An Oral History of Psi Chi, the National Honor Society in Psychology
The publication An Oral History of Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (ISBN 0-9706454-0-6, © 2000) consists of interviews with persons involved with Psi Chi spanning the past 70 years of its history. While several other factual histories of Psi Chi have been published, this oral history is unique in that consists of interviews with nearly 50 council members, distinguished members, directors, and officers of Psi Chi. Each person was asked a number of questions to help give an oral telling of the stories of those individuals who have shaped and guided Psi Chi over the years. In addition, the book begins with a reprint of the excellent history of Psi Chi by Hogan and Sexton (1993) and is embellished with rare photographs from Psi Chi archives.
The following text is reprinted from the conclusion to An Oral History of Psi Chi, and consists of some concluding thoughts from authors Stephen F. Davis, PhD, and Michael Wertheimer, PhD, in summary of the results of the compiled oral history:
The factual account of Psi Chi's history presented at the beginning of this book traces the growth of the organization from the dream of two students at the University of Kansas in 1927 to an organization that had over 252,000 members by the early 1990s. By the dawning of the Millennium, Psi Chi has grown from the 22 charter chapters to 944 chapters and 363,316 members. Its growth has truly been phenomenal!
This impressive growth pattern does not, though, provide much information about the nature of the people who helped propel Psi Chi to its present position of prominence as a respected national honor society. Do these individuals share certain common characteristics that benefited Psi Chi? The oral histories that make up the bulk of this volume make it clear that the answer is yes. The following tentative conclusions and generalizations appear warranted from the information provided by the interviewees.
1. The National Officers Have Been Hardworking, Active, and Dedicated.
To a person, the national officers of Psi Chi have been hardworking individuals who dedicated themselves to both Psi Chi and their chosen profession. Consider, for example, Aaron Q. Sartain, who was still actively sought after as a labor-relations mediator at age 90. Likewise, the desire to make Psi Chi the strongest possible organization permeates all of the interviews. The development of strong Psi Chi programs at the national APA convention and at the six regional conventions was a high priority for all interviewees.
2. They All Value Education Highly.
All of the interviewees highly value educational accomplishments. They value the process of education and the benefits it can bring. In this context, it is interesting to note that many of the interviewees were firstgeneration college students. Perhaps this status helped facilitate their appreciation of the value of education.
3. Student Orientation Characterizes All of Them.
All of the interviewees are student-oriented people. The national and local officers of Psi Chi have striven to make the organization relevant to its student members and their needs. Chapter programs conducted at the local level were designed to meet the specific needs peculiar to the individual chapters and their members. Likewise, Psi Chi programs presented in conjunction with the meetings of regional and national psychological associations have been, and continue to be, designed to provide students with the best speakers and the most relevant information and experiences possible. In addition to the presentation of strong, informative programs, two awards programs were developed: the J. P. Guilford Award for outstanding undergraduate research and the Newman Graduate Award. Clearly, self-ingratiation was not a motive that characterized the interviewees.
4. Ruth Cousins Played a Crucial Role.
The number of times that Ruth Hubbard Cousins was mentioned—and praised—by the interviewees provides a small indication of her role in the history of Psi Chi. The esteem (even reverence) reflected in these comments indicates her perceived importance to the organization. The assertion that Ruth (and her children!) devoted their lives to Psi Chi is amply documented. She succeeded in building Psi Chi into a strong and highly respected organization. Her significant accomplishments included changing Psi Chi from an honorary organization to a national honor society, and putting Psi Chi on a strong financial footing.
5. Psi Chi Has an Exciting Future.
Once Ruth Cousins and the National Council established Psi Chi on a solid financial base and money became a less pressing issue, attention turned toward developing additional student-oriented initiatives. This theme clearly runs through the interviews with more recent National Council members.... The interviews that comprise the bulk of this book indicate clearly that Psi Chi has been guided by interesting, interested, dedicated, and hardworking people during its first 70 years. There is no reason to expect anything less from the next 70 years.
About the Authors (published in 2000):
Stephen F. Davis is professor of psychology at Emporia State University. In addition to his own teaching duties, he supervises 14 graduate teaching assistants who teach introductory and developmental psychology. Dr. Davis received his PhD in general experimental psychology from Texas Christian University. He taught at King College (Bristol, Tennessee), and Austin Peay State University (Clarksville, Tennessee) before joining the Emporia State faculty.
Dr. Davis’s research interests include academic dishonesty, student professional development, student responsibility, conditioned taste aversion leaming, and olfactory communication in animal maze learning. Since 1966 he has published over 250 articles and textbooks and presented over 800 professional papers. The vast majority of these publications and presentations include undergraduate and graduate student coauthors.
Dr. Davis has served as the president of APA Division 2 (the Society for the Teaching of Psychology), the Southem Society for Philosophy and Psychology, the Southwestem Psychological Association, and Psi Chi (the National Honor Society in Psychology). In 1987 Dr. Davis received the first annual Psi Chi! florence L. Denmark National Faculty Advisor Award. In 1988 he received the American Psychological Foundation Distinguished Teaching in Psychology Award, and in 1989 he received the APA Division 2 Teaching Excellence Award. Dr. Davis is a fellow of APA Divisions 1 (General), 2 (Society for the Teaching of Psychology), and 6 (Behavioral Neuroscience and Comparative Psychology).
Michael Wertheimer earned a BA from Swarthmore College, MA from The Johns Hopkins University, and PhD, in experimental psychology, from Harvard University. He taught three years at Wesleyan University before going in 1955 to the University of Colorado at Boulder, becoming full professor in 1961 and professor emeritus in 1993. For almost 40 years he directed the departmental honors program in psychology at Colorado; he also directed doctoral programs in experimental psychology and sociocultural psychology.
Wertheimer has published several hundred articles and is author, coauthor, editor, or coeditor of dozens of books; his scholarly foci included perception, cognition, psycholinguistics, the teaching of psychology, and the history of psychology. He is coeditor of the first four volumes of the series Portraits of Pioneers in Psychology, copublished by APA and Erlbaum (the fourth volume of which appeared in 2000); also published in 2000 was the fourth edition of his A Brief History of Psychology (Harcourt, Brace).
He has been president of four APA divisions (general psychology, teaching of psychology, theoretical and philosophical psychology, and history of psychology), the Rocky Mountain Psychological Association, and Psi Chi. Recipient of two national awards for the teaching of psychology and of several awards for service, he has been member or chair of many APA boards and committees and served numerous terms on the APA Council of Representatives. In 2000, APA’s Division 26 presented him a "lifetime achievement award for sustained, outstanding, and unusual contributions to the history of psychology."