Sigma Tau is a Catholic poetry sorority composed of Northwestern nerds — or least that’s the collective ballpark guess of current students on campus.
In reality, the Sigma Tau Honors Society is a little-known group on campus that is comprised of a selection of NW’s brightest students. Even though most students seem to be unaware of its existence on campus, this honors society has its first roots back in the 60s. Almost five-and-a-half decades ago, a NW religion professor decided to create a group for the college’s top students because he believed NW academics would benefit from additional opportunities for fellowship and community beyond what could be obtained in their everyday college experience.
The current Sigma Tau faculty advisor, Joel Westerholm, described what Sigma Tau has been doing in recent years: “We tend to eat mostly; we fairly often have had supper at a local restaurant and then attended a campus event together like a play or concert. Occasionally, when the budget has been plumper, we have done trips to someplace like Omaha or Sioux Falls and attended a Broadway show.”
In the years following the induction of Sigma Tau to NW campus life, many clubs and campus groups were incorporated into the college’s academic framework. For example, the Honors Program was created a few years later with similar goals in mind.
However, one main component, the selection process, of Sigma Tau is what sets this group apart from other clubs or societies on campus. Sigma Tau is not something that someone can just join; members have to be invited. The process begins when the Registrar’s Office sends out an email to the entire faculty with all the names of the top 10 percent of the junior class by grade-point average. Out of that list, the faculty votes for 10 students they believe deserve to be a part of the Sigma Tau Honors Society. After the votes are tallied, the top 10 students — sometimes more if voting produced a tied tally count — are officially invited to join.
“I have put Sigma Tau Senior Honor Society on all of the résumés I sent out as I looked for jobs, and I assume that looks good to potential employers,” two-year Sigma Tau member Kiersten Van Wyhe said. “It’s also fun to meet with a few other high-achieving seniors on campus. They’re often students I’ve never met before.”
Although Sigma Tau has résumé-boosting qualities, it’s more than academic padding for graduate school applications and job interviews. Each year, after diplomas have been handed out, a Sigma Tau member gives a senior response. This member is chosen as the spokesperson for the group; in another round of voting, this time by the members, he or she was chosen as the student who could best do the job.
The Sigma Tau Honors Society recognizes students’ hard work and gives them opportunities to interact with each other under their shared umbrella of dedicated learning.