Cornell’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa — an academic honor society that annually inducts students with GPAs in the top 10 percent of the senior class and the top three percent of the junior class –– initiated their new members at a ceremony Thursday.
The faculty president of Phi Beta Kappa, Prof. Daniel Schwarz, English, said that the society first began inducting juniors in 2010 to try to expand its presence on campus.
“A junior chapter means an on-campus presence and students belonging to a dynamic community,” Schwarz said.
Schwarz added that the organization has recently created an alumni board and has been actively reaching out to alumni members to create an endowment for a scholarship and other academic purposes.
“We’re starting from scratch,” Schwarz said. “Other Ivies have huge endowments.”
Phi Beta Kappa has additional plans in the works to increase its presence on campus, including hosting more campus-wide activities, according to Jessica Ye ’12, co-president of the society. The organization has recently expanded from hosting one lecture series each year to hosting one each semester.
“We’re trying to make a stronger presence and do more on campus,” she said. “We are trying to do more activities that involve the community.”
Ye added that the society has also discussed creating an essay competition to foster excitement, which she said will allow Phi Beta Kappa to “stay true to our philosophies of intellectual stimulation and discussion.”
At the initiation ceremony, students emphasized that induction into Phi Beta Kappa is a benchmark of academic achievement.
“This is the only way I know of that they tell you where your rank is,” said Christopher Gaffney ’12, who was initiated in his junior year and is now the society’s web designer. “I think it’s good to have some kind of recognition for your work.”
The faculty secretary of Phi Beta Kappa and senior associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Prof. Walter Cohen, comparative literature, echoed this sentiment.
“It’s always a pleasure to see people honored for an accomplishment,” Cohen said. “That’s one of the things that’s good about a university.”
Schwarz’s address at Thursday’s ceremony, titled “The Odyssey of Learning,” addressed the benefits of liberal arts courses and the impact that knowledge can have on a community.
“It reflected what society can do for the community,” said Elizabeth Davis ’12, a Phi Beta Kappa inductee. “He focused a lot on the idealism of students and how we’re working to bring knowledge and love of knowledge to the community.”
Xufeng Min ’12, who was also inducted this year, said he enjoyed Schwarz’s speech.
“Basically, [he] emphasized liberal arts courses in university missions,” Min said. “I liked that a lot.”