Pi Sigma Alpha Executive Director Retires


James Lengle stepped down as Executive Director of Pi Sigma Alpha, the National Political Science Honor Society, on September 30, 2015. During 20 years of service to the organization, Jim Lengle, along with long-time national office administrator Nancy McManus, revitalized an organization that today counts chapters on 800 college campuses and recognizes the academic achievement of nearly 300,000 members. Pi Sigma Alpha is a model for all academic honor societies with a respected record of supporting excellence in undergraduate research and scholarship. Lengle, an associate professor of government at Georgetown University, was named executive director of the organization in 1993 with a mission to increase the value of the honor society to its members, local chapters, and the political science profession at-large.

Naomi Lynn, president of Pi Sigma Alpha at the time of Lengle’s hiring, noted then that his “enthusiasm and creativity will help encourage more active participation by chapters.” She was right. Lengle immediately set to the task, and the organization quickly became more active and fi nancially secure than it had ever been since its founding in 1920. Lengle sought to professionalize the national offi ce and ensure that chapters and members had an enthusiastic and imaginative support system in place. He also built a leadership structure that brought energetic and committed faculty members to the table and ensured a visible presence for the organization in the discipline.

Pi Sigma Alpha experienced exception growth under Lengle’s leadership. In 1993, Pi Sigma Alpha had 400 active chapters, and now the organization has more than 800 chapters today. On average, 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students of political
science are now initiated into Pi Sigma Alpha, compared to 3,500 inductees during 1993.

Under his leadership, Lengle sought to engage chapters and students in valuable, new ways. He created Best Chapter awards to recognize those chapters whose creativity made them models for other chapters; he added Best Paper awards to recognize
student scholarship; he funded scholarship programs to support students enrolling in graduate programs and interning in Washington; and he extended fi nancial support for chapters through the Chapter Activity Grant program. At the same time, he sought to position the organization as a contributor to the profession by funding lectures and best paper awards at national, regional, and state political science association conferences. Today, new programs off er a wide variety of opportunities for students. A focus on the value of undergraduate research led to the development of the student-run Undergraduate Journal of Political Science and the annual Undergraduate Student Research Conference. Both are exclusive outlets for exceptional work by Pi Sigma Alpha members. 

Among the accomplishments for which Lengle is most proud is the percentage of money returned to members through programs and services. When he assumed the position of Executive Director in 1993 just $19,000 was directed into programs. By 1997 that fi gure had grown to $57,000. Today that number is $125,000, and Pi Sigma Alpha stands among the top three of the largest honor societies in the country in the percentage of budget devoted to programs and services.

“It is no exaggeration to say that today’s Pi Sigma Alpha would not exist without Jim Lengle,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth, the current president of Pi Sigma Alpha and a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington. “From the Best Paper
awards, to the Chapter Activity Grants, to the new undergraduate research conference, Jim’s tireless eff orts to Pi Sigma Alpha have transformed the academic lives of more than a generation of political science students on hundreds of campuses across the country.” 

Lengle will remain on the faculty at the department of government at Georgetown University, his academic home since 1978. Lengle arrived in Washington after completing his doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley under the tutelage of Raymond Wolfinger. Lengle’s research has long focused on American presidential elections, and today he lectures regularly to senior American federal executives and to visiting foreign dignitaries. During 2008, Lengle held the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Politics at The Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, and he has served as president of the National Capitol Area Political Science Association.


In addition to his duties as Executive Director of Pi Sigma Alpha he has served as faculty advisor for the Delta Eta chapter at Georgetown since 1993. He is one of the longest serving advisors across all chapters of the organization. As Pi Sigma Alpha nears its centennial celebration in 2020, the contributions of Jim Lengle will have an enduring legacy. The visibility of the organization in the profession— and honor society community—has never been stronger, and we have Jim Lengle to thank.