Last week, I found out about an honor society for English majors, called Sigma Tau Delta and also found out that Bruce Stone, a current professor of mine, is one of the teachers in charge of it. I found out that it was actually gone for a few years, and now it is back. I sat down with Professor Stone and asked him about this resurrection of Sigma Tau Delta.
Trevor: What is Sigma Tau Delta?
Bruce: It’s the international honor society for English Majors.
Trevor: We’re resurrecting it this semester?
Bruce: Yeah, Sigma Tau Delta is everywhere, obviously. It’s an international organization, so it’s all over the country and abroad, and it’s basically a community for high-performing English majors. You have to meet minimum requirements to join.
Trevor: What happened to it? Why did it leave?
Bruce: I’ve only been here for two years, so I don’t know the big-picture story. For the last several years, membership numbers have been down, not as many people have been part of the group and even fewer have been interested in taking part in any community activity–like doing a fundraiser or going to the annual conference, for example, or having a dinner once a year. There’s just been less interest in it than in years past. Patrick McGuire was the faculty sponsor for a number of years, and he mentioned to Mark and I that he’d be willing to let somebody else take the reins this year, to try to draw some new energy into it.
Trevor: You said it’s you, Mark Bilbrey and who else?
Bruce: Suzanne Swiderski. The three of us, a three-headed monster. (Bruce laughs at the latter)
Trevor: You were talking about requirements needed to be met in order to join. What are they?
Bruce: I believe membership requires a 3.0 G.P.A overall and a 3.1 G.P.A in the major. The organization is open primarily to both majors and minors, but anyone who earns a certain number of credits in the discipline qualifies (I think the minimum number is only two classes). So, if you’ve taken two English classes and meet the G.P.A. requirements, you’re eligible to join. The organization does need to confirm that your G.P.A qualifies. Mark Bilbrey is the one who registers new members and collects membership fees (a one-time fee of $37, I believe). I imagine that he has to get the students D.A.Rs reports to see how many credits they have, to make sure their G.P.A.s meet the requirements, etc.
We talked about membership requirements in our last meeting, when we were drafting the Constitution for our chapter. There was some support for the idea of inviting anyone who’s interested to participate. Official membership has to be limited to only those who meet the requirements. But, it’s possible that we can invite everyone to events, activities and such.
Trevor: So, there are benefits from joining this.
Bruce: Oh, totally. You get to put membership on your résumé, for starters. Also, the types of activities that we’re planning would look great on resumes. We have fundraising drives, for example. Some Sigma Tau Delta chapters try to promote literacy in the community, so we’ve already kicked around some ideas that involve students going into, say, grade schools and preschools and serving as “reading (or writing) buddies.” Imagine how great that would look on a résumé, no matter what profession you’re going into. Not only does membership show that you’re a good student (because you’re in an honor society), but it also shows that you’re actively engaged in the larger community.
Besides these higher-profile activities, we also have some less formal things in the works. One of our ideas is to try to combine Sigma Tau Delta meetings with a student-faculty reading series that we started last year. Once a month or so, some of the English faculty and students get together to talk and share creative or critical work. It’s like an open mic, more or less. So Mark, Suzanne and I were thinking that this might be a nice tie-in for the Sigma Tau Delta community.
And one other event that’s already in the planning stages is the annual dinner to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday. Most Sigma Tau Delta chapters do this—Suzanne shared some of the highlights from her own undergraduate days, which suggest that the dinner can be quite a spectacle. For now, the idea is that, on April 23rd or thereabouts, we will arrange for all the Sigma Tau Delta people to get together for a kind of dinner-theater event. Patrick McGuire will be there, and I’m begging him to read some selected passages from Shakespeare–the stuff we really love. You know, the stuff that makes us thrilled.
Trevor: What goes on at the conferences?
Bruce: Sigma Tau Delta sponsors the conference, and they invite student and faculty members to come and sit in on panel discussions or deliver conference papers on literary subjects. So, if you write a really hot paper in 266, you could pitch it to Sigma Tau Delta and see if it gets accepted as one of the presentation papers at the conference. If your proposal is accepted, you get a discounted rate for conference attendance. But any member is welcome to go. Each year they bring in big-name writers to give talks or readings; they’re bringing in Neil Gaiman this year, and also Kay Ryan, our national poet laureate (I just love her work).
(I didn’t ask him a question dealing with the following response he gave me; it seemed like an important fact.)
Bruce: Those are some of the highlights, some of the ideas on the table. But the vitality of the organization really depends on the students. As long as there’s interest, and energy, from the students, the organization should thrive. That’s really what it all hinges on.