The Tau Beta Pi Association, national engineering honor society, was founded at Lehigh University in 1885 by Dr. Edward Higginson Williams, Jr., 'to mark in a fitting manner those who have conferred honor upon their Alma Mater by distinguished scholarship and exemplary character as undergraduates in engineering, or by their attainments as alumni in the field of engineering, and to foster a spirit of liberal culture in engineering colleges'.
When Phi Beta Kappa was organized in 1776, no thought was given to its proper field, since all colleges then in existence were for the training of men for 'the service of the church and the state.' With the expansion of education into new fields, a choice had to be made, and the society elected to operate in the field of the liberal arts and sciences. Although this was not finally voted until 1898, the trend was evident years earlier, and 1885 saw the establishment of Tau Beta Pi.
Founder Edward H. Williams, Jr., a member of Phi Beta Kappa, was head of the mining department of Lehigh University when he determined to offer technical men as good a chance of recognition for superior scholarship in their field as that afforded by the other society in the liberal arts and sciences. Working alone he conceived an organization, gave it a name, designed its governmental structure, drew up its constitution, prepared its badge and certificate, established its membership requirements, and planned all the necessary details for its operation including the granting of chapters and the holding of conventions. Late in the spring of 1885, he invited the valedictorian of the senior class, Irving Andrew Heikes, to membership and he accepted, becoming the first student member of Tau Beta Pi.
Mr. Heikes returned for graduate work in the fall of 1885, and he, Dr. Williams, and two alumni who had earlier accepted membership, initiated the eligible men from the class of 1886 and organized the chapter. The parent chapter, Alpha of Pennsylvania, existed alone until 1892 when Alpha of Michigan was founded at Michigan State University. Since the founding of the Michigan Alpha chapter, Tau Beta Pi has grown steadily; there are now collegiate chapters at 236 institutions, chartered alumnus chapters in 59 cities, and a total initiated membership of 517,667.
The Headquarters of Tau Beta Pi are located on the campus of The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, and have been there since R. C. Matthews went to the University as a young instructor in 1907. R. C. Matthews served as Tau Beta Pi's Secretary from 1905 to 1912 and as Secretary-Treasurer from 1912 until his retirement in 1947. Before he assumed office in 1905 the headquarters offices had been moved to wherever the offices of the Secretary were located. Professor Matthews' long service to Tau Beta Pi and the University of Tennessee has made the university the permanent headquarters of the Association. In 1963, the headquarters staff moved into a suite of offices designed specifically for Tau Beta Pi in the then-new Nathan W. Dougherty Engineering Building.
The Florida Alpha Chapter of Tau Beta Pi was founded at the University of Florida by Dr. E. Marion Forsman, Electrical engineering professor Emeritus, and Edgar Koop, former Dean of the College of Engineering. The Florida Alpha Chapter was officially installed as a member of the Tau Beta Pi National Association in 1961. Since that time, the Florida Alpha Chapter has been recognized as one of the most outstanding chapters in the Association. Florida Alpha has been awarded the Most Outstanding Chapter Award nine times (five times since it was renamed the R.C. Matthews Outstanding Chapter Award). To date, Florida Alpha has initiated over 5,430 members (as of January 2018).
Our purpose is to recognize exceptional engineering students, encourage young students to pursue engineering, and serve our local community. We have three major programs to help encourage young students to pursue engineering degrees: GatorTRAX, SECME, and The TEE Program (tutoring).
Florida Alpha is located in District 5, which is composed of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Puerto Rico. Each year, Florida Alpha sends delegates to both National and District Conventions. Tau Beta Pi's policies and goals for the upcoming year are voted on and established at National Convention. District Convention serves as a means in which neighboring chapters can meet and exchange new ideas and information. Florida Alpha hosted the 1973 National Convention in which Sigma Tau merged with Tau Beta Pi. Florida Alpha has also sponsored seven District Conventions, including the 1997 Distric 5 convention at the University of Florida's newly completed Engineering Building.
The Florida Alpha Chapter is fortunate to enjoy the support of the College of Engineering, the Gainesville Tau Beta Pi Alumnus Chapter, and the District and National Offices in all of its endeavors.