The Texas Tech University Forum Chapter of the national honor society for college seniors celebrates the organization’s centennial and legacy while planning for the future.
One hundred years is a significant milestone for any organization, and Mortar Board, the national honor society for college seniors, is no exception. Established on Feb. 15, 1918, as the first national honor society for female college seniors, the organization has grown from participants at just four institutions to more than 230 chartered collegiate and alumni chapters comprised of women and men who demonstrate exemplary scholarship, leadership and service.
Texas Tech University's Forum Chapter was accepted by the organization as a charter member in 1949, and this week, they join more than 250,000 members and alumni in celebrating the organization's centennial.
“For Mortar Board, the centennial provides an opportunity to reflect on the members who had a desire to make a difference in not only the lives of members at their collegiate chapters but also in their local communities,” said Stacy Poteet, a senior adviser for the Texas Tech chapter. “Locally, the centennial also provides an opportunity to reconnect with alumni and introduce others who may not be familiar with Mortar Board to our organization and its ideals.”
The centennial also has provided an opportunity for members to think of the legacy they will leave as they move on from Texas Tech. The result was the creation of a new scholarship, the Mortar Board Forum Chapter Senior Scholarship Endowment. The first scholarship will be awarded during the 2018-19 school year to an active member of the Texas Tech Forum Chapter who exhibits strong leadership characteristics and commitment to community service.
“Lyssa Bell, our treasurer, worked with Stacy Poteet to endow a senior scholarship with the Texas Tech Foundation,” said Texas Tech chapter President Hunter Hall, a senior energy commerce major from Farwell. “Mortar Board is unique because if any member wants to help, they can. We have formal leadership roles, but anyone can start an independent project and take charge. Lyssa really just took charge on this project, and it's a testament to what members of Mortar Board can do.”
Poteet said scholarships like this are an important way to give back to the university and students. It also provides members, alumni and anyone else who wants to give back, a way to support Mortar Board by making future gifts to the established endowments.
“It is heartwarming to think of the Mortar Board members who will receive these scholarships for years to come, long after we are no longer at Texas Tech,” Poteet said. “Supporting our members for the future was just one way to make an impact during this Centennial Mortar Board Celebration.”
Joining Mortar Board
Becoming a member of Mortar Board is different from many of the other student organizations on campus.
“Mortar Board is one of those organizations that you don't just get to join – you're fortunate enough that they ask you to be a part of it,” said Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope, a 1985 Texas Tech finance graduate and Mortar Board alumnus. “It's really something that caught me a little off guard, but it was a combination of scholarship, leadership and other things I'd had a chance to be a part of. You're one of the best of the best on campus, and anytime you're in a group and you look around and realize that there are a lot of very accomplished people, it's both humbling and inspiring.”
Membership is open to current undergraduate students with a minimum of 90 credit hours completed by fall of the year the application opens, at least a 3.25 overall grade point average and outstanding leadership and service backgrounds. Each spring, new members are selected anonymously by current members. Hall said the process is one of the most enjoyable parts of participation in the organization.
“Every individual becomes involved in Mortar Board in the same way,” Hall said. “We apply, are selected and then ‘tapped' by the current class.”
The tapping process allows each member to be recognized in class in front of their peers, he said.
“I am so excited to tap our new class,” Hall said. “Since my freshman year, I have wanted to be a part of Mortar Board. The moment I was tapped, I felt like my hard work had finally paid off, and I think that is how most of our members feel when they are selected.”
Poteet said once members are selected, they are expected to be actively involved in the organization, and dedicated and enthusiastic to upholding the traditions and reputation of not just the Texas Tech chapter, but the national organization. This includes attending monthly meetings, participating in Mortar Board events and assisting with community service projects.
“Student organizations are crucial to encouraging student involvement at Texas Tech,” Poteet said. “Organizations like Mortar Board give back to campus and the local community through service and support. Many local agencies would be unable to host events or provide support if it wasn't for the numerous volunteer hours members of campus organizations contribute. It is my hope that through Mortar Board and other student organizations, students continue to give back in the future communities they may call home. A heart for service should continue even after students receive their diploma.”
The Texas Tech chapter has been recognized nationally by Mortar Board as a Gold Torch Chapter for, among other things, its exemplary service efforts. These include fundraisers like President for a Day, in which students can purchase tickets for a chance to experience the university from Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec's perspective, and commencement flower sales, which is the main source of funding for the new scholarship.
Texas Tech members also help promote the organization's national philanthropy, Reading is Leading, and the importance of literacy in local elementary schools. Members this year are contributing new books and games for the Mentor Room at Bayless Elementary, where they also will be designing and decorating a Reading Corner.
“Members have opportunities to make a remarkable difference in their campus and community by uniting to live Mortar Board's purpose,” Poteet said. “Members also grow as leaders and develop real connections among the best and brightest students in their class and with faculty, administrators and staff and the community.”
The chapter also is known for its annual Bark in the Park event, in which it partners with Texas Tech Athletics to allow spectators to bring their dogs to a baseball game. Representatives from the Humane Society and animal rescue organizations are on hand to promote responsible pet ownership and adoptions.
“This is the kind of organization that encourages leaders to give back to their community, that encourages leaders to educate themselves about where the opportunities are,” Pope said. “We're looking for men and women who understand problems, issues and opportunities and help develop solutions to help us move forward. That kind of thinking in an academic setting is ideal because that's what we look for in the real world. Whether it's a business, a church, a neighborhood or a city, you get a lot of chances to put those skills to work, and Mortar Board helps support that type of work.”
Reaping the rewards
Pope said like many things in life, in spite of the numerous ways Mortar Board members give back to others, they'll still get much more than what they could ever put in. While membership looks great on a resume, the intangible benefits will stay with members the rest of their lives.
“First of all, you get the experience and the chance to learn from the advisers, the men and women who take time to help lead those student organizations,” Pope said. “They're great mentors and great role models.”
Hall said he's thankful for the mentorship of Poteet and the chapter's other advisers, which include Honors College Dean Michael San Francisco and biology assistant professor Catherine Wakeman. Interacting with advisers and members who share common values is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a part of Mortar Board, Hall said.
“In Mortar Board, we all value our three pillars: scholarship, leadership and service,” Hall said. “We have integrated new service events, scholarships and leadership opportunities for our members, and I have enjoyed watching so many of our members grow through their membership. My favorite experience is just spending time with our chapter and seeing them succeed as they transition into new parts of their life.”
That experience and growth more often than not translates to future success, Pope said.
“Some of these college leadership and service opportunities are like a big laboratory for life,” Pope said. “That's what the college experience should be about. It certainly includes the academic side of it, but participation in organizations like Mortar Board prepares men and women for the real world, and the real world is so much about relationships, how we serve each other and how together, we get things done.”
Building those relationships now becomes significantly important later in life, he added.
“Many times in life, it's a combination of what you know and who you know,” he said. “You may find yourself in a position in life where one of your Mortar Board peers can help you get something accomplished, can answer a question for you or can offer an introduction to someone, and it helps your business or the nonprofit or public cause you're working on.”
Poteet said staying involved with an alumni chapter also can have positive effects.
“If alumni chapters across the nation are anything like the local Mortar Board Alumni Chapter, members should want to be involved for the professional relationships and camaraderie with alumni who desire to give back to Mortar Board because of their shared experiences at their collegiate chapters,” Poteet said. “Involvement in an alumni chapter provides opportunities to give back through continued scholarship, leadership and service.”
Hall said participating in Mortar Board also gives seniors an extra push to finish strong when it would be easy to “tap out.”
“I think it is important to always remind students that you have never really ‘arrived,'” Hall said. “When our members are tapped into Mortar Board, it is expected that they participate, and I have really been humbled by everyone's success and drive. In life after college, you have to know your values and spend time outside of your normal day being thankful and servicing others, and I think honor societies like Mortar Board really do prepare seniors for the real world.”