“Secret society” taps the influential on campus

FIU has no shortage of students who step up to the challenge of making the world a better place—and one little-known campus organization aims to harness their dedication and influence for the collective good.

The Order of the Torch—FIU’s so-called secret society—doles out membership invitations to those who take on projects and roles that make a difference. These enterprising young people generally stand out as movers and shakers, be they leading the Student Government Association, organizing community service events or quietly effecting change behind the scenes.

“They’re the torch bearers of the spirit of the university,” says the organization’s president, graduate student Andres Gonzalez. Through their example, he says, they encourage and motivate other students as well as help keep FIU traditions alive, all of it keenly important at a young institution still in the process of building its history.

Begun in 2003, the group is modeled on similar ones at other universities, and not much is actually secret, except maybe why someone gets recruited. Existing student members and some alumni file nominations based on who they see positively impacting others’ college experience.

Graphic.phpElizabeth Mena, a December 2015 graduate who remained at FIU through spring to complete a certificate in law studies, believes her influence as a peer mentor caught the attention of the organization. For three years she assisted in the First Year Experience course, during which time she offered guidance and shared advice to, ultimately, “shape a lot of FIU freshman and build that Panther pride.” Mena, who went on to serve as the director of Dance Marathon 2016, says that bettering the situation for others counts more than collecting nice-sounding titles or getting hyper-involved with campus activities.

Christopher Cummins, a graduating international and political science major, agrees that thoughtful motivation trumps self-important showiness. “They truly care about how FIU is doing, how FIU can grow, how FIU can advance its community,” says the former football walk-on who made a mark with FIU’s Model United Nations program and as an intern in FIU’s Washington, D.C., office. “That great care is what separates this group.”

Mena and Cummins joined 56 other Panthers inducted into the society in the past academic year. The core group comprises current students, although alumni and even university administrators can be made members. Rather than suggesting a particular cause or course of action, the Order of the Torch connects members primarily to encourage their continued contributions to the university community.

“These people in this organization are trying to keep that torch alive, that spirit alive amongst our students,” Gonzalez says of those who share their time and talent. “They are passionate for the university.”