Eta Kappa Nu

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IEEE-Eta Kappa Nu Student Leadership Conference in 2014.

IEEE-Eta Kappa Nu (IEEE-HKN) is the honor society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).  The organization promotes excellence in the profession and in education through an emphasis on scholarshipcharacter, and attitude.  Membership is a lifelong designation for individuals who have distinguished themselves as students or as professionals in electrical engineering, computer engineering, computer science, and other fields of IEEE interest. 

Eta Kappa Nu was founded on 28 October 1904 as an independent honor society for electrical engineering.  It has expanded its scope through the years and it became an organizational unit within IEEE in 2010 (see Eta Kappa Nu Merger with IEEE) and is governed by the IEEE-Eta Kappa Nu Board of Governors.  Over 250 collegiate chapters have been chartered world-wide and more than 200,000 members have been elected to membership.  These chapters recognize high scholarship through membership and foster a culture of service and volunteerism within their host departments. They are noted for student-led engagement with peers, faculty, and industry through tutoring, maker-space management, networking events, etc.  Most members are inducted as students, but distinguished professionals may be inducted as well.  The guiding ideals for membership eligibility of scholarshipcharacter, and attitude have remained unchanged since the early years.

The corporate IEEE-HKN supports the chapters and the profession with a variety of signature activities.  An annual Founders Day promotion on the 28thof October encourages chapters to celebrate HKN and to engage in service in their local community.  An annual student conference addresses networking, leadership, and professional development objectives.  A prominent awards program includes six award categories.  An online THE BRIDGE magazine is the archival publication for students, alumni members, and others in the profession and industry.

IEEE-Eta Kappa Nu chapters are present at education institutions of higher learning across the world.   Collegiate chapter activities, including the member election process, are organized around the recognition of academic accomplishment, the promotion of ethical behavior and volunteer service, and the development of leadership and collaborative skills.  The member induction ceremony states, “This is what we strive for as members of Eta Kappa Nu: to lead a balanced life, a life in which scholarship, character, and attitude are jointly developed.” Student members join their collegiate chapter of IEEE-HKN for reasons including:

HKN: Promoting the Profession since 1904.
  • Formal recognition of academic accomplishment,
  • Interaction with faculty and successful students,
  • Opportunities for leadership experience,
  • Organized service projects and service learning,
  • Opportunities for professional development, and
  • Lifelong professional community within IEEE.

Student membership is valued as an early indicator of career success; many prominent leaders, inventors, and entrepreneurs are HKN.

History of HKN/IEEE-HKN

Many chapters have campus visibility through monuments such as this Bridge monument of the Alpha Chapter at the University of Illinois.

Eta Kappa Nu was founded on October 28, 1904 as the national honor society for electrical engineering students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Maurice L. Carr and nine other undergraduates formed the first chapter and developed a national structure.  Their vision for the honor association combined collegiate engagement with a professional community to aid student and alumni members and to support the general profession.  Character and attitude were designated along with scholarship as the three ideals to be recognized and promoted through membership and activity.  Hence, HKN is concerned with more than simply scholarship and the collegiate experience. It was a member of the Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS) for 1947-2010.

The ten founding members were Maurice L. Carr, Charles E. Armstrong, Ralph E. Bowser, Carl K. Brydges, William T. Burnett, Hibbard S. Greene, Frank W. Winders, Edmund B. Wheeler, Milton K. Akers, and Fred D. Smith. The designation of the first chapter at the University of Illinois is the Alpha Chapter. Subsequent chapters were designated by a Greek letter or letters.  

The first century of Eta Kappa Nu began with two of the founders, M. L. Carr and Edmund B. Wheeler, serving as the first and second national presidents, respectively.  The next chapters were chartered at Purdue University (Beta Chapter), Ohio State University (Gamma Chapter), and Illinois Institute of Technology Delta Chapter).   By the centennial in 2004, more than 200 student chapters as well as several alumni chapters had been chartered.  These chapters have sustained records of local service and engagement activities.  The national organization developed prominent awards for chapters, students, teachers, young professionals, and service in electrical engineering.  Also, HKN created a membership path for professionals and an Eminent Member recognition for career accomplishments. The early history of HKN is described in History of Eta Kappa Nu by Larry Dwon. A video records the Silver Anniversary meeting of Eta Kappa Nu; a career guidance film, Engineering - A Career for Tomorrow, was produced to commemorate the golden anniversary; and a pre-college outreach film, Engineering - The Challenge of the Future, was produced in 1968.

The merger agreement was signed by Dr. Richard Gowen, President of the IEEE Foundation; Dr. John Vig, IEEE President and CEO; and Dr. Bruce Eisenstein, , President of HKN, during the IEEE meeting series in Puerto Rico on 14 February 2009. 

The second century of Eta Kappa Nu has a continued emphasis on the original vision, but the program and structure have been modified.  Its signature activities have been revised including special attention on service and student conferences.  It has formalized a relationship within IEEE as an organizational unit in which HKN is now IEEE-HKN and is governed by the IEEE-HKN Board of Governors.  The merger agree was signed on 14 February 2009 and it went into effect on 1 September 2010. A restricted endowment was created in the IEEE Foundation to support HKN’s educational, societal, and recognition activities. As a result of the 2010 merger, chapters are being chartered internationally and membership eligibility is expanded to IEEE fields of interest.  The headquarters was moved to IEEE, Piscataway, NJ USA.

Symbols of IEEE-HKN

Eta Kappa Nu was founded in 1904 as the honor society for electrical engineering although the scope has since expanded to include related fields.  The name is based on the Greek word for amber “elektron” from which the English words “electron,” electricity,” and “electronic” are derived.  In Greek, the word is HL E KT P O N

Wheatstone Bridge: Emblem of IEEE-HKN.

The first, fourth, and last letters form the society name of Eta Kappa Nu which is abbreviated HKN.  The emblem is a stylized representation of a Wheatstone bridge. This circuit is used to determine an unknown resistance from three known resistances.  A membership analogy is made in which career success is determined when a balance of scholarship, character, and attitude is achieved.  These three ideals are the basis for member eligibility.

Shield of IEEE-Eta Kappa Nu using the organization's colors of navy blue and scarlet.

The shield of HKN dates from 1927 and symbolizes several aspect of HKN history.  The three ideals are represented prominently by the three cubes of magnetite in the diagonal band and are also represented in the emblem atop the shield.  (Early forms of the Greek letters are used in the center of this version.)  The caduceus in honor point of the shield is a memorial to founder Maurice L. Carr who favored this symbol.  The hand of Jupiter stands for the first chapter Alpha and the ten lightning bolts refer to the original ten founding members.  The shield incorporates the colors for HKN - navy blue to represent loyalty and scarlet to represent zeal.  Student members will often wear honor cords in these colors at their graduation.  Members are encouraged to wear pins of either the emblem or the shield.

A ceremony is the last step in members’ entry into HKN.  An induction ritual reviews the history, the three ideals, and the symbols as described here.  In addition, the induction officials will speak as avatars, or in the voice, of selected historical individuals.  This HKN review and the use of avatars reflect an intention to honor and to remember the contributions of the past.  

Recognition and Awards

Formal Member Induction Ceremony. 2018

IEEE-Eta Kappa Nu membership is an honor-society recognition and is by qualification, election, and induction.  Any collegiate chapter may conduct the membership process for undergraduates, graduate students, and professional members. Minimum scholastic or professional qualifications are defined.  A chapter may set higher scholastic or career qualifications and will evaluate the character and attitude qualifications locally.  An alumni chapter or the Board of Governors may conduct a membership process for professional members.  The chapter designation for members inducted by the Board of Governors directly is the Eta Chapter. During the induction ceremony, new members commit themselves to the ideals of HKN.

An Eminent Member category was approved as the highest membership grade in 1941 and the first recognitions were in 1950. This grade is reserved for “those individuals, who by their technical attainments and contributions to society, have shown themselves to be outstanding leaders in an IEEE-designed field of interest, and great benefactors to society.”  Individuals must be recognized during their lifetimes for the Eminent Member category; deceased individuals may be recognized as Honorary Eminent Members. The early Eminent Members were documented at the 100thanniversary of HKN in Profiles in Engineering Leadership: Eta Kappa Nu's First Century Eminent Members.

IEEE-HKN has an annual awards program to honor accomplishment related to the Eta Kappa Nu vision.  The initial award category was created in 1932 for outstanding chapter activities.  The six award categories are shown below.  Several awards are named for important HKN volunteers.

  • Outstanding Chapter Award, established in 1932.
  • Alton B. Zerby and Carl T. Koerner Outstanding Student Award, established in 1965.
  • C. Holmes MacDonald Outstanding Teacher Award, established in 1972
  • Outstanding Young Professional Award, established in 1936.
  • Distinguished Service Award, established in 1971.
  • Asad M. Madni Outstanding Technical Achievement and Excellence Award, established 2019.

Typically, these awards are presented annually.

Retired awards are shown below.

  • Norman R. Carson Outstanding Electrical Engineering Junior Award, Established 1985 and retired 2006.
  • Vladimir Karapetoff Technical Achievement Award, established in 1992 and retired in 2019.


Covers of THE BRIDGE magazine for the 100thAnniversary Issue (Vol. 100, No. 1, 2004) and the first issue as part of IEEE (Vol. 106, No. 1, 2010).

THE BRIDGE magazine is an open-access publication of IEEE and is the archival, flagship publication of IEEE-Eta Kappa Nu.  Features relate to technical, historical, and professional interests of the membership and other content deals with activities of the organization.  Chapters, student members, and alumni are welcome to submit potential content.  Alton B. Zerby, Executive Secretary 1934-1958, wrote that the magazine started “as a vehicle of communication between students and alumni.”  It continues to connect students and alumni, as well as to promote the activities and recognition programs of IEEE-HKN and to highlight the development of technology and the profession.  The magazine is managed by volunteers, an Editor-in-Chief and an Editorial Board (standing committee of IEEE-HKN), with assistance from the IEEE-HKN Director and other staff.  

The history of the magazine dates back to the first publication of Eta Kappa Nu which was a short booklet entitled The Electric Field.  This name continued until 1908.  The name of The Eta Kappa Nu Yearbook was used briefly.  The first use of THE BRIDGE as the publication name occurred in 1910.  The volume label was added later and the volume count dates to the publication year of 1905.  The number of issues per year has varied from one to four.  Originally a print publication, the magazine became electronic-only after the HKN merger with IEEE in 2010.  Recent issues have won numerous international awards for excellence.

Covers from THE BRIDGE Magazine as presented in the 100th anniversary issue (Vol. 100, No. 1, 2004).

Previous Issues






HKN/IEEE-HKN Governance

IEEE-Eta Kappa Nu is currently governed as an organizational unit of IEEE by a Board of Governors (BOGs). The IEEE-HKN BOGs consists of thirteen voting members and two ex-officio members. The voting members are elected by the chapters and consist of president, president-elect, immediate past president, governor Regions 1-2, governor Regions 3-4, governor Regions 5-6, governor Regions 7-10, four at-large governors, and two student governors. The ex-officio members are the IEEE Vice-President of Educational Activities and the IEEE-HKN Director.

The first paid staff position for the organization was created in 1928. The executive secretaries/directors of Eta Kappa Nu and IEEE-Eta Kappa Nu are listed below with their years of service.

  • J. A. Umhoefer, 1928-1931.
  • Leyland A. Spangler, 1931-1934.
  • Alton B. Zerby, 1934-1958.
  • Paul Hudson, 1958-1988.
  • J. Robert Betten, 1988-1999.
  • Ron A. Spanke, 2000-2005.
  • Robert M. Janowiak, 2005-2006.
  • Roger L Plummer, 2006-2010.
  • Fern Katronetsky, 2010-2011.
  • Nancy M. Ostin, 2012-Present.

Eminent Members

Three of the ten Eminent Members of 1954: l-r Reinhold Ruderberg, Walter R. G. Baker, and Mervin J. Kelly.

The category of Eminent Member was proposed by three members of the Eta Kappa Nu National Executive Council, Morris Buck, B. F. Lewis, and Alton B. Zerby. It was approved in 1941 by means of an article in the Eta Kappa Nu constitution. The article stated in part: “Eminent membership may be offered only to those individuals who by their attainments and contributions to society have shown themselves to be outstanding leaders in the field of electrical engineering and great benefactors to their fellow men.” Today “electrical engineering” is construed to encompass electrical and computer engineering.

It was not until 1950 that the first Eminent Members were inducted. Other priorities during World War II and the years immediately following were thought to be at the root of the delay. Also, in the interim the criteria for selection and the process by which candidates were to be nominated and approved needed to be determined, and a ceremony befitting the honor had to be designed.

The first three Eminent Members were inducted by Eta Kappa Nu president Robin Beach. They were Vannevar Bush, Royal W. Sorensen, and Vladimir K. Zworykin. Assisting in the ceremony were A. B. Zerby, F. E. Sanford, E. B. Kurtz, T. W. Williams, and Eric T. B. Gross. The inductees were escorted by C. F. Dalziel, Everett M. Strong, and Eric T. B. Gross. An account of the event appeared in the March, 1950 issue of THE BRIDGE. Only living individuals may be elevated.  An additional ten individuals have been designated Honorary Eminent Members since they were not considered during their lifetimes.  

Candidates for election to Eminent Member are brought to the IEEE-HKN Board of Governors by the Eminent Member Committee. Eminent Member candidates are judged for their leadership and accomplishments in one or more of several areas: innovation and invention, education, professional society activities, government service, and the corporate world. Each Eminent Member-Elect is inducted at a ceremony conducted by the president of Eta Kappa Nu or his designee.

List of Eminent Members

List of Honorary Eminent Members


Further Reading