On a Saturday last November, a crowd of nearly 300 gathered at Trinity Valley Community College in Texas to participate in Phi Theta Kappa’s Leadership Development Program while learning more about the Society as a whole. It was part of the Iota Alpha Chapter’s Leaders of Tomorrow Conference.
The conference, now in its 10th year, invites the 29 high schools in Trinity Valley’s college service area to choose their top three senior class leaders for the honor. School leaders, families, friends and mentors typically attend as well, exposing a great number of people to Phi Theta Kappa and its benefits and opportunities as well as to the college itself.
“Several of our college administrators and several high school administrators have indicated that this is one of the best things that our chapter does for our college and for the high schools,” advisor Nancy Long said.
Currently only about one in 10 students accepts membership into Phi Theta Kappa. The 2014-2015 International Officer Team is working to increase the acceptance rate to 15 percent by the end of 2015, and reaching out to prospective members early on is a great way to increase visibility.
“High school students need to enter community college knowing what Phi Theta Kappa is and aspiring to be a part of it,” International President Ebonee Carpenter said. “I love the example being set by the Iota Alpha Chapter and hope it will inspire others to look beyond the potential members on their campus and reach out to the potential members in their community.”
Tiffany Gerlinger began taking dual enrollment courses at Hinds Community College in Mississippi as a student at Pisgah High School. Her early exposure to the college led her to attend a recruiting event there in early 2013, and she began taking Honors classes as a freshman in the fall.
Spring 2014 found her completing a leadership class and working as a chapter officer intern. In fall 2014, she was inducted as a member of the Gamma Lambda Chapter and was elected Vice President of Fellowship.
“We need to reach out and inform as many students as possible so they can join Phi Theta Kappa and be rewarded with the scholarships they deserve and be involved in everything Phi Theta Kappa has to offer,” Gerlinger said. “High school students aren’t going to find these opportunities on their own. They still expect their parents, teachers and counselors to do it for them.”
Gerlinger’s advisor, Debbie McCollum, said her chapter is working with the college’s Director of Dual Enrollment and Special Projects to inform dually enrolled students about Phi Theta Kappa.
“Hinds has the largest dual enrollment cohort in the state – 1,283 in 2015,” she said. “We believe that Phi Theta Kappa could encourage many of these students to enroll first in the community college instead of heading straight to a four-year college.
“High school students who are dually enrolled in college are high-achieving students with a college degree as their goal. Phi Theta Kappa could be the vehicle that could steer them toward the community college and help them reach that goal.”
The Leaders of Tomorrow Conference began as a way for the Iota Alpha Chapter to promote Phi Theta Kappa’s Leadership Development course. Many of the top local high school students were taking dual enrollment courses, and Long hoped giving them a preview of the leadership course would inspire them to sign up for the full course and encourage their peers to do the same.
“We first used topics chosen from the Leadership Development text as material for speakers and for discussion groups at Leaders of Tomorrow, and we then – and still do now – used fun activities from the Leadership Development Course too,” she said.
The conference typically begins with an introduction to Phi Theta Kappa and the showing of a promotional video. Transfer scholarships are also discussed, as is the Leadership Development Course and its Facebook study group. All participants also complete Dr. Taylor Hartman’s “People Code” survey, and the students then compete in a leadership egg drop activity.
At least two Leaders of Tomorrow have gone on to become Iota Alpha chapter presidents, and three others have become chapter officers. One of the chapter presidents received a Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship and will soon complete his bachelor’s degree – it’s the result of a domino effect that began at the Leaders of Tomorrow Conference.
“It is important for two-year colleges and their best asset, Phi Theta Kappa chapters, to reach out to high school students because the students need to know the many benefits of earning two-year college associate degrees and certificates,” Long said. “Emphasizing that Phi Theta Kappa can be a stepping stone to their bright futures may help strong students with leadership potential make choices that are better for them, and they will influence many other students and their attitudes.”