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World's largest engineering society returns to its roots

The Bent, symbol of the Tau Beta Pi engineering honorary society, is located near the Hittinger-Karakash Fountain in front of Packard Laboratory.

A curious mind, Edward H. Williams Jr. believed, should not confine itself to one or two fields of study.

Nor should recognition be limited to one field of endeavor.

Williams, a member of the Class of 1875, was a professor of geology and mining engineering at Lehigh, an author, and a linguist with a reading knowledge of two dozen languages. According to family accounts, he entertained his grandchildren by acting out the myth of Sisyphus in Greek and reading the Gospel of Mark in Coptic.

In 1885, Williams founded the Tau Beta Pi engineering honorary society at Lehigh. He intended the new organization to offer technically oriented students what Phi Beta Kappa, founded in 1776, offered students in the liberal arts and sciences—recognition for scholarship, character and achievement. TBP would also seek to promote a “spirit of liberal culture” in engineering colleges.

Today, 125 years later, Tau Beta Pi remains the nation’s second-oldest honor society and the only one that represents all the engineering disciplines. It has 517,000 initiated members and 236 chapters at U.S. colleges and universities.

To mark its quasquicentennial, TBP is returning to its roots. This weekend (Oct. 7-9), the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science is hosting the society’s annual national convention in a three-day affair at Valley Forge, Pa., that includes a field trip to Lehigh and a tour of the new STEPS (Science, Technology, Environment, Policy and Society) building, the Center for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, and the ATLSS (Advanced Technology for Large Structural Systems) Center.

A dedication to community service

The national Tau Bates will also rededicate the Bent, TBP’s official symbol, in its new home near the Hittinger-Karakash Fountain in front of Packard Laboratory. The trapezoidal emblem was located for decades in front of Williams Hall (named for Edward Williams) before it was moved late last summer.

The convention-goers were welcomed by S. David Wu, dean of Lehigh’s engineering college, and Robert E. Asselin ’12, president of the the Lehigh student chapter of Tau Beta Pi. The keynote address will be delivered Oct. 9 by Alton Romig ’75, ’77 M.S., ’79 Ph.D., executive vice president of Sandia National Laboratories. At a banquet Oct. 8, former NASA astronaut Terry J. Hart ’68, professor of practice in aerospace engineering, will give one of the two dinner speeches.

The 73 active members and the new initiates of Lehigh’s TBP chapter have played a key role in helping organize the 2010 Convention.

“This is really a special event,” said Asselin, a double major in civil engineering and architecture. “The convention is coming back to Lehigh, where Tau Beta Pi was founded. More than 500 people are expected to attend, and the field trip will give us a chance to showcase what’s going in with Lehigh engineering.”

Lehigh’s TBP chapter is open to the top 20 percent of the senior engineering class and the top 12 percent of the junior class. The young Tau Bates dedicate themselves to community service, helping the engineering college organize events, volunteering at the local Boys and Girls Club, and tutoring area students in grades 4-12 through Lehigh’s S.T.A.R. Academies.

Since 1895, every Lehigh president, from Thomas M. Drown to Alice P. Gast, has been a member of Tau Beta Pi.

 

Story by Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Friday, October 08, 2010

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