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The Honor Society: A Key, An Honor Or a Waste?
By Andrew Krueger
Originally published 4/19/2000 edition of the Daily Cardinal, University of Wisconsin - Madison Reprinted by permission.

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Dear Scholar:

Congratulations! Based on your outstanding readership at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, you have been selected to be privy to knowledge about the purpose behind national honors organizations.

The end of the school year is almost upon us. If you have managed to successfully tread the line between classes and the rest of life's activities, it is likely you have seen the mailings and other invitations from a variety of collegiate academic honor groups. UW-Madison is rife with cross-college, interdisciplinary honor societies.

Renee Alfano, an advisor with the UW-Madison Student Organization Office, said honor societies serve the campus and city well.

"Most of the honor societies' purposes are in scholarship and service," Alfano said. "Not only are they giving students recognition, they're giving back to the community."

The Daily Cardinal talked to representatives of several prominent campus honor societies to see who their groups are and the role they play at UW-Madison.

Golden Key National Honor Society

Golden Key National Honor Society has been in existence at UW-Madison since 1985 and currently has about 1,500 members on campus.

The organization, which has 260 chapters around the world, accepts upperclassmen who are in the top 15 percent of their class.

Current chapter president C.J. Wilson said Golden Key offers more than just recognition of academic achievement.

"It provides great opportunities for community service," Wilson said.

Golden Key community service projects include monthly trips to work at the Arboretum, involvement with the Wheelchair Recycling program and a recent Latin Dance and Raffle to raise money for the Madison AIDS Network.

There is a one-time $60 membership fee for Golden Key. Of those funds, Wilson said $12 comes back to the local chapter and the rest goes to national-level scholarships and organization activities.

National Society of Collegiate Scholars

The National Society of Collegiate Scholars, an honor society that inducts freshman and sophomore students, began operating at UW-Madison last year.

NSCS was founded in Washington, D.C., in 1994 and now includes 17 chapters. Freshman and sophomore students with GPAs above 3.6 are eligible for induction, although membership is lifetime.

Kim Hauser, president of the UW-Madison chapter, said NSCS is focused on service and studies.

"Our main focus is community service, high achievement and leadership roles," Hauser said.

Past service activities include working with the Salvation Army, an Earth Day cleanup and "March to College," a program aimed at introducing seventh grade students to the university.

The $40 fee to join goes to the national organization to fund national leadership conferences, Hauser said.

Mortar Board

Mortar Board is a national honor society with about 200 chapters that recognize academic achievement by seniors.

UW-Madison Chapter President Jennifer Outhouse said the Mortar Board chapter on this campus dates to 1920. The group faded in the 1980s, but has been revitalized in the past five years.

There is a limit of 50 inductees each year, and selection is based on an application and a minimum GPA of about 3.3. The $65 fee goes to scholarships and the national organization, Outhouse said.

Outhouse said the group stresses service.

"Instead of just being a resume builder, you're chosen for specific qualities, and you get to put those qualities to work in the community," Outhouse said.

This year's national theme was "Reading is Leading," a literacy campaign. Locally, the UW-Madison chapter has helped at homeless shelters and brought speakers to campus.

Phi Kappa Phi

Phi Kappa Phi, founded in 1893, honors juniors in the top 5 percent and seniors in the top 10 percent of their respective classes.

Carol Mosley, publications production manager in the group's national office, said there are 283 chapters across the nation.

Mosley said the main focus of the group is promoting academic achievement, although local chapters are involved in service activities.

There is a yearly fee of $35 to remain an active member. While non-active membership is permitted, only active members are eligible for the scholarships and publications those fees fund.

Beyond college, how valuable is an honor organization membership?

May Fraydas, an advisor in the College of Letters and Science/School of Human Ecology Career Services Office, said it may depend on your post-graduation plans.

"I think academic honors are more significant to graduate schools than employers," Fraydas said. "But I do think employers look at if someone has been able to juggle [a lot of events]."

Officials in the human resources departments of several local companies said honor society membership is viewed positively on resumes, but is not a deciding issue.

"It's certainly worthwhile having that mentioned on your resume," said Scott Lopez, director of employee relations, labor relations and recruitment at Credit Union National Association. "You're clearly and succinctly identified as a person that has achieved some high grades. It's not a deciding factor, but its something that you would put down that says, 'this is a plus.'"

Todd Straub, senior human resources representative at American Family Insurance also said it is a positive--but not defining--factor in a hiring decision.

"It speaks to the job candidate's integrity, but I can't say it would definitely give that person an edge in getting a job," Straub said.

While Lopez and Straub said mentioning honor society membership does not carry a high degree of weight, both said they would encourage potential job-seekers to include it on their resume.

"I always believe that past success predicts future success," Straub said.

In the future, many honor society officials on campus said they want to increase name recognition among UW-Madison students.

At the national level, Mosely said honor societies are looking for new benefits to attract inductees and better serve members.

"That's the big question everyone is facing," she said. "The focus of the college student coming in now is totally different than when I was there 10 years ago, which was totally different than when the [Phi Kappa Phi] Board of Directors was there 40 years ago."

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