"The years of our life are threescore and ten, or even by reason of strength, fourscore." --Psalms 90:10
Exactly how did Psi Chi grow to become the one of the largest U.S. honor societies--with 344,000 members in chapters at 930+ U.S. campuses? This first message of the academic year is an apt time for the new national president to share with you briefiy here his impressions of Psi Chi--its proud past, dynamic present, and auspicious future.
How did Psi Chi originate? It was first conceived by two students at the University of Kansas--Frederick Howell Lewis and Edwin B. Newman--who "were wondering, in the spring of 1928, why there was no national honorary society in their academic field" (Hunt, 1979,
p. 1). Conception became birth on September 4, 1929, when Psi Chi was founded at Yale University, during what some regard as the most momentous gathering ever held in psychology--the Ninth International Congress (Hogan, 1998). The fiedgling organization grew slowly through the U.S. depression and other tribulations.
It was in 1958 that graduate student Ruth Cousins became the head of Psi Chiâ€™s central office and began her legendary 33-year stewardship of our honor society. When Ruth began in 1958, Psi Chiâ€™s numbered some 25,000 life members from 130 chapters (Hogan & Sexton, 1993). When Ruth retired in 1991, Psi Chi had grown more than 500 percent--to 221,573 life members from 734 chapters. â€œFew businesses today can boast of such a growth recordâ€ (Wilson, 1991, p. 4). Under Ruthâ€™s leadership, Psi Chi became a key member of the Association of College Honor Societies, an affiliate of the American Psychological Society (APS), and had even spawned a second honor society for two-year colleges (Psi Beta).
If Ruth Cousins oversaw Psi Chiâ€™s Golden Years, then her successor since 1991, Kay Wilson, is overseeing its Platinum Years. Kay has continued Psi Chiâ€™s rapid growth, adding an additional 200 chapters and 120,000 members in just eight years. It is no accident that the annual survey of the American Society of Association Executives rated Psi Chi as "number one," the best-managed organization in the U.S. for a staff of four people managing a national office. (Take a bow Kay, Dan, Paula, Scott!) Of course the importance of Psi Chiâ€™s large numbers is the lives they represent. Many students and faculty (including this writer) are grateful for how the marvelous activities of Psi Chi have touched their lives--their school, career, and personal success. Though a systematic survey is yet to be done, we know that many key psychologists today, including past presidents and CEOs of APA, were touched by Psi Chi early in their careers (Interviews, 1992). As APA Executive Officer Raymond Fowler noted, "More psychologists have been through the doors of Psi Chi than any other psychology organization in the world" (in Wilson, 1991, p. 4).
What does Psi Chi offer its members today? Since I began my service on Psi Chiâ€™s 10-person Council in 1993 (as Eastern Vice-President), I have seen Psi Chi activities double and perhaps triple in just these past six years. Up to 1993, Psi Chi offered an impressive number of conferences, grants, awards, and other free opportunities for members, which fill other pages in this magazineâ€”the Denmark, Guilford, Cousins, Allyn & Bacon, and Newman Awards (Newman, 1996). But consider all of Psi Chiâ€™s new offerings for members since 1993. There are now annually the three Hunt Awards (for policy research), the Lewis Distinguished Lecture, 12 Regional Advisor Awards, 12 Regional Chapter Awards, student research grants, faculty research grants, some 70+ regional and national convention awards, a national service project, the first-rate quarterly magazine you are holding, the Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research, a national Web site linking membersâ€™ campuses, and a national miniconvention each August.
Two points about Psi Chi today. (1) Happily, Psi Chiâ€™s wealth of offerings are all the more impressive, when we consider that oneâ€™s lifetime membership costs only $25, with no annual dues or added charges. At Psi Chiâ€™s nine regional or national conferences each year, we enjoy seeing dozens of student and faculty award winners receiving back hundreds or thousands of dollarsâ€™ return on their initial $25 investment. Even after six years as an elected officer of Psi Chi, I am still awed at how Psi Chi does it, in a society where we are accustomed to see government and other groups deplete rather than augment their assets. In fact, one conference presentation jokingly asked "Is Psi Chi a Ponzi game?" (Takooshian, 1996), implying that something illegal must be happening when a member puts in $25 and gets back $500.
Sadly, many colleges large and small still lack a Psi Chi chapter. This means even the most able students at these colleges are simply unable to become members of Psi Chi because there is no school chapter to induct them. The National Office continually receives inquiries from students who must be told they cannot join if their school (for whatever reason) fails to submit a charter petition. Fortunately, some 20 more schools join the Psi Chi family each year, moving asymptomatically (if gradually) towards 100 percent of U.S. schools. In my view, the benefits of Psi Chi membership are so substantial at this point in 1998, that nonmember students are truly â€œleft outâ€ if they do not join, and nonmember schools are depriving their best students of the rich network of possibilities that Psi Chi offers.
Where is Psi Chi headed as it turns 70? Though life always has surprises for individuals and for organizations, there is every reason to see a prosperous future for Psi Chi and those involved in its work. Under the energetic presidency of Slater Newman in 1997-98, Psi Chi has even begun some international movement, expanding its mission globally where the concept of student honor societies hardly exists.
For both new and veteran members of Psi Chi--students, faculty and (yes) alumni--I offer two friendly suggestions.
First, do not be shy. Each year, our 10-person Council is surprised at how many excellent individuals and schools fail to apply for the many national awards Psi Chi offers. It seems that folks can be awed by national awards, assuming they could not possibly succeed with so many nominees out there. But no, there have been occasional (albeit rare) instances when Psi Chi has had fewer nominees than awards. Since all Psi Chi competitions are designed to be simple to enter, and the judges strive for impartiality, students and faculty should not hesitate to enter and obtain their fair share of the increasing wealth of awards Psi Chi offers each year.
Second, get involved outside your campus, in whatever way is convenient. Perhaps you are in one of those many cities like New York, which has a cluster of chapters, in which members have a chance to convene at local conferences each year. Perhaps you can attend one of Psi Chiâ€™s seven regional or two national conventions and experience the excitement that a large convention provides. Perhaps you can join Psi Chiâ€™s national service project and note how things are done outside your campus. Whatever the case, take to heart the maxim, "The race belongs to the swift." With luck, may Psi Chiâ€™s future be a bright one and, like me, may you be glad you have been a part of it.
Cousins, R. H. (1991). Annual report of the Executive Director. Psi Chi Newsletter, 17(5), 41â€“57.
Hogan, J. D. (1998, Winter). The founding of Psi Chi: A brief quiz. Eye on Psi Chi, 2(2), 7, 9.
Hogan, J. D., & Sexton, V. S. (1993). Psi Chi, the national honor society in psychology: The first affiliate of the American Psychological Association. In J. L. Pate and M. Wertheimer (Eds.), No small part: A history of regional organizations in American psychology (pp. 189â€“205). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
Hunt, T. (1979). Five decades of Psi Chi, 1929â€“1979. Washington DC: Psi Chi.
Interviews with four Psi Chi members. (1992, Fall). Psi Chi Newsletter, 18(4), 8â€“15.
Newman, S. E. (1996, Winter). How can Psi Chi advance its student membersâ€™ careers? Psi Chi Newsletter, 22(1), 5.
Takooshian, H. (1996, March). Is Psi Chi a Ponzi game? Presentation to the annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association, Philadelphia.
Wilson, K. (1991). A tribute to Ruth Cousins from the incoming Executive Officer. Psi Chi Newsletter, 17(5), 4â€“5.
Fall 1998 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 56, 55), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 1998, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.