Microbiologist Amy Cheng Vollmer Named Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar

Amy Cheng Vollmer

Amy Cheng Vollmer, Isaac H. Clothier Jr. Professor of Biology, is a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar for the 2017-2018 school year, a position that will give her the opportunity to travel to over 100 colleges and universities and engage with their academic communities.

Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) is an academic honor society established in 1776 that advocates “for the value and benefits of liberal arts and sciences education.” Each year, it selects distinguished scholars from a wide variety of fields to participate in the Visiting Scholars Program. Participants give public lectures, participate in classroom discussions and seminars, and meet informally with faculty and students at the institutions they visit.

Vollmer joined the faculty at Swarthmore in 1989. Her work focuses on bacteria and archaea, and she has taught a wide range of courses relating to microbiology. She conducts research specifically on bacterial stress responses, having hosted dozens of Swarthmore students in her laboratory over the years.

“It is an immense honor for me,” Vollmer says. “I join a list of three other Swarthmore professors, whom I hold in high esteem, as PBK visiting scholars.” They are classics professor Helen North and psychology professors Kenneth Gergen and Barry Schwartz. Most participants are chosen from larger colleges and universities.

“I am most looking forward to interacting with students, both in the audience at lectures and also during informal meetings, meals, and conversations,” Vollmer says. “As a professor and research scientist, it is wonderful to be able to visit campuses where I am invited to speak and to interact with students.”

Vollmer adds that she has helped host two PBK Scholars at Swarthmore: astrobiologist Lisa Pratt and neuroscientist Greg Petsko. About 10 percent of U.S. colleges and universities, including Swarthmore, have a PBK chapter. The letters stand for a Greek motto that translates to “love of learning is the guide of life.”