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.

Boost Membership with High School Outreach

Sometimes a Five Star College Project, a college goal, and a chapter’s need for increased membership and leadership come together — and something terrific emerges.

That is exactly what happened when the college president, the foundation office, the community, and members of the Sigma Delta Chapter at College of the Mainland in Texas put their heads together.

Meeting Many Needs

According to alumna Dalel Serda, who was serving as an advisor for Sigma Delta during the fall of 2016, the chapter was presented with several challenges at the same time:

  • They needed a College Project to meet the requirements of the Five Star Chapter Plan.
  • Chapter officers felt their numbers were too small to accomplish their goals — more members were needed.
  • With most of the surrounding area of the college below the poverty line, the $85 membership fee was a barrier to eligible students.
  • The chapter needed a way to cultivate new leaders, so their initiatives could continue.

When chapter officers and advisors approached their administration about ideas for a College Project, they had a need too – increased enrollment and a desire to create a positive impression of the college in the community.

New Member Scholarships

Then another amazing coincidence happened. The Foundation Office at College of the Mainland had extra funds to share with Sigma Delta. All of the money had been contributed by faculty and staff at the college, and the idea of creating a member scholarship was born.

“Getting people more involved is always one of our officers’ goals,” Serda said. “Our chapter team felt it was important for the students to show their commitment to Phi Theta Kappa.

“They were concerned about the scholarships just being an easy way of obtaining membership.”

So, a provisional membership program was created to allow scholarship applicants to explore involvement with Phi Theta Kappa.

In the fall of 2016, 45 eligible students applied for member scholarships, 27 were presented and the chapter had 85 new members — bumping Sigma Delta’s overall acceptance rate to 20 percent.

The chapter held some of the money in reserve so they could offer more scholarships in the spring. They will evaluate the program yearly to see if they are able to renew it, but it is something the Foundation hopes to be able to continue.

High School Outreach

With a fresh group of new members to help with initiatives, Sigma Delta now had the workforce needed to complete a successful College Project. Scholarship recipients were asked to complete one hour of volunteer work for the project, with the hope that this would lead to more involvement in the future.

Serda said the idea of outreach to high school students stemmed from the college’s desire that they focus on ambassadorship.

“A local junior high school had students who needed an additional push to go to college, so they reached out to COM,” said Chapter President Kaci Maris. “PTK is always ready to jump on something like this, so many members signed up to go.”

The chapter wanted COM’s enrollment to increase — and they saw that happening through middle school and high school outreach.

“We partnered with middle schools and high schools here,” Serda said. “The members went out and talked with those students about the value of the college experience and the Phi Theta Kappa experience.

“It also gave our provisional members an opportunity to exercise their roles in the community.”

Chapter members are also staying in touch with some of the younger students through social media, continuing to serve as role models as they continue their educational journey.

“The younger kids were really excited,” Maris said. “The junior high teachers want them to come back — they’re interested in setting up meetings with college counselors to come and talk about collegiate high school.”

Meanwhile, in Georgia…

High school outreach is becoming more of a trend nationwide as emphasis is being placed on college readiness.

The state of Georgia now has the Move on When Ready (MOWR) program for high school students, and colleges are responding to the demand.

“As a college, we have someone in admissions tasked with recruiting and supporting dually enrolled students”, said Amy Hancock, Georgia Region Associate Coordinator and advisor at South Georgia College. “Our college has been intentional about inviting students from the area high schools for campus tours especially designed for them.

“We also have professors that teach in the high schools for MOWR credits as well as them coming to the college campus.”

This spring two members of Kappa Sigma Chapter at South Georgia College actually graduated from college BEFORE graduating from high school.

“We have an information table at preview day events, which includes many of the students who are interested in dual enrollment,” Hancock said. “We also present PTK stoles to seniors at their high school honors night.

“We feel this is a way for the juniors and sophomores to see one of the benefits of joining.”

Marisol Rivas joined the Kappa Sigma Chapter while still attending high school. She learned about Phi Theta Kappa through an email invitation, and a friend who was already a member talked her into it.

“What really interested me was all the activities they do, and, of course all the community projects that are done,” Rivas said. “I decided to join because I wanted to get more involved with the community and have an opportunity to receive scholarships.

“I did gain a lot of knowledge as far as working with others and became more confident in myself.”

A Bright Future for Members and Chapters

And so far it looks as if the future of both chapters is in good hands. With the exception of Maris, all of Sigma Delta’s chapter officers came from the high school collegiate program.

“Our hope with the high school and junior high visits was to let these kids know they can go to college,” Maris said. “Education is so important. We wanted them to know that COM and PTK believe in them.

“We want people to excel. Everybody deserves that chance.”

Creative Ways Your Chapter Can Recruit Members

The Alabama Region was recognized this spring for having the most chapters earning REACH Rewards in 2016 — 27! So how did they do it?

Former Alabama Regional Officer Lionel Barzon thinks he knows — he said the Alabama Region is highly motivated and pushes the bar higher in terms of chapter growth and achievement.

Barzon, who served as a regional vice president in 2016-17, said his local Sigma Lambda Chapter at Calhoun Community College has found success by hosting a Phi Theta Kappa awareness week each semester — and giving prospective members an extra incentive to join that week.

“During the fall 2016 semester, our chapter ran a special promotion for awareness week offering new members a $10 discount for joining during that week, which resulted in 29 new members,” Barzon said.

While some chapters devote entire weeks to an awareness push, others find success by promoting membership continuously throughout the year. But for Sigma Lambda, the formula seems to be working.

Looking to capitalize on that momentum, the chapter ran the membership discount promotion again during their spring 2017 awareness week as well, adding 78 new members that week.

During awareness week, current chapter members staffed booths in campus lobbies, distributed free PTK t-shirts, and invited faculty and staff to wear them that week to increase visibility.

Current Alabama Regional President Cheyanna Huston-McCrea, who is a member of the Tau Mu Chapter at Enterprise Community College, hopes the region can keep up its membership momentum this year.

Huston-McCrea said her chapter sends out chapter officers and members to the classrooms to “tap” students — personally inviting them to attend an orientation and welcoming them to the chapter, in addition to the invitation letter that comes from PTK Headquarters.

“Some of our other chapters have the teachers tap the students in their classrooms,” she said. “Many ideas I’ve heard from officers and advisors in the Alabama Region involve making their chapters known on campus and letting students know that Phi Theta Kappa is not a scam, but something they should take advantage of.”

Necia Nicholas, Sigma Lambda advisor and Associate Coordinator for the Alabama Region, said her chapter also sends its initial email invitations through the Center for Excellence.

“But, knowing that some of those emails may go to spam/junk folders, we sent a ‘pre-invite,’ sort of a ‘heads up,’ to all eligible students prior to the invitation,” she said. “It serves not only to help them look for the email, but to realize that it is not spam, not a fraternity, etc.”

Nicholas explained that with approximately 1,000 eligible students every semester, they don’t feel they can utilize some of the personalized strategies others chapters use, such as calling, texting, or tapping.

“But, we want to help them understand that it is truly an honor,” she said.

Barzon added that each chapter of Phi Theta Kappa should fully understand the necessity of always looking to recruit and build opportunities for members to join their chapters.

“With each new member that joins Phi Theta Kappa, there is a chance for the next International Officer, chapter president and other vital chapter officers joining,” he said. “Whether it be through successful awareness week campaigns or one-on-one recruitment, no chapter should overlook the importance of recruiting as many new members as possible.”

And according to Phi Theta Kappa President and CEO Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner, that’s what it’s all about — opening that first door to opportunity by inviting eligible students to join Phi Theta Kappa.

“We established REACH Rewards because we believe strongly in the mission of Phi Theta Kappa and want as many students as possible to receive the benefits of membership,” she said. “These benefits include scholarships and increased opportunities for engagement with their peers and key faculty members on campus, which lead to higher rates of completion among our members.”

Barzon and numerous others agree.

“Personally, my experience with Phi Theta Kappa has been one of constant learning and personal growth in serving my college, community, and the society in which I live with an opened-hearted mindset,” he explained. “I have made lifelong friendships and learned far-reaching lessons as a chapter and regional officer.

“I will always reflect on the priceless and valuable lessons Phi Theta Kappa has given me.”

See a full list of chapters that earned REACH Rewards in 2017, and learn why your chapter should participate. For membership recruitment resources, check out Phi Theta Kappa’s visibility toolkit.