Phi Theta Kappa, PTK, inducted 17 new members on Sunday, April 2. In order to be eligible for membership, students must have GPAs of 3.5 or higher. Hence, membership in PTK holds a certain amount of clout. It reflects the commitment and work students have put forth for their academic achievements.
Along with their academic engagement, PTK members run two service commitments during the academic year. These are called the College Project and Honors in Action. Members of Alpha Chi Nu, the SMCC branch of PTK, always participate in these projects.
Their College Project this year was Chit-Chat, a program that unites new students and students with potential threats to completing college with their professors over a cup of coffee. New students and academic success students had this opportunity twice: once in the fall and once in the spring.
Only a few students took advantage of this opportunity, which is not to blame them, but rather, to state a fact. Since Chit Chat is sponsored by Sodexo, who provides the coffee, it may be unrealistic to open this opportunity up to all students. However, what students in Alpha Chi Nu have learned is that any opportunity is one that deserves a response. If a culture is needed at SMCC that creates dynamism and vitality, perhaps opening up Chit Chat would be a good place to start.
For their Honors in Action project, members of Alpha Chi Nu built a greenhouse at Dyer Elementary School in South Portland. The greenhouse will be furnished with beds in May. The greenhouse will hopefully generate exploration in nature and provide young students with produce.
New members of Alpha Chi Nu are not required to become officers. In fact, many of them will not join the officer team. Many students seem to join PTK to gain access to their scholarships and to wear a gold tassel at graduation.
But members who do not become officers or attend the meetings are missing out on service. Service forces students to connect to their peers and larger communities. Service cannot be done in isolation, and service requires examining the needs of the larger community.
Since Alpha Chi Nu decides on their projects, service is a function of critical thinking. Members get to examine their communities, determine a need, and decide the way to address this need.
Each year, PTK holds a conference called Nerd Nation. This year, the conference was held in National Harbor, Maryland, right outside of Washington D.C. Just under three thousand members were in attendance including four members and one advisor from SMCC. At Nerd Nation Alpha Chi Nu received a Most Distinguished Officer Team award.
The work that Phi Theta Kappa chapters do on a local level is impressive. However, at the international scale, Phi Theta Kappa events lack the same essence as local chapters. There is no emphasis on critical thinking, scholarship, or service. The emphasis is on showmanship and the kind of reward that makes students into consumers rather than active participants in the world around them.
The international officer team at Nerd Nation, kind of like newscasters of Nerd Nation, wore business suits and ball gowns. They spoke at podiums with microphones, and their images were projected on television screens to their right and left.
Looking around the audience, listening to loud pop music, was narcotizing. While Alpha Chi Nu did win an award, and this award was estimable, the showmanship at Nerd Nation was in stark contrast with community organization.
This demonstration creates a dichotomy in leadership. Students who are competent and serve their communities are encouraged to forget it all during a weekend of showmanship and networking. As Ella J. Baker, civil rights activist and grassroots organizer said, “My theory is strong people don’t need strong leaders.”