Revitalizing an honors society

Tom Snee
Office of Strategic Communication

When Renee Mittelberg became president of the Iowa chapter of the Phi Eta Sigma honors society, she saw nothing but untapped potential.

The national honors organization is open to any student who earns a GPA of 3.5 or above in the fall semester of their first year, and there’s been a chapter on the Iowa campus since 1945. But Mittelberg says it hadn’t been particularly active in years—except for an annual spring banquet to initiate new members, she says it was largely invisible as a student organization.

“It had become something you’d put on your résumé and that’s about it,” says Mittelberg, an engineering major from Cedar Rapids.

So when she became the group’s president in 2018, her first task was to revitalize it. Working with her six-member leadership board, she put together a plan to make the organization a more vital part of campus life at Iowa.

“This leadership team thought we could make it something more,” she says.

The group started holding blood drives on campus, sponsored twice-a-month social gatherings for members, and held professional development and networking activities. It became a part of the university’s Honors Program and improved its communication by starting social media accounts and publishing a monthly newsletter. It established committees to plan new activities, started to more actively recruit new members, and put together retention plans to keep existing members involved.

“We were starting the organization from scratch, basically,” says Mittelberg, who is still an active member.

The work begun under her leadership has paid off. Membership in Phi Eta Sigma has climbed to 75, and the group was honored with the Most Improved Student Organization award at the 2020 Hawkeye Leadership Awards.

Renee Mittelberg, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, chose the University of Iowa for its great engineering program, where she was able to build many connections. Her best experience at Iowa: Working as a teaching assistant in an information systems design course. “I got to know the students and build relationships with them, and I enjoyed being able to guide them through a really tricky course,” says Mittelberg, who will work as a manufacturing engineer for Medical Murray in Lake Zurich, Illinois.