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Pi Alpha Xi horticulture honor society makes a comeback

From Mark Bridgen, director of the The Long Island Horticultural Research & Extension Center and Pi Alpha Xi advisor.

The first chapter of the national horticulture honor society Pi Alpha Xi (PAX) was formed at Cornell in 1923. But after more than a decade of inactivity, PAX’s Alpha Chapter is back with the induction of new members on May 7, 2013.

Back row: Mark Bridgen (advisor), Elizabeth Simpson, Angella Macias, Matthew Bond, Rowan Bateman, David Harris, Neil Mattson (faculty), James Keach (graduate student). Front: Madeline (Maddy) Olberg, Chelsea Van Acker, Melissa Kitchen (graduate student).

Back row: Mark Bridgen (advisor), Elizabeth Simpson, Angella Macias, Matthew Bond, Rowan Bateman, David Harris, Neil Mattson (faculty), James Keach (graduate student). Front: Madeline (Maddy) Olberg, Chelsea Van Acker, Melissa Kitchen (graduate student).

The vision for PAX grew out of an after-dinner conversation of a group of academics from several universities at the International Flower Show in New York City in 1923. They were looking for ways to recognize the academic achievements of floriculture students in the United States, and foster fellowship among students, educators and professional horticulturists.

A group at Cornell University led by Arno Nehrling established the society, writing its first constitution and ritual and designing the insignia (right). The first installation of the Alpha Chapter was held on June 1, 1923. It has since spread to some 40 academic institutions around the country, and embraces all horticulture disciplines.

PAX was very active at Cornell University for many years, peaking in the 1970s. Members organized a formal dance with a live band each fall at Willard Straight Hall. Back in those days, young men presented huge football mum corsages to all the young ladies at these events.

As student enrollment in floriculture and ornamental horticulture declined and faculty retired over the years, the Alpha Chapter’s activities declined, and it eventually became totally inactive sometime in the 1990’s.

This year, I was named the new advisor to the Alpha Chapter and we’ve reactivated our membership with National PAX. I was originally a member of the Gamma Chapter at the Pennsylvania State University back in 1976, and later continued my activity as a graduate student at the Epsilon Chapter at Ohio State University and with the Kappa Chapter at Virginia Polytechnic & State University, where I earned my PhD. My wife, Margot, was also a member of PAX at Penn State.

The floriculture team at Cornell University is anxious to invigorate the Alpha Chapter and reignite a tradition that began here at Cornell. You can find out more about Pi Alpha Xi at the American Society for Horticultural Science website, or contact me with questions: mpb27@cornell.edu.

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