On May 15, 1928, a local professional fraternity, under the name of Gamma Theta Upsilon, was organized at Normal, Illinois, under the leadership of Dr. Robert G. Buzzard. Prior to that time, it had been known as the Geography Club of Illinois State Normal University. After three years of successful functioning, letters were sent out to other Geography clubs suggesting that a national fraternity be organized. The national organization, with four Chapters, was announced on May 15, 1931. Gamma Theta Upsilon, with ten Chapters, was incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois as a professional fraternity in Geography on March 5, 1936. In January 1949, Gamma Theta Upsilon became an International Geographical Honor Society.

Goals of the Society

The goals of Gamma Theta Upsilon are directed towards furthering the discipline of Geography, geographic excellence, and service. They are as follows:

  • To further professional interest in Geography by affording a common organization for those interested in the field.
  • To strengthen student and professional training through academic experiences in addition to those of the classroom and laboratory.
  • To advance the status of Geography as a cultural and practical discipline for study and investigation.
  • To encourage student research of high quality, and to promote an outlet for publication.
  • To create and administer funds for furthering graduate study and/or research in the field of Geography.
  • To encourage members to apply geographic knowledge and skills in service to humankind.


The Gamma Theta Upsilon badge is a key that signifies the achievement of quality in a field of Geography. The badge also incorporates the Land, Water, and Sky, which serve to convey the interdisciplinary nature of Geography across these three spheres and anything that is connected to them.

The base or body of the key is a seven-sided shield, with each bevel bearing the initial of one of the Earth’s great landmasses: Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. These landmasses represent the physical and environmental world, as well as the primary zones of human habitation, which we study in conjunction with the physical world.

Spread across the base of the key are five wavy blue lines representing the five great oceans: the Atlantic, the Indian, the Pacific, the Arctic, and the Antarctic or Great Southern Ocean that served as barriers to travel, but also represent the majority of Earth’s surface and the changing relationship that humanity has shared with the hydrosphere.

A white star above the waves symbolizes Polaris, the North Star, as a guide to travelers over the uncharted vastness of the world. We can even think of this white star as a constellation, representing the vast celestial network of satellites that now helps us navigate and measure phenomena across the globe.

At the key’s top are the letters Gamma, Theta, and Upsilon, the initials of three Greek words, Ge (Earth), Thalassa (sea), and Hypaithrois (atmosphere), to serve as a reminder of the three environmental spheres of interest to geographers and the dynamic nature of the world geographers study. They are symbolized as: brown for the Earth, light blue for the sea, and gold for the sunlight or sky.

Gamma Theta Upsilon is an honor society in the field of Geography. There are no secret signs, words, or handshakes. Gamma Theta Upsilon members wear the Society’s badge as a sign to the World of their interest and achievement in Geography and their pledge to support and promote the discipline.

Epsilon Epsilon chapter at the University of Illinois of Urbana-Champaign

This chapter is housed within the Department of Geography & GIS. We have both a club side and the national honor society side. This is as all students are able to attend and participate in events put on by GTU as well as help to plan events. To be officially inducted into the national honor society, students must take a minimum of 3 geography courses and have a 3.3 GPA in those courses. There is also a one-time fee of $40.