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Honors in Action
    Phi Theta Kappa Honor Students Flex Muscles Against Zebra Mussels

    TOP ROW (Left to Right): Bita Behgooy, Mubanga Musonda, Johanna Qvist, Kero Murugeson, Julia Aguiar, Professor Brandy S. Jumper, Candace Eldridge, Kelly Torosian, Vashtai Kekich, Richard Pearce. BOTTOM ROW (Left to Right): Professor Jessica Hargis, Judy Ma, Tiffany Hernandez, Allen George and Robert Monroy.

    When Vashtai Kekich was selected to join the Collin College Alpha Mu Tau chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) honor society, she had no idea that she and her peers would impact the community, nor could she fathom the impact one college project could have on her own life. She only knew that she and her family would be celebrating her academic achievement with cake.

    Kekich attended the first PTK meeting and was excited to get involved. When the discussion turned to the African water crisis, she mentioned the water crisis she had been reading about in the local paper, the one affecting her neighbors right here in North Texas. Kekich researched the crisis and then arranged a meeting with Jim Parks, executive director of the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD).

    Phi Theta Kappa
    Kekich learned that the NTMWD meets the drinking water needs of 1.6 million people, including residents of Collin, Dallas, Kaufman and Rockwall counties. In 2000, the state border between Texas and Oklahoma was redrawn, inadvertently bisecting the water pump station and moving all but one pump into Oklahoma. In addition, Lake Texoma had an infestation of zebra mussels, which, according to the Lacey Environmental Act, could not be transported across state lines. The water district was operating on 28 percent less water, and if the problem went unfixed, there would be a catastrophic water crisis on top of the ongoing drought. To resolve the loss of the Lake Texoma supply, NTMWD is constructing a pipeline extension that would not allow zebra mussels to enter the environment, but it could not go live without an exception to the Lacey Act.

    “This is a big deal,” Kekich said. “Jim Parks explained water rates and levels. The NTMWD projects 50 years ahead in the water planning process, and Lake Texoma is a big part ot that. With Lake Texoma not accessible, we have a huge problem."

    Kekich learned that federal legislation was filed to grant an exception to the Lacey Act, but the public was still somehow unaware of the importance of the legislation, so she and her fellow PTK members decided to inform students, professors and the public. The group manned tables at campuses in Plano, Frisco and McKinney. In addition, they created and held a water symposium featuring Parks and Ellen McDonald, a zebra mussel expert and principal at Alan Plummer Associates, Inc.

    According to Kekich, the group planned the symposium in 10 days, and she was pleasantly surprised when close to 200 people filled the room. In addition, the students gathered 673 signatures of support.

    Jim Parks, executive director of the North Texas Municipal Water District with PTK member, Vashtai Kekich

    “My professor told me her friend from the Army Corps of Engineers was there. People were excited. When they took the bill to the Senate, we wanted them to know that the community was behind it, and we thought it was important that Collin College had a voice in this,” added Kekich, who was elected the vice president of membership for PTK. Collin College currently has 770 members in Phi Theta Kappa and
    has inducted more than 6,700 since the honor society chapter was chartered in 1987.

    The bill, signed by President Barack Obama, had a world-class list of supporters including but not limited to U.S. Congressmen Ralph Hall, Sam Johnson, Pete Sessions and Jeb Hensarling as well as Senator John Cornyn and retired Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison at the federal level and Texas Senators Craig Estes and Ken Paxton at the state level.

    According to Denise Hickey, public relations coordinator for the NTMWD, in 2011 North Texas had the driest year on record, and the are served by the NTMWD remains on water restrictions due to ongoing drought and the loss of the Texoma supply.

    “There is awareness at your students’ level that the water supply was an important issue,” said Hickey. “The letters were instrumental in showing support for the district. They should be applauded for that. The group played a supporting role to regain the needed Texoma water supply. If you start getting letters, calls and emails, and awareness is heightened, then any individual will pay more attention to any topic.” (See “This just in from D.C. and Austin” right)

    An International Competition

    With the assistance of the PTK officers, Collin College PTK vice president of scholarship Judy Ma wrote an essay about the students’ project, which won regional and international awards. In addition, the awards resulted in the Collin chapter being named one of the top 100 chapters in the world. According to Ma, the Honors in Action Project addressed “The Culture of Competition” by concentrating attention on the theme of “Competition and Geography.” Students examined the issue of how geographical location affects competition for natural resources in communities, with a primary emphasis on water.

    After the water symposium, the PTK chapter organized a trip, open to all Collin College students, to the John Bunker Sands Wetland Center. This was the capstone of their research, and they were able to learn about natural water filtration and observe, with their own eyes, the reality their community was facing.

    Judy Ma

    Judy Ma

    Ma will soon be transferring to a university to complete her degree in wildlife biology or animal science and says this project was invaluable. She and four other PTK students, including Julia Aguiar, DeVincent Martin, Trang Nguyen and Chista Tatar, were named to the All Texas Academic Team.

    “Because of Phi Theta Kappa, I had the opportunity to be nominated and selected for the All Texas Academic Team. They offer full-ride scholarships including room, board and tuition to Texas A&M University-Commerce or The University of Texas at Arlington. I never would have had that opportunity without Collin and Phi Theta Kappa," Ma said

    Collin College Phi Theta Kappa Chapter Award-Winning Tradition

    Founded in 1987, the Collin College Alpha Mu Tau chapter of Phi Theta Kappa first achieved five Star status in 2005 and then again in 2007. from 2009 through today, the chapter has maintained this exceptional distinction.

    This year, the chapter received nine awards from the Texas Regional Convention and two international awards under the guidance of faculty advisor Dr. Brandy Jumper, Dr. Jessica Hargis, Dr. Mark McKnight, Dr. Garry Evans and Professor Lynette Kenyon. Awards included the Distinguished Theme Award for Honors in Action for the “It’s a Small World: Competition and Geography" and the Paragon Award for New Advisors awarded to Professor Jumper. The Collin College chapter was internationally ranked as one of the Top 100 Chapters and was once again awarded the five Star status.

    Four outstanding students individually reached a five-star level: Richard Pearce, chapter president; Judy Ma, vice president of scholarship; Robert Monroy, vice president of Service, and Tiffany Hernandez, historian.

    This Just In From DC and Austin
    Congressman Ralph Hall
    Congressman Ralph Hall

    "It's easy to take water for granted, but this increasingly scarce resource requires enormous planning to get from its source to your tap. Students at Collin College are enthusiastic about these issues and have done their homework. No problem ever gets solved without the clear will of the people, and having so many people supporting the North Texas Zebra Mussel Act made my job easier in convincing my fellow Members of Congress that this needed to get done. We had to overcome several concerns about invasive species, and our bill created a new model of cooperation among the Army Corps of Engineers, the North Texas Municipal Water District, and local authorities. I'm very impressed with what Collin College students have done on this issue."

    Congressman Sam Johnson
    Congressman Sam Johnson

    "I am glad Congress acted quickly last year to eliminate unnecessary red tape and allow the North Texas Municipal Water District to safely resume the transfer and treatment of water from Lake Texoma, ensuring a healthy water supply for more than 1.5 million Texans. We need more folks like Collin College students to be involved in not only the water supply issue, but all issues confronting our community. What these students did to raise awareness and educate their peers is truly remarkable. I commend their efforts, as it is crucial for North Texans to boast of clean and ample water supply."

    U.S. Senator John Cornyn
    U.S. Senator John Cornyn

    "A steady water supply is crucial to the livelihoods of Texans all over the state. The matter is all the more pressing given the historic drought we're weathering. I'm pleased that we were able to get the North Zebra Mussel Act signed into law, which will allow the Texoma Water Pump to reopen and provide water to more than 1.5 million Texans. And I'm grateful for the hard work of the Collin College students who advocated so strongly for this bill. Their dedication truly helped get this bill through Congress and to the President's desk for his signature."

    State Senator Craig Estes
    State Senator Craig Estes

    "This is another great example of participation in the lawmaking process, which creates awareness for key issues facing our region and the State of Texas. Actions such as this help encourage legislators to make changes and propose legislation to improve the quality of life and safety of our citizens. Student involvement in drawing attention to the zebra mussel is one of the reasons I authored Senate Bill 1212, the state version of the Zebra Mussel Act. This bill will guarantee that the North Texas Municipal Water District and the Greater Texoma Utility Authority may continue to provide water to the more than 1.5 million people in North Texas."

    State Senator Ken Paxton
    State Senator Ken Paxton

    "I applaud the efforts of the Collin College students to engage in policy discussion and promote awareness of the water supply issue in North Texas. Ensuring an adequate and reliable water supply is vital to our growing community and raising awareness will not only educate individuals on this issue, but also provide valuable feedback for elected officials as they work to effectively address the needs of North Texas."