By Juliana Fidler
Oklahoma State University, home to one of the three new Phi Beta Kappa chapters awarded in August at the 43rd Triennial Council, is a land-grant institution traditionally known for its programs in areas like agriculture, agriculture economics, business programs across the business spectrum and engineering, according to Bob Graalman, director of the school’s Henry Bellmon Office of Scholar Development and Recognition.
However, OSU, based in Stillwater, also has excellent programs in the liberal arts, and the new Phi Beta Kappa chapter there is evidence that “those programs are respected,” said Graalman. It “finishes” and “polishes” the school’s reputation as “a multifaceted university in the best sense,” he added.
Perry Gethner, head of OSU’s Foreign Language Department who worked with Graalman and others to apply for the new chapter, agreed: “We have a number of very strong liberal arts programs” that have been “substantially built up over the last few decades,” he said. Gethner is also Regents Professor and Norris Professor of French at Oklahoma State; now he has yet another title: chapter president. The new chapter at OSU was installed on January 17 and will hold its first induction ceremony for new members May 3.
Oklahoma State currently has a total of 23,459 undergraduate and graduate students on its Stillwater campus, many of whom are from rural areas and are first-generation students—a “special factor in the experience students have here,” Graalman said. He added that while many are from Oklahoma, out-of-state enrollment has been on the rise.
Both Gethner and Graalman expressed that the recognition of Oklahoma State by Phi Beta Kappa is both a reflection of the value the school has demonstrated in the liberal arts and sciences and a promise of future growth.
Graalman described some of the efforts the university has made to show its commitment to these areas and its “good intentions” to Phi Beta Kappa, such as renovating the Old Central building—the oldest educational building in Oklahoma—and giving it to the Honors College, raising funds for a Chair in the Humanities, and increasing the number of students studying overseas through scholarships and other programs. He mentioned other honors that have shown the school’s strengths as well, such as the naming of its first Rhodes Scholar in 1997, its designation as a Truman Honor Institution in 2000, and the eight Fulbright scholarships awarded to its students this year.
“Plans are underway for a new performing arts center and the first ever art museum,” added Gethner, who emphasized the importance of cultural life on campus and the new Phi Beta Kappa chapter’s commitment to it. One goal for contributing to OSU’s cultural life, Gethner said, is to hold a lecture series, which would feature speakers from the university at first and later hopefully receive funding to bring in outside guests.
Going forward, the benefits the new chapter will provide to OSU are twofold. It will honor the school’s top students, Gethner said, by enriching their lives and improving their resumes. And it will become an “important presence on campus emphasizing the role of the arts and sciences,” he added.
While “school spirit has been focused on athletics,” said Gethner, the chapter aims to show the campus that it has “another area … to be proud of.”
Indeed, Graalman showed a great deal of pride in OSU’s students when he explained why they would be a great asset to the honor society. They “have shown their ability to conduct undergraduate research,” “are well-known in their fields,” “have done remarkable things overseas,” and “are very passionate about their school and involved in the things that make for a better society,” he said.
These same students will be contributing to ΦBK in another way, according to Gethner: name recognition in their part of the country. Oklahoma State will be “only the third Phi Beta Kappa institution in Oklahoma,” he said. “Most students have never heard of it. There is the sense that we’re going to be publicizing Phi Beta Kappa and its mission.”
The opportunity to do so was hard-earned; the chapter application process was “very, very demanding and time-consuming,” said Gethner. “I myself have been at it for twenty-four years, and we were applying before I got here.” It seems that the hard work was worth it, though. “We’re very excited about this,” he said.
“Oklahoma State University is honored to be part of this distinguished group that celebrates academic excellence,” said OSU President Burns Hargis. “We are proud to be part of such an elite group of universities from across the nation through the OSU College of Arts and Sciences.”
“For a long time, we have known that we … have very strong programs in the liberal arts and sciences,” Graalman said. “This helps us show that to the public.”
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.
Photo at top: Old Central, Oklahoma State University.