By Jeff L. Peery
BYU College of Nursing
For three decades, the Iota Iota chapter of the nursing honor society Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) at Brigham Young University has worked to promote excellence in nursing and elevate the nursing experience of its members.
BYU nursing emeritus faculty member Dr. Barbara Mandleco was inducted into STTI in 1968 while attending the University of Florida. When she began teaching at BYU, she was disappointed to learn that there were no STTI chapters in the state of Utah. So she decided to start one herself.
“We were the second chapter of the society in the state of Utah, as the University of Utah College of Nursing began their Gamma Rho Chapter in 1978,” says assistant teaching professor Daphne Thomas, who serves as the current archivist for Iota Iota. “Our charter was granted ten years later.”
The Iota Iota Chapter was formally formed on March 4, 1988, in conjunction with Westminster College’s nursing program. BYU’s Dr. Marilyn Lyons and Westminster’s Beth Vaughn-Wrobel worked to achieve this accomplishment for both schools, and at its inaugural event the BYU chapter inducted 164 members, including five former deans of the College of Nursing: Dr. Maxine Cope, Dr. Elaine Dyer, Dr. June Leifson, Dr. Sandra Rogers, and Dr. Elaine Marshall; and two current faculty, Dr. Renea Beckstrand and Debbie Mills.
According to Marshall’s history of the college, the first officers were Lyons, president; Peggy Grusendorf, vice president; Sandra Mangum, vice president; and Dr. Richard Drake, faculty counselor. (Lyons died in 1998 and Drake in 2017.)
Westminster’s nursing program separated from Iota Iota in 2015 to create a unit that focuses on their school’s traditions and goals.
Chapters of STTI are usually affiliated with universities, where high-performing bachelor and graduate students are invited to join the organization.
“It’s not just a student honor society; it’s a professional honor society,” says assistant professor Dr. Bret Lyman, current president of Iota Iota.
Over the past 30 years, BYU’s chapter has striven to promote the ideals of STTI while helping both nursing faculty and students expand their professionalism and skill set. Past activities include gathering supplies for refugee families, funding cultural diversity grants, hosting nursing fashion show fundraisers, arranging keynote speaker presentations, and sponsoring the college’s annual scholarly works conference each fall.
“One part of the mission is to celebrate nursing research. We look for ways to recognize excellence in this area,” Lyman says. “People can apply for grants, and we can help sponsor their study, or if they have already completed their project, then we may sponsor them to go present it. We try to sponsor global health trips for a couple of students each year.”
The university’s chapter is unique in several ways. First, STTI usually recommends that only nursing students that are reaching high academic performance levels be invited to join the program. However, most of BYU’s nursing students meet the requirements, meaning that more students are inducted than at many other schools. According to the signatures in the chapter’s inductee guestbook, 1508 students have joined Iota Iota since 1988 (not including those that joined this year). Lyman estimates that when you include members from Westminster, the chapter’s overall membership grows to 2400.
Another distinct feature is the emphasis that Iota Iota puts on students. While other chapters may work more with graduated professionals, BYU’s chapter places a special emphasis on helping students along their career paths.
“I think it comes from the College of Nursing and BYU itself—it’s the emphasis on mentored learning,” Thomas says. “We want to mentor those students and are trying to help them; whether it is with research, a contribution to the discipline project, or leadership, it is still that—mentored learning.”