PRESTONSBURG - A log cabin is a log cabin, correct? Of course. But a log cabin is made of many parts, which only happen to be constructed as a cabin at the present time. Dismantle that cabin, and the imagination takes over. What can these parts now become?
The cabin in question is the Alpha Nu Zeta Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the International Honor Society of Two-Year Colleges, and it is in a time of transition and opportunity. Headquartered in a first-floor office in the Pike Building on the Prestonsburg Campus of Big Sandy Community and Technical College, the Chapter is experiencing “a heck of a year,” says outgoing advisor Dr. William “Bill” Loftus.
Chapter members have had tough challenges and shining moments in the past year. First, only three Phi Theta Kappa officers – biology major Avram McCarty, who served as Public Relations Officer; former Chapter President Miranda Powers; and former Recording Secretary Crystal Morgan – returned to the officer team at the beginning of the year. This small and dedicated core was challenged to cross-train new officers and members. In addition, the Phi Theta Kappa office underwent inconsistencies with work-study staff. Still, Avram, Miranda and Crystal joined with newer members, such as Michelle Waller, a Criminal Justice major who became Chapter Vice President of Leadership, to forge an award-winning team that has made a difference in the community.
The Team and the Chapter won 14 awards at the Kentucky Regional level at the March 2013 Phi Theta Kappa Convention in Ashland, Ky. Both Avram and Miranda garnered Distinguished Chapter Officer honors. Another member, Brad Cantrell, received the Distinguished Member Award. Two Chapter advisors were recognized with Distinguished Advisor awards, and Loftus was named Advisor of the Year, the second time he has received that honor. Loftus was also given the Continued Excellence for Advisors Award at the International Convention in San Jose, Calif., in April 2013. Marsha McKenzie, one of the Chapter’s incoming advisors, was presented the Horizon Award at the Regional Convention and was nominated for the International-level Paragon Award.
Five Alpha Nu Zeta Chapter members – Avram McCarty, Michelle Waller, Miranda Powers, Bill Loftus, and Marsha McKenzie – attended the 2013 International Convention, where various sessions opened minds and strengthened skills, with an overall theme of developing and strengthening a sense of “family” within each Chapter. The leadership session discussed seven “pillars” characterizing great leaders, along with seven roles leaders can take on themselves to build a culture of success. A presentation about optimism encouraged relationship-making in order to improve communication and feed solutions. Also, a special session entitled “Motivating the Middle” encouraged attendees to learn to focus on the “middle third members” in order to solve pressing leadership challenges. Kentucky members garnered nine awards, including Loftus’ advisor recognition.
When it comes to awards, the Alpha Nu Zeta Chapter has attained a rare achievement in Phi Theta Kappa history, namely a third year of recognition as a 5-Star Chapter. Phi Theta Kappa has established a hierarchy of chapter involvement and each tier is assigned a star. At the 5-Star level, chapters are required to provide entries in specific award categories at the International Convention, covering individual, team, and chapter efforts. Chapters are also required to become further involved by attending the annual convention or Honors Institute, viewing honors presentations, or submitting honors case study challenges. In addition, chapter officers, as well as other chapter members, can choose to participate in Phi Theta Kappa’s Competitive Edge, an online professional development program, and CollegeFish.org, which aids members to choose their transfer schools and locate and apply for scholarships.
Between all the awards and conventions – and classes, of course – Phi Theta Kappa members pursue many campus activities that emphasize service and fellowship. One highly visible weekly event is the Fellowship of the Table, an “Honors in Action” Project, that provides a free lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and homemade soups or chili, along with fresh fruit and a warm smile to any Big Sandy student, staff or faculty members who stops by. This popular Project was also nominated for recognition at the International Convention. “The Table,” as the project is usually called, is now in its third year of nourishing campus and community bonds, such as its connection with St. James Episcopal Church and its rector, Sister Judy Yunker, and with Timothy May of First Presbyterian Church, both of whom provide financial support and regularly serve lunch alongside Phi Theta Kappa members. The free lunch nourishes students’ bodies and their minds as well. Numerous studies have shown that performance and skills of hungry persons suffer, and so The Table gives many students an extra help in their scholastic life.
Scholarship, in fact, is one of the four themes of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society membership. The other three are Leadership, Service, and Fellowship, qualities which were stressed during the March 2013 Induction Ceremony. For induction into the society, a student must attain a grade-point average of 3.5 or higher and is encouraged to participate in Chapter activities. Prospective members have the option to pay a one-time membership fee or work 10 service hours, and many choose the latter. In those cases, their fee is paid by the Hassan Saffari Membership Scholarship, which was established to honor the memory of the late Big Sandy mathematics professor and previous Chapter advisor.
The main speaker at the 2013 Induction Ceremony was Judge Sara Combs, who encouraged students to feed their higher ideals. In a moving presentation, three Phi Theta Kappa members described those ideals, holding aloft a white rose, a torch and a key to symbolize strength of character, wisdom, good works, purity, success, and knowledge. New and older members were joined by staff, family and friends, as well as lifetime members who came to honor outgoing advisor Bill Loftus, who handed the torch to new advisor Marsha McKenzie. Sister Judy and Timothy May were also inducted as honorary Phi Theta Kappa members in recognition of their outstanding service to the Fellowship of the Table.
Another major event was a March 2013 Leadership Retreat, supported by a First Year Experience Grant and held on BSCTC’s Prestonsburg campus. The 25 participating students included members of Phi Theta Kappa, the Honors Program, and the Multicultural Student Organization. In one interesting activity, students determined their leadership style based on characters of the Hundred Acre Wood. A “Pooh,” for instance, is enthusiastic and compassionate, while a “Tigger” is spontaneous and generous, a “Rabbit” is a helpful rules-follower, and an “Owl” is an analytical collector. At the retreat, students also explored personal strengths, core values, and business and table etiquette, and heard from guest speaker Walter Zimmerman about Community College Career Clubs, all to prepare them for active participation in the world at large. The retreat benefited greatly from the assistance of Big Sandy faculty and staff, including Margarita Hampton, Bill Loftus, Kathy Lowe, Marsha McKenzie, Katherine Miller, Lisa Stumbo, and Tina Terry.
Additional Phi Theta Kappa activities throughout the year have included Carnation Sales for Valentine’s Day; Circle of Love, a Christmas gifting event which incorporates students, staff, and needy persons; and the annual Honors Night, a special event to recognize and encourage exceptional students to continue on their path of excellence. A creative yet simple project, “Faces of Hunger,” involved Avram McCarty and Dr. Loftus. In October 2012 they dressed in various costumes – Death, a homeless person, a starving French mime – and walked around campus, accepting donations to help fund The Table.
Although many Phi Theta Kappa Programs do enjoy success, not every program shares that fate – although one of these found success another way. The Chapter developed a “Catch 2 Connection” Project from Spring 2012 that aimed to pair Phi Theta Kappa members with students who needed additional support in order to progress in their scholastic career. For several reasons, the program did not flourish as hoped, but the Chapter determined to use it as a learning experience. Miranda Powers wrote up the program details and the Chapter submitted it for an award – and it won in the Regional competition.
With many successes, and just a few setbacks as well, the log cabin that is the Alpha Nu Zeta Chapter developed and flourished over the 2012-13 school year. Looking forward, there are numerous opportunities for change and further growth. One strong component – 20-year advisor Dr. Bill Loftus – will depart, and more components – current and new Phi Theta Kappa members and incoming advisors Marsha McKenzie, Kathryn Miller and Cindy Manning – will take elements of the old, add new programs, and form a new structure.
Will it be a cabin, a skyscraper, a starship? Actually, the form may not matter. With the tools of Scholarship, Leadership, Service and Fellowship; with support, guidance, and a bit of elbow grease; with open minds and hearts, and willing hands and feet, BSCTC’s Phi Theta Kappa architects are crafting a generation of strong servant-leaders. As Bill Loftus said, they are learning to “wrap their heads around their hearts, and their hearts around their heads.” Working together, they will determine the shape of their own future.