Tau Beta Pi

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Tau Beta Pi
Tau Beta Pi Association seal.png
Abbreviation ΤΒΠ
Motto Integrity and Excellence in Engineering
Formation June 15, 1885[1][2] (Inc. 1947)
Type Honor Society
Membership approximately 545,000 [1][2]
National President Dr. Larry A. Simonson (2006-)
Website http://www.tbp.org

The Tau Beta Pi Association (commonly Tau Beta Pi, ΤΒΠ, or TBP) is the oldest engineering honor society in the United States and the second oldest collegiate honor society in America. It honors engineering students who have shown a history of academic achievement as well as a commitment to personal and professional integrity. Specifically, the association was founded "to mark in a fitting manner those who have conferred honor upon their Alma Mater by distinguished scholarship and exemplary character as students in engineering, or by their attainments as alumni in the field of engineering, and to foster a spirit of liberal culture in engineering colleges."[2][3][4]


When academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa sought to restrict its membership to students of the liberal arts in the late 19th century, Edward H. Williams, Jr., a member of Phi Beta Kappa and head of the mining department at Lehigh University, formulated the idea of an honor society for those studying technical subjects. Irving Andrew Heikes, the valedictorian of his class at Lehigh, was initiated as the first student member of Tau Beta Pi on June 15, 1885.[3] A statue on Lehigh's campus commemorates this event.

In 1892, a second chapter was established at Michigan State University. Since then, the association has grown to 244 collegiate chapters across the United States and Puerto Rico. Tau Beta Pi was a founding member of the Association of College Honor Societies.[5] The national headquarters of Tau Beta Pi are currently located in Knoxville, Tennessee on the campus of the University of Tennessee.[3]

Although Tau Beta Pi never discriminated on the basis of race or religion, Tau Beta Pi did make its start as a male-only society. Female engineering students were scholastically eligible for Tau Beta Pi as early as 1902; however, those women were not granted membership. Starting in 1936, TBP awarded a women's badge to exceptional female engineering students, and a total of 619 women's badges were awarded until 1969. In 1969, Tau Beta Pi began granting women full membership in the society.[6]

In 1974, the Sigma Tau fraternity merged with Tau Beta Pi. Sigma Tau was an honor society for engineering much like Tau Beta Pi and was founded at the University of Nebraska in 1904. At the time of the merger, Sigma Tau consisted of 34 collegiate chapters and a total membership of 45,000. The basis of the merger of Tau Beta Pi and Sigma Tau was the conviction that a single, strong honor society would better serve the engineering profession.[3]


The colors of Tau Beta Pi are seal brown and white, which are the school colors of Lehigh. The official badge, called the Bent, is a watch key in the shape of the bent of a trestle (see picture). The trestle is the load-bearing part of the bridge, representing Tau Beta Pi's principle of Integrity and Excellence In Engineering. Originally, the keys could be used to wind watches. However, because watches have since been fabricated with their own winding mechanisms, modern keys do not. The symbols on the Bent are an ancient form of Greek letters. The quarterly magazine of Tau Beta Pi is also titled The Bent.[3]


Sign of Tau Beta Pi inside MIT.

Collegiate Chapters[edit]

As of February 2013, there are 248 collegiate chapters (241 active, and 7 inactive).[7] A chapter is designated 'inactive' when their engineering school shuts down or merges into another university. Each chapter is assigned a chapter name based on their state and order of initiation into the society. The order is designated by a Greek letter.

For example, the first three chapters of Pennsylvania are:

California is the only state, thus far, to exceed 24 chapters and move into double letter indications. The 25th chapter, California State University, Chico, is named "CA ΑA" or "California Alpha Alpha" (1996); and the 26th chapter, University of California, Riverside, is named "CA ΑΒ" or "California Alpha Beta" (2005), etc.

Alumni Chapters[edit]

Tau Beta Pi also has 59 alumni chapters. Alumni Chapters are composed by alumnus members of Tau Beta Pi in a geographical region, and receive their name accordingly. Unlike Collegiate Chapters, however, Alumni Chapters do not initiate new members, although they may recommend persons to the Collegiate Chapters.


Both undergraduate and graduate students are invited to become candidates of Tau Beta Pi based on their academic qualifications. Juniors who rank in the top eighth of their class and seniors who rank in the top fifth of their class are invited to become candidates for membership in Tau Beta Pi. Graduate students who have completed at least 50% of their degree requirements and who rank in the top fifth of their class are also eligible to become candidates for membership. Others who have had a large impact on engineering and society through engineering are often invited by individual chapters to join as eminent engineers.[2][6]

Scholastically eligible students are elected by the chapter members based on their exemplary character. Electees become members after attending a members-only initiation ceremony. Membership dues are payable the year a candidate joins and last a lifetime.[6]

Major activities[edit]

Tau Beta Pi has an active fellowship and scholarship program supported by alumni members and other supporters.[8] Some of the results of these programs are:[2]

  • 869 students have been given stipends exceeding $4,555,000 since 1929.
  • 1,768 students to borrow more than $830,000 from the educational loan program since 1932.
  • 479 students have received scholarship awards of $958,000 since 1998.

MindSET program[edit]

One initiative provided by Tau Beta Pi is the MindSET (Math, Science, Engineering, Technology) K-12 program. This program is designed to foster interest in engineering among elementary, middle, and high school students with classroom and hands-on activities. The goal of MindSET is to have students completing algebra by 8th grade and calculus by 12th grade.[9]

MindSET was first conceived by Dr. Jonathan F. Earle as GatorTRAX, a program run by the Florida Alpha chapter, and is in the process of being rolled out on a national level.

Notable members[edit]

Tau Beta Pi's membership includes some famous figures in engineering and technology, including 19 nobel laureates:[10]

Seven astronauts who died on Apollo 1, Space Shuttle Challenger and Space Shuttle Columbia were members of Tau Beta Pi. In their honor, a fellowship has been given out five times (1986, 1987, 1997, 1998, 2004). These astronauts and their chapters are:[12]


  1. ^ a b "Tau Beta Pi General Facts". Tau Beta Pi Association. 2009. Retrieved 2011-11-19. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Tau Beta Pi". Association of College Honor Societies. 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-01. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Tau Beta Pi Information Book, History". Tau Beta Pi Association. 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-01. 
  4. ^ "Tau Beta Pi Mission Statement". Tau Beta Pi Association. 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-01. 
  5. ^ "Historical Information". Association of College Honor Societies. 1983. Retrieved 2009-01-01. 
  6. ^ a b c "Tau Beta Pi Information Book, Membership". Tau Beta Pi Association. 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-01. 
  7. ^ "Collegiate Chapters". Tau Beta Pi Association. 2013. Retrieved 2013-02-16. 
  8. ^ "Tau Beta Pi Information Book, National Programs & Awards". Tau Beta Pi Association. 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-01. 
  9. ^ "K-12 MindSET index". Tau Beta Pi Association. 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
  10. ^ "Distinguished Tau Beta Pi Members". Tau Beta Pi Association. 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-01. 
  11. ^ History, Tau Beta Pi, Ohio Beta Chapter, retrieved February 19, 2014, "A highlight of the 1975 convention was the initiation of Professor Neil Armstrong of the Aerospace Engineering Department into Tau Beta Pi as an Eminent Engineer." 
  12. ^ "Tau Beta Pi Information Book, Programs - Fellowships". Tau Beta Pi Association. 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-01. 


External links[edit]