Following the Voyage of the Hōkūle’a

Amidst the modern-day cruise ships and shipping freighters making their way up and down the Atlantic seaboard is a small Polynesian canoe that looks as if it was plucked from history centuries ago and set into the ocean by some marvel of time travel.

This is the Hōkūle’a, a double-hulled sailing canoe built by the Polynesian Voyaging Society in the 1970s. It has in fact been pulled from the pages of history — more than 600 years had passed since a canoe like this had last been seen.

Canoes like this had once brought the first Polynesians to the Hawaiian Islands. Today, the Hōkūle’a is circling the globe on a three-year journey to bring awareness of the need to “Malama Honua” (Care for Earth) and to sustain the islands and oceans of the world.

The Alpha Kappa Iota Chapter at Honolulu Community College in Hawaii has been following the voyage of the Hōkūle’a for the last three years as its Honors in Action Project.

“Many of our chapter members and leaders, especially those of Native Hawaiian ancestry, share their common personal values of Aloha (Love) and Malama (Care) for our Honua (Earth) and our peoples and communities — values rooted in Hawaiian and other cultures,” chapter co-advisor Rob Edmondson said. “They feel the need to restore the balance of nature in our lives in the face of rapid urbanization on our islands.

“They want to help Hōkūle’a share this message of Malama Honua with other peoples across planet Earth.”

In 2013, Alpha Kappa Iota chapter leaders were studying the cultivation of taro and how sustainable taro production might be restored in Hawaii as part of their Honors in Action Project. They participated in A Lo’i Kalo Community Work Day, during which they worked in the taro fields in the Kahana Valley.

As they broke for a picnic lunch at the Kahana Beach Park, they saw the Hōkūle’a anchored just offshore. They swam out and toured the canoe, which was preparing for its journey around the world.

As the 2014 Honors Study Topic, Frontiers and Spirit of Exploration, was introduced, chapter leaders found a way to expand their work of preserving Native Hawaiian cultural values through the Hōkūle’a’s upcoming voyage.

“Our Honors in Action Project for 2014 focused on the spirit of exploration that propel past Hawaiian voyagers and Hōkūle’a’s current crew to embark on a world-wide three-year voyage, visiting 27 nations and carrying its message of Malama Honua,” advisor Lena Low said. “Our Honors in Action Project for 2015 focused on the message of Hōkūle’a’s world-wide voyage: Malama Honua. We undertook several recycling and other environmental projects.”

Chapter members also interviewed faculty members and students on their involvement with the Hōkūle’a, including those who were experts in the ancient art of “wayfinding” — navigating without the use of modern instruments but instead relying on the winds, stars, waves and other cues from nature. Crewmembers are using wayfinding to navigate the Hōkūle’a on its worldwide voyage.

The Hōkūle’a is no stranger to Honolulu Community College. Following several voyages in the Pacific Ocean after it was built in the 1970s, the canoe was restored and housed at the college’s Marine Education Center. Several students and faculty members helped re-fit and launch the canoe in May 2014, and some have sailed on parts of the journey around the world.

“Many of our students have learned the value of participating with others in working to Malama Honua and that it will require the wills and actions of all of us individually and collectively to Malama Honua,” Edmondson said.

The Hōkūle’a is currently docked in New York through June 18, when it will depart for several engagements in the New England area. By the end of its journey, it will have covered more than 60,000 nautical miles, stopped in 100 ports and visited 27 nations.

More than 200 volunteer crewmembers have helped sail Hōkūle’a, and as of the end of April the worldwide voyage had reached more than 47,000 people.

“We hope our students will achieve a broader perspective on our interconnected world and how the traditional values of native people can help restore balance to the oceans and islands of our planet,” Low said. “We hope our students understand that it will take the collective efforts of all of us in every community in every nation to preserve and pass on the limited resources and the joyful beauty of our Planet Earth to future generations.”

Learn more about the Hōkūle’a and follow its journey.

Doing More to Help Latino Students Succeed

Sarita Brown was the first in her family to go to college, and she knew how fortunate she was. She found her calling 30 years ago when, as a student at the University of Texas at Austin, she collaborated with others to build a national model promoting minority success in graduate education.

“Back then, we believed that demographics and self-interest would compel the educational system to adapt to capture the talents of the young and growing Latino community,” she said. “I was wrong.”

In 2004 she founded Excelencia in Education, which uses data and examples of effective efforts to compel institutions and supports to take action to help today’s Latino students thrive in college, the workforce and society. Brown says census data released in 2000 seemed to kick-start the conversation about the growing Latino population and what that means for education.

“But it’s not enough to keep talking about it,” she said. “We need to act with intention and purpose.”

Brown and her team led an Educational Forum during NerdNation 2016 on just that — how community colleges can be more intentional in developing and nurturing the Latino population on their campuses and accelerating college success rates for Latino students.

Some quick facts from Excelencia in Education’s research:

  • If the United States is to regain the top ranking in the world for college degree attainment, Latinos will need to earn 5.5 million more degrees by 2020.
  • Latinos account for 17 percent of the U.S. population, but only 20 percent of Latino adults have earned an associate degree or higher, compared to 36 percent of all adults.
  • In 2012, 46 percent of Latinos in higher education were enrolled in community colleges, and that number is expected to increase by 27 percent through 2022.
  • Over half of Latino students at two-year colleges need remediation.

“Helping Latino students thrive and succeed in education isn’t just about equity — it’s about the nation’s economic future,” Brown said.

Excelencia in Education keeps a searchable database, “Growing What Works,” that recognizes and catalogues programs and institutions that are leading the way for success among Latino students. Here are two examples of programs that work.

The Early College High School Program, South Texas College

This program, which was recognized as an Example of Excelencia in 2015, targets potential first-generation college students from low socio-economic backgrounds while they’re still in high school and provides them with the tools and support they may need to succeed in college.

Ninth and 10th grade students are allowed to prepare for college-level work; and then in their 11th and 12th grade years, they can take dual-enrollment courses, giving them a head start on their college degree.

As of 2015, roughly 6,000 students were successfully enrolled in college coursework, and 98 percent of them were Hispanic. Since the program began in 2010, 1,431 students have graduated with associate degrees.

“The partnerships are making great strides in closing the education gap,” Brown said. “This additional college preparation, support and guidance are practices that meet the needs of Latino students, and it starts early.”

The Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services Program (LARES), the University of Illinois at Chicago

This program received an Example of Excelencia award in 2014. LARES has been developing innovative recruitment and retention strategies since 1975.

The program forms partnerships with grammar schools, public and private high schools, city and community colleges and social service and community agencies to facilitate access to college. It also offers academic advising, financial aid, scholarship assistance, tutoring, graduate school preparation and a student and parent orientation.

In addition, the LARES program provides educational opportunities for students to improve their college-level skills in math, reading, writing and critical thinking, all while developing leadership skills.

In the last decade alone, the University of Illinois at Chicago has seen its freshman Latino enrollment increase by 80 percent.

“These kinds of recruitment and retainment strategies help close the gap and encourage more Latino students to earn their degrees,” Brown said.

Phi Theta Kappa will serve as a sponsor of Examples of Excelencia 2016, a national initiative that recognizes and promotes programs at community-based organizations and institutions supporting Latino student success.

It’s Okay to Say ‘PTK’

In official publications, ceremonies, events and training seminars, our name is Phi Theta Kappa. It is important to use the complete name, but it is also okay to say “PTK” in many contexts.


Of course it is preferable to say “Phi Theta Kappa” and just okay to say “PTK” — for reasons I will explain — but as a community of scholars who value things like teaching, learning, tolerance and inclusivity, I believe we have to accept that “PTK” is okay and stop vilifying anyone who says it.

To me, it is NOT disrespectful when someone in or out of the honor society uses “PTK” rather than Phi Theta Kappa. The person in question may in fact love and believe in the organization’s spirit and know little about the reasons we use Greek letters, or what the Greek letters stand for, or what those Greek words mean. But they know what’s important to the organization: high academic standards, leadership, service and meaningful, scholarly gatherings.

As I heard someone say recently, “Aren’t we glad they know who we are and what we are about?” Exactly. Think of PTK as a nickname. Nicknames do not always clearly connect to the full, original name of a person or thing, but they are learnable or catchy or memorable and somehow make sense for those who use them.

Take, for example, using “Polly” for “Margaret.”

Polly’s “real” name is Margaret, and PTK’s real name is Phi Theta Kappa. If someone wants to know more about Polly’s name, she may have the time to explain and be happy to do it. If someone wants to know more about PTK’s name, those of us who know more about it may have the time to explain and should be happy to do it. But gasping or booing is not the way to prompt someone to ask. Doesn’t that start the conversation on a rather poor note?

We can take a decidedly more scholarly approach than chalking it up to the tendency for people to shorten names and come up with nicknames, though. The main argument against saying “PTK” is that the Roman letters of “P,” “T” and “K” have nothing to do with the name of the organization, which comes from the Greek letters beginning the Greek words φρόνηση, θυμός, καθαρότηταwords for the values the founders wanted to guide the organization and form the basis of its name. So that is why it’s preferable to say “φθκ.”

But how do people who use the Roman system of letters, perhaps friends or prospective members, know how to pronounce those letters? Unless they want to take lessons in Greek that include learning the Greek letters and spellings and pronunciations for the letters and words using the Greek letters, they Romanize the words.

The practice of “Romanizing,” or transliteration from one system of letters or characters to the Roman system, has been around for a long time and has protocols that are agreed to by linguists, national governments and even world organizations such as the United Nations. Transliterations go both directions for many different systems of letters and characters.

From the beginning, our organization’s founders referred to the Romanized Greek words — phronimon, thumos, katharotes rather than φρόνηση, θυμός, καθαρότητα — and to the words in English — wisdom, aspiration, purity — probably because even fewer people can read and translate Greek in the Greek letters than can translate and read Greek in the Roman letters.

If using an acronym is efficient, or even a linguistic habit for us, and φθκ is unrecognizable to many who aren’t already members or advisors for the organization, what would the alternative be? Should we use the acronym that results from using the English words, wisdom, aspiration and purity, “WAP”? That would take us further away from the history of the organization as one named with Greek words in mind and using a model established by academic societies long, long ago.

This table makes it easier to see that “PTK” actually makes sense as a nickname since it is the letters that would be used from a standard transliteration of the ancient, mystic, Greek words.

Greek words in Greek letters

Greek 1st letters

Greek words transliterated to Roman letters

Roman 1st letters













As nicknames go, it clearly makes more sense than many do (my Uncle Pee Wee would agree!). I like Phi Theta Kappa’s nickname. It’s okay to say “PTK.”

This post was written by Monika Byrd, Phi Theta Kappa’s Dean of Leadership Development and Service Learning, and was originally published in 2010.

Don’t Just Check Boxes — Transform Your College Experience

I first became familiar with the idea of something being “transactional” in an economics class. There, it was defined as an exchange of goods or services between parties — the act of doing business. When I think of today’s community colleges and the students who attend them, I believe that for many, and particularly for part-time students, their interactions with the college are highly transactional.

While it may be a generalization or an oversimplification, my observation and my somewhat unscientific hypothesis is that these students are largely focused on the checking off of boxes and little more — complete my FAFSA (check), pay my tuition (check), register for classes (check), complete my coursework (check) — repeat until complete.

The problem is that most students who start don’t complete college. And it is these students who engage only in the business of college, and little more, who are most at risk of falling through the cracks. Yes, there are other factors that explain why students do not complete college — under-preparedness comes to mind. But after teaching developmental education for nearly a decade of my life, I have seen a large sample of students considered to be “not college ready” overcome their lack of prior learning and go on to complete college. These students, like many, are juggling life’s responsibilities such as work and family, to name a few. For that reason, their ability to truly engage in activities that both enrich the community college experience and provide a support system to the student is limited.

As a mathematician and statistician, my job is to notice patterns, and what I’ve noticed about community college students is that completion has less to do with IQ and more to do with digging deeper into their community college experience. Students who move past the transactional business of being a college student and immerse themselves in the transformational experiences that happen outside the classroom are more likely to reach their goals. The magic happens when students begin to engage with students, instructors and the institution in meaningful ways.

The word “engagement” carries such formality. It almost sounds as if you have to marry school to be successful — not true. But some relationship rules do apply. To have a truly successful community college experience, you must make time and room for the things that matter. Professors love to talk to their students — it is what they live for, so call them. Make friends with other students, regardless of your student status. You do not have to be a full-time student to have friends on campus. Transactional students rarely even know what building they are in, but transformed students not only know the hours of the learning center, they know the names of the best tutors. The network is there, you just have to tap into it.

Not everyone agrees with me. Some experts say that today’s community college students don’t have the time or resources to spend meaningful time on their campuses. I reject that. While I have never seen a community college student that has an abundance of time or money, I believe them to resourceful and fully capable of having deep learning experiences, both inside and outside the classroom.

Through my life I have observed that students who engage to the point of transformation share certain characteristics. They travel in small packs and make an effort to build relationships with their school peers. They have a heightened awareness of the support services available to them, and they use them. They leverage their surroundings and cultivate a network of faculty and friends who they can tap into when things get tough — and things always get tough for these students.

Take a peek at what your college has to offer, because people who work for community colleges work under a mission that is student-focused. Many will bend over backwards when you need something, so take advantage of that. Take what little time you do have and make the most of it. Engage in experiences on your community college campus that will both move you toward your goals and transform you, as a student and as a human.

Phi Theta Kappa is transformational for many students who truly immerse themselves in such chapter activities as honors programming, volunteerism, study groups and fellowship. And while there are other student activities and organizations that connect students to their peers or college, none do it as meaningfully as Phi Theta Kappa does. I consider Phi Theta Kappa to be the Holy Grail of transformational behavior. Phi Theta Kappa is to student engagement as Beyonce is to Hip Hop, as Muhammad Ali is to boxing, as Tina Turner is to six-inch heels, and as artificial intelligence is to computer science.

What is the purpose of today’s blog post, besides the fact that I have been inspired by the members I’ve met on my summer travels? Two things. First, I would like for our members to reflect on how lucky we are to be in a true incubator of student success — students who step into it truly grow. But more importantly, I want us to think about helping others become less transactional and more transformational.

Phi Theta Kappa members have a 30 percent higher completion rate than students who are just as smart and just as hardworking. These students earned the GPA, received the invitation, but didn’t make the decision to join, which makes them automatically at greater risk. Our members are mostly full-time and typically have a greater opportunity to engage on their campuses. We must think about capturing the attention of the part-time students who are simply going through the transactional motions of being a community college student. Help me find ways to engage these students in the transformational experience of being a Phi Theta Kappa member. Part-time students can be full-time scholars too.

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

Testing the Waters

Twice a week, members of the Omicron Alpha Chapter at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s (MGCCC) Jefferson Davis Campus can be seen dangling equipment from bridges to test the water supply in their area. Their initial results landed them a meeting with officials from the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C.

The chapter’s Honors in Action Project was an in-depth study of the water quality of the Turkey Creek watershed in Gulfport, Mississippi, which is a popular waterway for fishing, swimming and canoeing for local residents. Students also researched the EPA’s Gulf of Mexico Program and the existing measures taken in the Turkey Creek area.

“We learned from our research that it was an area that had previously been looked at by the EPA and that work had already been done to try to improve the quality of the water there, so our goal was to find out what else might need to be done,” said Corwin Drummond, lead investigator on the chapter research team. “To find out if it worked, if there’s more that needs to be done to improve it further, or, best-case scenario, if it’s perfectly fine, if it’s perfectly safe.”

Turkey Creek had recently been in the news as one of several waterways in the gulf coast area that was polluted. The students hoped they could determine what was in the water — they looked specifically for E. coli.

Their research into the EPA’s work in the area introduced them to Dr. Troy Pierce, chief scientist with the U.S. EPA Gulf of Mexico Program. Pierce met with the students, showed them water-testing equipment and talked about the overall testing process.

“I had no expectation at all that the EPA would provide us with the equipment and that their scientists would train our students,” said Dr. Patricia “Pat” West, advisor to the Omicron Alpha Chapter.

But that’s exactly what happened.

Armed with this equipment and knowledge, students began testing three main sites along Turkey Creek in the summer and continued it throughout the fall semester. Drummond, a computer engineering major, compiled the research into a large spreadsheet that allowed him to chart the data for a variety of variables.

“Most of the students who participated in this are not science majors, and they don’t intend to be. This didn’t change their minds,” West said. “But for the rest of their lives, I think they’ll have a really firm understanding of how scientific data is generated, and they’ll be able to ask good questions.”

The students learned that two of the three sites tested showed E. coli counts that were concerning. Armed with their research, they reached out to Dr. James Farmer, a microbiology instructor at MGCCC who has more than 20 years of experience sampling water with the United States Geological Survey. Farmer put them in touch with a colleague at Middle Tennessee State University who had recently developed a method for tracking sources of E. coli on a genetic level.

Based on DNA, students could actually tell whether a particular E. coli sample had come from a wild animal, a nearby farm or a local sewer system, Drummond said.

“One of my biggest personal learning experiences throughout the project was how in-depth we were able to get with the water-testing technology,” he said.

Drummond presented the findings to the Turkey Creek community leaders, who have now taken official measures to improve the waterway.

The extraordinary level of the chapter’s research earned students an invitation to meet with the deputy director of the EPA, Dr. Stanley Meiburg, in Washington, D.C. in early April, furthering the relationships the chapter formed as part of its project.

The chapter also presented it methodology and findings to middle school students in the Turkey Creek community, and it hosted an on-campus community forum. Chapter members will continue to test water samples through September 2016.

“I certainly think one of the things my students gained from this experience is the understanding that no matter what their major is or what their interest is or what drew them into participating in this, we’re all affected by the world immediately around us; and the more we understand about our environment, the more reasonable our decisions can be,” West said.

From DREAMer to Living Her Dreams

Sofia Medina-Pardo is a pre-med student at Johns Hopkins University who dreams of helping advance health care as a basic global human right. She received numerous accolades as a student at Essex County College in New Jersey, including being named a prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Scholar.

It’s hard to believe that only five years earlier she, her father and her three older brothers were facing deportation.

Medina-Pardo and her family came to the United States from Ecuador in 2000, seeking a good education and a stable future. Applications to become permanent U.S. residents, filed in 2001, had in fact been misfiled; and in 2010, she was at risk to be sent back to Ecuador.

Medina-Pardo’s future was debated in immigration courts for more than three years; in the meantime, she tried to keep her head up as she completed high school and began thinking about college.

She finished high school in the top 15 percent of her class, but a four-year college was out of reach due to her undocumented status — there was no way she could receive the financial aid she needed. Instead, she applied to Essex County College, where she received a full-tuition merit scholarship and acceptance into the honors program.

“Attending Essex County College has taught me that higher education is a privilege,” she said. “Reflecting on how fortunate I am for my academic journey serves as a source of motivation.”

Medina-Pardo’s status as an undocumented immigrant often left her feeling hopeless; to combat this, she became involved with the New Jersey DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act Coalition. She co-founded the Essex County DREAM Team in 2013, a non-profit, student-led organization that provides a support network to undocumented students and advocates for immigration reform policies to advance the rights of undocumented individuals.

“Part of my approach in co-founding the Essex County DREAM Team was based on my involvement in the Essex County College Honors Program and Phi Theta Kappa, through which I benefit from a supportive community of scholars who encourage each other by sharing advice and opportunities,” she said.

Sofia Medina-Pardo’s story of achieving her dreams continues on page 9 in the 2016 issue of Visionary magazine. Learn more about how you can support members like Sofia through the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation.

First Person: “I was well prepared for the next step”

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Phi Theta Kappa alumna Teylor Martinez and has been submitted by Mississippi College, a four-year college partner.

Beginning your college career at a community college before transferring to a university is a common and practical option for many young adults. You have the ability to take a portion of your core classes and get a better understanding of what you would like to pursue as a career.

I began my college career at East Central Community College in Decatur, Mississippi. With the presumption of wanting to pursue medicine, I took a bigger step into focusing where I would call my home once I transferred. The obvious answer was Mississippi College. Along with their prestigious medical program, I found great financial opportunities through Phi Theta Kappa.

As a transfer student, I was thankful to have already developed good study habits and a good sense of balance between social and academic life before attending a university. A big portion of that development was influenced by the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.

With that being said, I was well prepared for the next step. I paid my dues by taking all of the required core classes, so I could then focus on classes that are related to my major. I soon found that life outside of class is a little different at a university than at community college. So the question was, how does a transfer student make this adjustment?

A great way to adjust to the larger atmosphere of a university is to get involved. This allows you to get to know new people, make new friends and more. This may be a little intimidating at first. You may think that you will be the only upperclassman, but I promise this is not true! Most universities have a large population of transfers, and Phi Theta Kappa helps with this adjustment.

Through the Phi Theta Kappa Alumni Chapter, there are many opportunities to get involved and reach out to the community. From participating in 5k runs and visiting nursing homes to serving at the local Salvation Army, opportunities are readily available. This honor society gave me an immediate sense of community I felt needed but, most importantly, wanted. I found connections with people that had the same goals and strived to be successful at college. It was a community that led to multiple friendships.

For me, the scholarships provided through Phi Theta Kappa relieved much of the financial pressure college students face. It allowed me to truly enjoy college and get involved on campus.

There were a few parallels between the community college I attended and Mississippi College. They both are small and have a faculty-to-student ratio that isn’t overwhelming. Throughout the years, I learned how to function academically. I learned how to be more independent. MC offered the same qualities within a close-knit community. But more importantly, I gained the discipline that was needed to succeed through Phi Theta Kappa. I was empowered by my sponsor and my peers to remain academically motivated, to thrive in the campus community, and to work toward the career I have envisioned for myself.

Transferring to a new college is completely different than coming in as a freshman, but I realized that transfers are not that different after all. Yes, we arrive a bit older than many others, but we are trying to find our way just like everyone else. It takes some time to get used to a new school no matter who you are. I didn’t know what to expect when I transferred to Mississippi College. I didn’t know anyone when I first transferred. It was strange experience to not know any of your peers at first. I had this expectation of what college would be like because I had already been there for a year. But, fortunately, my expectation proved false because Mississippi College was unlike any experience I have ever had.

I built community within Phi Theta Kappa. It gave me a foundation of friendship by knowing people that were involved in the same thing. It allowed me to meet other transfer students. My involvement in the Phi Theta Kappa Alumni Chapter provided me with instant connections that immediately made me feel as if I’d belonged at MC all along.

70+ Videos to Inform and Inspire You

One draw of attending our annual convention and Honors Institute is that it exposes you to a wide range of ideas you might never otherwise experience. Over the years, we’ve brought countless members face-to-face with celebrities, thought leaders, politicians, explorers, economists and more through these international events.

A private concert by Grammy-winner John Legend? Done. The chance to catch an autographed tennis ball from female sports pioneer Billie Jean King? Check. An intimate conversation with the female king of a small African village in Ghana? Yes, even that.

Of course, we know not everyone can attend convention and Honors Institute. That’s why we’ve made videos of these presentations available to all of you.

More than 70 videos from the last six years are waiting for you in the Competitive Edge library. Over 30 of them are from past convention and Honors Institute keynote speakers — including Dr. Paul Stoltz, Lord John Eatwell and Katty Kay from NerdNation 2016.

“The opportunity to hear from people like Dr. Sylvia Earle, Rachel Maddow, Dr. Michio Kaku and Malcolm Gladwell is a real benefit of Phi Theta Kappa membership,” said Jennifer Stanford, Chief Student Engagement Officer. “Our aim in all we do is to break you out of your comfort zone and expose you to new ideas and new ways of thinking so that you can continue to grow as leaders and scholars.”

Competitive Edge is our online course focused on soft skills and career planning. You’ll also find Honors Study Topic speeches from former International Officers; presentations from the Phi Theta Kappa Academy, Faculty Scholar Conferences and International Officer orientations; practical tips like overcoming speech anxiety and writing well; and tutorials on implementing a College Project and becoming a Five Star Chapter.

Summer is a great time to dive in and view presentations you may have missed, or you can revisit those you saw live. Be sure to bookmark the page and save your login credentials — new videos will be added each year as we continue to bring dynamic speakers and educators straight to you.