National engineering honor society approves UCSC chapter

Erik Pasternak, president of UCSC's Engineering Honor Society, spoke at the Tau Beta Pi convention. Photo by Ray Thompson.

Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society, has approved the installation of a chapter at UC Santa Cruz. The campus's petition was approved last month at the society's annual convention, and the California Alpha Delta Chapter of Tau Beta Pi will be officially installed at UCSC in February 2008.

Founded in 1885, Tau Beta Pi recognizes students of distinguished scholarship and exemplary character, emphasizing integrity, excellence, and dedication to service. It represents the entire engineering profession, with a current membership of almost 500,000 and chapters at 232 U.S. colleges and universities.

"Tau Beta Pi is the nation's second oldest honor society for undergraduates. It's not just about getting a certificate for good grades, but really emphasizes a commitment to service," said faculty adviser Richard Hughey, professor of computer engineering.

UCSC's petition was led by the Engineering Honor Society, established by students in the Baskin School of Engineering in 2004. A preliminary petition was approved in 2006, leading to a site visit from the national organization and several California chapters.

Erik Pasternak, current president of the Engineering Honor Society, led the UCSC delegation to the 2007 Annual Convention of Tau Beta Pi, held October 11 to 13 in Dearborn, Michigan. The delegation also included vice president Andrew Parra and previous presidents Andrew Hill and John Burr, as well as Hughey.

"The convention was particularly impressed with the sense of community within our Engineering Honor Society, the continued involvement of alumni, and the society's outreach to local schools and other service projects," Hughey said.

Pasternak and Parra, who gave a presentation at the convention, agreed that UCSC stands out for the number of projects and the high level of participation in the honor society. The group has organized workshops and campus tours for high school students from the Santa Cruz and San Jose areas, using fun and challenging projects such as a "nanomouse" to convey different aspects of engineering (see earlier story).

Another project that made a favorable impression at the convention, according to Hughey, is the Undergraduate Hardware Lab, a collaboration of the Engineering Honor Society and the UCSC chapters of the IEEE and the Society for Women Engineers (SWE). The lab was established this year with a $90,000 equipment donation from Agilent Technologies.

"The students wanted a space where they could work on independent projects that aren't associated with their classes. They sought out donors, gave a great presentation to Agilent about a year ago, and the equipment arrived just before the delegation left for the convention. So now they've got their own room with $90,000 of equipment where they can work on their own projects," Hughey said.

The top fifth of seniors and the top eighth of juniors may be considered for election based on achievement, service, and character. Initially, students and alumni in computer engineering and electrical engineering will be eligible for membership. Students from other engineering majors will be considered for eligibility once the chapter is established, Hughey said.