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History of Phi Beta Kappa

What is Phi Beta Kappa?

Phi Beta Kappa is the most prestigious undergraduate honor society in the liberal arts and sciences in the United States. It was founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary and has operated continuously since then. Many of the most eminent politicians, jurists, businessmen, and academics have been members. Don't let the Greek letters in the name fool you! This is not a social fraternity; it is an honor society. The name ΦBK was chosen in 1776 by the founding members because they stand for the Society's motto "Love of learning is the guide of life," translated from Greek.

  • The Phi Beta Kappa Society: The National Phi Beta Kappa Society is a democratically run society that consists of chapters and associations distributed across the United States. It carries out a variety of activities, all of which are intended to support and encourage excellence and breadth of education in secondary and post-secondary education. The National Society also sponsors lectureships (for example, their Visiting Scholar program, which subsidizes the costs of bringing eminent scholars to schools that have PBK chapters), and they administer scholarships as well. In addition, Headquarters is located in downtown Washington D.C., and members of Congress and of the Executive branch of our government frequently consult the National Society regarding educational policy.

  • Chapters: The chapter at a school consists of the faculty, staff, and administrators who themselves were invited to join Phi Beta Kappa based on the excellence of their performance as undergraduates. Chapters also include honorary members who were chosen and initiated by the chapter. Having a PBK chapter is an honor to a school. Out of the thousands of 4-year degree-granting institutions in the United States, currently there are only 280 campus chapters. Chapters have the power to elect and initiate new members.

  • Alumni Associations: The members of alumni associations were initiated into Phi Beta Kappa at schools where they were undergraduates. There are currently 50 Associations, typically located in urban centers. They schedule activities to foster friendship and learning in their communities, so they can be a great way to make new friends after a move to a new home.

  • For further information, please see the National Society's Web site at http://www.pbk.org.

Phi Beta Kappa in San Diego

The chapter at UCSD is named "Sigma of California." It was chartered in 1977, and it is the second oldest chapter in San Diego. The other chapters are Nu of California at SDSU and Phi of California at USD. Our resident membership consists of 176 faculty and staff who were initiated as college students, although fewer than that actively participate in chapter activities. Each spring we send a newsletter to all resident members detailing recent activities and ways to get involved. Contact us if you are a member and haven't received your copy. We would love to hear from you!.

Chapter Activities

Nominating New Members

Our primary activity is nominating new members each spring and initiating them. Membership in Phi Beta Kappa has always been by invitation only. Each spring a committee of chapter members considers students who meet a minimum set of requirements and selects those who fulfill all of the criteria for membership. The National Society of Phi Beta Kappa stipulates general rules that chapters must follow, and chapters have some latitude in setting the details. Follow these links to find out more about the eligibility criteria at UC San Diego and to read about the advantages of becoming a member.

Graduation Ribbons and Certificates of Membership

Each student who has been invited into Phi Beta Kappa and has joined the Society receives a certificate of membership and a ribbon insignia to wear at his or her commencement ceremony. The ribbon insignia consists of blue and pink ribbons because these were the official colors chosen by the founders of the Society. (In 1776 these colors were expensive and considered to be very special because they were exceedingly difficult to produce with the dyes in use at the time.) The best way to get these tokens of membership is to attend the initiation ceremony, but if you cannot attend, alternative arrangements are possible.

Chapter Awards

During the initiation ceremony we also give monetary awards to outstanding initiates to support their upcoming graduate studies. Initiates must apply for these awards, and we send instructions along with the e-mail message notifying students of their nomination. Congratulations to the award recipients in 2012, each of whom received $500.

  • Danielle Cipres
    In the fall, Danielle Cipres will begin medical school, where she currently intends to specialize in either OB/GYN or pediatrics, in either case focusing on primary care medicine. In addition to the M.D. she plans to earn a Masters in Public Health, which she can do as part of her medical training in a program that is offered at UCSF. Her motivation is a strong wish to contribute to setting public policies that will make medical services more available to underserved populations in cities. In her interactions with her patients, she wants to provide reliable information to them and serve as an effective advocate for them. She says, "Only through preventive health measures and effective education can physicians change the course of the world's health," and she intends to contribute to women's health beyond the borders of the U.S.

  • Shaina Hora
    In Fall 2012, Shaina Hora will enter a program at Stanford University that leads to a Master's in Education and a California teaching credential. Her goal is to become a secondary school teacher in English. She wants to impart her own love of learning and of literature to her students, to help them to improve their writing, and to encourage them to become skillful in their use of the English language. She hopes that she can convince her students that language is beautiful and powerful and transform the common belief that English classes are drudgery into a love of reading and using words. She reports that she, herself, has experienced some of the inequalities and injustices in our system of education, and she is inspired to help under-represented students to gain access to higher education, with the advantages it confers. She says, "It is often claimed that education is a type of social equalizer; I hope to make that statement more of a reality and make our educations system one that benefits all."

  • Stephan Leung
    Stephan Leung will begin medical school at the Pennsylvania State College of Medicine this coming Fall Quarter. He chose Penn State based on its unique program that integrates humanities into the core medical curriculum. He believes that putting medical education in a broader social context will help him to become a more compassionate and effective physician. He expects to specialize either in surgery or in emergency medicine because he likes working with his hands and prefers a fast pace. At the end of his training, he hopes to enter academic medicine so he can provide patient care, carry out research in neurophysiology, and help to educate new generations of physicians.

  • Kevin Lin
    In the Fall, Kevin Lin will enter the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. His interest in dentistry came initially from shadowing and assisting several dentists. Then he joined a 3-month humanitarian mission with the US Navy aboard the USNS Comfort, with stops in Jamaica, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Nicaragua. The mission provided medical, dental, pharmaceutical, and optometric care to people in those countries, and contributing to that effort was a very powerful experience for Kevin. After dental school he intends to specialize in oral and maxillofacial surgery, obtaining an M.D. as well as the D.M.D. He says, "Beginning this Fall, I will embark on a long and rewarding journey through a career dedicated to serving and helping those in need, one smile at a time."

  • Danielle Wang
    Danielle Wang will enter the University of California, Irvine's School of Medicine in the Fall. She reports that her interest in medicine began as a fascination with the human body. She is looking forward to opportunities provided by UCI to serve a wide variety of patients in many different hospital and clinic settings in Orange County. In addition, she hopes to volunteer in clinics outside the United States, for example, in rural China. Eventually she expects to specialize in oncology, but she remains open to falling in love with a different specialty. She says that along with her medical studies, she will continue her musical studies, playing both the piano and the cello. Finally she describes a Chinese tradition in which a child on her first birthday is offered several items — in her case, a stethoscope, a paintbrush, and a chef's hat. The expectation is that whichever object the child chooses predicts his or her future career. Danielle reports that she chose a paintbrush, but she is a terrible artist. Instead, as an adult, she confidently chooses the stethoscope.