How You Can Increase Member Involvement

Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by 2016-17 International President Andrew Porter.

I recently had a conversation with Beonckia McManus, a member of the Alpha Nu Omega Chapter at Harrisburg Area Community College in Pennsylvania. She wanted to improve member involvement in her chapter.

Beonckia and I brainstormed a little, and I gave her advice based on my experiences as a member, chapter officer and international officer, but I recognized that any advice I gave would be limited to only what I know.

This is a common concern, and one that I’ve heard before. At every leadership position in Phi Theta Kappa, the same overarching goal exists: improve the overall experience for Phi Theta Kappans. One of the best ways to reach this goal is to focus on improving membership engagement in local chapters.

Each chapter is unique — they each have different ways of doing things, and they each offer different opportunities. As members with first-hand experience, we all bring something to the discussion on how best to achieve greater member involvement. I’m going to share some ideas on this, but first I think we need to talk about why member participation even matters.

Actually, it doesn’t just “matter.” I’d argue that member participation is critical to the success of Phi Theta Kappa and, specifically, to each and every one of us.

I’ll use the analogy that our President and CEO Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner uses of comparing Phi Theta Kappa to a gym membership — you get out of it what you put into it. As members, we decide how much we want to put into our membership and therefore how much we will get out of it. As student leaders in Phi Theta Kappa, we have a responsibility to make known the many opportunities Phi Theta Kappa has to offer as well as to encourage members to take part.

Since my term in office began, I’ve had many conversations with fellow members about issues they face in their chapters or regions. When addressing the issues faced by members, I give the advice I’ve gleaned from my experience, but I know that there is much that I do not know (nod to Socrates).

The way I see it, there are similar struggles — like member participation — each chapter faces; however, chapter leaders often have to reinvent the wheel individually and are not able to tap into the collective knowledge we share in Phi Theta Kappa. I hope this article serves as a resource of ideas from the community, and I hope you’ll reference it when you’re trying to solve problems.

My personal take on solving this problem stems from three critical facets of leadership: communication, motivation and determination. First and foremost, communication must be effectively utilized so that members are aware of opportunities. Second, leaders must be able to motivate members to take part in these opportunities.

Side note: leaders are not only the people who have titles; leaders are people who bring change into effect. Leaders can motivate other members by making known the rewarding aspects of participation, e.g. learning a skill, giving back to the community, or simply having a fun and engaging time with friends.

Third, and definitely most importantly for lasting effect, members must have long-term determination for them to get the most out of these opportunities. Just as with a gym membership, the opportunities Phi Theta Kappa offers benefit us most when we repeatedly apply ourselves in whatever aspect we choose.

Now, back to Beonckia’s challenge. I knew I couldn’t help her alone, so I posted this question to Facebook and asked for feedback from our community. Here are some of the great responses I received.

Andrew Matthew Edwards, from the New York Region, suggested we “allow members to be involved in the College Project/Honors in Action Project as much as possible.” Andrew also made excellent points about encouraging members to be involved in induction ceremonies, and to get them involved with your community by giving back through service.

To add to this, by making events fun, members will want to attend. Karma Pfeiffer of the Florida Region and Brenda Morris of the Texas Region touched on something essential for retaining participation by emphasizing the importance of fun.

Keione Mellon of the Mississippi/Louisiana Region, Brenda Morris of the Texas Region, and Michael Kerns of the Middle States Region all spoke to the importance of reaching out to incoming freshman and encouraging them to take an active role in their chapter. Reaching out to incoming students can be life changing for them and may find people who can invest in their chapter and lead.

Wesley Kiper, from the Kentucky Region, supported “setting goals for participation and reaching out to all members to see what they can do, even if it is small.” I agree with Wesley.

Sheena McPeek, from the Colorado/Wyoming Region, brought up an excellent point when she spoke about providing “alumni resources and (allowing) alumni to assist with the chapter and be role models.”

Brittany Shoemaker, from the Texas Region, spoke about increasing member involvement through awareness and brought up the crucial point of sharing our personal stories and what Phi Theta Kappa means to us.

Dr. Molly Clark Harris, also from the Texas Region, reminded us to concentrate always on making the events both meaningful and full of purpose.

Aynesley Arthur, from the Middle States Region, listed some great ideas including getting involved with other campus clubs and organizations and focusing on communication as the key to success. Aynesley also described the importance of simply making it fun by having times where the whole purpose is to enjoy each other’s company. Find out what your chapter members are interested in, and then move forward to engage those interests.

Don Koch, from the Middle States Region, added, “We need employers to stress the importance to their organizations how important student involvement in an honor society is.” Don also spoke to the importance of branding Phi Theta Kappa: “As technology has changed the way students interact with each other, we as an honor society may have to adapt to the changes in how the students see the value of being involved in our honor society.”

There are a lot of great ideas here. Thank you to those who spoke up to help a fellow member. I’d like to encourage us to do this more often. Being a mentor (whether formally or informally) will help our Society grow quantitatively and qualitatively. I hope you join me in the challenge to have a greater impact on our Society, our fellow members, and our world.

Andrew Porter
Proud member of Phi Theta Kappa

When Changing a Story Changes a Family

If you had told Ebony Nava five years ago that she would be studying biochemistry at the exclusive Wellesley College, she never would have believed you. But Phi Theta Kappa and its benefactors have changed not only her story, but those of her son and siblings as well.

In a few short years, Nava went from being a 20-year-old homeless, single mother with a second-grade education to being one of the most outstanding community college scholars in the United States. Having left home at 17, she worked multiple jobs trying to support herself and her son and eventually got custody of her six younger siblings due to educational neglect. That’s when Nava realized she would need an education in order to provide for her family and set an example.

Now she is in the process of resettling her family in Massachusetts since transferring to Wellesley College from Kentucky, getting accustomed to her own academic schedule while making sure the children are on track in their new schools. Nava is contemplating teaching after earning her bachelor’s degree. She is preparing for the GRE and will eventually apply to medical school. She dreams of someday working with Doctors Without Borders.

It’s a position she never imagined herself being in. Just four year ago, those dreams seemed a world away from her day-to-day life and poor educational background.

“I had no transcripts, no record of standardized testing, and I had just received custody of my six younger siblings,” Nava said. “While I could read, I lived my life trying to hid a huge secret — I was dumb, or at least that’s what I genuinely believed.”

A family counselor helping her to navigate poverty and parenting saw the potential and encouraged her to earn her GED and attend college.

“I was ashamed because I couldn’t even help with one of my siblings’ third grade arithmetic problems, and I thought that receiving a GED would be a permanent brand of failure,” Nava said. “But our family counselor insisted that instead it would open the door to higher education.”

After studying hard and receiving her GED with honors in 2011, Nava applied to Bluegrass Community and Technical College and found instructors who were encouraging and challenging.

“I began to believe in myself and in my ability,” she said. “I was inspired by my unexpected success to continue the pattern of academic excellence.”

Nava earned a 4.0 grade point average and membership in Phi Theta Kappa. In 2013 she was selected as a member of the All-USA Community College Academic Team and as the New Century Scholar for her state. After completing two associate degrees, Nava received the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke scholarship worth up to $120,000, which made it possible for her to transfer to Wellesley.

Ebony Nava’s inspiring story continues on page 12 in the 2016 issue of Visionary magazine. Learn more about how you can support members like Ebony through the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation.

Meet the Newest Members of the PTK Foundation

Meet the two newest members of the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation staff: Steve Mulhollen and Fredrica Packnett.

Steve Mulhollen
Interim Executive Director and CEO

Steve Mulhollen has been tapped to serve as Interim Executive Director and CEO effective August 1. He replaces Dr. Nancy Rieves, who announced her resignation in June and will step down July 31.

Mulhollen currently serves as Phi Theta Kappa’s Chief Financial Officer. Prior to joining the headquarters staff in 2011, Mulhollen served as the Society and Foundation’s auditor for a regional accounting firm.

Read more.

Fredrica Packnett
Executive Assistant and Donor Services Coordinator

Fredrica Packnett will serve as Mulhollen’s Executive Assistant, and she will support all stewardship efforts of the Foundation staff as Donor Services Coordinator.

Packnett joined Phi Theta Kappa’s staff in 2012 in the Key Services Department. She most recently served as Key Services Consultant for Division IV, in which she provided customer service and training for the advisors and members of that division.

Read more.

The Phi Theta Kappa Foundation was established in 2006 and has helped secure more than $16 million in donations in support of programs for Society advisors and members. Learn more.

Five Star Reporting Form Now Available

Good news — you’re now able to report your progress in the Five Star Chapter Plan. The deadline to report your chapter’s 2016 activities for recognition is January 25, 2017.

The Five Star Chapter Plan helps you put the mission of Phi Theta Kappa into action in your chapter and on your campus. Set a goal based on the level of your desired involvement in Society programs, and report your progress as you go. All chapters have a default goal to be a One Star chapter, and you can update your goal at any point during the year.

“The Five Star Chapter Plan is more than just a checklist; it is a roadmap for the success of our chapter and its members,” said Heidi Boring, co-advisor of the Chi Upsilon Chapter at McHenry County College in Illinois. “The steps promote the leadership development of members; raise awareness of and appreciation for the Society on our campus; and ensure the ongoing development of our chapter.”

Participation is optional, but many chapters are likely already doing the activities necessary to move up to the next level. Following the plan can result in your chapter being more active and engaged on campus and in your community.

Chi Upsilon has consistently been recognized as a Five Star Chapter. Each year, the chapter’s advisors and executive board create a calendar for each semester that includes many components required in the Five Star Chapter Plan: new member orientations, a summer retreat for officers, an induction ceremony, chapter meetings and engagement with regional and international Society programs.

Officers and advisors keep track of the chapter’s progress using the Five Star Roadmap to Success poster so they can check off tasks as they go.

“The Five Star roadmap keeps the chapter on track and rewards each piece of the puzzle with that critical Five Star check-off on the big poster,” Boring said.

Below are the requirements for each level of the plan, in brief:

  • One Star — Recognizing Academic Excellence, Chapter Foundations
  • Two Star — Organized Chapter Leadership and Getting Started with Honors in Action
  • Three Star — Developing an Honors in Action Project and a College Project
  • Four Star — Increased Presence on Campus and Increased Engagement in the Region
  • Five Star — Further Involvement in the Region and in International Activities or Events

The 2016 Chapter Leaders’ Guide to Success outlines each level in detail and offers a timeline for completing each level throughout the calendar year.

Activities that help you reach your Five Star goals, such as organizing member recruitment campaigns, can also bring you closer to REACH Rewards. This program recognizes chapters that achieve or exceed a 15 percent acceptance rate and rewards them with free graduation stoles.

“The Five Star provides a model that students can replicate in other situations: compile a list of elements needed for success, publicize and publicly reward progress on that list and celebrate milestones at the end,” Boring said.

From Minnesota to Harvard: “It’s been an incredible journey.”

Editor’s Note: This story was written and submitted by Harvard Extension School, a four-year college partner. It was originally published here.

Throughout high school, Michael Dwyer-Clonts wasn’t a particularly motivated student. So when it came time for college, he bypassed the traditional pathway and headed right into the workforce, starting an early career as a web developer.

Dwyer-Clonts was good at his work and even launched an ecommerce business along the way. But he had the nagging feeling that he wasn’t realizing his full potential.

When he was 28, Dwyer-Clonts decided to pick up his first textbook since high school. In the classrooms of the local community college, St. Cloud Technical and Community College in Minnesota, he found himself invigorated, engaged in his courses in a way he hadn’t been as a teen. He earned an associate degree with honors, then decided to push himself on to get a bachelor’s degree.

A Path to Harvard

While researching programs, Dwyer-Clonts discovered Harvard Extension School and its Phi Theta Kappa scholarship, which would cover tuition for the first three courses. He applied for a scholarship but kept his other options open too.

In the months that followed, he was accepted to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis; he even attended the new student orientation and picked up his student ID card. But one day he opened his mail to find a scholarship award letter from Harvard Extension School, and he had a decision to make.

“Looking back, without a doubt that letter changed my life,” he said.

Wanting to minimize debt and maximize his academic experience, Dwyer-Clonts did the math and realized that an undergraduate degree from Harvard Extension School would actually be more affordable than his state university. Harvard’s excellent reputation and additional financial aid options helped finalize his decision.

Dwyer-Clonts thrived in his three admission courses.

“I had never been so intellectually challenged,” he said.

After being accepted to the Bachelor of Liberal Arts Program, he enrolled in a summer course, excited by the opportunity to study on campus.

The course, Introduction to Psychology, was nothing short of a transformative experience. He was fascinated by the exploration of mental disorders, particularly addiction, and he was interested in learning how to help those who were struggling. He also enjoyed connecting with the diverse student population in Cambridge and even met his future wife at the Harvard Coop bookstore.

Before the course was over, he decided to move to Boston to finish the program.

“I met incredible students and professors, all of whom welcomed me fully into the Harvard community,” he said.

Exploring Psychological Disorders and Treatments

Dwyer-Clonts had a personal investment in the study of psychology because he and his family have been touched by addiction. He decided to focus his degree in this area to conduct clinical research and prepare for a new career as a drug counselor.

To help him achieve these goals, he applied for and was granted Special Student status, which allowed him to enroll part time in Harvard College courses. He also received a Special Student scholarship. Thrilled to participate more fully in the Harvard community, he postposed his graduation for one year to work in several research laboratories, including those led by John Weisz and Ellen Langer.

“Prior to my time at Harvard, I was solely a consumer of classroom knowledge, sitting in courses and passively absorbing the material,” Dwyer-Clonts said. “Harvard Extension School was the mechanism for transcending classroom knowledge and actively producing my own original works.”

Under the guidance of Elizabeth Fates, he completed an independent reading and research project. His paper about managing problem drinking was published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine and, later, expanded to a book, A Frenzied Mind: Clarifying the Science Behind Addictive Disorders.

The Future

After graduation, Dwyer-Clonts will begin his new career as a licensed alcohol and drug counselor at a treatment center in St. Cloud, Minnesota. He hopes to continue conducting clinical research there. He’s also writing a second book about lifestyle medicine, and he plans to apply to doctoral programs.

Dwyer-Clonts is amazed and humbled by how far he’s come in a few years.

“In 2011, I enrolled in classes at my local community college,” he said. “Now, in 2016, I published a book of my research and will earn my degree from Harvard. It’s been an incredible journey.

Tincher-Ladner Receives Two National Appointments

Congratulations to Phi Theta Kappa’s President and CEO Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner on her two national appointments — the National Advisory Board for the Center for Community College Student Engagement and the Commission on Academic, Student and Community Development by the American Association of Community Colleges.

Tincher-Ladner was previously named to the National Advisory Council for the America’s College Promise Campaign. She became Phi Theta Kappa’s third President and CEO in January.

Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE)

CCCSE is a research and service initiative of the Program in Higher Education Leadership in the Department of Educational Administration in the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin. The initiative provides important information about effective educational practices in community colleges.

The Center has surveyed more than 2 million students at more than 900 colleges in 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several island nations and Canadian provinces.

The CCCSE National Advisory Board includes community college leaders and researchers from across the United States. Tincher-Ladner will serve a three-year term on the Board.

Read more.

Commission on Academic, Student and Community Development

The Commission on Academic, Student and Community Development is one of six commissions of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). Each has a specific area of focus and acts as an advisory board to the AACC Board of Directors.

The AACC is the primary advocacy organization for community colleges at the national level and works closely with directors of state offices to inform and affect state policy. It represents nearly 1,200 two-year, associate degree-granting institutions and more than 13 million students in the United States and internationally.

Each commission consists of approximately 24 CEOs or administrators from AACC’s member institutions, plus additional people from organizations who work in areas relevant to the specific commissions’ charges.

Read more.