We Are PTK: 2020-21 International Officers

Five students were elected during PTK Catalyst 2020 to represent more than 240,000 active Phi Theta Kappa members as International Officers for the 2020-2021 academic year. It will be a leadership development experience like none other.

As a group, the officer team works together to impact the mission, strategic plan, and vision of the organization, and the team members provide professional development to members at local, regional, and international events. Individually, each officer is given personal and professional development opportunities to promote success in their next steps in life — whether that is to transfer to a four-year college or university or enter directly into the workforce.

Let’s get to know each of them a little better through brief Q&A’s. Some of the responses have been edited for length.

Lavada Burse, International President
Grayson College, Texas

Lavada is a 40-year-old mother of two sons. She attends school part-time and works full-time for a company she has been with for more than 18 years. She started college because she wanted a Plan B. She initially joined Phi Theta Kappa for the scholarships, but she stayed because she found a support system. She has held several leadership positions in Phi Theta Kappa, including chapter president and Texas Regional President.

What have you gained as a PTK member?
I have gained so many skills that have changed my life. You couldn’t get me to speak in a small meeting before Phi Theta Kappa. I am now able to speak in front of a crowd. Also, I enjoy networking now, as I didn’t before. Phi Theta Kappa has given me confidence that I never had before. I feel like I’m a new person that is just now enjoying life. The Society has transformed me into a better person all around.

What are the values that guide you?
Integrity, growth, and gratitude are some of the values that guide me. I have always believed that you should do the right thing even though no one is watching. You should never stop growing. When you stop growing, you stop learning. Always show gratitude to those who help you. Most things are done out of love and admiration for you. Show that same love in return. It doesn’t cost anything to show gratitude.

What are you passionate about?
There are so many things that I’m passionate about. One thing that hits home for me is food insecurity among students. Over 18 years ago, I had to quit school because I could no longer afford it. I had a choice to make between staying in college or paying my bills. I don’t want others to have to make that same decision. We need students to stay in school, so I want to find ways to make it possible. I believe everyone should have a chance to attend college, and not have that decided by finances. Most colleges now have food pantries on campus for easy access, but I feel like there is more that can be done to connect students with other resources as well.

Victoria Orifice, International Vice President — Division 1
Asnuntuck Community College, Connecticut

Victoria OrificeVictoria is a 22-year-old communications major who has leadership positions in both her chapter and region, including serving as President of the New England Region. She was published in the 2019 issue of Nota Bene, founded the student-run newspaper at her college, and volunteers as a transcriber for the Smithsonian Institute. She also advocates for those who are disabled, those in the LGBTQ+ community, and community colleges.

Why did you enroll in a community college?
I faced many obstacles that made high school a struggle, and I wanted a fresh start to begin rebuilding myself. Asnuntuck Community College provided me with an affordable option to begin my college education, ingrained with an exceptional support system and opportunities to start branching out and begin to discover who I am and what mark I want to leave on this world.

Why did you run for International Office?
It is an amazing opportunity to keep serving this incredible organization and further my personal goal of promoting accessibility awareness. My story has been very inspirational to members of my chapter and region, and I would love to continue inspiring others through sharing it. Additionally, this position aligns with my blossoming career goals – I am passionate about advocacy, community college, and academia, so what better opportunity to take than an executive internship with a nonprofit that supports and empowers community college students and encourages them to become scholar-servant-leaders?

What are you passionate about?
Storytelling is an incredible vehicle for advocacy, for allowing people to experience a different perspective for a while and better understand where that person or group of people are coming from. A clever writer can use fantasy settings or an alternate perspective on reality to throw something about our own society or culture into the spotlight, sometimes without the audience even being fully conscious of it unless they look deeper. Many times, an individual will scoff at being “preached at,” but have an entirely different reaction if they stumbled across the idea while reading a book they love.

Jacob Lambie, International Vice President — Division 2
Northeast Texas Community College, Texas

Jacob LambieJacob is 20 years old and is studying to be a psychiatrist, a career he was inspired to pursue after seeing one to help him cope with a traumatic brain injury. He is the founder of “More Alike Than Different,” a support group for college students that meets on college campuses. In addition to serving as a PTK chapter and regional officer, he has also served as the Bio-Chem Club Vice President and has directed two award-winning regional films.

Why did you join Phi Theta Kappa?
I joined Phi Theta Kappa because of an invitation by my advisor to attend a meeting, which led to me speaking as an honorary member in a district meeting. My love for Phi Theta Kappa started right after being able to attend a district meeting and seeing the fellowship everyone shared during the event.

Why did you run for International Office?
I ran for International Office to be an example that no experience or stigma can hold someone back from following their dreams. Showing that someone who struggles so much with medical problems could accomplish a task as big as this gave me the hope that maybe I would impact someone else with my story. The secondary reason is that I wanted to help create even more of a community in Phi Theta Kappa for students with disabilities and mental health issues.

Who inspires you?
My mother is the person who inspires me the most in my life. She has been with me through all my medical issues and supported me throughout the entire process. She has immeasurable strength that I can only one day hope to have myself.

Elena Wong, International Vice President — Division 3
Oakland Community College, Michigan

Elana WongElena, 21, immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 2015. She has served as president of both her chapter and the Michigan Region. During her first term as chapter president, she led a campaign with her college’s foundation to create a scholarship for human trafficking survivors so they can to pursue an education.

Why did you enroll in a community college?
After moving to the United States during my junior year of high school, I did not know how the higher education system worked. Upon my graduation, I had been accepted to one of my local universities but only had years of debt to look forward to. That is when I discovered Oakland Community College. I was amazed at the number of programs available to students and the low cost of tuition. My close friends whose families had attended OCC marveled about the small classrooms and high-quality courses. Their testimony on the benefits of community college was the deciding factor in my enrollment, and I haven’t looked back since!

What have you gained as a PTK member?
As a PTK member, I have had the opportunity to find my voice as a leader in my college and my community. Working with people from diverse backgrounds has enhanced my soft skills and has helped me succeed in the work force. Thanks to Phi Theta Kappa, I’ve been able to support my community through scholarship and service, as well as make friendships and memories that will last a lifetime.

What are the values that guide you?
Gratitude and authenticity are some of my principle guiding values. Throughout the years, I have learned not to take things for granted and to be grateful for the gifts and challenges that life brings my way. Being authentic gives me the liberty of being free to show my emotions and has helped me build honest relationships with my friends. I like showing my real self to the world!

Mariah Mayhugh, International Vice President — Division 4
Pikes Peak Community College, Colorado

Mariah MayhughAt 19, Mariah is dually enrolled at her community college and a university because her degree program, Certified Child Life Specialist, is so unique. After being diagnosed with two different types of epilepsy at age 7, she has worked hard to be a neurodiverse role model, including by authoring the children’s book Mimi: A Story about Absence Seizures. As a chapter officer, she helped bring her chapter from zero to five stars in one year.

Why did you join Phi Theta Kappa?
I wasn’t going to join PTK at first because of the membership fee, but then I learned about the Golden Opportunity Scholarship. I applied for it and I got my fee waived from it! I am a huge advocate for the Golden Opportunity Scholarship and I encourage students to apply, because without it I never would have joined PTK.

Why did you run for International Office?
I ran for International Office for a few reasons. The first is to give back to the organization that gave me so much courage and helped me to find my voice when I was first starting out as an epilepsy advocate. I also ran to be a light and (hopefully) a role model for students and children with epilepsy and other neurodiversities. I never had anyone who was like me to look up to growing up — in fact, I was told I probably wouldn’t succeed in school. The chance to show college students and kids who want to go to college one day that a person with epilepsy can succeed, be in an honor society, and be an International Officer is powerful to me.

What are you passionate about?
I am fiercely passionate about epilepsy and neurodiverse rights and equal treatment. All around the globe, people with epilepsy, autism, Down syndrome, synesthesia, and more … we are treated as “less than.” We are afraid of disclosing our conditions, even if it is for our own safety. Employers and even some colleges kick us out, calling us a liability. I am passionate about bringing light and hope to this awful discrimination that has been happening for years, right under our noses.

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