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Phi Beta Kappa, the WC Way
CHESTERTOWN, MD—At Washington College, induction into the Phi Beta Kappa Society involves more than just a distinctive lapel pin and an attention-grabbing item on a resumé. It is also an invitation to think deeply about the purpose of a liberal arts education and to celebrate the spirit of the Society’s motto: Φιλοσοφία Βίου Κυβερνήτης, ‘love of learning is the guide of life.’
In the years since its founding in 2007, the College’s Theta chapter of Phi Beta Kappa has gained national recognition for its active engagement with the liberal arts. In 2012, WC was one of fewer than 20 institutions nationwide to receive the highest possible performance rating from the PBK Senate, based on such criteria as chapter participation, awards, scholarship and outreach.
Unlike other colleges with PBK chapters, WC inducts new members early in the spring semester rather than as part of commencement week. “We want our students to participate in PBK events before graduating,” says outgoing chapter president Sean Meehan, a professor in the English Department. “We want them engaged in broader campus discussions. This is not a secret society,” he quips.
During the 2012-2013 school year, for example, the PBK chapter led a yearlong discussion about the purpose of a liberal arts degree in today’s society. “Nationally, the economic value of a liberal arts education is being called into question,” Meehan explains. “We believe in the value of the liberal arts experience, and we see Washington College as an exemplar of what the liberal arts experience is all about.” As a culminating event, the chapter hosted a visit from Columbia University scholar Andrew Delbanco, whose acclaimed book College: What it Was, Is and Should Be explores the history and purpose of a college education.
Each fall the chapter hosts a mixer with members of the Cater Society of Junior Fellows, the flagship academic enrichment program on campus, where it recognizes a select group of sophomores for their high academic achievement. It also offers the Gerda Blumenthal Award to a rising sophomore or junior. The award comes with up to $1,200 in funds to support specific scholarly work in the humanities. In the 2012-13 academic year, two members of the Class of 2014, Patrick Derrickson and Dominic Lathos, received Blumenthal funding for research projects in South Africa.
The oldest academic honor society in the United States, Phi Beta Kappa was created in 1776 at the College of William and Mary. It encourages excellence in the liberal arts and sciences and advocates for intellectual inquiry, creative endeavor and freedom of thought and expression. About 10 percent of institutions of higher learning in the United States have Phi Beta Kappa chapters, and about 10 percent of the arts and sciences graduates of those institutions are selected for membership. According to the society’s website, “The ideal Phi Beta Kappan has demonstrated intellectual integrity, tolerance for other views, and a broad range of academic interests.”
The 2013 inductees into the Theta chapter of Phi Beta Kappa at Washington College were Lindsey Altomare, Amanda Anastasia, Ryan Bankert, Jasmine Bibbs, Emily Blackner, Michael Bonadies, Maegan Clearwood, Natasha DeGraw, Gary Fenstamaker, Dale Frymark, Sophia Gassman, Rachel Hughes, Brittany Krueger, Michael Kuethe, Allison Kvien, Molly Leach, Jennifer Lee, Jessica Magdeburger, Timothy Marcin, Ashley McAvoy, Parker McIntosh, Nicole Musho, Jillian Obermeier, Eshan Patel, Christopher Paul, Mariah Perkins, Jenna Schmaljohn, Abigail Schwartz, Nina Sharp, Rebecca Sussman, Katherine Thornton and Amanda Venable.