By Juliana Fidler
The Twin Cities Association of Phi Beta Kappa, which was started in 2008 by just “half a dozen” interested ΦBK members, celebrated its charter on April 26, 2012 with thirty-four paid members, according to past President Barry Lawson. Before the formation of the association, Lawson said, the 12,000 members in the Twin Cities area had no way to connect with each other, so the founders saw a “hole” or “opportunity” there.
Since its beginning, the Twin Cities Association has held a variety of cultural, educational, and philanthropic events. Some notable ones were a guided tour of the Titian exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; a lecture given by Peter Matlon (retired managing director of the Rockefeller Foundation) on U.S. foreign aid; a book drive to benefit St. Joseph’s Home for Children, Minneapolis schools, and St. Paul schools; and an on-site installation of Byzantine iconography by a member, Debra Korluka, who is an iconographer. This last event was a chance to “showcase the talent within the organization,” said Lawson.
Patti Cassady Marrinan, former vice president for programs—who, like Lawson, has been involved from the beginning—emphasized that the events were meant to reach the “diverse” interests of the group and ultimately to promote the “love of learning” that the association and Phi Beta Kappa in general stand for. Marrinan said that many of these events were made possible by partners in the area that supported them, such as St. Catherine University and the University of Minnesota. The Twin Cities Association, in turn, seeks to advocate for the importance and value of the liberal arts.
The charter celebration was certainly in keeping with that objective. The keynote speaker was Haven Hawley, the program director at the University of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center. “She spoke to us a little about the center, … reminding us that the strength of the liberal arts and the strength of our community are the same. Diversity defines the liberal arts; it makes us creative,” said Mary Pattock, the association’s president.
Marrinan said that while there are various reasons why people join this alumni organization—networking, the social aspect, “intellectual debate,” philanthropy, and more—the ultimate purpose of the association is “to inspire focus and challenge individuals to encourage the message of the benefits of a liberal arts education.”
With that in mind, Pattock shared the four main goals that the Twin Cities Association will be pursuing this year: to build membership, to address finances and establish the treasury, to serve the members through programming, and to support the liberal arts. “We are aware of the pressure the liberal arts and sciences are under nationwide,” she said, so the organization is interested in finding ways to “join with Phi Beta Kappa chapters and liberal arts colleges across the state.
Pattock and the other executive board members have already come up with some “strategies” for meeting those goals. One is to “activate the interest groups,” of which there are five: an arts and culture group, a book and movie club, a scholarship group, an advocacy group, and a social group. These will be the “keys for the organization to grow,” Pattock said.
To recruit new members, the association will focus on recent graduates, including offering free membership to new graduates for the first three years. It will also continue sending out its newsletter, which already circulates to more than 200 people. To connect with current college students, the board voted in October to instate a liaison to each of the seven liberal arts colleges in the area.
Another objective is to join with other ΦBK alumni associations to reach out to recent graduates. As Pattock noted, many students return to a different state than the one where they attended college once they graduate. By working together, Pattock said, associations could help to refer graduates to the alumni organizations in their areas.
Lawson said that while the association takes advantage of e-mail as an inexpensive way to contact people, one of the challenges has been getting in touch with ΦBK members in the Twin Cities area. He encouraged all members to register their e-mail addresses with the national office to make it easier to get connected with regional associations. He also echoed Pattock’s desire to see these regional groups work with each other. “More working together would be really helpful for associations and, by extension, for the society as a whole,” he said. “Alumni are a huge part of what Phi Beta Kappa is.”
Looking for an association in your area? They’d love to hear from you! Find your local association by searching the Association Directory on the Phi Beta Kappa site.
Juliana Fidler is a senior at The College of New Jersey majoring in English. The College of New Jersey is home to the Delta of New Jersey chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.