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About Phi Beta Kappa at UC San Diego

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 286 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.

Phi Beta Kappa in San Diego

The chapter at UC San Diego 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 hundreds of faculty and staff who were initiated as college students, although fewer than that actively participate in chapter activities. Executive Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Elizabeth Simmons is one of those resident members. We also have honorary members, including Harold Urey (Urey Hall) and Irwin Jacobs (the Jacobs School of Engineering).

Excerpt from PBK Sigma Chapter of California Charter. Text reads: Members of PBK Greeting. Whereas, the liberal principles of our Society should not be confined to any particular place, Men or Description of Men, but should be extended to the wise and virtuous of whatever community; Whereas, we, the Members of PBK, as a body dedicated from its very founding the historic year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-six at the College of William and Mary in Virginia to the ideal of excellence in scholarship in the liberal arts and sciences, are willing and desirous to propagate the Society in praiseworthy institutions of higher learning; and Whereas, we are satisfied that you are inspired by an unquenchable desire that your institution be added to the notable company which enjoy the recognition of PBK, and we have carefully determined that your institution is possessed of the character and standing which make it particularly worthy of admittance into this association and friendship; Therefore, by virtue of resolution duly adopted by our representatives in the thirty-first triennial Council of the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa, we have decreed the establishment at this time of a chapter of PBK in the University of California at San Diego in the State of California, to be known as Sigma of California.