Secrets of the 2014 Most Distinguished Chapter’s Success

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Members of the 2013-2014 chapter officer team from the Alpha Zeta Omicron Chapter at Cedar Valley College in Texas left their successors a detailed, 17-point list of instructions on establishing and maintaining a successful chapter. It’s good advice to follow: the Alpha Zeta Omicron Chapter was named Phi Theta Kappa’s 2014 Most Distinguished Chapter during NerdNation 2014.

Members of the Alpha Zeta Omicron Chapter on stage at NerdNation 2014

“When we were announced, I was ecstatic beyond belief,” said Toby Lasco, former chapter president. “As I went up with my chapter to receive the award, I did a mental recap of every bit of effort we invested in our chapter the previous year. I also thought about the fact that this is undoubtedly the greatest accomplishment any of us had achieved thus far in our lives.”

The core of Alpha Zeta Omicron’s success lies in the development of its chapter officer team. The team is elected in April and takes office in May of each year. Two retreats are planned, during which officers participate in leadership development and team-building activities. The team also uses resources from Phi Theta Kappa to set its calendar and begin planning its year.

“We take the Five Star Chapter Plan, the Honors Study Topic Guide, the Leadership textbook and the Chapter Leaders’ Guide to Success,” said Dr. Tommy Thompson, currently serving his 23rd year as chapter advisor. “There’s so much information out there. Every chapter officer and chapter advisor needs to have these materials at their fingertips if they really want to see what they can do.”

The team jumps right into the planning and research phases of its Honors in Action and College Projects. An initial topic is chosen, questions are developed and research on those questions is completed in July. Before the fall semester begins, a topic is refined and selected, and the first week of August is spent creating and planning the action step. The action step or event is implemented by the end of September.

Writing for the Hallmark Award essay questions is done throughout the project, with a first draft completed in August. The team will go through 10 or 12 drafts of their Hallmark Awards applications before submitting a final. To keep up with and encourage writing and note taking along the way, each officer is given a notebook when they are installed.

“If you’re not journaling and taking notes, then it’s like trying to pull a research paper together at the last minute,” Thompson said. “It’s just not going to work.”

The chapter has also found success through its attendance of regional and international events. Chapter officers, members and advisors attend and present at educational forums during the events. They have attended the Phi Theta Kappa Academy immediately prior to Annual Convention, and they regularly send at least one chapter officer to Honors Institute.

“Honors Institute is something we greatly value,” Thompson said. “It’s very important to get that perspective on the Honors Study Topic.

“If you don’t go to the events, then you’re falling behind. You’re not learning. We learn as we go, and we grow over the year. Through participating like this, we have really seen the value of Phi Theta Kappa and the Phi Theta Kappa Experience.”

Each of the chapter’s officers were Five Star Competitive Edge members, an accomplishment that both Thompson and the 2013-14 officer team believe helped the chapter’s success. In fact, points 11 and 12 on the list of advice for new officers recommend reaching the Three Star Level in mid-July and the Five Star Level by early October.

The winning Alpha Zeta Omicron officer team — which also received a Distinguished Chapter Officer Team Award — also urges its successors to read the chapter bylaws, learn to delegate, learn to work autonomously and to get to know each other.

“I believe one of the aspects that set my chapter apart from others was the unity of our officer team,” said John MacLean, Alpha Zeta Omicron’s former vice president of leadership. “As the year passed, we developed friendships, making the time we spent together on projects a lot of fun.

“Nothing can be worse than pursuing a team goal with a bunch of people you hardly know. Never forget to have fun.”

The Alpha Zeta Omicron Chapter received the following Hallmark Awards during NerdNation 2014 in Orlando, Florida:

  • 2014 Most Distinguished Chapter
  • Distinguished Chapter
  • Distinguished Theme Award – Honors in Action: Theme 1 – It’s All in Your Mind: Foundations of Competition/Competition and Psychology
  • Distinguished Honors in Action Project Award
  • Distinguished College Project Award
  • Distinguished Chapter Officer Team Award
  • Top 100 Chapter