Phi Beta Kappa, Here We Come!

By Frances Womble

Within the next few weeks, 247 George Mason University seniors and eight juniors will receive invitations to join one of the best known honor societies in academia: Phi Beta Kappa.

“Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s premier honor society in the liberal arts and sciences, and we’re delighted finally to have a chapter,” says Peter Stearns, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “Our top students in these disciplines have long deserved the opportunity, so it’s great for the students and another feather in the Mason cap.”

George Mason’s first Phi Beta Kappa members will be inducted in a ceremony on April 17.

Phi Beta Kappa was founded during the American Revolution by five students at the College of William and Mary. New chapters are created only once every three years. Last August, the university learned that the 43rd Council of the Phi Beta Kappa Society had granted its application to establish the Omicron chapter at Mason.

The council takes into account admissions standards, student-faculty ratios, library facilities, the ratio of full-time to part-time faculty members and other factors when creating a chapter. Additionally, 10 percent of the faculty in the arts and sciences must be Phi Beta Kappa members themselves. This is because Phi Beta Kappa’s purpose is to celebrate and advocate excellence in the liberal arts and sciences. Campuses applying for chapters must prove that arts and sciences are at the center of the institution’s educational program.

Mason’s final application was more than 300 pages, according to Marion Deshmukh, Robert T. Hawkes Professor of History and president of the Omicron chapter, who spearheaded the efforts to create a Mason chapter.

“It took several tries to win approval, which is not unusual, but we had tremendous faculty support, and we finally won through,” says Stearns.

Mason joins 282 other colleges and universities with a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. This number represents fewer than 10 percent of America’s colleges and universities.

Not only that, but “Virginia is a unique position, seeing as we have the oldest chapter [William and Mary] and newest chapter [Mason] in the same state, which makes it all the more special,” says Marcy Glover, undergraduate program coordinator and secretary of the Omicron chapter.

In order to qualify for membership, students must show proficiency in a foreign language and have completed a minimum of 90 hours of liberal arts courses and one quantitative course.

“The membership committee worked for many months with the Registrar to make sure we captured all of the students who qualified. Since Mason is so diverse, it was quite a process,” says Glover.

“Because of the requirements, especially the foreign language proficiency, you really have to start working toward this goal as freshman. In order to bring awareness to this, we’re planning on having a presence in future new student orientations,” she says.

In addition to President Ángel Cabrera and Phi Beta Kappa faculty members, a national representative and a representative from William and Mary will attend the induction and installment ceremony.

Other Phi Beta Kappa faculty officers are James S. Trefil, Robinson Professor of Physics and the chapter’s vice president; Angela Bee, faculty member of atmospheric, oceanic and earth sciences and the chapter’s treasurer; and Suzanne E. Smith, professor of art and art history and the chapter’s historian.

For more information, contact Glover at