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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 2015, each of whom received $500.

Adam Amir majored in Cell Biology and Biochemistry, and in the fall he will begin working toward a medical doctorate at Marion University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Indianapolis. He is strongly motivated in this endeavor because he lost an uncle in Baghdad as a result of inadequate medical care. In Iraq, he and his family received medical care from community clinics run by volunteer doctors because they were unable to afford standard care.

His view of healthcare is already broad. He says "From personal experience in the hospital where he volunteers and his parents' experience, he realizes the importance of accurate communication in medical diagnostics. To that end he currently volunteers as a certified medical interpreter, aiding Arabic-speaking refugees, and he will continue that service both as a medical student and as a physician. He plans to volunteer in free clinics in Indianapolis and beyond, and as a physician will mentor community healthcare organizations and provide shadowing opportunities to students. He says "I believe that my actions will not only help my patients, but somehow they will also heal me from the scars of war and bring my life to a full circle."

Ivanna Escala has majored in Physics/Astrophysics, and she will enter Cal Tech to begin work toward a Ph.D. in Astrophysics. Her research interests focus on the formation and evolution of galaxies and the small black holes that are associated with the process. She aspires to become a professor of astronomy, astrophysics, or physics, so she can continue her research and in addition teach and mentor the next generation of physicists. She is grateful to the faculty members who have helped her, and she is eager to provide the same support to her students.

Delara Fadavi majored in Bioengineering, and in the fall she will begin studies at Stanford toward a Master's degree in Management Science and Engineering. Her work in Bioengineering was inspired by the loss of her father to cancer, and with a minor in Business, she has already co-founded a startup company to develop a motion-activated device to prevent theft of laptop computers in public places. She and her partners hope to produce their device based on crowdfunding.

She is particularly inspired to participate in the development and production of medical devices that will allow children with medical conditions to live full lives, and she has already begun work in that direction through an internship at Pharmaco-Kinesis Corporation. We wish her great success in her career.

Amy Hsu is graduating with a major in Pharmacological Chemistry, and in the Fall she will begin work toward a doctorate in Pharmacy at the UCSD Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science. The motivation for this career choice has stemmed in part from a dangerous drug interaction that sent her grandmother to the hospital in serious condition. Her grandmother was able to return home after a year of hospitalization, but she was left with chronic problems that stemmed from the incident, and Amy assisted in her care, which clearly was effective because her grandma is approaching her 86th birthday. During her time at UCSD she has also had research experience in Jim Wilhelm's lab in the Division of Biological Sciences and made time for extracurricular activities such as participating in UCSD's Tzu Ching club and working in various pharmacy venues. She says "Whether I will be doing drug research or caring for patients, this degree will help me to reach my goal of touching the lives of others by bringing happiness and promoting health."

Yan Ling Anne Wong is graduating with a major in Sociology, and in the fall she will begin UC Santa Barbara's combined MA/PhD program in Sociology. She rejects simple explanations of social problems, and instead seeks to study society as a whole with interrelated and interacting players and issues. She intends to ask how individuals make life choices and how these choices stem from the individual's social background – for example, gender identity, class background, and culture. She is particularly interested in gender: how does it intersect with class and culture to shape and constrain choices? She aspires to become a professor, continuing to do research that will deepen society's understanding of social inequalities. In addition, she looks forward to teaching and raising the social awareness of her students who can change society for the better. She says "The power of one individual is very little, but together we CAN make a difference."

Joshua Young Yang graduated in June 2014 with double majors in Bioengineering and Biology, and in the fall he will begin work toward a Master's degree in Translational Medicine--a joint program between UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco. Joshua seeks to bridge the gap between basic research and the application of research results in the clinical realm. When he completes the Master's degree, he intends to enter an MD/PhD program, using his bacground in both bioengineering and translational medicine. When he completes the MD/PhD, he plans to use his education both in entrepreneurial activities and in the care of patients, and he hopes to be able to help oth ers who have not had his advantages.