Phi Beta Kappa Selects 'Senior 48'

UPDATE: 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2011.

The Phi Beta Kappa chapter at Harvard College, Alpha-Iota of Massachusetts, selected its “Senior 48” members of the Class of 2012 last week, and released all of the names today, according to Chapter President Logan S. McCarty ’96.

This selection is the second of three rounds, beginning with the “Junior 24” elected last spring and concluding with a final group selected right before Commencement. All together, the three groups comprise about 10 percent of the senior class each year.

McCarty, who is Director of Physical Sciences Education and was a PBK honoree himself, said that students elected to the chapter must demonstrate excellence in the breadth and depth of their undergraduate studies.

“I think in some sense the most interesting thing about the process is that in the end we don’t make selections solely on the basis of GPA,” he said. “We want to choose students who have a rigorous academic record—in other words, students who have chosen to take more challenging courses, courses outside of their concentration, when those are available.”

Yannis Kalogirou Valtis ’12 said that he tried to take as many courses that are “particular to the Harvard scientific community—classes that I couldn’t take at other places” and focused on learning from professors who were prominent in their scientific fields. Though he is a Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology concentrator, he said that one of his favorite courses among those he has taken was PHIL 144: Logic and Philosophy, which analyzes the philosophy of mathematical concepts. It was rated as difficult or very difficult by 80 percent of the students, who are mostly math or physics concentrators.

However, Kalogirou Valtis said that he didn’t mind the late nights spent completing problem sets because he was interested in the topic.

“I think that was a very powerful moment for me, realizing that rigorous mathematical discussions and considerations could have very concrete philosophical applications,” he said.

According to the PBK chapter website, elected students are chosen from within the fields of social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities.

Colin Teo ’12 focuses on both natural sciences and humanities as a Organismic and Evolutionary Biology concentrator who is also pursuing a film studies secondary. He says that both subjects interest him equally, but says that photography is a stress-relieving hobby.

“When I bring my camera around and take photographs, I really lose myself in it,” said Teo, who also runs the fashion blog “Books and Liquor.”

Selection criteria differ from chapter to chapter; at Harvard, prospective inductees are initially chosen based on their GPAs. Students then submit letters of recommendation for review by Chapter Officers, the head tutors from the concentrations of students under consideration, and current PBK Chapter undergraduates who then decide on the next group of inductees.

The elected students will be honored at a ceremony after Thanksgiving in Currier House, where Currier House Master and Human Evolutionary Biology Professor Richard W. Wrangham will deliver an address, McCarty said.

Though selecting honorees from a pool of such accomplished students is challenging, McCarty said he appreciates the chance to get to know students more fully through the PBK election process.

“It’s certainly interesting to see students who I know, who I’ve had in class but who I often only see in one dimension,” he said.  “They’re very inspiring students. I often look at the transcripts and say, ‘how do the students do all these things?’”

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