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Honor societies feature more than just academics

May 1, 2008

As they sit patiently during commencement, waiting for their name to be read, some UWRF students will be sporting more than just a cap and gown. All those cords, pins and insignias are not just for decoration. They signify an achievement, an official academic honor that a student can be proud of.

  Many of the cords will be worn by members of UWRF’s nine academic Honor Societies: Alpha Kappa Delta, Gamma Theta Upsilon, Sigma Beta Delta, Phi Alpha Theta, Sigma Tau Delta, Pi Sigma Alpha Sigma Pi Sigma, Psi Chi and Phi Kappa Phi.

  Phi Kappa Phi, the granddaddy of them all, was founded in 1897. It boasts itself as the oldest and largest honor society in the United States, with over 100,000 “active” (due-paying) members and a repertoire that includes Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

  Chapter 247 began in River Falls in 1988, and is currently run by Library Director Valerie Malzacher and Mary-Alice Muraski of ITS. Every spring, they invite 75 of the top juniors and seniors, regardless of major to join the selective society.

  What makes Phi Kappa Phi special, according to Malzacher, is that it honors academic achievement in all disciplines.

  “Students from any field of study can be invited,” she said, “so it’s really only the very best and most deserving students that make it in.”

  One of those students, senior Ann Deml, was presented with a 2008 Phi Kappa Phi award of Excellence. She is one of 40 students nationwide to receive the honor.

  Faculty members who are have achieved scholarly distinction can also be inducted, Malzacher said. More than 50 current faculty members are also members of Phi Kappa Phi, including Chancellor Don Betz and Gordon Hedal, former Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

  “It looks great on resumes, vitas and graduate school applications,” said Abbey Malom, co-president of the UWRF chapter of the psychology honor society, Psi Chi.

  Psychology professors encouraged her and other students from freshman year to shoot for membership in the society, Malom said. As she prepares to graduate in the next few weeks, she said she was happy to have been so involved during her time at UWRF.

  “It has lead me to build meaningful relationships with the student body and the psychology faculty,” Malom said. “It’s about bringing the psychology department and psychology student body together.”

  The society meets every other week in Centennial Science Hall. In addition to speakers and discussion, Psi Chi works with its partner organization, the Psychology Society, to sponsor annual community events like bake sales, fundraisers, and clothing drives, according to department chair Michael Reich.

  “We try to promote social things, and not just academic achievement,” he said.

  “Everybody likes a pat on the back, but it’s more than that,” said Physics Chair Earl Blodgett, faculty advisor to Sigma Pi Sigma, the national physics honor society. “What’s great is you have this new network of people who have shared your interest in physics or whatever it is.”

  “It’s a lifetime honor,” said Bridget Onan, the new co-president of SPS, “whether you actually end up doing something in Physics or not.”

  Like Psi Chi, Sigma Pi Sigma works closely with Society of Physics Students (SPS), an organization that has no academic requirements for membership, to sponsor outreach activities, including a travelling science show that performs at elementary schools.

  Although Sigma Pi Sigma is the more prestigious distinction, SPS is the main extra-curricular focus of the physics department because of its all-inclusive nature.

  “If someone doesn’t have the grades or hasn’t put in the time to be part of Sigma Pi Sigma, they can still be members of SPS and attend the same meetings and do the same things,” Blodgett, a Sigma Pi Sigma member since 1977, said. “River Falls is not that snobbish of a place. We’re not going to exclude people like that.”