It was election time at the Phi Theta Kappa International Convention held in Nashville and the event had the atmosphere of a political rally. Five hundred and eighty seven chapters waved their state banners in the convention center of the Gaylord Opryland Resort to elect a new team of international officers.
Delegate Linda Rayburn of Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, MI, doesn’t “want a candidate who promises the moon.” Rayburn said she liked candidates with experience as regional officers and a record of leadership.
Paul Emery, the voting delegate for the Alpha Rho Mu Chapter of Lone Star Tomball Community College in Tomball, TX, looked for candidates who brought practical solutions to their position. Emery was satisfied when one of the candidates promised to resolve a dispute with one of his advisors by finding a compromise that would make both parties happy.
“Every candidate has great ideas,” said Emery. “It takes a true leader to make that idea a reality of everyday life.”
For the candidates, however, the competition for the highest office in Phi Theta Kappa was about more than winning. The election provided an opportunity for members to craft their leadership skills by standing at the very center of the organization.
Olga Homonchuk, one of the finalists for international president, said she almost gave up her studies in order to return home to the Ukraine. “But PTK supported me,” she said and her chapter convinced her to continue her education.
As a Regional officer she organized a food drive for the Minn-Wi-Kota Region of the Midwest. The goal was to raise five hundred pounds of food for the Second Harvest Food Shelf in Minnesota.
Her campaign manager, Bernard Akem, said many members thought six hundred pounds would be too ambitious. But Homonchuk got everyone involved. Akem described chapters that drove over six hours through the snow to deliver their food to the regional convention. They raised more than five thousand pounds of food.
Without the support from her region Homonchuk said she never would have run for International President.
Although she didn’t win, like many of the other candidates, Homonchuk’s story demonstrates the scope of opportunity in Phi Theta Kappa.
When Anthony Ames received the ceremonial flame from former VP Sarah Yates, his election to division III vice president represented more than just a an academic victory.
When Ames was a third grader in Iowa, he was placed in special education because his teacher didn’t want to “deal” with his Asperger’s syndrome, he said. Asperger’s is described by the Institute for Neurological Disorders as a developmental disorder that is part of the autism spectrum, characterized by “impairment in language and communication skills.”
Joanne Pearson, alumni of Sigma Lambda in Alabama, has a daughter with Asperger’s. “[The other] students view it as a disability, and it isn’t,” said Pearson. “She sees the world differently and that gives her an edge.”
Pearson called her daughter during the election to tell her about Ames.
Keynote speaker at the conference, Malcolm Gladwell, told his audience that many of the world’s great entrepreneurs have dyslexia. By compensating for their weakness, he said, they developed the necessary skills to be successful in business.
Ames, who tested out of special education after two years, thought Gladwell’s speech meshed well with his story. As a child he studied the way character’s on television shows interacted and then used those observations to have smoother communication with his peers.
Ames is a second-generation member of PTK. He majors is education with an endorsement in special education. Currently, he is a Regional and Chapter Officer for Tau Phi at De Moines Area Community College, where he helped to raise support for new initiatives by distributing information to all regional members.
“Phi Theta Kappa is my bread and butter because it has helped me grow so much,” said Ames.
Joining Ames, are the other international officers elected at the conference:
International president- Ryan Austin of Ivy Tech Community College in Gary, Indiana
Division I vice president- Casey Romero-Tobia of Trident Technical College in Charleston, South Carolina
Division II vice president- Ryan A. Lake of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Gautier, Mississippi
Division IV vice president- Andrea Gail San Diego of the College of Southern Nevada in North Las Vegas, Nevada.