Tau Beta Pi at Yale Celebrates Centennial, Reflects on Yale Roots

By: Russell Yang, President of Tau Beta Pi at Yale

Tau Beta Pi, the nation’s oldest engineering honor society, was founded by Edward H. Williams Jr (Yale College Class of 1872) in 1885, with the first student chapter incorporated at Lehigh University. This year, Yale’s chapter of the organization celebrated 100 years on campus.

In doing so, Founder Williams realized his ambition to create an organization recognizing excellence and leadership in engineering at a time when Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest honor society, attempted to close its doors to engineers. Williams, a member of Yale's chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, later received a B.S. in Chemistry and an E.M. degree from Lehigh University, where he eventually became a professor and head of the mining department.

The Connecticut Alpha Chapter of Tau Beta Pi was founded in 1923 at Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School, now known as the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science. Dean Warren of the Sheffield Scientific School accepted election as a charter member, and William L. Richeson Jr. of the Class of 1924 took up the post of President. Eight students, in addition to Dean Warren, were initiated at the Connecticut Alpha Chapter’s inaugural ceremony.

This is a full circle moment for the Connecticut Alpha Chapter, as we look back on Founder Williams’s roots at Yale and step into our second century in New Haven. But it’s also a profound moment of reflection for the School, which is emerging from its once-in-a-generation transformation to meet the moment described in the SEAS Strategic Vision.

As Tau Beta Pi celebrates its centennial, I spoke to members of the junior and senior classes to understand how they have pursued excellence and leadership at Yale Engineering—and beyond.

Tiffany Toh ’25 said that when she was a senior in high school, she “ultimately chose Yale because of everything [she] heard about the people—how they are uniquely collaborative, interdisciplinary, and mutually supportive.” She’s proud to share that she’s “seen this exemplified especially in Tau Beta Pi.”

Amy Cohen ’24, studying Mechanical Engineering, noted that “Tau Beta Pi is a wonderful way to connect with engineers outside of my normal bubble. At Yale, it has allowed me to become friends with students from different engineering disciplines. When Amy graduates, she looks forward “to having Tau Beta Pi as a way of staying connected to leaders in the engineering world, no matter [her] career path.”

Like Amy, Tiffany, who is double-majoring in Electrical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, believes that you can “really see Yale’s culture of excellence and leadership through the various endeavors that have come out of the engineering program over the centuries,” including “culturally relevant companies like Boeing, PanAm, Pinterest, Stack Overflow, Twitch, and Desmos.”

Gaukhar Alzhanova ’25, who is studying Chemical Engineering, appreciates the “abundance of opportunities, fostered by the intimacy of the community, that Yale Engineering presents to its students.” Here, she says, “connections with mentors—whether faculty, graduate students, or upperclassmen—are always welcomed,” setting the stage for diverse opportunities from “engaging in cutting-edge research to starting their own student organization to launching new startups.”

Above all, my peers in Yale Engineering shared their enthusiasm for the School as it reaffirms its commitment to ‘Y-shaped engineering’ — a unique philosophy recognizing that the challenges we face today cannot be solved with analytical heft alone. Rather, they demand cross-cutting breadth, incisive depth, and a transformative sense of purpose that situates engineering problems within the larger contexts of our social and economic lives.

The Connecticut Alpha Chapter of Tau Beta Pi at Yale initiated twenty members in the 2023-2024 academic year.

Photo: Yale Engineering students at Tau Beta Pi's Fall 2023 initiation.