It’s been a long time coming, but at PTK Catalyst 2018, the Omicron Psi Chapter from Grayson College in Texas was named the Most Distinguished Chapter.
The award recognizes the chapter with the highest combined score of its Honors in Action Project and College Project Hallmark Award submissions. It is the greatest honor a Phi Theta Kappa chapter can receive.
“When our chapter was called for Most Distinguished Chapter of 2018, I was in complete disbelief,” said Rebecca Gillespie, the chapter’s director of committees. “Not that I didn’t think we had worked hard all year to earn it, but I was in shock that we had come so far from where we were just a few years earlier.
“Many have made the statement that our chapter has always been in the top, but this could not be farther from the truth.”
Mary Linder became advisor to Omicron Psi in 2009 — then a One Star Chapter with only three active members — and she spent her first five years learning as much about Phi Theta Kappa as she could. Omicron Psi won its first international Hallmark Award in 2014 for its College Project.
More success followed in 2015, with three international awards and member Elizabeth Taylor being elected to International Office. In 2016, the chapter won the same awards as the previous year. In 2017, it received four international awards and was named runner-up to Most Distinguished Chapter.
“There’s an equalizing force in the fact that we start over each year with new officers and members, as well as new projects,” Mary said. “And when you are competing against other amazing chapters, nothing is guaranteed.”
Omicron Psi is very intentional in its approach to Honors in Action and College Projects. Discussions about the Honors Study Topic begin mid-spring during weekly chapter meetings, and the research team is identified by the end of spring.
This is also around the time that new chapter officers are selected and installed, so two leadership trainings and orientations are held during the summer where officers learn about strengths-based leadership and Phi Theta Kappa, while also setting goals and planning the calendar.
A special tradition to inspire fellowship among new officers is “Fried Chicken Fellowship,” which Rebecca hosts in her home for the new officers and their families. She cooks a homemade Southern-style dinner, and they play games.
“This is beneficial for many reasons,” she said. “It permits us to put aside our study and work projects and have a little fun, but it also is a good time to bring our families so they can learn why we care so much about our involvement in Phi Theta Kappa.”
The officer and research teams meet weekly throughout the summer to plan research and discuss findings. Advisors also provide specific training on Honors in Action as a process and discuss the rubric for the Hallmark Awards submission, which helps the team focus on their journaling.
They also attend Honors Institute and the Texas Honors Institute.
“This has been pivotal in our understanding of the Honors Study Topic, the Honors in Action process, and Hallmark Award application writing,” chapter co-advisor Dr. Molly Harris said.
Teams aim to complete research during the summer so they can focus on the project’s action component in the fall. In 2017-18, Omicron Psi focused on the barriers to Internet access in nations around the world. (Read about it on page 10 of Civic Scholar: Phi Theta Kappa Journal of Undergraduate Research.)
The College Project was to plan and execute the launch of a new campus-wide initiative linked to “Life Activated,” a community program that creates opportunities for healthier living in mind, body, and soul — which is directly related to student success and employee productivity. The chapter coordinated with several organizations and departments on campus to identify and develop the program.
This cooperation with other campus organizations has benefited the chapter in many ways. Because of the chapter’s close ties to the International Students Office in particular, Omicron Psi’s membership is now more diverse than the campus population.
“This has created an environment where our rural Texas students are exposed to diverse perspectives, cultures, and practices,” Molly said. “Because of the global perspective of our Honors in Action Projects, open dialogue has provided tremendous learning opportunities.”
These opportunities are what drew chapter secretary Brittani Welch to Omicron Psi and Phi Theta Kappa. As a non-traditional student, she was looking for a way to get more involved and make her mark on campus and in the wider community.
When she saw that the chapter sponsored the college’s food pantry, she knew she’d made the right decision. Conducting successful research, partnering with community business leaders, and connecting with a diverse population of students are just a few of the lessons she will take with her to Texas Woman’s University this summer.
“I want to change the world and help others in making our community a better place for all people, and Phi Theta Kappa is doing that,” she said. “Grayson College, like many other community colleges, is where our future is being built. Community colleges are places for everyone and where anything is possible.”