UM Chapter of Tau Beta Pi Passes 50-Year Mark

Past, present officers reflect on national engineering honor society's five decades on campus

Chapter president Brennen Middleton (top row, second from left) leads officers and new members in a virtual Tau Beta Pi initiation ceremony held on Zoom during the spring semester. Submitted photo

Fifty-two years. That’s how long ago the Beta Mississippi chapter of Tau Beta Pi national engineering honor society was established at the University of Mississippi. With six engineering students as charter members, the late Damon Wall, assistant dean emeritus and associate professor emeritus of electrical engineering, served as the chapter’s inaugural adviser.

The late Damon Wall (left), assistant dean emeritus, associate professor emeritus of electrical engineering and first faculty adviser for the Mississippi Beta chapter of Tau Beta Pi, poses with grandson Tom Rich in front of a picture of the Bent, the national engineering society’s monument. Submitted photo

Over the past five-plus decades, a lot has changed. Hundreds of students have been initiated. Many have held offices at local, regional and national levels. Several have gone on to highly successful careers. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, the Mississippi Beta chapter of TBP has remained active and continues to flourish.

Tau Beta Pi Then . . .

“My dad was inducted at Mississippi State and was also a Tau Beta Pi fellow,” said Cindy Wall-Rich (BSCE 80), daughter of Damon Wall and a former Ole Miss TBP chapter secretary/treasurer. “Tau Beta Pi was very important to the family, especially my grandfather.”

TBP membership was by invitation only and restricted to juniors and seniors of all departments of engineering who were near the top of their class scholastically, and had shown high professional awareness by their leadership in professional societies and service organizations.

The Walls’ family membership in TBP has endured for four generations. Russell Woodburn, Wall-Rich’s grandfather and a former professor of civil engineering at Ole Miss, was the first family member inducted into the University of Kentucky Alpha chapter of TBP. His sons-in-law, Damon Wall and Wells Nutt (BSChE 62, MS 63), were the second generation inducted into TBP.

Nutt was invited to join the Beta chapter at Ole Miss postgraduation and participated in an initiation ceremony at a school close to where he was living at the time.

Damon Wall (second from left) poses with members of the Mississippi Beta chapter of TBP, including Wall’s three daughters, Beth Wall-Touchstone (left), Patty Wall-Bowman and Cindy Wall-Rich, and son-in-law Neal Rich. Russell Woodburn (third from right), Damon Wall’s father, was inducted into the Kentucky Alpha chapter at the University of Kentucky. Submitted photo

Third-generation Walls in the Mississippi Beta chapter of TBP at Ole Miss included Damon Wall’s three daughters: Cindy Wall-Rich, Patty Wall-Bowman (BSCS 83) and Beth Wall-Touchstone (BSCS 78); and son-in-law Neal Rich (BSEE 81).

Fourth-generation TBP members were Tom Rich (BSCE 06, JD 09) and David Rich (BSME 09, MSESC 11) (sons of Cindy and Neal Rich), and Tyler Touchstone (BSChE 11) (son of Beth Wall-Touchstone).

The primary TBP advisers have been Damon Wall, followed by Ellen Lackey, professor of mechanical engineering, followed by Marni Kendricks, assistant dean. Current associate advisers include Elliott Hutchcraft, associate professor of electrical engineering, and Elizabeth Ervin, associate professor of civil engineering.

. . . And Tau Beta Pi Now

Amid the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the chapter celebrated its 52nd anniversary with regularly scheduled Zoom meetings for members, by working with the School of Engineering to offer free tutoring sessions run by Tau Beta Pi members and providing service opportunities when in-person events are not available.

Members of the UM chapter of Tau Beta Pi celebrate the chapter’s 50th anniversary during a district conference held last year. Submitted photo

“I originally joined Tau Beta Pi because our chapter volunteers with high schoolers interested in STEM careers,” said Brennen Middleton of St. Louis, Missouri, a senior chemical engineering major and chapter president. “As a student, it has helped me find like-minded students from different engineering departments to collaborate. For my future engineering career, Tau Beta Pi has allowed me to make connections with other Tau Beta Pi members across the nation.”

Last year, Middleton held the position of recording secretary. As president this year, his duties consisted of running monthly chapter meetings, corresponding with companies to sponsor informational sessions, planning community service events and completing administrative tasks for the chapter.

“I had the opportunity to serve as the secretary of the National Rituals Committee for the Tau Beta Pi 2021 Unvention (our online convention),” Middleton said. “During this, we were able to review our current ritual, (provide) feedback and (propose) updates for our ritual ceremonies.”

The chapter was also able to help begin the tutoring program for engineering students, which is set to begin in the 2021-22 academic school year.

“This will allow students to receive free tutoring sessions from students in our academic school, which is important for those struggling to find resources to succeed in their undergraduate coursework,” Middleton said.

“It is a joy and a privilege to advise this chapter of truly excellent students who are deeply committed to professional ethics and responsibility,” Kendricks said.

Tau Beta Pi is the only engineering honor society representing the entire engineering profession. It is the nation’s second-oldest honor society, founded at Lehigh University in 1885 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.

There are collegiate TBP chapters at 250 U.S. colleges and universities, 47 active alumni chapters in 16 districts across the country, and a total initiated membership of about 614,029.