Fri, 05/05/2017

On April 9, seventy-five students were inducted into the Honors Society of Phi Kappa Phi. Welcomed by Provost Katherine S. Newman, Chapter President Donald W. Katzner, and other professors, the inductees now find themselves part of the fourth oldest chapter of Phi Kappa Phi in the country. When receiving their certificates, each student was able to tell the audience their name, area(s) of study, and plans for next year.

What exactly is Phi Kappa Phi? To Chapter President Donald Katzner, the mission of the Honors Society is to further scholarship, learning, and character, as well as provide service to the community. In past years, Phi Kappa Phi has been instrumental in conducting Red Cross blood drives, sponsoring the Daffodil Lecture, and organizing specific service projects. Two of these projects included swabbing volunteers to find potential blood marrow donors, and running a housewares swap between foreign students who were returning to their country of origin and foreign students who were coming to study at UMass Amherst.

As an honors society, membership invitation for Phi Kappa Phi is selective. Phi Kappa Phi invites the top 10 percent of the senior class, the top 7.5 percent of the junior class, and the most accomplished graduate students to be inducted into the society at the spring induction ceremony. The top 10 percent of the sophomore class is invited to receive certificates of high scholastic achievement from Phi Kappa Phi, though they are not inducted into the society.

In addition to the students, there were three distinguished service awards given to faculty and staff members: Robert Cox, Lila Gierasch, and James Rinderle. All of them have not only achieved outstanding individual accomplishments, but they've helped many others achieve success as well. These awards were presented by Professor Daniel Gordon.

Robert Cox is the head of Special Collections and University Archives at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library at UMass Amherst. He is also a faculty member of the History Department and has taught courses such as Culinary History and Critical Approaches in the History of Science and Medicine. In his archivist role at the library, he has organized its holdings, established priorities for future collections, and exposed all of the University's rare and valuable research to the community. By pursuing and being successful in these goals, Professor Cox has helped foster learning in countless scholars.

Lila Gierasch is a distinguishged professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at UMass Amherst. Her research has particularly focused on protein-folding in the cell, which is producing incredible understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and Parkinson's. She has won the American Chemical Society's highly prestigious Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal. Through her research and her courses, Professor Gierasch has trained many young scientists who have become distinguished in their own right.

Professor James Rinderle, of mechanical and industrial engineering, is also the associate dean for Undergraduate Studies and Instructional Innovation. Some of his research has focused on the development of techniques for improving new product design, the prediction of product performance, and the efficient remedying of unpredictable defects in original project design. He is also the chair of the Commonwealth Honors College Council, the Faculty Senate, and other important committees that focus on university regulations and standards.

“Every year the faculty we invite are always very impressed with the students,” says Jennifer Bennett, Phi Kappa Phi’s secretary and treasurer. “We’re proud to be able to give the students a platform to talk about their achievements and their plans for the future, because the students are doing amazing things.”

This sentiment is one not only shared by Bennett. Student Vice President Katherine Mayo says that Phi Kappa Phi has not only allowed her to hear cool things people are doing, but also to get “a glimpse into the academic possibilities, both here at UMass and in general.”

After the ceremony, inductees met with family and friends to celebrate their new accomplishment.