Choir! Choir! Choir!: Leadership, Community and Music

Prepare to spend the next few hours online watching a choir sing.

Choir! Choir! Choir! is coming to the 2016 Honors Institute at Wake Forest University; and if the performances on their YouTube channel are any indication, it’s going to be epic.

The brainchild of Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman, Choir! Choir! Choir! began as a weekly drop-in singing event in 2011. They now meet twice a week in the back room of Clinton’s Tavern in Toronto, Canada. It’s a no-commitment choir that anyone is allowed to join at any time.

Participants pay $5, get sorted into “highs, mediums and lows” and then receive lyrics for their parts. Over the course of a few hours, Goldman and Adilman teach the singers a new arrangement of a popular song, which they perform at the end of the night in three-part harmony.

A 2013 Globe and Mail article described the experience as “both a live concert and a social experiment, blurring the line between audience and performer.”

The choir has covered songs like “Hello” by Adele, “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd, “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor and “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles. Upon hearing the news of Prince’s recent death, C!C!C! invited 1,999 singers to Massey Hall in Toronto for a moving rendition of “When Doves Cry.”

Just prior to that, they joined the “Music Of” David Bowie tribute concerts held at Carnegie Hall in New York City in early April and led the audience — and star-studded guests like Debbie Harry, Sean Lennon and Mumford and Sons — in a cover of “Space Oddity.”

Adilman wrote about the experience in a diary piece for the Toronto Star: “It’s difficult to describe the power of the moment, but both Daveed and I felt like we were floating, powered by all the voices.”

C!C!C! was inspired by Goldman’s trip to Salta, Northern Argentina, where he and his girlfriend stumbled upon a local peña — a kind of community gathering place. She suggested he start one in Toronto.

“When people come to choir, they’re having this experience that they could never ever, ever get on their phone or their laptop,” he said in a 2014 interview with Co.Create. “You can download many things in this world, but it would be very hard to download the experience you get by interacting with strangers and singing a beautiful song.”

C!C!C!’s performances have taken them across North America. At Honors Institute, they’ll share how they turned a casual gathering into an empire; how they mobilize a membership of thousands; and how they’re able to teach complicated songs in a matter of hours using drive, enthusiasm and talent to encourage teamwork.

The presentation is the 2016 Cordier Lecture, which commemorates the late June Cordier, the charter advisor of the Theta Omega Chapter at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago. Cordier helped develop the idea of Honors Institute.

This will be no ordinary general session. You’ll leave thinking about the power of leadership, collaboration and community. And yes, you’ll also learn a new song. Reserve your spot today so you don’t miss this one-of-a-kind experience.

The deadline to register for Honors Institute is May 27.

Stephanie Coontz: Love and Marriage

Four rules for a happy and lasting union:
1. Everything you know about marriage is wrong.
2. Define what marriage means for you and your partner.
3. You need to communicate and negotiate.
4. Marriage has to be based on friendship and mutual respect.

Stephanie Coontz outlined these four points in an interview with Business Insider in 2015. She will share these tidbits and more when she speaks during the 2016 Honors Institute at Wake Forest University.

Coontz is the Director of Research and Public Education at the Council on Contemporary Families, she teaches at The Evergreen State College in Washington, and she literally wrote the book on marriage: Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.

“Today marriage is, above all, a relationship,” she said in the article. “What makes it a good relationship is that you can enter it or not; you get to choose. You get to change your mind.”

This will mark Coontz’s second appearance at Honors Institute. She has addressed audiences across America, Japan and Europe and has appeared on such television programs as the “Today” show, “PBS News Hour,” “The Colbert Report,” “CBS This Morning” and more.

Through the course of her career, she has written numerous books that have changed the conversation on marriage and families: A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s; The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap; The Way We Really Are: Coming to Terms with America’s Changing Families; and The Social Origins of Private Life: A History of American Families.

Coontz has also testified about her research before the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families in Washington, D.C.

“Really, in the last 40 years, we have started to develop, for the first time, a marriage where people come to it with equal legal rights and increasingly with the social expectation that they will negotiate their marriage in ways that fit their individuality, not their assigned gender roles,” she said in Business Insider.”

Want more? Check out Coontz’s PopTech presentation.

Save your spot — and save some money — by registering for Honors Institute by May 13 for the early bird rate. Regular registration ends May 27. Register today!

Meet the 2016-2017 International Officers

We’re thrilled to introduce you to your 2016-2017 International Officers. These five members were elected by their peers at NerdNation 2016 to serve in this highest position of leadership available to Phi Theta Kappa members.

They’ll be presiding over the 2016 Honors Institute at Wake Forest University in North Carolina in June, and you’ll likely meet at least one of them at a regional meeting at some point throughout the coming year. So let’s get to know them better.

Andrew Porter
International President

Andrew Porter joined the United States Army Reserve in 2009. In 2011, he spent nine months on a tour of duty in Iraq, where he received both the Army Commendation Medal and the Army Achievement Medal.

“My experience was challenging, but I wouldn’t change it because it enabled me to learn meaningful life lessons, as well as to understand the value of education and leadership,” he said. “Self-improvement is important to me, and I view education as the chief component of self-improvement.”

Porter enrolled at Valencia College’s East Campus in Florida and became a member of the Alpha Gamma Omega Chapter in 2015. He later served as Vice President of Scholarship.

“I wanted to surround myself with students who are academically driven,” he said. “I believe that whom you surround yourself with influences who you become.”

Porter sought International Office because he wanted to positively impact as many Phi Theta Kappa members as possible — he is passionate about spreading word of the opportunities available to members and non-members alike. He also saw the office as a unique opportunity to develop essential leadership skills.

As he walked toward the stage at NerdNation 2016 to be installed as the new International President, Porter thought of those who supported and believed in him. He reminded himself of those who voted for him, and he thought of the other candidates who were just as qualified as he to fill this position. He silently vowed to not let them down in the year ahead.

“Many times in life, for whatever reason, we hold ourselves back from trying something,” he said. “Believe in yourself, take the opportunity and stay determined by reminding yourself why you do the things you do.”

Sara Hwang
International Vice President, Division 1

Sara Hwang was born in Santiago, Chile. Upon finishing high school in 2011, she enrolled in Bergen Community College in New Jersey; but as one of the main providers for her family, she left after three semesters.

Hwang returned to Bergen in 2013. She became a member of the Alpha Epsilon Phi Chapter to boost her resume — she had no intention of becoming an active member. Her induction ceremony changed that, and she later served as Vice President of Operations and then President of her chapter.

“A small group of students was making such an impact on the community,” she said. “I wanted to take an active part in a community that embraced each other in our pursuit for academic success.”

Hwang has overcome her shyness, formed lasting friendships with her fellow students and received the confidence boost she needed to see that she could accomplish more than she ever believed. She said she has grown as a “scholar-servant leader” and is eager to help others do so as well.

“Phi Theta Kappa is an organization that looks at your successes despite all of the obstacles a student has faced,” she said. “By becoming a member and getting involved in Phi Theta Kappa, we have a chance to grow academically, personally and professionally not only individually, but as a team.”

Ashlynne Banks
International Vice President, Division 2

Phi Theta Kappa is a family affair for Ashlynne Banks. Her mother, Dawneen, has been involved with the Society since Ashlynne was 7 years old, so she has seen first-hand the impact membership can have on someone’s life.

Banks grew up in Colorado. Her school had a Deaf and Hard of Hearing program, exposing her to students who were deaf. She learned the basics of American Sign Language in the fourth grade and enjoys using those skills to help others when she can.

Banks’ first shot at college — a four-year university in Colorado — was not good. She felt isolated.

“I really lost my love for learning,” she said.

Hoping for a fresh start, Banks moved to Mississippi and enrolled at Holmes Community College’s Ridgeland Campus. She jumped headfirst into the Alpha Lambda Sigma Chapter in February 2016.

Banks has found the “Phi Theta Kappa culture” to be the best thing for her education. She has found peers and advisors to encourage her and fuel her ambitions, and she has made lasting connections and friendships.

“Everything you put into the Society you will get back tenfold,” she said. “You will learn so many things, meet incredible people and grow in every way. You just have to jump in with expectations of greatness.”

Sydney Pemberton
International Vice President, Division 3

Sydney Pemberton had no plans to join any kind of student organization at Labette Community College in Kansas. She had been in several clubs and had served on multiple committees in high school, and she was ready to slow down. But a friend’s enthusiasm for Phi Theta Kappa grew her interest, and she soon became a member of the Tau Theta Chapter.

“I’m glad I joined because I have grown so much as a person and have been able to make a difference on my campus and in my community through this organization,” she said. “I have vast amounts of confidence that I would not have found if it wasn’t for Phi Theta Kappa.”

Pemberton was an officer in her chapter before being elected to chapter president. She also just completed her term as Kansas-Nebraska Region Southern District Vice President.

In her leadership roles, she often shares her personal experiences with fellow members and encourages their participation on both the chapter and regional levels.

“This is not just your regular honor society; this organization is so much more,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to join a family of people just like yourself who want to grow and learn as individuals.

“This honor society can change your outlook on life and give you opportunities to succeed that maybe you don’t know you have.”

Alexa Greer
International Vice President, Division 4

Alexa Greer didn’t seek International Office because she thought she’d be a good leader. In fact, it was quite the opposite: she didn’t think she would ever be a good leader.

“All year, I’ve really pushed myself to get to the root of that self-doubt and re-examine what being a leader means to me,” she said. “Phi Theta Kappa really helped to illuminate my unique leadership abilities, and it kind of forced me to re-evaluate the way I perceive myself.

“In my mind, running for this position just seemed like such a monumental way to kind of force that negativity out of my life.”

Greer recently completed her first associate degree from Coconino Community College in Arizona. She will continue to take classes there throughout her term in office.

For Greer, Phi Theta Kappa has set the stage for personal growth. In her freshman year, she had difficulty reaching out and making friends at her college. Upon joining the Beta Gamma Chi Chapter, the fellowship aspect of the Society began to take shape, and community service projects helped round out her college experience.

“I feel like Phi Theta Kappa is full of people to connect with and lean on,” she said. “I think Phi Theta Kappa can play a huge role in helping members to become the highest versions of themselves.”

Forget the Sky — Space is the Limit

The death of her mother, the birth of her son, a complicated living situation, being the sole provider for her family — Nicole Schoenstein overcame many obstacles to enroll in Atlantic Cape Community College in New Jersey.

Schoenstein excelled there, serving as president of the Alpha Delta Mu Chapter and as the New Jersey State President in the Middle States Region. She learned about the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) and was interested in learning more about science and space.

As a psychology major with no STEM background, she didn’t think she’d be able to compete with the other students in the program. She thought about dropping out but ultimately stayed in and earned a perfect score on every assignment in the course’s online portion.

“I tell you these things to spread this message: stay the course,” she said. “NCAS is challenging and requires time management skills, but the payoff is enormous.”

Schoenstein’s story was recently featured on the NCAS website.

She was one of 48 students selected to participate in the on-site portion of the NCAS program at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama in 2011. She then co-led a multi-state team to participate in the Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program.

Next, Schoenstein collaborated with a team member to develop an outreach program for K-12 students in underserved communities. An internship offer at Johnson Space Center in Texas with the Office of Education followed.

“[This] internship was life-changing,” she said. “I woke up each day wanting to come to work, which I think is saying something.”

Schoenstein went on to complete internships with the Flight Crew Integration team and the Operational Habitability team. She recently received a job offer from both teams and will begin this fall as a full-time employee. She is currently a student at Stockton University in New Jersey.

Read the full story.

Heads Up Phi Theta Kappa

Community college funding is not a new conversation. Long before the national banter surrounding the Heads Up America and America’s College Promise free community college initiatives began, political leaders, community members and educators were in boardrooms discussing ways to fill the gaps between dwindling budgets and rising costs. Most often, the solution was to pass the costs along to the people who were most in need — the students.

Before becoming the CEO of Phi Theta Kappa, I spent my career in and around community colleges —first as an instructor and most recently as a community college researcher. During those years, I was involved in numerous conversations with college leaders about filling institutional gaps created between differences in funding and enrollment. Although the math was simple, it was a calculation that I never wanted to do — project enrollment revenue and subtract all other funding sources. The result, sometimes a deficit of millions of dollars, was left to be passed along to students by way of tuition increases.

The community college mission is as much about providing opportunity as it is about education. Although he isn’t here to ask, I believe that creating opportunity was at the center of Senator Claiborne Pell’s fight to establish Pell Grants for low-income students. When Pell Grants were originally established, they covered a much higher percentage of tuition, leaving students with some amount of cushion to cover the other costs associated with being a student — things like childcare, housing and food.

Today, the cost of education has risen so much that the opposite is in effect, leaving many students unable to cover the cost of community college tuition, much less the cost of living. More than half of students drop out altogether, never fully grasping the opportunity that is the foundation of the community college mission. The students who do graduate are often saddled with student loan debt from which they will never recover.

Although this national conversation about community college access through promise programs appears to be about free community college, it is not. It is, instead, about the cost of education in this country. Like the cost of healthcare, the cost of education is a problem that requires creative solutions. We must begin to look at funding differently, finding new ways to bring together the educational, political and philanthropic interests of our communities and our country.

There are more than 27 promise programs and many other promise-like subsidies for students. I predict that promise programs will take a very long time to scale and will not, in the near future, reach a point of federal mandate. Instead, they will continue to be grassroots efforts in colleges, communities, schools and states that are taking a serious look at what community colleges can do for students, communities and the economy. In states, it takes governors and college and business leaders willing to partner on employment initiatives. In cities, it takes mayors. On community college campuses, it takes college presidents, working with faculty, staff and students to generate stories and outcomes compelling enough to generate additional conversation surrounding this complex issue.

In the same way that community colleges were founded on creating opportunity, so was Phi Theta Kappa. Opportunity is at the center of our mission and everything we do. Giving our student leaders a seat at the table as a part of this important national conversation is yet another opportunity for our students to create meaningful change in the lives of other community college students — which will in turn create positive change in our country. I believe that, in many ways, the answer lies with you, the members of Phi Theta Kappa. I know this because, as President and CEO, I have a front-row seat to the impactful work of our chapters. I believe that Phi Theta Kappa members have been solving important problems and adding value to their colleges and communities for nearly a century, yet we are faced with a new challenge — changing outcomes for future community college students who are seeking the same opportunity that brought you to the door of your community college.

Use your collective voices, your creativity and your unique perspectives and experience to inform your communities that the investment in a community college student is a wise one. Heads Up Phi Theta Kappa!

Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner is the President and CEO of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. To reach Lynn, contact Cassie Bryant, Special Projects Coordinator and Executive Assistant to the President and CEO, at

Dr. Paul Stoltz Finds Plenty of GRIT at NerdNation 2016

Dr. Paul Stoltz admits it — he got schooled on GRIT at NerdNation 2016, Phi Theta Kappa’s annual convention.

Stoltz was the keynote speaker in the First General Session of NerdNation, which was held April 7-9 in National Harbor, Maryland. He recently shared his takeaways in a blog post for Pearson Higher Education.

From his post: “Feeling a little blah lately? I’ve got the perfect antidote. Go to a Phi Theta Kappa gathering! Trust me. It will cure what ails you, and probably boost both your faith in humanity and your outlook for the future, along the way.”

Stoltz is considered the world’s leading authority on the science and method of measuring and strengthening GRIT. He’s been featured in the world’s top media, and his chief priority is applying his experience and research to students in their first year of college.

Pearson, a NerdNation sponsor and Phi Theta Kappa partner, sponsored Stoltz’s presentation.

In the post, Stoltz recounts conversations he had at NerdNation with various Phi Theta Kappa members about the challenges they have overcome and continue to face in their educational pursuit. And, he says those conversations and the experience overall reminded him that GRIT is “not a matter of personal circumstance, wealth or privilege.”

“Rather, it is a core trait in all of us that some people can harness and grow to achieve their dreams and to rise to new levels of success and accomplishment,” he wrote. “The world is looking brighter because of what (Phi Theta Kappa members) bring.”

Read more, and learn more about Dr. Paul Stoltz.

Honors Institute to Offer Special Regional Officer Training

New at the 2016 Honors Institute is a Regional Officers Track that will focus on the officers’ extraordinary leadership role in Phi Theta Kappa. The training provided by Headquarters staff to International Officers will serve as the model for this track.

All Regional Officers registered for Honors Institute will be automatically registered for this special training.

“While every region has regional officers, training of these officers varies widely,” said Jennifer Stanford, Phi Theta Kappa’s Chief Student Engagement Officer. “One goal of our 2015-2016 International Officer Team was to enhance Regional Officer development Society-wide and base it on the training they receive as International Officers.”

The track will take place on Tuesday and Friday afternoons, 2:30-5 p.m., during Honors Institute, June 20-25 at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. See the full schedule.

Sessions will focus on setting regional goals that align with Phi Theta Kappa’s overarching goals. Topics will include leading workshops on Phi Theta Kappa programming; public speaking etiquette such as introducing speakers, presiding at regional meetings and speaking at chapter inductions; building effective awareness campaigns to increase diversity in membership; and more.

“I really want them to be prepared to lead their local chapters in a way that embraces the unique cultures of their campuses while still integrating international programming,” said Josh Reid, Associate Director of Regional and Chapter Development for Division 2.

A full training agenda will be shared with Regional Coordinators in the coming weeks.

“We hope our regional officers will take advantage of this two-in-one event giving them a full immersion in our Honors Study Topic and Honors in Action program while also equipping them with tools to be more effective leaders for their regions,” Stanford said.

Check out the full lineup of Honors Institute speakers. Early bird registration ends May 13, and regular registration ends May 27. Hurry — space is limited. Register today!

5 Ways to Achieve a School-Life Balance

Editor’s Note: This blog post has been submitted by Strayer University. Strayer is a valued partner and is a regular sponsor of Phi Theta Kappa’s Annual Convention.

We get it. You want to do it, but finding the time is hard. You’ve got your job, maybe even kids, friends, a home, responsibilities — sometimes, all you want to do is absolutely nothing for just one day.

We’ve been there, so we thought we’d share some tips on how you can break down the barriers you’re facing and make your college degree possible.

1. Transfer Credits

Transfer credits can go a long way in shortening how many classes you need to complete to earn your degree. Check with your admissions office to see if your community college has transfer alliances with any four-year universities near you — and see if any of your available transfer credit processes take into account relevant work experience.

Bottom line: a little research can help you save both time and money.

2. Online and On-Campus Resources

If you need help with a class, resources are available. Many community colleges offer tutoring services through on-campus learning centers and libraries. For online students, extensive course videos, discussion boards, study materials and more are often available online if you only ask your professor for some guidance.

Bottom line: seek resources so your online education can be an interactive and collaborative experience.

3. Success Coaches

Every student at Strayer University is assigned a personal Success Coach. Their responsibility is to connect you to life and educational resources to help you along the path to obtaining your degree. Success Coaches also act as an advisor to help you work through any difficulties and provide emotional and moral support.

Some community colleges — and even Phi Theta Kappa chapters — take a mentorship approach, matching incoming freshmen with upperclassmen to help them navigate life on campus.

Bottom line: create a support system by seeking out others in your field who have similar goals, or utilize your Phi Theta Kappa chapter advisor as a shoulder to lean on.

4. iCampus

As more community college students embrace an online learning environment, campuses are moving to make services and resources available online as well. At Strayer, it’s achieved through iCampus, the university’s proprietary learning portal. Registering for courses, attending class, completing and submitting assignments, connecting with other students, taking tests — it’s all done through iCampus.

Bottom line: check with your registrar’s office to see what online services exist to make your college life more convenient.

5. Flexibility, Flexibility, Flexibility

On-campus learning on the evenings and weekends, or online classes anywhere, at any time — community colleges are adapting to fit your needs, giving you the flexibility to create a schedule that works for you. As long as you have an Internet connection, you can study and learn from almost anywhere.

Bottom line: you’re busy, and you need a schedule with some wiggle room. Talk to your registrar, your transfer advisors and your professors to see how they can help.

Some Parting Advice

Keep in mind that, in the beginning, getting a college education will seem like a lot. But as time progresses, the more you take advantage of the resources available to you and engage with your peers, it will get easier. You’ll adapt to your schedule in no time and gain the confidence to finish your degree.

Learn more about Strayer University.

PTK Members Focus of Cengage Study

Cengage Learning surveyed nearly 100 Phi Theta Kappa members during NerdNation 2015 in San Antonio, Texas, to learn more about the goals, study habits and challenges of honor students. The findings were recently published in a White Paper, A Frontline Look at Phi Theta Kappans’ Goals, Challenges, and Habits.

“Improving the student experience begins with a deep understanding of how students live and learn,” said Lori Schoenenberger, Senior Market Research Manager at Cengage Learning.

Survey respondents ranged from 17 to 66 years old and expressed a “desire for self-improvement and career satisfaction.” The survey also highlighted the integral role smartphones play in the students’ lives and shed light on the challenges members are facing — time management, balancing school, work and family obligations, and financing their education.

“Accepting that I can do it is my challenge,” one respondent said. “I am older than the other students. I have to work full time compared to a lot of my fellow students. I have a family. So I have to balance it all, and I have to tell people I can do it.”

The White Paper covers students’ responses on topics like note taking, procrastination, productive studying, what they like about school and what they like best about being members of Phi Theta Kappa. The conclusion? Phi Theta Kappa members’ study habits and challenges are the same as everyone else’s. But, there was one difference noted:

“At the same time, they demonstrate enthusiasm for, and dedication to, learning and personal development that is evidenced by their high grades and graduation rates as well as their focused career goals.”

Learn more, and read the White Paper (you must enter your email address for access).