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Michigan Iota Chapter


Honor societies are associations of primarily collegiate members and chapters whose purposes are to encourage and recognize superior scholarship and/or leadership achievement either in broad fields of education or in departmental fields at either undergraduate or graduate levels.

Tau Beta Pi is the National Engineering Honor Society. It was founded in 1885 at Lehigh University by Dr. Edward H. Williams Jr. with the following goal:

"to mark in a fitting manner those who have conferred honor upon their Alma Mater by distinguished scholarship and exemplary character as undergraduates in engineering, or by their attainments as alumni in the field of engineering, and to foster a spirit of liberal culture in engineering colleges."

Tau Beta Pi has a world-wide reputation because of its high standards for membership. Among its members are seven postage stamp honorees, two Draper prize winners, nine winners of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 12 Nobel laureates, 25 recipients of the National Medal of Technology, 24 honorees in the National Inventors Hall of Fame, 41 astronauts, 65 recipients of the National medal of Science, hundreds of members of the National Academy of Engineering, hundreds of corporate CEOs, two U.S. congressmen, and even a few Olympic athletes and NFL football players. Thousands of members have received top awards in their national engineering societies. Tau Bates are known to be leaders in their profession.

Tau Beta Pi is a founding member of the Association of College Honor Societies, an association member of the American Society for Engineering Education, an associate member of the American Association of Engineering Societies, and an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Junior Engineering Technical Society.


The honor society has followed the expansion and specialization of higher education in America. When Phi Beta Kappa was organized in 1776 no thought was given to its proper field, since all colleges then in existence were for the training of men for 'the service of the church and the state.' With the expansion of education into new fields, a choice had to be made, and the society elected to operate in the field of the liberal arts and sciences. Although this was not finally voted until 1898, the trend was evident years earlier, and 1885 saw the establishment of Tau Beta Pi.

Founder Edward H. Williams, Jr., was born at Proctorsville, Vermont, on September 30, 1849; he died at Woodstock, Vermont, on November 2, 1933. A member of Phi Beta Kappa, he was head of the mining department of Lehigh University when he determined to offer technical men as good a chance of recognition for superior scholarship in their field as that afforded by the other society in the liberal arts and sciences.

Working alone he conceived an organization, gave it a name, designed its governmental structure, drew up its constitution, prepared its badge and certificate, established its membership requirements, and planned all the necessary details for its operation including the granting of chapters and the holding of conventions.

Thus, with only a paper organization, he offered membership to qualified graduates of Lehigh and received their acceptances and enthusiastic endorsement. Late in the spring of 1885 he invited the valedictorian of the senior class, Irving Andrew Heikes, to membership and he accepted, becoming the first student member of Tau Beta Pi; but there was no time to initiate the rest of the eligible men from the class of 1885.

Mr. Heikes returned for graduate work, however, and in the fall of 1885, he, Dr. Williams, and two alumni who had earlier accepted membership, initiated the eligible men from the class of 1886 and organized the chapter. The parent chapter, Alpha of Pennsylvania, existed alone until 1892 when Alpha of Michigan was founded at Michigan State University.

A detailed account of the founding and early history of Tau Beta Pi was written by Edwin S. Stackhouse, Pennsylvania Alpha '86, after years of painstaking research work (THE BENT, April 1941). Records of essential dates were lost, but Mr. Stackhouse deduced that June 15, 1885, was the day on which the first undergraduate student was initiated. Subsequent evidence, in the form of Mr. Heikes' original invitation to membership, discovered in 1943, confirmed this date.

Since the founding of the Michigan Alpha chapter, Tau Beta Pi has grown steadily; there are now collegiate chapters at over 200 institutions, chartered alumnus chapters in more than 50 cities, and a total initiated membership that exceeds 400,000.


The official badge of the Association is a watch key in the form of the bent of a trestle, engraved on the reverse side with the member's name, chapter, and class. The colors of the Association are seal brown and white. The official quarterly magazine is THE BENT of Tau Beta Pi. The name of the Association, its badge, and the title of its magazine are registered in the United States Patent Office.

The word "key" describes the insignia of many organizations. It comes from the fact that it was first designed, in the late eighteenth century, to include a pocketwatch winding feature, hence key. The bottom stem, added to the basic insignia, had a tapered square hole fitting the common sizes of watch-winding shaft. The top stem and ring were added so that the key could be worn as a pendant from a chain, rather than as a pin or badge, thus easily used to wind watches. When the "stem-winder" watch was introduced in the late nineteenth century, it replaced the key-winder. But the insignia key remained, although with a vestigial hole now round for manufacturing ease and economy.


Michigan Iota, like all Tau Beta Pi collegiate chapters, elects men and women who have distinguished themselves with outstanding scholarship and exemplary character.

High academic achievement as a student, or eminent professional achievement, is the first eligibility requirement for election to Tau Beta Pi. Students in the upper eighth of their junior engineering class or in the upper fifth of their senior or graduate engineering classes are eligible for consideration for membership in Tau Beta Pi. Through its high academic standards, Tau Beta Pi encourages all students to strive for academic excellence, and it holds up as models of professional excellence those few individuals who are invited to membership because of their distinction in engineering achievement.

The second eligibility requirement for Tau Beta Pi membership is good character. A member has personal integrity, a wide range of interests, adaptability, and participates unselfishly in community and volunteer activities. This is further elaborated in the Eligibility Code.

All electees must also take an examination and attend a formal initiation ceremony.


In order that there may be a more uniform basis for selection of members for Tau Beta Pi, these suggestions are offered. It is expected that a copy of this statement be given to each active member before every election, and it may at times serve as a general expression of our policy in the selection of members.

It is the purpose of the Society to mark in a fitting manner those who have conferred honor upon their alma mater by distinguished scholarship and exemplary character as students, or by their attainments as alumni.

Distinguished scholarship, while the primary requisite for admission, must not be considered the sole criterion.

After the scholastic requirements have been fulfilled, the selection shall be based on integrity, breadth of interest both inside and outside of engineering, adaptability, and unselfish activity.

We consider that true integrity is the sine qua non for membership in Tau Beta Pi, that it transcends in importance scholarship, activity, and every other qualification. Without private and public integrity, we believe that no organization is worthy of existence. Under integrity, we include honor and high standards of truth and justice.

Breadth of interest sufficient for eligibility in this Association will enable people to maintain their positions in their community by the exercise of qualities other than engineering ability.

True engineers must be able to adapt themselves ingeniously to all circumstances and conditions, making then conform to the desired purpose.

The rating of people on the degree of unselfish activity manifested, is intended to indicate that Tau Beta Pi believes that none can become worthy engineers without the welfare of associates, organizations, and the community at heart. It is furthermore expected that they display willingness to aid and assist in worthy causes by their actual campus record. However, the fact that people may not have shown unselfish activity to an appreciable degree is no infallible indication that they would not if the opportunity offered. The most conspicuous illustrations of this are those students who are self supporting, for which due allowance must be made and due credit given. In fine, it is in this capacity for the unstinted giving of the best, without thought of remuneration, that we believe lies one of the most sensitive tests for determining candidates' rights to bear the name and wear the Bent of Tau Beta Pi.

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