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Creating a Culture of Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Houston

May 14, 2019 

PBK GroupOn April 23, 2019, the University of Houston Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) chapter inducted 85 new juniors and seniors representing 25 majors across the University—its largest cohort to date. Hosted by Provost Paula Myrick Short, the ceremony took place in the UH Hilton’s Shamrock room, and became the latest chapter in a blossoming tradition of celebrating liberal arts and sciences scholarship at UH. The evening’s featured speaker was Honors College faculty member and UH alum Michael Barnes.

Established in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honor society. UHPBK Key distinguished itself in 2016 by becoming the 284th postsecondary institution in the country to be granted a PBK charter. “The values of Phi Beta Kappa can and should be part of the culture at a Tier One university such as ours and an aspiration for all our students,” said William Monroe, dean of the Honors College. Membership has become a marker of exceptional academic achievement—less than 10% of liberal arts and sciences students in eligible institutions are invited to join. Inductees stand in the company of 17 former U. S. presidents, 41 Supreme Court justices, and more than 140 Nobel Laureates. “Over a lifetime, the Phi Beta Kappa key may very well open doors for those who have been offered and who have accepted membership,” Monroe said.

However, many students are currently unaware of the potential benefits of membership. Keri Myrick, chapter director of the Phi Beta Kappa Mu Chapter of Texas, stated that students who have been invited to join often contact her, wondering why they should accept. “I think about stories from members like Sonia Sotomayor, who famously threw her invitation in the trash, only to have it rescued by her college roommate who forced her to accept it. Students are increasingly bombarded with offers to join this or that, and they’re busier than ever. Many, rightly, can’t tell what’s worth accepting—most don’t know that a Phi Beta Kappa invitation comes once in a lifetime.”

The PBK chapter at UH is launching an advocacy campaign to recruit more high achievers and better familiarize faculty, staff, and students with the Phi Beta Kappa Society admission requirements. Campus events will help to raise the profile and visibility of the chapter at the university, and a PBK Fellowship will be established—every year, two juniors will be elected Chapter Advocates, hosting events and helping with recruitment, in return for a $1,000 scholarship.

Creating a culture around Phi Beta Kappa will require a university-wide effort. Myrick hopes that UH faculty and staff will begin disseminating information about the benefits of PBK membership as early as students’ freshman year, particularly in the College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences and the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and across the language majors and minors. Juniors and seniors who have completed a significant amount of arts and sciences coursework and who can demonstrate language proficiency will be considered. Students majoring in other than arts and sciences disciplines must be nominated by faculty.

The UH Phi Beta Kappa chapter calls for the names of competitive candidates every spring semester. After a transcript review, eligible students will be forwarded to the nominating committee for approval. Nominations may be sent to