The Edward Bouchet and ΦBK Honor Societies Cultivate the Next Generation of Scholars

By Hoda Fakhari 

Edward Alexander Bouchet was the first African American to be elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society as part of the 1874 graduating class of Yale University. During this time, however, the Yale chapter was inactive, and his formal induction did not take place until 1884. In the interim, Bouchet continued toward his legacy of firsts by becoming the first African American to earn a doctorate degree in the United States, obtaining a Ph.D. in physics from his alma mater in 1876. 

As a teacher at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia for 26 years, Bouchet advocated for the improvement of science education while also serving as a member of the Franklin Institute and the American Academy of Political and Social Science. His race proved an obstacle to securing a professorship during his lifetime, but his name has become a hallmark of academic excellence at institutions of higher learning across the country. 

In 2005, Yale and Howard University co-founded the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society, which currently has chapters in 16 institutions across the country. According to its mission statement, the society “seeks to develop a network of preeminent scholars who exemplify academic and personal excellence, foster environments of support, and serve as examples of scholarship, leadership, character, service, and advocacy for students who have been traditionally underrepresented in the academy.”

These values echo many of the commitments of ΦBK and its members, making it easy to understand why a special cohort of students and scholars are shared between the two societies. Shana Rochester is one of those students. She was inducted into ΦBK at Spelman College in 2012 upon receiving a B.A. in psychology. In 2017, she was elected to the Bouchet Society at the University of Michigan, where she recently earned her Ph.D. in education and psychology. 

“Being a part of the Bouchet Honor Society and ΦBK has meant that I strive for excellence in my scholarship, leadership, service, and advocacy,” Rochester explained. “I also actively pay forward my (emerging) expertise, time, and resources to my younger colleagues and the members of my community.”

Her research, supported by the Ford Foundation, focuses on how schools and family-based educational programs can support the development of language and literacy in children. In particular, her work looks into the different contexts for development and explores how a child’s cultural knowledge and experiences outside of school can be used to enhance their learning. 

As a researcher, community engaged scholar, and advocate for the education of children from historically underrepresented communities, Rochester has proven herself as a scholar committed to improving the lives of others. “I think what resonates with me most is ΦBK’s focus on academic excellence and Dr. Bouchet’s commitment to service,” said Rochester. “In my pursuit of a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, I always kept in mind the children and families for whom I want my work to be meaningful. I firmly believe that our scholarship needs to both provide new knowledge to contribute to our collective scholarly agenda and make life better for the members of our communities.”

To strengthen the community of scholars dedicated to this mission, Yale hosts an annual conference focusing on diversity in graduate education and current research across disciplines. “At last year’s Annual Yale Bouchet Conference on Diversity and Graduate Education,” said Rochester, “I saw firsthand how students from across the country are engaging in rigorous and thoughtful scholarship in hopes of making the world a better place for individuals in our beloved community.” Rochester will continue her involvement in such efforts as an AACTE Postdoctoral Associate in the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University. 

Hoda Fakhari is a senior at the University of Illinois at Chicago majoring in biochemistry and English. She became a member of Phi Beta Kappa during her junior year. The University of Illinois at Chicago is home to the Iota of Illinois Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.