Professional and Alumni

Focus on Leadership


Exploring the Future of Honor Societies in FCS/Human Sciences

Dorothy I. Mitstifer and Barbara McFall

© Copyright 2000 by Kappa Omicron Nu


This search for the future of honor societies in FCS/Human Sciences implies that we celebrate the contributions of honor societies in our field and that we call on ourselves to do more, and to do it better. If we have done well, why should we change? One challenge is a concern that some of our members see honor societies as unresponsive to their needs. Another challenge is that society has “problems,” and our field has “specializations.” How do we ensure that the problems of members and society are addressed within the context of our specializations?

In the interest of extending strategic thinking to the university sector, Kappa Omicron Nu decided to engage a national conversation about the appropriate role of honor societies within the future of the profession. Another interest was to conduct follow-up to the Summit (FCS in Higher Education: An Open Summit on the Future). The following issues that drew passion at the Summit have implications for the honor society movement:

  • Promoting the need for highly respected scholarship and research.
  • Developing a thinking and learning environment for continuous development.
  • Exploring the role of research in the undergraduate experience.
  • Determining how to structure and support leaderships opportunities.

Therefore, as a starting point, KON wished to draw upon the expertise and knowledge of a wide range of people and organizational viewpoints in order to develop as many varied and diverse perspectives about the future as possible.

Description of the Project

This project is an initiative to survey the higher education and association populations, which have interests in the future of honor societies. The population selected for the survey consists of leaders from various organizations related to the specializations in the field—AAFCS, ADA, SNE, NCFR, ITAA, etc.—and a variety of faculty and administrators from small, state, and land-grant universities. Respondents were asked to reply to questions related to purposes, factors (key variables), forces (drivers), and trends in the forces that will have an effect on the future. Respondents either replied by e-mail or were interviewed by telephone.

Kappa Omicron Nu hired an East Lansing consulting firm—Growth Management Consulting—to summarize the data, conduct the project, and give a report at the Joint KON/PhiU luncheon in Seattle. The consultants—Eric Craymer and Michael Goree—conducted an abbreviated scenario analysis, using the survey data to develop a matrix of critical scenario drivers—those with high impact but the least certainty of outcome. Table 1 displays the survey data of factors, forces, and trends and indicates the critical scenario drivers. The data were categorized for ease of review.

Table 1. Analysis of the Survey (Critical Scenario Drivers Highlighted)

(What will determine success or failure of the purposes of honor societies in FCS/Human Sciences?)

Members—Serve the Developmental Needs

1. Identify needs.
  • Needs of/benefits to members (student, professional) for development of programs.
2. Choose target market.
3. Address needs.
4. Measure success.

Universities—Support and Mentorship

  • Availability and consistency of human resources to assist chapter leadership.
  • Recognition and support from university administrators, faculty, advisers, students, and external stakeholders.

Honor Society Organizational Mission and Structure—Uniqueness

1. Mission
  • Distinctive benefit and value offered by FCS honor societies that provide competitive advantage.
2. Structure
  • Flexibility—ability and willingness to change.
  • Perceived strength of the field itself.

(What forces in the environment have an impact on honor societies?)

Family and Consumer Sciences—Historical and Restructuring Issues

  • Restructuring of the FCS units at the Universities; fragmentation of FCS, the consolidation of FCS units with non-traditional FCS units, the incorporation of non-traditional FCS units into a department.
  • Pressure of the past preventing change for the future.
  • Readiness of honor societies to adapt to change and new structures.

Society-at-large—Values and the Nature of the Human and Physical Environment

1. Individuals
2. Family
  • Increased emphasis on family and quality of family life.
3. Various publics
  • Changed student demographics; older, part-time, distance, with children, non-joiners.
  • Changes in education, learning models, delivery mechanisms, etc.
  • Clash in values—achievement driven by individual or group effort—individual vs. connectedness.

(What trends do you see that will influence the future of honor societies in FCS/Human Sciences?)


  • Changes in education—how students learn, where they live, and a challenge to fulfill the need for socialization as education becomes more technology based.
  • Increased use of multidisciplinary approaches in fields outside of FCS.
  • Increased value of work and field experience.
  • Grade inflation.
  • History of institutional agendas.
  • Challenges to historical traditions.


  • Strong specialization within FCS.
  • Restructuring of FCS programs—causing a loss of identity and opportunity to communicate.
  • Relevance of purpose as others are fulfilling our traditional roles and we are not redefining.
  • Increased enthusiasm and commitment at the Summit.
  • Students lacking a clear idea of what the field of study is and what an honor society is.
  • Increased complexity of problems requires an integrative approach.
  • Increased importance of political expertise - need to be aware and involved in political process and global issues, including how to work within a community.
  • Greater success in programs that have re-invented themselves, more large programs that shift the focus of FCS.


  • Increased emphasis on family and quality of family life.
  • Growing focus on the “human family” as opposed to the individual family as the unit.
  • Increasing diversity.
  • Movement toward knowledge-based economy.


  • Selectivity of membership—people are more selective about where they give money and how it is spent.
  • Technology to increase connectivity to members.
  • Changes in marketing needs and membership definitions due to university restructuring.
  • Decreased membership in professional organizations due to fewer entrants and attrition.
  • Decreased commitment and participation in all organizations.
  • Decreased effectiveness of unfocused organizations.
  • Outsourcing.
  • Mergers and acquisitions.
  • Niche marketing.

The respondents are described in Tables 2, 3, and 4.

Table 2. Survey Respondents—Institutional Chapter Affiliation


KON/PhiU chapters


KON chapters


PhiU chapters


Non-member/no chapter


KON member/no chapter



Table 3. Survey Respondents—Professional Role









Table 4. Survey Respondents—University Description


Small, Private University


State University


Land-Grant University




The “critical scenario drivers” provide a platform to launch further conversation among honor society leaders and members to determine possible “endstates” that could inform the future direction of honor societies in FCS/Human Sciences. The underlying philosophy of this learning process is that imagining a future is a prelude to creating one. Scenario Analysis is an open-ended and forward-looking search for patterns that might emerge in an industry/field. It is a method for considering what could be instead of what has been. Scenario Analysis creates potential futures based on current trends and forces as a means to reduce risk and uncertainty. This process is a way to practice, anticipate, and prepare for tomorrow’s challenges today (Craymer, 1999).

Like the Kellogg Commission’s current work in engagement (NASULGC, 1999), honor societies in FCS/Human Sciences can become “engaged” in responding more productively to not only the needs of members but to the academic arena we represent. Borrowing from the Kellogg Commission’s common themes of engaged institutions, the following notions provide a set of guiding characteristics to inform change in honor societies in FCS/Human Sciences.

  • A clear commitment to the basic idea of engagement.
  • Strong support for infusing engagement into the mission and program.
  • Remarkable diversity in approaches and efforts.
  • The importance of defining “community.”
  • The critical role of leadership (engagement will not develop by itself)
  • Funding as a continuing issue.
  • Accountability lodged in the right place.

The next step (of this project) in exploring the future of honor societies was a presentation by the project consultants at the KON/PhiU Joint Luncheon during the AAFCS Meeting in Seattle, June 27, 1999. The leaders and members had an opportunity to discuss the survey findings and give input during the presentation as well as during scheduled meetings with the consultants later in the day.

Phase II

Phase II of the project is the AAFCS PreConference, KON’s Impact on the future of Leadership Development, at the Hilton Chicago & Towers Hotel, Friday, June 23,2000. This conference will use scenario analysis, a tool for learning about and preparing for an uncertain future, to consider the ways that KON can positively impact the future of leadership development. Input from the survey conducted by KON will be used to develop multiple pictures of that future, which will then be used to create future-based strategies.

In today’s rapid and drastic change environment there are many very different, equally plausible ways that the future may develop. The scenario analysis process is designed to reduce the risk that the future catches us unaware of opportunities or challenges. One of the ways that Scenario Analysis breaks out of traditional thinking about the future is to include as many varied and diverse perspectives as possible. Drawing upon the expertise and knowledge of a wide range of people, it overcomes groupthink. Therefore this conference will involve various stakeholder groups in uncovering, exploring, and planning for new initiatives to strengthen the contributions of Kappa Omicron Nu to professional education, especially leadership development.

The firm of Growth Strategies Consulting will facilitate the interactive process, and selected current and past board members and Leadership Academy Fellows will serve as small group leaders. An “Interactive Futuring Session” has been developed as an electronic alternate for participation. On-line participation can be accessed through


Craymer, E. (1999). Scenario analysis… Learning from the future. East Lansing, MI: Growth Management Consulting.

NASULGC (1999, February). Returning to our roots: The engaged institution. Washington, DC: Author.


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