On Sunday, April 8th, the Honors Society Phi Kappa Phi inducted 117 new members. Phi Kappa Phi has had more than one million members across the country since its founding and 350 chapters across the nation--UMass Amherst’s branch is the third oldest. This honors society invites the top ten percent of the senior class and graduate students, the top 7.5 percent of the junior class to join, and the top ten percent of the sophomore class to attend the induction ceremony. Phi Kappa Phi also annually elects a small number of faculty and alumni to join and presents distinguished awards to those who have served the community.
UMass Amherst Chapter President Theresa Austin, a professor here at UMass, kicked off the event and spoke about the chapter’s direction.
"Its aim is to promote learning, scholarship, and character on our campus,” she said. “We are always looking to expand, particularly in service this year.”
Theresa Austin, UMass Amherst Professor, UMass Amherst Phi Kappa Phi Chapter President
Interim Provost John McCarthy gave a speech about what the honors society does and what it stands for. In 1897, McCarthy explained, Phi Kappa Phi was translated from Latin to mean “the love of learning rules humanity,” and then in 1969 its meaning shifted slightly to “let the love of learning rule humanity.” This transition was a movement away from the assumption that the love of learning already rules humanity, to the view of the statement as an aspiration. He said that, by 1969, the 1897 definitive statement must have seemed naive, so instead the society's founders turned it into an articulation of hope.
Student Vice President Elizabeth Wallace also gave a speech. She talked about visiting the Student Vice President Summit in Denver, Colorado, and what this society represents to her.
"I met with about 70 other student vice presidents, graduate students,” she said, “and one who came from Puerto Rico for the weekend.”
Throughout the event, speakers emphasized that Phi Kappa Phi is an interdisciplinary honors society, with students from a vast array of interests.
"Not everyone in this group goes into academia,” said Wallace, “but people in Phi Kappa Phi go on to careers that I cannot even imagine.”
Guest speaker, Cynthia Barstow, a professor of marketing at Isenberg School of Management, and the founder and executive director of the organization, Protect Our Breasts, told her story of being diagnosed with breast cancer, and how she became interested in studying cancer and the influence of toxins on it. She described how, when she first moved to Amherst and was trying to start a family, a farmer would drive around and drench the trees near her house with toxins to keep them alive. She later explained “In 2010, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was certainly not unique; one in eight women will receive the same in their lifetime. But during that same month that I was diagnosed, the President’s Cancer Panel came out with a report saying that we have grossly underestimated the role of environmental toxins in cancer.” Her students, who were curious about chemicals that she mentioned, decided to do research alongside her. At the same time, she got an opportunity to study breast cancer in California with leading scholars in the field.
Barstow emotionally described the people that she had helped in breast cancer support groups. “I believe that my willingness to follow that glimmer of my passion brought me to the front lines of those creating change in our world.”
She told a story about a student who visited her office and turned bright red when Barstow asked her what her passion was. The girl responded, “Elephants.” Coincidentally, Barstow knew someone looking for a student with a marketing background to work with a program abroad that helps elephants. She used this story to explain that “you never know if your passion could actually serve something else. What I believe is that my willingness to follow my passion brought me to the front lines of the people making change. Success, to me, is following your passion every day.”
This success, Barstow explained, was embodied by the students sitting in front of her. She encouraged students not to lose this passion and drive, and to pursue what they care about, over what they feel that they should study.
Cynthia Barstow, UMass Amherst Professor of Marketing and Creator of Protect Our Breasts, Guest Speaker at the ceremony
During the ceremony, rising sophomores were asked to stand and be acknowledged. After this, new members lined up to receive their certificate and to tell the audience quickly about themselves. Most students said briefly their areas of interest, and what they planned to do the following year.
"I feel honored to be a part of this community of scholars," said Mahad Gudal, a junior public health science major who was inducted at the ceremony. "I hope to continue to work with everyone here meet with everyone in this community, and, hopefully, we all have great futures ahead.”