculty and many directors, deans, provosts and presidents,” West said. “We stuck with it because we thought our best students in the liberal arts and sciences deserved the chance to be inducted into the nation’s oldest, and probably most widely recognized academic honor society. When we finally won the last vote of approval in Boston last August, at PBK’s Triennial Council, that was a wonderful feeling.”

The society is not only a scholastic achievement, but something students can carry for life. According to West, the honor not only gives students a certain distinction, but it also prepares students for “life in general.”

Students typically receive their invitation during their senior year, after having shown a dedication and academic achievement within the liberal arts and sciences. Usually, inductees are in the top 10 percent of a college’s class. Students must also take at least one college-level mathematic course, and the fourth semester level of a second language, and, as both the official PBK website and West put it, students must be of “good moral character.’’

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Rick Travis said the honor will benefit the members down the road.

“PBK is the most prestigious honor society in the United States,’’ said Travis. “And the ability of our best students to list they were a member of Phi Betta Kappa will matter to them downstream, applying to graduate schools and professional schools.”

The installation of the chapter will be fully complete at the end of the semester, when MSU’s very first members are inducted, a grand total of 77 students. The ceremony will be held April 2 at The Mill. Two speakers, Fredrick Lawrence, CEO and secretary of the nationwide society, as well as Lynn Pasquerella, PBK’s president, will introduce the society’s future members.

West summed up his PBK experience by saying perseverance in this application over four decades made MSU a better university.

“To someone with a sense of institutional history—and when you work on something like this, you develop that—it was the feeling of success after 40 years of trying. That’s a long time,” West said. “That said, I think there’s little doubt that aiming at that goal for 40 years made Mississippi State a better university.”

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