Vaibhav Sharma, Photo Editor

Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society with chapters at college campuses nationwide, announced a new class of 17 juniors and 47 seniors last Friday.

Elections to choose the next class are held three times for each graduating class, at the beginning of junior year, the beginning of senior year and Commencement. The sole criterion for election to membership is a student’s academic record while at Yale: elections are based upon the percentage of straight As in a student’s Yale grades. The juniors were elected as a part of their first round of inductions, and the seniors were elected for their class year’s second round.

Mary Orsak ’22, a Russian major who began studying the language as a first year at Yale, said that she knew very little about the honor society prior to receiving a congratulatory notice from Dean of Academic Programs and Associate Dean of Yale College George Levesque last week.

“I texted my suitemates, and one asked if it was a sorority,” Orsak said. “This is probably the closest I’ll get to being in Greek life.”

Students become eligible for election to Phi Beta Kappa when they have finished four terms of enrollment, which includes terms spent abroad but excludes Yale Summer Session. 

Qualifications for membership are slightly more rigid than Yale’s own grading scale. Courses taken on a Credit/D/Fail basis are included in the calculations as non-A grades, while passing marks on courses graded solely on a pass/fail basis are not included. Courses taken abroad — even if they earn Yale College credit — do not count toward Phi Beta Kappa calculations. 

During the first election, in accordance with “local tradition,” around 15 students are elected, and around 50 to 60 students are elected in the second election, according to Levesque. No more than a total of 10 percent of each class is ultimately inducted into the society after the third election. The overall number of students elected into the society last year and this year resembles that of previous years.

Because of the pandemic and the universal pass/fail grading policy that was adopted during the previous spring term, however, PBK undergraduate officers made a few adjustments for elections.

Last year, the third election for the class of 2020 was based on seven terms of enrollment, instead of the usual eight, due to COVID-19. The same will hold true of the third election for the class of 2021. The two elections that were announced Friday would have typically taken place in fall 2020.

“Doing so allows the chapter to base those elections on four and six terms of enrollment, respectively, which follows past precedent,” Levesque wrote in an email to the News.

Brian Sun ’22, a mathematics major, indicated that he had “pretty adequate mathematical preparation” prior to coming to Yale and felt supported by the Mathematics Department throughout his time at Yale to merit the honor.

PBK inductee Steven Ma ’22 wrote to the News that studying remotely during the pandemic, though challenging, did not seriously affect his academic plans.

“While it’s certainly been tougher to study at home without in person classes and interactions, my academic plans haven’t been too impacted by the pandemic, as I haven’t taken a gap semester, and I am lucky that my home situation allows me to primarily focus on my classes and research,” Ma wrote to the News.

Alden Tan ’22, a computer science and economics major who was inducted during the first junior election last week, said that he has been studying remotely from Singapore since last March — noting the challenges of attending office hours, enrolling in synchronous classes and staying connected to his friends in college while on a 13-hour time difference.

“As an international student, the concept of liberal arts was unfamiliar to me before I came to the US, but I have come to greatly appreciate and value the broad-based education that Yale offers, where I can explore a diversity of fields, in addition to pursuing my major in depth,” Tan wrote in an email to the News. 

Contingent on COVID-19 restrictions, a reception and ceremony is currently being planned for the fall semester. Rohit Giridharan ’22 wrote to the News that he was glad to be “recognized in an official capacity” and have the opportunity to meet other students in PBK.

Although primarily seen as an additional academic distinction, affiliation with PBK will also include invitations to receptions and an annual banquet for active and alumni members. In addition to the induction ceremonies, the chapter hosts a number of events during which it presents the William Clyde DeVane Award to Yale faculty for distinguished teaching and scholarship and the Joseph W. Gordon Award to a Yale graduate to honor their contributions to the arts and sciences.

The Alpha of Connecticut chapter of Phi Beta Kappa — Yale’s chapter — was founded in April 1780, and is the second oldest chapter in the organization following the founding chapter at the College of William and Mary.

Emily Tian |