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Mississippi State to Shelter Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, Nation’s Most Prestigious Honor Society

8-3-18 - Contact: Jim Laird

STARKVILLE, Miss.—The Phi Beta Kappa Society has awarded a chapter of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious academic honor society to Mississippi State University after a rigorous, multi-year review. Only 10 percent of U.S. colleges and universities shelter PBK chapters.

“The granting of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter to Mississippi State is a testament to the outstanding faculty and administrators who have been working toward this most significant achievement,” said MSU President Mark E. Keenum.

Membership in Phi Beta Kappa is reserved for the best and brightest undergraduates majoring in the arts and sciences. They are chosen through a highly selective and merit-based invitation process.

The vote to grant Mississippi State a chapter came on Friday [Aug. 3] during proceedings of PBK’s 45th Triennial Council in Boston.

“It has been a 40-year journey for us to reach this milestone,” Keenum said.

The university’s first application was submitted in 1979 by Morris “Bill” Collins, the founding director of the Stennis Institute of Government. Nancy Hargrove, now a Giles Distinguished Professor Emerita of English, led the 1982 submission. Leslie Bauman, now professor emerita in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, led application initiatives in 1985, 1988, 2000 and 2003.

Since 2007, the application effort has been led by Robert West, a professor in the Department of English who was inducted into the honor society as an undergraduate at Wake Forest University.

Of note, a charter is granted to PBK members of the faculty, not the university itself. For the chapter to be maintained, members should comprise at least 10 percent of the full-time arts and sciences teaching faculty.

“Dr. West and his fellow Phi Beta Kappa colleagues among our faculty have worked tirelessly to organize a chapter, and I appreciate deeply their hard work and dedication on behalf of our students,” Keenum said.

Keenum noted that for decades Mississippi State’s top students have competed successfully for distinguished scholarships and fellowships, and said, “I would put our students’ performance up against any other university because the results speak for themselves.”

Recent examples from the past few years include Rhodes Scholar Field Brown of Vicksburg and two additional Rhodes finalists; Gates Cambridge Scholar Lucas Ferguson of Batesville; four Goldwater Scholars, including 2018 winner Nic Ezzell of Laurel, and five Goldwater honorable mentions; Boren Scholar Donielle Allen of McCalla, Alabama, and two Truman Scholars — Jamie Aron and Natalie Jones, both of Flowood; and several Fulbright recipients.

“It is most appropriate that our exceptional students will now be eligible for consideration of Phi Beta Kappa membership, and we look forward to the induction of our inaugural class of scholars in the spring of 2019,” Keenum said.

Provost and Executive Vice President Judy Bonner joined Keenum and West in Boston for the Triennial Council, along with Rick Travis, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Christopher Snyder, dean of the Shackouls Honors College; and Molly Zuckerman, an associate professor of anthropology and PBK faculty representative.

Founded at the College of William and Mary in 1776, PBK members include 17 U.S. presidents, 40 justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and more than 140 winners of the Nobel Prize. Learn more about The Phi Beta Kappa Society at

Additionally, Mississippi State is creating a $1 million endowment to support the university’s new PBK chapter. For additional information about the Phi Beta Kappa Endowment, please contact Vice President for Development and Alumni John Rush at 662-325-9306 or

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