FirstGeneration
CollegeStudents.org

Empowering FGLI students by connecting them to information, each other and colleges that value them. 

1. Let’s start at the beginning. Some students aren’t familiar with honor societies. Please describe what they are and provide a few examples.

There are honor societies for lots of populations, often organized around majors or disciplines.  For example,

a)    Beta Beta Beta, for biology students;

b)    Kappa Delta Pi, for education students;

c)    Psi Chi, for psychology students;

d)   Omicron Delta Kappa, for students excelling in leadership;

e)    Phi Eta Sigma, for first-year college students;

f)     Phi Beta Kappa is often considered the most prestigious, because not only does it recognize the highest-achieving students at a particular college or university, but it also only allows certain colleges or universities to join. It is, therefore, very elite.

 

In all cases, students are invited to join based on criteria, often GPA. Other examples include letters of recommendation, evidence of good character and placing in the top 25% of the class.

 

In all cases, however, students can’t just “sign up” to join.  They must be invited, must apply, must be vetted by some process.  Very often, honor societies put all the emphasis on the first part – it’s an honor. But some actually form a society, so to speak, which performs community service or provides other benefits for members.

2. Please tell us about the origins of Alpha Alpha Alpha. Where did the idea come from? When and why was it created?

I didn’t start out to create this organization. I am the vice provost at Moravian College and was researching how to bring back to our campus Phi Eta Sigma (an honor society for first-year college students). While I was researching that, I was thinking about firsts and was seeing a lot of negative press about first-generation college students. I am first-gen and am at a college that serves a lot of first-gens. So I always read those things, and, frankly, I take them personally. 

 

It got me thinking. Why do we keep beating up on first gens?  Why don’t we celebrate them more? I discovered that there was no honor society for first-generation college students.  And so I decided that was a huge oversight – frankly, I couldn’t believe that gap existed, given how many honor societies there are. So I approached my provost and president, asked them about starting one, and got the full support of them, the president’s cabinet, and our board of trustees.  And off we went.

3. How many chapters are there now and where are they?

At present, there are 21 institutions which have been granted chapters in the following states: Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia. The names of the colleges are on our website 1stgenhonors.org.

Alpha Alpha Alpha (Tri-Alpha):

* Was founded in 2018 at Moravian College

* Currently has 21 chapters in 12 states

* Awards chapters to accredited colleges that grant bachelor’s degrees

* Requires students to have a 3.2 GPA

* Gives inductees a pin and certificate

* Looks great on a resumé or grad school app!

Spotlight on

Alpha Alpha Alpha,

an honor society for

first-generation college students

Interview with

Dr. Carol Traupman-Carr,

Vice Provost at Moravian College

President of Alpha Alpha Alpha

4. Are there eligibility requirements for a college or university to establish a chapter at its campus? If so, what are they?

Yes.  To join, a college or university must:

a)     offer a bachelor’s degree.  At this time, we are not offering membership to community colleges or other 2-year schools, though in the future that might change;

b)    be regionally or nationally accredited by an accreditor recognized by the US Department of Education;

c)     follow the definition we established for first-gen (neither parents, guardians, nor step-parents earned a bachelor’s degree; 

d)    agree to have at least one induction a year, with at least 10 inductees, including students (undergraduate or graduate), faculty, staff, and alumni;

e)    pay membership fees.

5. Can students initiate the process of establishing a chapter or must it come from faculty/administration? What is the process like and about how long does it take?

Actually, at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, the students reached out to me to start a chapter. They must have a faculty advisor (preferably, two) who will agree to shepherd the chapter, but it can absolutely be student-driven. It’s terrific when the students take charge. Doing so provides so many leadership opportunities for the students. The process at this time is fairly simple. The application is available on our website 1stgenhonors.org, and we try to review applications quickly and respond within 2-3 business days.  

6. We noticed that each chapter has a unique name. Could you please explain how chapter names are chosen (or assigned) and what, if any, significance each name has? 

It’s tradition with honor societies that they have a Greek name. We chose Alpha Alpha Alpha (or Tri-Alpha) because it’s first in the Greek alphabet – that seems fitting for a first-gen honor society. It’s amazing that the name wasn’t already taken!

 

Each chapter also has a Greek name. Moravian College, where Alpha Alpha Alpha was founded, is the Alpha chapter. The Beta chapter was offered to our sister institution, Salem College. Other chapters are given the next Greek letter available. We only have 4 more Greek letters available for the single-name chapters.  After that, we’ll go back to the top, and someone will be the Alpha Alpha chapter, then the Alpha Beta chapter, etc.  You can tell when each chapter was founded based on where its name falls in the Greek alphabet.

7. Once a campus chapter is established, how are students selected for membership? Do they need to apply? If so, what are eligibility requirements?

The national chapter has set minimum requirements for members of individuals.  Students must:

a)     be first-generation students (neither their parents, guardians, nor step-parents earned a bachelor’s degree);

b)    be a full-time student at the school;

c)     have earned at least 36 credit hours towards the degree;

d)    have at least a 3.2 overall GPA on a 4.0 scale.  We do allow the individual chapters to set stricter standards (if they want to make it a 3.3, that’s fine), but they can’t lower the standards.  

8. Is there a formal ceremony for inductees when they’re admitted? If so, can you describe what these ceremonies are typically like? Can family members and/or friends attend? Are certificates awarded?

There is!  And I have to say one of the most fun things about establishing the honor society was writing the script. We wanted to make it simple, straightforward, and meaningful. We didn’t want it to drag on, but we wanted it to be long enough to make it worth attending.  Inductees receive a very nice certificate of induction and a pin.  We also offer honor cords, though our recommendation is that these be given to graduating seniors to wear at graduation. 

 

Who is invited to attend is up to the individual chapters, though we strongly encourage family and friends to be there. Being the first in a family to go to college is a huge thing for a lot of individuals. It’s important that the people supporting them on the journey be there to celebrate their successes, and not just pick up the pieces when things don’t go well.  That first graduation is often an enormous feat not just for the student, but for the whole extended family.  

9. Do chapters have activities and/or events that members participate in? If so, can you give a few examples of common activities?

We were only recently founded (in March 2018) and most of the chapters just had their first induction at the end of the last academic year (in late Spring 2019), so we don’t have examples yet. But it is my sincere hope that chapters will use the faculty, staff, and students who are in Tri-Alpha to develop a community on campus for first-gens, one that supports those starting on their journey as well as celebrating those who are nearing the end of that bachelor’s program. 

 

On our campus, we have been offering some study breaks with snacks for first-gens. In addition, our officers “man” a table at admissions days in order to promote the honor society to incoming first-gen students. I’m hoping eventually that the national organization will have enough resources to sponsor a national scholarship competition for first-gen students. 

10. Is there a fee for students to be members? If so, how much does it cost? Does each chapter get to establish its own cost of membership?

There is a one-time initiation fee.  There are no annual dues, nothing after that.  The chapter can add an additional fee, which is recommended, to support the chapter’s expenses and to help support programs.  At this time, the fee for the national chapter per student is only $10.  The fee for faculty, staff, alumni, and honorary members is $20. 

11. Do students need to reapply for membership each semester or year they’re in college?

Once you’re approved for membership and pay your initiation fee, you are in for life.  Even if your GPA drops below the 3.20 for initiation, you remain a member.  

12. What else would you like students to know about Alpha Alpha Alpha?

I would love to see at least one chapter in every state.  I would love to see chapters sharing ideas together, and really doing something with the “society” part, and not just the honor.

 

I would love to help remove the stigma of being first-gen. I’ve heard of a lot of students who are afraid to let people know they are first-gen, because they are afraid of how people will look at them. But it should be a badge of honor. It should be something to be proud of.

 

I was first-gen, most of you reading this are first-gen. We are trail blazers. We are setting a new direction not only for ourselves, but for the people who come after us…. Our brothers and sisters and children and grandchildren. Let’s not be shy about it! If we can really go fully national with Tri-Alpha, we can balance out the negative press. The sky is the limit! 

 

Students who are interested or have other questions can email me through our national organization at

info@1stgenhonors.org. Good luck to all of you!

To learn more about Alpha Alpha Alpha, visit its website at 1stgenhonors.org