When Tina Harloff received an invitation to join the Phi Theta Kappa chapter at Napa Valley College, her first thought was, “I don’t want to join a sorority.”
It’s a common misconception that Phi Theta Kappa is a sorority or fraternity, said chapter board member Max Lustyan. In actuality, Phi Theta Kappa is an international honor society dedicated to service projects and scholastic success for two-year college students.
Once Harloff realized the invitation was in recognition of her high GPA, she was “on board.”
“It’s nice to get acknowledgment for your hard work,” Harloff said.
The Phi Theta Kappa chapter at NVC — officially known as Beta Beta Sigma — was chartered in May 1995.
To belong to the NVC chapter, students must have a 3.5 GPA or higher and at least 12 transferable college units. Letters are sent to eligible students, who then pay a one-time membership fee of $85.
Napa Valley College has a few hundred members belonging to Phi Theta Kappa but only a core group of about 15 students serve as active board members.
For most students, belonging to Phi Theta Kappa simply gives them a boost in the college application process. But for the students who choose to be active members, the rewards are plentiful.
Phi Theta Kappa students are provided ample scholarship opportunities, including access to scholarships only available to Phi Theta Kappa. The students also work as tutors on campus and take part in community projects. In honor of Earth Day, the group went to Kennedy Park and cleaned up trash along the Napa River.
Earlier this month, the NVC chapter won several awards during an international Phi Theta Kappa convention in San Jose.
Among their awards was the “5 Star Chapter Award,” in recognition of several service projects. The group also took first place in the regional division for their “Honors in Action” project and essay, which covered food supplies and sustainability.
This year, the group is working on service projects related to education. During New Technology High School’s upcoming scholarship ceremony, the Phi Theta Kappa board members will award certificates to students who achieved a 3.5 GPA or higher in college credit courses. This summer and fall, the group is providing mentors to New Tech grads who enroll at NVC.
“There’s only so much a counselor can tell you,” Lustyan said. “We’re teaching them the ropes.”
Phi Theta Kappa board member Erin Evans said the goal of the “Buddy Program” with New Tech High is to help incoming students navigate their new campus, make new friends and feel more welcome at the college.
“Being a member (of Phi Theta Kappa) exposes you to all these people whose paths you might not necessarily cross,” Harloff said.
Harloff said many community college students — herself included — start at NVC with “tunnel vision,” meaning their only focus is completing their classes and transferring to a four-year school. Joining Phi Theta Kappa provides an extra level of involvement — it creates a college experience beyond the four walls of the classroom, board member Danica Tindan said.
“It’s taken my college experience from ‘I’ to ‘we,’” Harloff said.