By Anahita Sotoohi
This past summer, the Phi Beta Kappa Alumni Assocation of Greater Houston held the Phi Beta Kappa Summer Academy, a one-day program for high school students designed to demonstrate the value of a liberal arts education, as well as increase awareness of Phi Beta Kappa. The Houston association intends to make this an annual event.
The occasion began as the brainchild of the association’s board of directors. According to William Monroe, president of the association, the board had previously established scholarships for accomplished high school students graduating in the Houston area. The winners of those endowments then attended, with their families, a banquet hosted by the association. The Summer Academy grew out of a desire to have a “more personal and substantive relationship with these students…[this] expand[ed]…to high school students who might be applying for FBK scholarships in the future,” Monroe said.
Currently, students attend a variety of activities over the course of the one-day program. This past year, in its inaugural occurrence, these activities included a session on writing personal statements, a meeting with current students of the University of Houston’s Honors College, a talk on science as an interpretive discipline, and an assessment of the then-current presidential candidates.
The association has two overarching goals for the program. The ultimate aim, Monroe said, is for the student to come away with an understanding of “the importance of a liberal arts education and what it can mean for themselves.” Equally important, “we also hope that the program will create greater awareness of the FBK scholarship program here in Houston and of the Phi Beta Kappa Society…generally,” he added.
The past year’s event was definitively deemed a success, but Monroe is the first to admit to the possibility of expansion or enlargement. In the future and with the right amount of “demand and funding,” the Academy may expand to include “evening programming and a second day,” Monroe said. The number of participants would also increase — this past year 45 students attended, but the amount could potentially expand to as many as 150. The event is currently “completely free,” Monroe said, and that is not expected to change.
The program’s specific content may shift as well, although the primary goal of drawing students to a liberal arts education will remain the same. At the end of the session, students are asked to submit a confidential evaluation form, which will in turn be used to determine which elements were most successful. The feedback will be used to shape the “content and pacing of the academy this summer and in the future,” Monroe said.
Ultimately, according to Monroe: “Students who participate will come away with an understanding of literature, history, mathematics, chemistry, and other liberal arts disciplines. They will be motivated to pursue an education that emphasizes reading, writing, reasoning, critical thinking, intellectual curiosity, and engaged but not biased inquiry. After college they will become citizens that bring a larger sense of themselves to personal, economic, and political choices. [They will be] educated contributors.”
Anahita Sotoohi is a senior at Agnes Scott College double majoring in classical languages and art history. Agnes Scott is home to the Beta of Georgia chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.