Tau Beta Pi is a national honorary engineering society founded in 1885 to recognize engineering students of high scholarship, leadership, and personal integrity. It was a considerable struggle for the local engineering honorary society, Phi Mu, established in 1923, to gain acceptance into the national Tau Beta Pi. At the beginning of this effort, Tau Beta Pi officials refused to accept Phi Mu because of the relatively small size of the engineering program at the University of Maryland. For six years, the dedicated members of Phi Mu conducted a steady correspondence, describing the merits and high standards of the engineering program with the national office, providing evidence that the program was both growing and of superior quality, if modest in size. After a six-year battle, Phi Mu was formally inducted into Tau Beta Pi in 1929.
Tau Beta Pi has very high standards for induction. An engineering student must be in the top fifth of his or her class, usually with a grade point average above 3.0, and must be involved in extracurricular activities. Potential members of Tau Beta Pi are also judged on their character and personal integrity. Initiates often may be required to write an essay, obtain letters of recommendation, and/or pass a test in order to be accepted. Until 1969, the membership was exclusively male. However, Tau Beta Pi originally recognized the accomplishments of women engineering students with a special badge, even though it did not induct them officially into the society. The question of women members was argued at every national convention from 1903 to 1968. In 1968, the national convention delegates voted unanimously to allow women into Tau Beta Pi. On 9 May 1969, the University of Maryland Chapter of Tau Beta Pi initiated its first female members.
Maryland's Beta Chapter of Tau Beta Pi is very active and has been recognized by the national society with numerous awards, including the R. C. Matthews Outstanding Chapter Award. It has also successfully bid to host the national convention three times since its induction in 1929: in 1965, 1972, and 1986.
Activities of the University of Maryland's chapter of Tau Beta Pi are many and varied. Their programs include such service activities as blood drives, free tutoring, and sponsoring events with Boy Scouts and veterans. The chapter also constructed a Telesight device, a closed circuit television system to aid the visually handicapped. Other activities of the chapter include sponsoring the Engineering Olympics on campus, publishing the Maryland College of Engineering Newsletter, and awarding scholarships to engineering students.
The Maryland Beta Chapter of Tau Beta Pi continues to be active at the University of Maryland.