UMBC begins a new chapter Elite honor society established at college after lengthy review


An article in Tuesday's editions failed to include the University of Maryland, College Park among Maryland schools with Phi Beta Kappa chapters.

The Sun regrets the error.

Two years ago, when the University of Maryland, Baltimore County added a logo to its welcoming sign designating itself "an honors university," some scoffed, viewing the title as a badge of self-importance.

But today, the 32-year-old Catonsville institution becomes one of 255 universities in the nation with a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, linking it to the prestigious honor society of scholars that was founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary.

"Phi Beta Kappa will get us a lot more recognition than we've had in the past," said UMBC senior Drew Kowalevicz, a 23-year-old Dundalk resident who will attend Harvard University next year to study applied physics. "Now we'll come out from under the shadows of [University of Maryland,] College Park."

Phi Beta Kappa recognizes students who have a high grade-point average and a wide range of liberal arts and science studies.

UMBC is one of two schools in the University System of Maryland awarded Phi Beta Kappa chapters this year. St. Mary's College also passed the rigorous three-year entrance examination that included filling out an application as thick as two telephone books and countless question-and-answer sessions and campus visits.

The honor society's goal is to identify students who will go on to challenging careers and lead well-rounded lives, said UMBC professor Jay M. Freyman, a 1964 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Amherst College. He led the effort to establish the society at UMBC, which has 10,000 students.

UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III said he was delighted with Phi Beta Kappa's newest chapter, giving a majority of the credit for the designation to his 450-member faculty.

"It's important for people to know we provide a strong liberal arts curriculum as well as science, engineering and pre-med," said Hrabowski, who in recent years has worked to boost the school's academic stature. "Only serious students look at UMBC -- very few apply if they are interested in a party school."

At commencement exercises today, 78 Phi Beta Kappa awards will be given. Overall, the university will award 760 undergraduate degrees, 130 master's degrees and 31 doctoral certificates this spring.

The state's first Phi Beta Kappa chapter was established in 1895 when trustees of the honor society voted to admit students at the Johns Hopkins University.

Chapters have since been established at Goucher College, Western Maryland College and Loyola College. This spring, members at all the schools will receive certificates marked by a gold key inscribed with the motto, "Philosophia Biou Kybernete" or "Philosophy, the Guide of Life."

Phi Beta Kappa first admitted women in 1875, at the University of Vermont. Today, there are more than 500,000 members worldwide, said officials of the Washington, D.C.-based society.

"The Baltimore [County] campus has emerged with all colors flying," said Douglas Foard, Phi Beta Kappa executive director. "And the society could not be more delighted with the outcome."

Freyman, who has taught classic Greek and Latin at UMBC for 30 years, said a Phi Beta Kappa key is "all about the end -- not the means" of a person's life.

"We look for students who will go on to pursue a well-rounded life," he said. "Institutionally, it allows UMBC to achieve a certain intellectual elegance, that UMBC is providing an Amherst, Williams College and University of Pennsylvania-type of education. We felt it should be recognized as such -- and we were right."

Three of UMBC's new Phi Beta Kappa members -- Anika Alfred, Nkhensani Nguyuza and Tia Ragland -- are roommates in a campus apartment.

"It's very exciting," said Alfred, a 22-year-old biochemistry major from Silver Spring. "Having such intelligent people around you encourages you to go out of your comfort zone and try a little harder."

Ragland, a math major who grew up impoverished in East Baltimore and graduated from Western High School, was

ecstatic about the Phi Beta Kappa honor. She plans to enter George Washington University's School of Medicine in the fall on a full scholarship to pursue a career as a physician.

"It's the biggest honor I've ever received in my life," she said. "It epitomizes all of the accomplishments I've made, regardless of where I grew up. It shows that where you come from doesn't determine where you go."

Pub Date: 5/26/98

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