The plan for the engineering honor society of Iota Alpha was formulated by faculty members of the College of Engineering at New York University in the spring of 1919. The name consists of the initial letter of the first and last words of a phrase from Hesiod's Works and Days (line 288), translated "toil before achievement." The emblem, an elongated hexagon, represents a crystal, the fineness and purity of which symbolize the product of labor and discipline. On the face of the emblem are the letters Iota Alpha and a sprig of laurel, traditional mark of the recognition of achievement.
The founding of Beta chapter at Michigan in 1925 marked the beginning of a conservative program of national expansion adopted the previous year. Members are elected from senior and graduate students in November and initiated in January. They remain as junior members, however, until they are thirty years old and have completed seven years of professional experience in engineering. Junior membership then lapses, but one who has held it may be considered for full membership upon application. This device of the national organization was invented to eliminate "deadwood" and thus to keep the character of the society such as to deserve the respect of the more mature members.
The aim of the society is to stamp approval upon good work done by students, in all branches of engineering, yet place character and the promise of future usefulness upon a par with scholastic excellence. Efforts are made, especially, to stimulate young engineers engaged in practice, as well as to recognize by honorary membership prominent members of the profession.
The Michigan chapter became inactive in 1942 because of conditions brought about by the war, particularly the loss of graduate enrollment in the Page 1943University. There is at present no plan to reactivate the society.