Identity is one of those terms often taken for granted. Some say, “I know who I am, so I don’t have to dwell on it.” But let’s do dwell on for a bit. Identity is something we each have individually, but it’s also something organizations have. Identities change; history makes that clear.
It’s not always an easy task to define one’s identity. Much easier is defining who we are not. I often used a simple exercise in my college classrooms to introduce the topic of identity. I handed out a Mr. Coffee filter and gave a simple prompt: divide the circle like a pie and write down the various aspects of yourself that help define who you are. The obvious demographics came first: age, gender, race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, field of study, line of work. Then I asked students to think about how each of those elements becomes a filter through which one views events and developments. Together they contribute to the unique YOU. Those individual identities matter.
How would you describe Phi Kappa Phi’s identity? Our mission helps do that, as do our legal documents such as bylaws. We are a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to recognizing and promoting excellence in higher education. We’ve done that very pointedly in the past four years with the creation of the Phi Kappa Phi Excellence in Innovation Award. We decided for the first time to recognize excellence in institutions of higher learning, not only in individuals.
We think the innovation award is an innovation in itself. In fact, the Society was recently awarded a Silver Power of A Award by ASAE, the association of nonprofit executives, through its program to showcase the ways in which nonprofit associations leverage their resources to kickstart innovation.
The innovation award is but one in the suite of awards Phi Kappa Phi bestows each biennium. Our signature Fellowships for graduate study were first awarded eighty-five years ago, in 1933. Since that time nearly 2,400 members have been named Phi Kappa Phi Fellows. A dissertation fellowship was created in 2014 and now supports ten doctoral candidates toward completion of their degrees. In addition, we annually provide literacy grants, study abroad grants, and the ever-popular Love of Learning award.
Significant increases to the awards program were announced at the recent convention. Phi Kappa Phi awards now total nearly $1 million annually.
Central to the management of awards are the selection committees made up of Phi Kappa Phi member volunteers who read and score applications. Each biennium, nearly 100 individuals serve on selection committees, screening committees, and the innovation jury.
When I speak to new initiates, I encourage them to say they are Phi Kappa Phigraduates of their college or university. When I’m asked about Phi Kappa Phi, I like to say we’re the prestigious collegiate honor society for all disciplines, and awards are what we do. What’s your elevator speech when someone asks you about Phi Kappa Phi?