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Convention Reflections

Aug 26, 2014

Honor. Excellence. Impact. These three words served as the theme of the 43rd convention of The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi this past August. But these words were not only prominently displayed on materials banners and material, they were embedded in all aspects of the convention program.

As part of the strategic initiative to increase the Society’s presence and voice in the national conversation on higher education, the convention planning committee intentionally repurposed the convention to include speakers who would address issues currently facing colleges and universities. The speakers were, simply, models of excellence.

Sarah Sladek addressed a plenary session of the pre-convention workshops, Partnering For Success, attended by more than 150 chapter officers. Founder and CEO of XYZ University, a future-focused generational training and management consulting firm, Sladek specializes in helping organizations engage Generations X, Y and Z. In a lively presentation peppered with video clips, the author of The End of Membership as We Know It and Knowing Y: Engage the Next Generation Now, emphasized the importance of generational differences in our messaging.

The convention keynote was delivered by E. Gordon Gee, one of Phi Kappa Phi’s Great Minds. Dr. Gee, currently president of West Virginia University, has served as president at five different universities, and is ever energetic when sharing his passion for higher learning. Calling for agility and responsiveness from the audience, who he called his “partners in this thinking business,” he stressed his conviction that “In order for higher education to survive, we need to move from being elephants to ballerinas, or else we will become dinosaurs. We cannot afford to not change.”

Three provosts from diverse institutions participated in an animated conversation on higher education on the last afternoon of the convention. These chief academic officers spoke candidly of the issues that keep them awake at night – enrollment pressures, resources, and numbers. The conversation was joined by members of the audience who raised challenging questions on a variety of topics. An edited transcript of the session appears in these pages.

Another model of excellence was exhibited in the masterful leadership of the governance sessions by Society President Diane Smathers, who pronounced the state of the Society to be strong.

As it began, the convention paused to honor by means of a video the memory and contributions of the late Ray Sylvester, Society president-elect who would have assumed the presidency at the close of the convention. In his place, Timothy Hulsey was elected president by the assembly.

Gratitude for the honor was the response of the award recipients who addressed the convention. The first recipient of the newly established Ray Sylvester Distinguished Service Award, Dr. Peter Larlham, gave a moving account of his project to support a school in Tanzania that he had attended as a boy.

But listening wasn’t the only skill exercised by convention goers, many of whom enjoyed an evening outing to the original Anheuser Busch Brewery, where they learned about the brewing process and met Jake, one of the famous Budweiser Clydesdale horses, after sampling the diverse tastes of St. Louis neighborhoods’ foods.

Finally, the impact of the convention was evident in the many conversations over meals, during breaks and receptions. It will continue to be felt as delegates take ideas back to their chapters. Before they left, however, many shared positive comments about their convention experience. The adjective most often heard? It was an excellent convention.

Impact will continue to become evident as the newly elected Board of Directors works with the strategic plan, as our membership consultants at MGI roll out new phases of the two-year marketing plan on member benefits and renewals, and as we introduce information about the new $100,000 Excellence in Innovation Award to institutions of higher learning.

Honor. Excellence. Impact. Everythingconnectstoeverything.

The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi