Nation's oldest honors society comes to Mason

Photo courtesy of the Phi Beta Kappa Society
Photo courtesy of the Phi Beta Kappa Society

After decades of applications, George Mason University has been awarded a Phi Beta Kappa chapter.

Provost Peter Stearns, undergraduate education programs coordinator Marcy Glover, and history professor Marion Deshmukh have worked for years to bring a chapter of the honors society to Mason. According to Deshmukh, the university has been applying for a chapter since the 1980s.

“In order to be awarded a chapter,” Deshmukh said in an email, “a college or university has to fill out two reports, have a campus visit, require that at least 10% of the faulty are PBK members (from their undergraduate colleges) and go through a laborious process of scrutiny over a three-year period."

There are currently 283 schools in the country with Phi Beta Kappa chapters.

“Multiple applications are the rule, rather than the exception," said Deshmukh. “Oklahoma State had been applying for a chapter since 1956! Thus it is very prestigious for GMU to have been awarded a chapter.”

Founded in 1776 at William and Mary, Phi Beta Kappa is the country’s oldest honors society, and has produced alumni such as Condoleezza Rice, Francis Ford Coppola, and Peyton Manning. Every three years, society executives decide which schools are eligible for a chapter.

“[Because] it’s so hard to get a chapter, it says a lot about Mason and about our students that we got one,” said Glover. “It’s bragging rights.”

Only the highest-achieving 10% of students at a chartered school are eligible to be invited. Glover said that about 400 or 500 Mason students currently qualify. The society invites undergraduate seniors in the liberal arts and sciences, based on their high academic standing as well as criteria specific to the chapter. However, juniors with high merits are sometimes considered.

The advantages for students inducted into Phi Beta Kappa include lifelong membership, scholarship opportunities, and invitations to special lectures. In federal jobs, Phi Beta Kappa members are “eligible for two GS (General Schedule) rankings above whatever entry level government service rank they qualify,” said Deshmukh, “For example, if you applied for a government position and based on your qualifications, were given a GS 5, if a PBK member, your rank would be raised to a GS 7.” This means that PBK members in government positions qualify for higher pay based on membership.

Glover says honors societies on campus “[show] how much the university has grown in the last decade.”

“[The] provost is always looking for ways to recognize student achievement,” said Glover.

Glover will help set up a PR campaign and information sessions to educate students about the society. The installation ceremony and the first member initiation will occur in the spring. 

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