Southwest honor society earns 5-Star rating

Congratulations to the Upsilon Delta chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the college’s honor society, for achieving the highest engagement ranking – Five Star Level—from Phi Theta Kappa International, the international honor society for two-year colleges. This is the first time in over a decade the chapter has achieved such high-level PTK recognition.

PTK Group

Southwest PTK Upsilon Delta chapter officers set the Five Star Level goal nearly a year ago after attending the International Catalyst Convention in Nashville, TN last April. “The students were so motivated by all the sessions they attended and the fellow student leaders they met that they came away with enough momentum to propel the chapter to this uppermost designation,” said PTK advisor and Southwest faculty member Dr. Joan McGrory.

Upsilon Delta Vice President of Public Relations Sabrina Washington says their hard work and dedication have taken the chapter to the next level with the Five Star Level status. “As a one-star chapter, our visibility and involvement on a regional and international level did not exist,” Washington said. “Now that we are a visible force and people are taking note, we are in the top echelon of chapters in our region, setting us apart and getting the recognition we deserve.”

PTK chapters have five levels of engagement that progress from local, campus involvement to regional involvement to international involvement. The Five Star Level is awarded to PTK chapters that participate in honors activities at the regional and international levels, including attendance at PTK’s annual convention, honors institute or international advisor education event or participation in the honors case study challenge, a current events activity that challenges the chapter members to read the newspaper daily and develop research data based on an assigned topic.

Chapters must earn their stars each year. To achieve more than one star, the students, in addition to making high marks in their classes while they balance life’s demands, plan and organize short-term service projects, orientations, chapter meetings, various awareness campaigns and events and a college project. McGrory says the college project was a challenge that took years to overcome.

“The college project prevented the chapter from getting over that Four Star Level hump,” McGrory said. “This year’s student leaders, with amazing support from President Hall, Dean LaDonna Young, Dr. Jacqueline Taylor and Associate Dean Shannon Little, were able to complete the PTK International Honors-In-Action research topic and earn that fifth star. It’s an outstanding accomplishment.”

College projects


The students rolled up their sleeves last year to train and perform research before they tackled the college project. The chapter officers first invested significant time in training and researching the PTK Honors in Action (HiA) theme, How the World Works: Global Perspectives. Senior PTK advisor and Southwest Professor Dr. Twyla Waters says they trained on how to use library research resources and online collaboration tools with Southwest librarians, traveled to the Honors in Action research conference over the summer and attended online PTK workshops. “Their training and research led the team to focus on Rights and Responsibilities as their specific theme within the Global Perspectives HiA topic,” Waters said. “Their research then evolved to concentrate on the rights and responsibilities of governments to educate girls at a K-12 level, ultimately leading to the chapter’s HiA project, A Matinee on Education with a Global Perspective: True Stories from Three Countries Based on the Girl Rising series,” she added. The HiA project saw the PTK officers lead guided discussions with fellow students about the education of girls in Nepal, Peru and Haiti. “They also reflected on their own education and the rights and responsibility of our government in education,” Waters said.

Another requirement was for the officers to demonstrate a concerted effort to support the College’s mission. Hence, Commit to Complete, a campaign to encourage Southwest students to sign a pledge to complete their education, was born. PTK chapter officers met with Southwest President Dr. Tracy D. Hall and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Christopher Ezell to formulate their project. Dr. Jacqueline Taylor, executive director of Retention and Graduation, and team members in the Student Development, Advising & Academic Support and Career Services departments worked with the students to launch Commit to Complete. Participants celebrated by signing the official Commit to Complete banners that were displayed at Southwest campuses and centers. Since the launch of Commit to Complete, more than 400 students have signed the pledge, earning the Upsilon Delta chapter recognition in The Reach this past January.

President Tracy D. Hall says these students’ achievements are not typically associated with community college students. “Most people do not associate community college students with honor societies, but we have them,” she said. “We have gifted students who are diligent learners and leaders with school pride and a vision for not only their future, but also the College’s. I couldn’t be prouder of our honor students.”

The future

The students who helped pave the way to the Five Star Level rating are now working with future PTK student leaders on campus to continue the movement. Upsilon Delta chapter Vice President of Scholarship Emma Caufield, says they knew they had reached a major chapter milestone when they received the Five Star Level news. “We knew it was a big step because it hasn’t been done in at least 10 years, so we have set the bar for students who come next,” she said. “We have given them something to reference when they want to become a five-star chapter, guiding them in the right direction and making it easier for them to do it.”

Caufield and Washington both plan to attend four-year institutions to pursue higher education and so does Chapter Fellowship Vice President Brittany Woods. She plans to transfer to the University of Memphis or Lipscomb University to earn a bachelor’s degree in Accounting, then on to law school to become a tax attorney. “Being a PTK member, I am distinguished as a person who is serious about their education and the membership has opened the door for scholarship opportunities that would not be available to me,” she said.

Upsilon Delta travels to Cleveland, TN, next month to attend the Tennessee Regional Conference and on to the Centennial Catalyst Conference in April in Kansas City, MO, where they hopefully will light the fire for the incoming slate of PTK Upsilon Delta officers.

McGrory says the new leaders have big shoes to fill. “It is this year’s students’ legacy and we have challenged our up-and-coming student leaders to stand on their shoulders and add greater success to it.”

Southwest’s PTK Upsilon Delta chapter currently has about 15 members and they have pledged to be “members for life.” Invitations for membership are extended each fall and spring to Southwest students who have accumulated 12 credit hours toward a degree with an institutional undergraduate grade point average of 3.5 or higher.

Phi Theta Kappa, founded in 1918, has more than 1,200 chapters. The purpose of Phi Theta Kappa is the recognition and encouragement of scholarship among community college students. Phi Theta Kappa provides opportunities for the development of leadership and service for an intellectual climate for exchange of ideas and ideals for lively fellowship for scholars and for stimulation of interest in continuing academic excellence. According to, the Upsilon Delta chapter bylaws were approved in 1995.