First Person: “Phi Theta Kappa Changed My Life”

Editor’s Note: This post has been submitted by the University of North Texas, a four-year college partner.

My name is Katrina Estelle Gibson, and my experiences with Phi Theta Kappa changed my life.

I started attending Cedar Valley College in Lancaster, Texas, in 2011 at 17 years old after earning a GED. I had been home schooled since fourth grade and seriously lacked social skills.

After a year of quietly taking classes, I joined a Student Leadership Institute and met a woman who inspired my journey in student leadership: Miyoshi Holmes. She was the director of the Office of Student Life, and she encouraged me to join Phi Theta Kappa and run for an officer position.

All members of our outgoing officer team were graduating, so I got thrown into the deep end as chapter president with a group of new members as officers. With guidance from our advisors, we maintained our status as a Five Star Chapter and won awards at the state and national levels for our Honors in Action Project.

Being so involved for the first time in my life taught me time management, patience and how to work with a very diverse group of people. I found that the friends I made at conventions and working on projects came from all walks of life and that Phi Theta Kappa gave us all a chance to have this special type of academic experience together. I did not have the most stable home life, and having a home away from home was vital to my success.

One of the proudest moments in my life happened the following year, as my vice president of service became chapter president and led the Alpha Zeta Omicron chapter to win 2014 Most Distinguished Chapter. It felt like all the time holding things together and mentoring was worthwhile because in addition to gaining new skillsets, I was also giving back by volunteering.

As I drew closer to graduating, I worried about where my next step would be. At the time, I was interested in Interior Design and was searching for different programs. The University of North Texas (UNT) had an excellent fine arts college, and I was thrilled to be accepted.

I applied for Phi Theta Kappa scholarships on the fall scholarship application and was awarded a position on the All-Texas Community College Academic Team. I was also awarded the Volunteer of the Year and Amidon-Beauchamp Student Leader of the Year awards within my community college district.

I used these awards to bolster other scholarship essays, and ultimately I was awarded a Terry Foundation transfer scholarship in the amount of $36,000. This was such a blessing and would pay for most of my tuition and expenses for six semesters and meant I would only need small student loans to get through school. To date, being a Terry Foundation Scholar is my biggest accomplishment.

At a previous regional conference, I had met Dr. Myra Hafer in UNT Admissions. I started meeting with her in my first semester, and she told me about Sigma of Texas, an alumni chapter of Phi Theta Kappa based at UNT. I got involved with Sigma and ran for chapter president again.

We participated in several resource fairs, hosted meet and greets and partnered with other organizations on campus. Our goal was to help new transfer students get involved by offering them resources and networking connections. One officer, Iris Le, went on to participate with the homecoming committee and many other organizations and is a shining example of a successful transfer student.

One of my absolute favorite experiences has been public speaking with Phi Theta Kappa. We were able to travel to the 2015 annual convention in San Antonio and participate in college fairs, and I was also given the chance to address the general assembly of 4,000 students and tell them about UNT. What a fantastic opportunity!

After arriving on campus at UNT, I was amazed at how vibrant and active the campus was. As I completed my first semester, I discovered a degree program closely related to interior design and switched my major to home furnishings merchandising with a minor in marketing. The specific business application in merchandising as well as the fantastic networking opportunities and lectures supplied by UNT’s College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism (CMHT) led me to work with several regional furniture markets in Dallas. It has been invaluable in preparing me for my career.

Last summer, I participated in a study abroad program with UNT and spent two and a half weeks in China visiting businesses and factories and seeing a new culture. It was my first time leaving the country and was such an amazing experience. It has been a lifetime goal of mine to travel outside the country, and the experience ignited a passion in me. I now intend to travel more at any given opportunity.

I feel like I have all the experience I need to be able to contribute to a company in the future. I intend to work in global sourcing or furniture manufacturing. I know that I am setting up lifelong habits and skills that will benefit my future career. I even intend to earn my MBA and perhaps open my own furniture chain.

At times, it really is hard to believe I’ve had the opportunity to participate in so many diverse experiences. As I near the completion of my bachelor’s degree, I am thankful for the friendships and opportunities that both Phi Theta Kappa and UNT have afforded me, and I look forward to the next chapter in my life.

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