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A Lifelong Love of Learning

This March, more than 150 USC juniors and seniors were inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest and most prestigious honor society in the United States.

More than 150 juniors and seniors, mostly from USC College, take Phi Beta Kappa Society's official oath after receiving their certificates as new inductees. Photo credit Brian Morri.
More than 150 juniors and seniors, mostly from USC College, take Phi Beta Kappa Society's official oath after receiving their certificates as new inductees. Photo credit Brian Morri.

"Love of learning is the guide of life."

This Greek motto gives the Phi Beta Kappa Society its name.

On March 26 at Town and Gown, 178 seniors and 13 juniors, mostly from USC College, joined the ranks of this elite society at the 2010 Initiation Ceremony on University Park Campus.

Founded as a small, academic society in 1776 by students at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., Phi Beta Kappa has become the nation’s pre-eminent honor society, recognizing excellent academic achievement in the tradition of learning in the liberal arts and sciences.

Of the 5,500 institutes of higher learning in the United States, only 280 have Phi Beta Kappa chapters, and only a small number of students from each institution are inducted each year. The election into the society is among the highest academic honors an undergraduate can receive.

 


Zara Marie Lukens (left), who is majoring in international relations and neuroscience in USC College, with Douglas Becker, of USC College's School of International Relations. Becker attended as invited faculty influential in an inductee's academic career. Photo credit Brian Morri.

Each year, typically one college senior in 100 nationwide is invited to join. As the fifth established chapter in the state, the Epsilon Chapter of California at USC has honored outstanding juniors and seniors studying liberal arts and sciences since 1929.

One was Erica Edwards, a senior majoring in English with minors in classics and anthropology. After the ceremony, she stood with her mother, who had driven from San Francisco to attend.

“Being inducted into Phi Beta Kappa has definitely made an impact on me,” Edwards said. “It means that I made it, that I’m being rewarded for all the work I have put into my academics and my USC career.”

Undergraduates must work hard to be eligible for Phi Beta Kappa consideration, maintaining a high grade-point average. Many have completed undergraduate research projects and honors theses. Membership in the society is lifelong and by Executive Faculty Phi Beta Kappa Board invitation only. The criteria for membership are excellence in scholarship, character and GPA.

According to the society Web site, the ideal candidate has “demonstrated intellectual integrity, tolerance for other views, and a broad range of academic interests.”

Interest and participation in Phi Beta Kappa were particularly high this year, due in part to the increase of available information to students about the society, and continuing support of past members. In invitations sent out to inductees, Robin Romans, associate provost for undergraduate programs and president of the Phi Beta Kappa Epsilon Chapter of California at USC, announced that a generous gift from a USC College donor covered the cost of all 2010 initiation fees.

 


Robin Romans (left), associate provost for undergraduate programs and president of the Phi Beta Kappa Epsilon Chapter at USC, led inductees in the oath during the March 26 ceremony at Town and Gown. Michael Quick, executive vice dean in USC College, was keynote speaker. Photo credit Brian Morri.

Welcoming the students to the ceremony, Romans spoke of the distinguished history of past Phi Beta Kappa initiates, including 17 U.S. Presidents, 38 U.S. Supreme Court justices and 136 Nobel laureates. Romans emphasized the Phi Beta Kappa membership’s importance to the larger USC community.

“This society recognizes excellence in the liberal arts and sciences,” Romans said. “The liberal arts are the most precious parts of the university. They put us in conversation with those who have come before us, provide critical perspective on how we live our lives today, and help us imagine a better tomorrow.”

As keynote speaker and the event’s honorary inductee, Michael Quick, executive vice dean in the College, elaborated. Addressing inductees, their families, friends and faculty, Quick — with his signature humor and inspirational style — discussed what he saw as the strength of a liberal arts education, and why Phi Beta Kappa members are some of the nation’s most distinguished and successful individuals.

“I hear people say that a great university takes an undecided freshman and has her become a decided graduate," Quick said. “That is false. A great university takes a decided freshman and makes her an ‘undecided’ for the rest of her life. Because the kind of education that does that, a liberal arts education, prepares you for anything and everything.”

USC’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter would like to know of USC faculty and staff who are members of Phi Beta Kappa. Please e-mail your name and the institution at which you were inducted to rromans@usc.edu.

To find out more about Phi Beta Kappa or to re-connect as a USC Phi Beta Kappa member, e-mail Robin Romans at the above address.