Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Academic All-Stars: Bright Lights and Strong Leadership

Friday, March 3, 2023
Phoenix College student Zach Knapp is a member of Phi Theta Kappa honor society and awarded multiple scholarship for his academic performance and community service.
Phoenix College PTK co-advisors Amy MacPherson and Genevieve Winters, with All USA Academic Team member Zach Knapp and his daughter.
Phoenix College student and PTK member Zach Knapp awarded All AZ and All US Academic Team honors and the 2023 New Century Transfer Scholar
A PTK Academic All-star, Zach Knapp celebrates his many awards with his daughter.
Phoenix College student and PTK honor student Zach Knapp with Interim VPAA C.J. Wurster, and PTK co-advisors Amy MacPherson and Genevieve Winters
Phoenix College nursing student and PTK member, Christine Mada awarded All Arizona Academic Team honors.
Phoenix College President Dr. Kimberly Britt honored with PTK Paragon President Award

En Español. Across academia, Greek letters abound. They symbolize constants and variables in math, science, and engineering. They provide the foundation for the English alphabet. The naming of stars also relies on Greek letters; Alpha is typically used to name the brightest star in each constellation. Yet, it's the three Greek letters of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), the society of community college honor students, that have us looking at three of its academic all-stars.  

On Wednesday, February 22, two PTK members Zach Knapp and Christine Mada were awarded the All-Arizona Academic Team scholarship at a luncheon attended by Phoenix College (PC) Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs, C.J. Wurster, and PTK co-advisors Amy MacPherson and Genevieve Winters. Presented annually by the Arizona Board of Regents to exceptional Arizona community college transfer students, the scholarship acknowledges outstanding academic performance and community service. Christine and Zach will both receive a full-ride tuition at one of the three Arizona state universities. 

On Friday, March 3, Zach also joined the ranks of the All USA Academic Team. Only 20 students nationwide are selected for this prestigious honor, which includes a $5,000 scholarship and a special medallion that will be presented at the Phi Theta Kappa’s Presidents Breakfast in April. Zach was also named a 2023 News Century Transfer Scholar and will receive a $2,250 scholarship. Only one student is selected from each state. Indeed, we have a bright star among us. 

Joining the two outstanding student all-stars is Dr. Kimberly Britt, who was recognized with a PTK Paragon President award and will be honored at Phi Theta Kappa's Annual Convention in Columbus, Ohio in late April.  

Zach Knapp

Zach Knapp plans to transfer to Arizona State University (ASU) for the 4 +1 program to earn his Master's and eventually a Ph.D. in Psychology. Feeling lost after his divorce, Zach credits a stranger randomly giving him Michael Pollen's book How to Change Your Mind with providing career direction. The book discusses the new science of psychedelics in conjunction with psychotherapy to relieve mental suffering, including depression, anxiety, and addiction. "I didn't know there were careers in psychedelic studies," Zach said, "but now that's what I want to do."

A bit of a wild child, psychedelics provided Zach with some positive experiences but some bad ones too. He lost close friends to the abuse of psychedelics, so he's driven to understand more about them. "There's a history in the Southwest of natural healing and indigenous healing with psychedelics," he noted, "so as long as we remain culturally sensitive, there is fertile ground for synergizing traditional wisdom, scholarly research, and real world healing."  

Through PTK, Zach has deepened his perspective on education too. Invited to participate in Maximizing Our Strengths as an Inclusive Community (MOSAIC), Zach realized some people struggle in education because they don't fit the mold for how the system was made. "If we want to change a broken system," he said, "credentials, networks, and integrity are needed." He understands the privilege he was born into comes with a responsibility to ensure people have a voice at the table. PTK's research project last semester also had him contemplating the importance of play. "We found a greater sense of well-being comes when you play in community," he said. But he also noted that play styles are as varied as people, so a video gamer might not dig in the dirt with a gardener, but they might be the one who writes the gardening app that reminds you what to plant and when.  

Phi Theta Kappa welcomes his children too. "My youngest daughter lost her tooth at a regional event. A woman from headquarters was giving a presentation, and my six-year-old said, 'My tooth fell out!'" His oldest daughter joined him at the All-Arizona Academic Team luncheon. Both girls have helped at events like Fall Festival or Spring graduation by putting water bottles under each chair. PTK's co-advisor Amy MacPherson said, "Zach has collected numerous accolades­–URSA Leadership Award, Distinguished PTK Member, All USA Academic Team, New Century Transfer Scholar. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment is being a great dad!" 

The list of faculty and staff who have supported Zach on his journey is long–"I'm truly blessed to find new support every semester"–but he brings leadership and wisdom to others looking for balance. "In addition to specific goals and small steps," he said, "I set aside time to reflect on my path and practice gratitude, not only for what I have but for the blessings coming my way. Remembering the worst and best moments in my life provides perspective on any temporary negative feelings that threaten my success. Do your best in the moment, and trust that the universe will provide what you need."  

Christine Mada

Christine Mada knows how to show up in spaces she knows nothing about and transform herself from an observer into a leader—for instance, Girl Scouts. Never a Girl Scout herself, her oldest daughter wanted to join, so Christine went along, eager to spend time with her daughter. Eventually, one of the leaders said, "You know you can volunteer." Christine agreed and made many mistakes that first year as the cookie mom, but her showing up led to other things.  

When her daughter wanted to do robotics, Christine thought, Okay, I don't know anything about robotics, but she found a robotics team. "I ended up teaching the kids about calculus so they could program their robots to move better." When the robotics leader left, Christine showed up and met some fantastic girls, several of whom were not in good situations, so she shifted her attention to these girls, knowing her daughter would be okay. Some were into robotics, but the relationship morphed over the years to more adventures, with the girls bringing their friends. "We went out of state for a Disneyland trip," Christine said. "Some had never seen the ocean, so we had a beach day. They went horseback riding too." In time, Christine advanced the conversation, no longer asking, "What do you want to do?" but instead asking, "How do your voices need to be heard?" The kids initially responded, "but we're just kids," so Christine encouraged them to share their opinions and educate other people about what's going on in their world. 

Christine's road to nursing was another case of showing up, observing, and finding out where she could best be of service. Fifteen years ago, Christine's mom was in the hospital for bypass surgery. The nurses in the Cardiovascular ICU took excellent care of her mom. When Christine mentioned her mom's demeanor wasn't normal, a nurse took note and investigated; her mom's iron levels had dropped to a dangerous level­­. "That kind of care drew me into nursing," she said. 

Christine is pursuing the Concurrent Enrollment Program (CEP) with PC and ASU to obtain her Associate's and Bachelor's degrees simultaneously. The blocks for the PC program will be in-person and intense, so Christine is grateful the ASU portion is online. "Trying to fit in travel to another campus around the constraints of having a family is challenging," she said. Appreciative of the scholarship, which will alleviate some of the financial strain of college, Christine also noted, "It's nice to be acknowledged for the hard work I've put in thus far." 

Dr. Kimberly Britt

Dr. Kimberly Britt, Phoenix College President, is also a shining Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society star. The Paragon President Award is given to new college presidents (having served less than three years) for their outstanding support of student success and for providing high‐quality learning environments inside and outside the classroom. Students nominate recipients of this distinguished award on their campus. Zack Knapp, PTK member, said her nomination was a "no-brainer." He acknowledged Dr. Britt and PC's administrative team as a boon to PTK. "We simply had to tell the truth about Dr. Britt's dedication to facilitating student's growth." 

Before becoming PC's president, Dr. Britt served as PTK advisor during her tenure as a professor and was honored as a PTK Paragon Advisor. Amy McPherson, PTK co-advisor said, "It is no wonder her enduring commitment to Phi Theta Kappa has led her to be recognized as a Paragon President!" Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs, C.J. Wurster echoes that sentiment: "Dr. Britt demonstrates an unrelenting passion for creating a culture of care that supports student success. It is great to see her recognized with this honor as she leads Phoenix College."  

How does Dr. Britt feel about the award? "I'm genuinely touched by this award, as this comes from our students," she said when hearing the news. 

Through the constants and variables of academic life, Phi Theta Kappa provides the opportunity and support for growth among PC's scholars.