Requirements for awards are relatively straightforward, each having specific qualifications that must be met. In contrast, honors acknowledge a body of work, often lifetime contributions of many types. In particular, there always seems to be a bit of mystery and confusion surrounding Fellowship.
Of the awards, the highest are the Distinguished Service Award, and those awards named in honor of historically prominent members - Andrew J. Drozda, Ben John Small, Dale C. Moll, J. Norman Hunter, Robert P. Brosseau, and Hans William Meier. One of the things that emphasize the importance of these awards is that they can be given only once each year, and many years, one or more of them are not presented.
CSI has three honors: Distinguished Membership, Honorary Membership, and Fellowship. Honors differ from awards in several ways. They:
- have no specific requirements for achievements,
- are not controlled by the Awards Committee,
- are a membership status,
- reflect extensive contributions in support of the Institute,
- are for contributions above and beyond those of awards and other forms of recognition.
The honor of Fellowship is second only to that of Distinguished or Honorary Membership. Although there is no limit to the number of Fellowships that may be conferred in a single year, few are elected, as it is an honor reserved for those who perform beyond the call of office, and who have made extraordinary contributions to CSI.
Perhaps the most common questions about the process relate to endorsement letters. The Guide states, "a limit of ten letters is strongly encouraged." This often is incorrectly interpreted as an absolute limit. The Jury of Fellows certainly doesn't want to be inundated with fifty letters per nominee, but the nomination won't be rejected if they receive more than ten. In some cases, it's possible that a nominee did something spectacular that was known about by only half a dozen others. If those six people write good supporting letters, that's may be enough.
The most important things to know about endorsement letters for honors nominees are that they must support the assertions made in the nomination, and they must clearly state what the nominee has done that is "above and beyond." To do that, it is necessary to read the nomination before writing an endorsement letter. Endorsement letters must have substance; simply saying someone was a great guy and attended all chapter meetings isn't enough. It's also important to remember that the person writing the letter must speak from personal knowledge, not secondhand information. A clearly written and well-documented nomination package, and letters of endorsement that support that nomination, are essential for being considered for Fellowship.
Other questions are related to the Jury's decisions. Not all nominees are selected for Fellowship, and those who were not selected may wonder why. It's tempting to ask, "What about John Doe? I did the same things, so why wasn't I chosen?" It's fair to say that juries vary from year to year, and some may have been more inclined to cast positive votes than others. Even so, the actions of the jurors are private - they don't even discuss nominees with other jurors - so we can't know why they voted the way they did. They are required to base their decisions on two things, and two things only: the nomination package and the endorsement letters. And so, it may be that while a given person may not be impressed by what a Fellow appears to have done, there are things that person may not know.
It would be a lot easier to understand a jury's decision if there were a checklist for Fellowship. "Hmm, attended fifty meetings - check; chaired chapter certification and technical committees - check; served as chapter president - check; served as Institute director - check; oops - was not Institute vice president. Better luck next time!"
It may help to remember what Fellowship recognizes: noteworthy, extraordinary accomplishments; outstanding service above and beyond what is expected; and an impact that made a significant difference. Fulfilling the requirements of an office, participation in organization activities, serving on committees, and promoting the organization are what is expected; even together, these activities may not be enough to attain Fellowship, though some have achieved Fellowship for contributions over the course of a career. While accumulating a large number of awards does not, in itself, assure Fellowship, it can be an important indication that the nominee has consistently demonstrated above-and-beyond performance.
To avoid misunderstanding and disappointment, awards committees and boards of directors at all levels should know the requirements for awards and honors, evaluate potential nominees based on those requirements, and resolve questions before submitting nominations.
(See the previous post, "Awards and honors", for comments about the importance of awards and recognition, and how having too many awards reduces their value.)