Why an Active Alumni Association Matters

Three of the five 2015-16 International Officers transferred to the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in the fall of 2016. As they acclimated to four-year college life, it’s not hard to guess what one of their top priorities was: reviving the on-campus PTK alumni association.

“Phi Theta Kappa is a great organization, and we are proud of our academic roots and want to share that at the four-year university,” former International President Yanik Etan said. “Plus, being right off the International Officer trail really had us geared up and ready to go.”

Yanik, former Division 1 Vice President Amie Bernstein, and former Division 2 Vice President Elizabeth Taylor, once big fish in small ponds at their respective colleges, now had to reestablish themselves as leaders, both in and out of the classroom. They knew there were other Phi Theta Kappans on campus — former International President Ebonee Carpenter had transferred there a year earlier — so they sought out the Gamma of Mississippi Alumni Association.

What they found was a group in transition — two new advisors who traveled often in their roles as transfer recruiters, and no returning officers. Activities were limited, and active members from previous years were unknown.

The group knew they weren’t the only PTK transfer students interested in connecting with other members and continuing the service leadership they’d learned through the Society. So, they set about rebuilding the association.

“I believe that we must raise awareness about Phi Theta Kappa’s success beyond the community college, and an active alumni chapter is just one way of doing so,” Elizabeth said. “Showing others that members are excelling at their four-year institutions will speak volumes to the level of preparedness Phi Theta Kappa has provided each member.

“This should also reduce the stigma of community colleges.”

They made initial contact with potential members at each of the new transfer student orientation sessions. Then, they set up a table at the “get-involved fair” on campus. Other connections were made by word of mouth and email.

Communication with PTK alumni proved difficult initially, but the group hopes to utilize Ole Miss’s new database system for clubs and organizations, MSYNC, moving forward. Still, they were able to host the Mississippi/Louisiana Regional Conference in spring 2017; and, although they attended free as past International Officers, they raised money to send five additional alumni members to PTK Catalyst 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.

“The Phi Theta Kappa journey does not end at community college graduation,” Yanik said. “As Phi Theta Kappa’s newly rejuvenated mission is to increase alumni engagement, we want to continue supporting the mission of the organization as well as continuing our leadership involvement.

“It has never been more important to engage as alumni.”

All three of the past International Officers moved far from their homes to attend Ole Miss — Yanik is from Florida, Amie from New York, and Elizabeth from Texas. And while they had the benefit of knowing each other before moving to Mississippi, finding a larger PTK family in Oxford made the transition even easier.

“Simply put, connecting with PTK alumni helps with the transition process,” Amie said. “Using others as a support helps adjusting from the two-year college to the four-year university much less stressful, as having someone that can be your grounding and guiding force makes success much more possible.”

Having successfully transferred into the Ole Miss community, the group is looking forward to welcoming new PTK alumni to Gamma of Mississippi this fall, mentoring the new transfer students, and sharing on-campus opportunities specifically for them.

“Taking opportunities as they come is essential for a Phi Theta Kappa alumnus,” Amie said. “All of us are here because of Phi Theta Kappa, and it’s truly the lessons we have learned and the connections we have made that make all the difference.”

PTK alumni associations exist both on and off four-year college campuses. Find the one closest to you.