Voices and Ideas

ΦBK Celebrates 20 Years at St. Mary’s College of Maryland

By Allison Barrett

The Zeta of Maryland chapter at St. Mary’s College of Maryland is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) is a liberal arts-based public honors college located in southern Maryland. Founded in 1840, SMCM was constructed with the mission and vision to foster a rigorous and innovative curriculum within a community dedicated to honesty, civility, and integrity. U.S. News & World Report ranked SMCM in the top ten of the top public schools in the country. 

The chapter’s first president, Laraine Glidden (ΦBK, Mount Holyoke College, 1964), was integral to establishing the Zeta of Maryland chapter. A professor of psychology at the time of the chapter installation, Glidden led the effort to develop and adopt the chapter’s bylaws, constitution, and policies and procedures. 

In a personal interview, Glidden shared that obtaining a chapter charter was no simple task; in fact, it was a fifteen-year journey. The ambition to have a chapter was always present at SMCM, with serious discussions about an application beginning in the late 1970s. Glidden and others who aspired to bring ΦBK to the college submitted a pre-application that would garner the attention of the national organization and subsequent advising from them for preparation/readiness for application. 

As the years passed and SMCM became a public honors college, its curriculum evolved and ΦBK recognized the rigor of and emphasis on liberal arts and sciences education. After a petition was granted and reviewed, the Zeta of Maryland chapter was awarded to SMCM on September 27, 1997. The first chapter meeting was held on November 11, 1997. April 22, 1998, marked the day of the SMCM chapter installation ceremony followed by the first induction ceremony. “The installation and induction of the first class was filled with a celebratory mood,” Glidden said. “Every year I love being part of the initiation of the new graduates and the ceremony as we accept them into the community.”

When describing the purposes behind her drive to bring ΦBK to the SMCM campus, Glidden noted the benefits of chapter status. Specifically, she emphasized three distinct advantages to being a member of the Phi Beta Kappa community.

The first advantage, she indicated, is the recognition of the high academic standards that the institution maintains. This recognition makes note of the ambition for and intent to maintain academic excellence, and indicates the presence of this pursuit of knowledge in a way that is highly regarded on a national level. The second advantage of ΦBK chapter status, Glidden said, is the aspirational aspect it inherently contains and passes on to its members—to celebrate excellence in the liberal arts and sciences, and champion freedom of thought. The third advantage is the mission to produce  competent, productive students and professionals who will be prepared for the working world and to create opportunities for individuals to become more aware and fulfilled. 

“Being a part of a group of institutions that values the liberal arts and sciences is the best way to prepare individuals for not only the work they are going to do, but also living a fulfilling life,” Glidden observed. “It keeps in mind the importance of the liberal arts and sciences as opposed to just training you for a job.” Studying the liberal arts and sciences exposes you to a life of learning, which if continued, Glidden said, “will be satisfying for decades into the future.” 

A collage provided by the Zeta of Maryland chapter featuring resident members and recent inductees.

While Glidden stated that the installation and induction ceremonies were favorite memories of hers, she shared another chapter event that impacted the community and began a tradition that continues to benefit members today—the annual Book Award ceremony. 

Initially organized by Glidden and Celia Rabinowitz, former director of the SMCM library, the Book Award ceremony takes place each fall. A resident member of the chapter works with five local high schools in St. Mary’s County, where the high school National Honors Society teacher-sponsors each select a student who most represents ΦBK’s ideals, such as academic excellence and leadership. According to how the teachers describe the students and how the students describe themselves (their likes, dislikes, academic interests, etc.), the ΦBK chapter coordinator then selects books based on what he/she thinks the students would most appreciate. Family members and friends, high school personnel and SMCM ΦBK members (and prospective chapter members) are invited to the award ceremony at SMCM, where the high school students selected for recognition receive a gift of books to encourage and enrich their learning. 

Glidden recalled that she would award students interested in the study of languages Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince (1943). The reasons for this choice are personal: when in junior high school, Glidden was given a version of the book in French (Le Petit Prince) by a French pen pal. She stated that this book produced not only a deeper interest in the French language (which was a particular subject of interest for her at the time), but also a sense of connection with someone from a different part of the world. To reproduce this sense of connection, the books selected are intended to cultivate knowledge of a particular subject and a growing awareness of the rest of the world. 

Angela Draheim (ΦBK, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, 2002), the current chapter president, is determined to uphold the ΦBK philosophy and the proud tradition of community-based programming established and maintained by her predecessors. Having been elected to every executive role that it is possible to hold within the Zeta of Maryland chapter throughout the last decade, Draheim said she feels “very tied to the mission of ΦBK” and is “very proud” of her inductee status.

In addition to continuing the book award event, Draheim aims to promote the presence of ΦBK across the community. “When I was inducted as a junior,” she said, “I didn’t know what it really was until I called my grandfather, who was very excited and told me how prestigious election to ΦBK is.” Wanting to share the importance of ΦBK with prospective members, Draheim has worked with her fellow chapter executives to construct a system whereby sophomores who have demonstrated exemplary academic work are notified of their “on track” status to becoming ΦBK members.

Draheim also promotes the significant networking opportunities ΦBK offers. From book clubs to social media groups, ΦBK provides the opportunity to connect with other members who value education and share an interest in the liberal arts and sciences.

In spring 2018, the Zeta of Maryland chapter will also welcome a guest speaker, biologist Amy Vollmer, as part of ΦBK’s Visiting Scholar Program. Hosting a Visiting Scholar, Draheim said, “will be a nice way to round out the 20th year, the anniversary of our first full year as a ΦBK chapter.” 

Allison Barrett is a senior majoring in English and psychology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. St. Mary’s is home to the Zeta of Maryland Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

(Posted on 5/31/2017 )