Commonalities key to Phi Beta Kappa’s transition to the honors program

When KU’s 132-year-old Kansas Alpha chapter of Phi Beta Kappa needed a new home, it found an ideal one — along with a few talented officers — in the University Honors Program.

What has resulted is a natural, thriving partnership between the program and the honorary society, which is one of the most prestigious and, dating back to 1776, oldest.

The move was necessitated by the 2022 departure of former Office of Fellowships director Dr. Anne Wallen, who also served as the Kansas Alpha chapter’s secretary treasurer.

“The Office of Fellowships did a fantastic job with Phi Beta Kappa,” said Dr. Sarah Crawford-Parker, the University Honors Program’s director and Kansas Alpha’s historian.

To ensure a proper handoff, Crawford-Parker worked extensively with Wallen and former chapter president Jennifer Harrison, an honors alumna who directs KU’s Business Leadership Program.

From left: Jennifer Harrison, 2022 honorary inductee Mary Klayder, Sarah Crawford-Parker, and Harry Swartz.

Filling Wallen’s past role of secretary treasurer is another honors program staff member, Dr. Harry Swartz, who was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa as an undergraduate at KU.

“It was a surprise to have this come back in my life,” said Swartz, who currently serves as the honors program’s assistant director of admissions. He finds the duties of both roles align well.

“A big aspect of what I do with Phi Beta Kappa is seeking out prospective students to join and extending those invitations, so it felt like a good, logical fit,” said Swartz.

Swartz’s background in programming has also been an advantage when coordinating events tied to three consecutive years of successful Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholars Program applications.

In each instance, chapter officers — including economics professor Dr. Dietrich Earnhart, Kansas Alpha’s president, and associate English professor Dr. Jonathan Lamb, the chapter’s vice president — have connected a scholar’s expertise to KU and honors program activities.

Some of the strongest connections are found between the visiting scholar’s interests and Common Cause, the honors program’s annual symposium and series of service events.

As an example, the work of Dr. Trevon D. Logan, a distinguished professor of economics at The Ohio State University, resonated with this year’s Common Cause focus on human rights.

This past fall, Dr. Logan gave a public lecture, “The Sins of Economic History,” and met with current Phi Beta Kappa members during a lunch hosted at Nunemaker Center.

These opportunities, along with the interdisciplinarity emphasized by both organizations, appealed to Camden Baxter, a senior in economics and sociology inducted last May.

“Phi Beta Kappa really breaks down barriers and builds a community of thoughtful scholars,” said Baxter. It’s a community that, with its overlapping membership, leadership, values, and goals, fittingly feels just like home to honors students.