Alpha Rho Mu: The Little Chapter That Could

This is the story of how one chapter went from being off the Top 100 Chapters list to taking home the title of 2015 Most Distinguished Chapter in just one year. The Alpha Rho Mu Chapter’s rise to the top of more than 1,285 Phi Theta Kappa chapters worldwide is a Cinderella story in every sense of the phrase, but you won’t find any magic here. Just hard work.

The Alpha Rho Mu Chapter is named the Most Distinguished Chapter at NerdNation 2015 in San Antonio, Texas.

Dr. Rebecca “Becky” Tate first served as advisor to the Alpha Rho Mu Chapter at Lone Star College-Tomball in Texas from 2000-2003 before stepping down to care for her then-critically ill mother. Under her leadership, the chapter saw great success, even being named the Most Distinguished Chapter in the Texas Region and the second runner up to the Society’s Most Distinguished Chapter.

In the spring of 2014, when Tate returned as chapter advisor, there was some work to do. Although consistently a Five Star Chapter, Alpha Rho Mu hadn’t placed in the Top 100 chapters at NerdNation 2014, and the number of active members was low.

“I started basically with two dedicated officers with can-do attitudes and a thirst for leadership development and a commitment to excellence: Jorge Torres and Heba Ramadan,” Tate said. “Membership was very low, but I recruited others for leadership positions, such as Rhiannon Donaldson, Stephanie Moore and Lyndze Duke. This new officer team that I pieced together was committed to chapter growth.”

The goal became to raise the chapter’s visibility on campus. They interminably advertised service projects and events. They collaborated with the college administration and with other student organizations.

“Because our initial group was so small – roughly seven active members and officers – every officer and member worked on every project, although each person might have had a differing level of personal responsibility,” Tate said. “Planning, respect and constant communication were key.”

The campus responded, and their member acceptance rate soared. Induction events were planned and drew administrators and faculty members in droves.

“In May 2014, the chapter was small with about three to five active members and with the most recent induction in March 2014 bringing in only 18 new members,” Tate said. “However, now in May 2015, after a series of powerful orientations and inductions – fall 2014 and spring 2015 each brought in over 100 new members, with 80 students attending each ceremony – the chapter is healthy.”

As they began planning Honors in Action and College Projects, Tate, Torres, Ramadan and the rest of the officer team knew they had their work cut out for them; much had changed in the 11 years since Tate was an advisor.

“When I became an advisor again, after a decade’s absence, I was unfamiliar with the ‘new’ programming and the Hallmark Award rubrics,” she said. “I had a tremendous learning curve.”

Tate worked with a supportive administration, which – despite a tight budget – found funding for her and two officers to attend the 2014 Honors Institute. They read everything they could find online relating to Honors in Action and the College Project; they studied the Hallmark Award rubrics and read the samples of previous award winners; they watched the videos available on Phi Theta Kappa’s YouTube channel.

Their College Project, themed “Find a Way – or Make One,” led members to share with new students through a required college success course their personal stories of barriers they have faced and overcome on the road to college completion. The Honors in Action Project explored the mind and body connection as a frontier in Western medicine and culminated with a seminar on how wellness techniques such as meditation and yoga can be used to control pain and stress.

“We had studied the rubrics closely and felt that we had created strong projects, but we had no way of knowing what kinds of projects other chapters had created,” Torres said. “All of us knew full well how competitive the Phi Theta Kappa Hallmarks Awards are.”

Torres chaired the Hallmark Awards writing team and was charged with keeping notes of chapter events and projects. The team studied the sample winning Hallmark Award applications and met several times to study and analyze the rubrics and questions.

“We were all green to the process, but fortunately the Society provides everything online that a chapter needs to gain success in the Hallmarks,” Tate said. “I offered frequent feedback, which included suggestions for revisions, rewriting, revisions, more rewriting, more revisions and, finally, significant proofreading. I would say the Hallmark writing team dedicated well over 50 hours to their Hallmarks.”

At NerdNation 2015 in San Antonio, the Alpha Rho Mu Chapter won every Hallmark Award for which it applied: two Distinguished Chapter Officer awards, a Distinguished Member award, a Distinguished Officer Team award, a Distinguished Advisor award, Distinguished College Project, Distinguished Honors in Action Project and Distinguished Honors in Action Theme. And of course, it took home the top prize, Most Distinguished Chapter.

In addition to its showing in the Hallmark Awards, Alpha Rho Mu members received a number of scholarships. One member received a Coca-Cola Leaders of Promise Scholarship in 2014; two were named 2015 Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team Gold Scholars. One member received a Guistwhite Scholarship, and one received a Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship.

“I am glad to say we were successful because recently, in our college’s Student Excellence Awards, Alpha Rho Mu was named LSC-Tomball’s Most Outstanding Student Organization, and our College Project received the Most Outstanding Student Program Award,” Torres said. “That we completely reversed the chapter’s course is a feat that I still have a hard time coming to grips with.”

See the Nine Finalists to Most Distinguished Chapter, and find all 2015 Hallmark Award winners.

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