That initiation was such that, even today, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat thinking about it. There was a lot more to that initiation than I have seen at local student chapters in the last few decades. Those were different times.
It started with my receiving a letter telling me that, being in the top 15% of my Junior Class or top 25% of the Senior EE Class had made me eligible for membership in this national EE honor society. We were invited to a meeting where we were told that the initiation would consist of two parts: an Informal Initiation and a Formal Initiation.
At that meeting we were told that the Informal Initiation would be held on a coming Saturday in a lower lab in the main engineering building. It would require us to pass a written test and also an oral one. We were told we could bring any reference books we desired to use in the written test. We were also told we would be required to make an HKN “Key” that evening and to bring three feet of AWG 6 gauge solid copper wire and a soldering iron.
All of us potential members showed up that day carrying one or two large boxes of various engineering and math books. The two-hour written test started at 4:00 that afternoon. You had to work on your own and could not ask help from other potential members. We were tacitly led to understand that becoming an HKN Member would depend on how well we did on the tests that evening. Choke!
The written test would have brought tears to the eyes of Nikolai Tesla and Gustav Kirchhoff. I did my best but saw my chance of becoming a member of HKN fading fast.
After the test, we were given a plan for the “Key.” The work was to be done in a neat and professional manner. No cold solder joints would be accepted. With solder irons in hand, we all started making our key, which consisted of a diamond shape with the letters HKN on the inside, a loop at the top and a straight wire sticking out the bottom
While making our keys, we were taken one at a time to another room in which we saw most of our professors looking quite sober. On the surrounding black boards were six problems. We were each asked to solve one of the problems while our professors watched. These would have finally made Tesla have a nervous breakdown. With a lot of help from our professors, we finally solved the problem we were assigned and allowed to return to work on our keys.
We finally finished our keys and, with a few cold solder joints corrected, had them pass the visual inspection. We were done. “But Wait,” as the man on TV would say while he sells his Smokeless ashtrays and Salad Shooters. “There is more.” We were now told our keys had to pass a couple of “Integrity” tests.
The first of these tests was to throw our keys like a dagger and stick them in a cardboard box on a stand against the cement block wall of the lab. Of course, if you missed the box and hit the wall, the key would suffer some damage and require repairs before retesting. After that, the second test required you to throw the key over your shoulder and have it land in one piece in an area formed by a set of arm-chair desks arranged in a square on the cement floor. That test also often required some repairs.
We were finally told we had all passed our tests. The written tests had been graded while we made our keys. I had the best score, I am proud to say, by answering 27% of the questions successfully. For that, I received a $20 gift certificate at the local student book store. I still have the book of engineering and math tables I got with that award.
The Formal Initiation was held at the Ox Yoke Inn at the Amana Colonies west of Iowa City. We all wore suits to that initiation and managed to eat copious quantities of prime rib, schnitzel, ham and myriad delicious side dishes. We were sworn in as life-time HKN members that night. We had passed the test.
I would love to go to that Formal Initiation again. As far as the Informal Initiation, I would rather slide down a razor blade into a bucket of turpentine than go through that again.