Eta Kappa Nu
Eta Kappa Nu (ΗΚΝ) was founded as a national electrical and computer engineering honor society in the United States in October 1904 by Maurice L. Carr at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As of 2009, the organization currently has more than 200 student chapters and about 250,000 members and is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.
On 14 February 2009, HKN signed a merger agreement with IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional society. The merger, which will go into effect by mid‐2009 pending final approval by the courts, will make HKN the official honor society of IEEE, recognizing scholarship and academic excellence and identifying student leaders, young professionals and eminent scholars in the IEEE’s technical fields of interest. Under the agreement, HKN will become an organizational unit of IEEE, governed by a new IEEE‐HKN Board of Governors.
On September 23, 1904, two students at the University of Illinois met on the steps of the campus engineering building to consider the formation of an electrical engineering society. One of them, Maurice L. Carr, later recalled that their one enthusiastic agreement had been that such a society was needed; their views on exactly what the organization would achieve varied widely. Five weeks later the founding group was complete. Besides Carr, it consisted of Charles E. Armstrong, Ralph E. Bowser, Carl K. Brydges, William T. Burnett, Hibbard S. Greene, Frank W. Winders, Edmund B. Wheeler, Milton K. Akers, and Fred D. Smith.
The original purpose of the society was to help electrical engineering graduates find employment and in other ways gain a foothold in their careers. Scholarship was not the only membership requirement. As Carr put it: “We did not propose to ignore scholastic standing . . . but we did not propose to debar a good man because he was not a good student in all subjects . . .” [Carr would undoubtedly include women were he making his statement today!]
The association finally settled on its name, Eta Kappa Nu, and qualifications for membership that exist to this day: The student must be in the upper quarter of his/her junior electrical/computer engineering class or the upper third of the senior class, requirements that are sometimes tightened. Other qualifications relate to ingenuity, imagination, practical innovation, and problem-solving ability. Characteristics that are also weighed include character and service to others. As for the purpose of the organization, what emerged over the years was an amalgam of many suggestions. The association has proved an incentive to excel by recognizing the achievements of both students and working engineers. It has established rapport among faculty members, students, and alumni, and has encouraged engineers to become well-rounded.
The association’s goals have changed throughout the years to accommodate the times, as three long-time active members of Eta Kappa Nu agreed when they met in 1979, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Eta Kappa Nu. The three were Larry Dwon, the official historian, Berthold Sheffield, national publicity chairman of the association, and Roger I. Wilkinson, founder of the Outstanding Young Electrical Engineer Award. During the Depression of the 1930s Eta Kappa Nu’s goal, especially in the alumni chapters, was to help its members find work, the three recalled, adding that the period was one they remembered with much warmth.
To function as more than just an honor society, Eta Kappa Nu members have served not only the electrical engineering profession, but society as a whole. Beginning with the college chapters, members were encouraged to carry out a variety of productive activities. Included are the tutoring of fellow students, the encouragement of K¬12 math and science programs, and the organization of science fairs and exhibits for attendance by the general public. The alumni chapters have had a dual obligation: to help fellow members in their professional lives and to guide college chapters.
Eta Kappa Nu’s major publication, The Bridge, began as a small four-page leaflet in 1906. It was then called the Electrical Field, and published twice a year. It was followed in 1910 by The Year Book, a 44-page booklet issued annually. In 1914, The Bridge became the official name of the yearbook, with 160 pages, and in 1919 The Bridge became a quarterly publication.
Eta Kappa Nu’s initiation ceremony has stressed character development. Members must be willing to undertake hard and sometimes even disagreeable work.
On 14 February 2009, HKN signed a merger agreement with IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional society. The merger, which will go into effect by mid‐2009 pending final approval by the courts, will make HKN the official honor society of IEEE, recognizing scholarship and academic excellence and identifying student leaders, young professionals and eminent scholars in the IEEE’s technical fields of interest. Under the agreement, HKN will become an organizational unit of IEEE, governed by a new IEEE‐HKN Board of Governors. A restricted endowment will be created in the IEEE Foundation to support HKN’s educational, societal, and recognition activities. In addition to holding HKN’s current assets, the new endowment will receive an initial donation of US$1.2M from IEEE. The agreement was signed by Dr. Bruce Eisenstein, President of HKN; Dr. Richard Gowen, President of the IEEE Foundation; and Dr. John Vig, IEEE President and CEO, during the IEEE meeting series in Puerto Rico, at a ceremony attended by more than 200 members of IEEE and ETA Kappa Nu. The pending merger was approved by HKN chapters and the HKN Board of Governors; the IEEE Assembly (representing the members of IEEE) and IEEE Board of Directors; and the Board of Directors of the IEEE Foundation.
The IEEE and HKN merger will extend the relationship between the two organizations that spans nearly a century of cooperation. IEEE and HKN currently hold joint award and recognition ceremonies, and a large number of service activities are organized jointly by IEEE student branches and HKN chapters. These activities include tutoring to students, outreach to high schools, and sponsorship of technical competitions and scientific presentations.
The awards that Eta Kappa Nu presents annually cut a wide swath in the field of electrical engineering. They include the following:
- The Outstanding Young Electrical Engineers Award (established in 1936). The requirements of this recognition represent the qualities the organization encourages in all its members. Nominees are evaluated for technical achievements, service to the profession, and cultural achievements. Nominees for this award must be no more than 35 years old. When Eta Kappa Nu historian Larry Dwon analyzed more than 900 nominees’ dossiers that had been submitted since the award was originated, he observed in the candidates a great capacity for and a genuine willingness to work hard, a strong desire to educate themselves over a wide spectrum of interests, an ability to set and pursue goals early in their careers, an ability to maximize their innate abilities, a facility for gaining cooperation from others, and a selflessness reflected in the contributions to society. It is no surprise that among the winners of this award, several went on to be recognized for their subsequent contributions through even more prestigious awards, such as major awards of the IEEE or the U.S. government, or election to Eta Kappa Nu’s highest grade, Eminent Member.
- Vladimir Karapetoff Award. This major award is presented annually to an electrical or computer engineering practitioner for an invention, discovery, or development that has demonstrated a significant and long-term positive impact on the welfare of society.
- The Zerby-Koerner Outstanding Electrical Engineering Student Award. Established in 1965, this award is given annually to one or more electrical/computer engineering students who typify the best balance of scholarship, service, leadership, and character.
- The C. Holmes MacDonald Outstanding Teacher Award. This was established in 1972 and is awarded annually to a teacher of electrical or computer engineering to recognize the central role of college professors in educating, motivating, and serving as a role model for future engineers. Recipients must be no more than 35 years of age.
- Distinguished Service Award. Initiated in 1971, this award is given to a member of Eta Kappa Nu who has rendered outstanding service to the association over an extended period of time.
- Eminent Membership. This is bestowed by Eta Kappa Nu upon those individuals who, by their technical attainment and contributions to society, have shown themselves to be outstanding leaders in the field of electrical engineering and great benefactors to society.
The category of Eminent Member was proposed by three members of the Eta Kappa Nu National Executive Council, Morris Buck, B. F. Lewis, and Alton B. Zerby. It was approved in 1941 by means of an article in the Eta Kappa Nu constitution. The article stated in part: “Eminent membership may be offered only to those individuals who by their attainments and contributions to society have shown themselves to be outstanding leaders in the field of electrical engineering and great benefactors to their fellow men.” Today “electrical engineering” is construed to encompass electrical and computer engineering.
It was not until 1950 that the first Eminent Members were inducted. Other priorities during World War II and the years immediately following were thought to be at the root of the delay. Also, in the interim the criteria for selection and the process by which candidates were to be nominated and approved needed to be determined, and a ceremony befitting the honor had to be designed.
The first three Eminent Members were inducted by Eta Kappa Nu president Robin Beach. They were Vannevar Bush, Royal W. Sorensen, and Vladimir K. Zworykin. Assisting in the ceremony were Zerby, F. E. Sanford, E. B. Kurtz, T. W. Williams, and Eric T. B. Gross. The inductees were escorted by C. F. Dalziel, Everett M. Strong, and Eric T. B. Gross. An account of the event appeared in the March, 1950 issue of The Bridge.
Candidates for election to Eminent Member were brought to the Board of Governors by the Eminent Member Committee. Eminent Member candidates are judged for their leadership and accomplishments in one or more of several areas: innovation and invention, education, professional society activities, government service, and the corporate world. Each Eminent Member-Elect is inducted at a ceremony conducted by the president of Eta Kappa Nu or his designee.
List of Eminent Members
Alger, Philip L.
Bell, Chester Gordon
Brillouin, Leon N.
Bucy Jr., J. Fred
Burns, John L.
Cisler, Walker L.
David, Jr., Edward E.
Dodson, Marcus D.
DuBridge, Lee A.
Erdelyi, Edward A.
Gross, Eric T. B.
Jordan, Edward C.
Kanouse, Edgar L.
Kock, Winston E.
McClellen, Leslie N.
Moore, Arthur Dearth
Mortenson, Soren H.
Murray, William E.
Piore, Emanuel R.
Potter, Andrey Abraham
Sage, Andrew P.
Sheffield, Donald R.
Slepian, John Brooks
Stratton, Julius A.
Warren, Samuel Reid
Winne, Harry A.