In 2006, SigEp’s Indiana State Chapter was on the brink of closure. The chapter had fewer than 30 members and a GPA below 2.4. In the years since, the chapter has made an astounding turnaround. Manpower has surged to 80 brothers, and the chapter boasts a 3.19 GPA. With 23 brothers currently living in the chapter house, occupancy has nearly doubled and member safety and risk management have become top priorities.
One key factor in the chapter’s recent success is SigEp’s Carlson Leadership Academy. Alumni have found Carlson to be so important to their chapter’s performance that they are raising thousands of dollars each year to send as many brothers to the annual program as possible. Typically, only current and rising leaders attend Carlson, but thanks to alumni giving, Indiana State sent 37 brothers in 2018.
“We’ve topped 30 members at Carlson several times now,” said Chapter Counselor Brian Delaney, Indiana State ’90. “We had no idea that we’d get to a point where we were sending up to 40 percent of the chapter.”
Indiana State’s Carlson fundraising initiative started in 2010 as part of an alumni-led effort to turn the then struggling chapter around. Between 2006 and 2010, challenges in recruitment, retention and academics had led to a membership review and ultimately the temporary loss of the chapter’s home.
“Our engaged alumni group knew that getting a fresh look at fraternity away from the culture that existed on our host campus was paramount,” explained Delaney. They believed it was equally important to have as many brothers as possible participate in Carlson’s extensive training in strategic planning, goal setting and leadership. So in 2010, volunteers appealed to alumni on Facebook and by email with a simple challenge: Help send a brother to Carlson.
Chapter fees and SigEp’s annual fund help cover the Carlson registration costs of five executive officers from each chapter, but additional attendees cover their own costs.
That first year, Indiana State alumni raised $1,000 and helped five additional brothers attend Carlson. Former Carlson attendees, in particular, were excited to help brothers take part in a program that had been a valuable part of their own SigEp experience. Along with Delaney, chapter volunteers Mike Goodin, ’89, Jeff Davidson, ’91, and Craig Williams, ’93, have played a vital role in growing the annual fundraising initiative.
A broader perspective
Carlson brings undergraduates, volunteers and Headquarters staff together to share ideas and best practices. Everyone attending is actively involved in the process, regardless of whether they hold an officer position. Perhaps most importantly, Carlson provides a lens through which undergraduates can evaluate their experiences and chapter operations in comparison to other SigEp chapters rather than measuring themselves against the varying standards of Greek communities on their individual campuses.
Delaney recalled that Indiana State brothers experiencing Carlson for the first time were particularly impressed by the recipients of SigEp’s Zollinger Outstanding Senior Award. Hearing the Zollinger Senior bios at a Carlson banquet gave them a new perspective on how much they could accomplish during their college careers. And it inspired them to do more than the other fraternities and organizations on their campus.
As Delaney puts it, seeing what other SigEp chapters had achieved led Indiana State brothers to conclude, “We’re no longer satisfied being No. 10 out of 17 in everything. We want to be better than that.”
Prior to interacting with SigEps from other chapters, most of the Indiana State brothers thought their chapter was doing OK, said Delaney. The opportunity to meet and have meaningful conversations with undergraduates from other schools provided new insights. It helped them recognize and fix weaknesses in their Balanced Man Program and other areas of chapter operations. And hearing alumni from high-performing chapters echo the same advice brothers had heard from their own volunteers reinforced that the chapter was taking steps in the right direction.
“Working alongside alumni leaders and more experienced SigEp undergraduates, I was able to really collaborate and find how I could best help lead my chapter at home,” said former Chapter President Garrett Ferrel, ’12. “The connections and experiences made at Carlson are something I carry with me in the workforce and everyday life today.”
Other brothers have also observed that Carlson gave them more than just the tools to lead their chapter in a new direction. “Carlson completely changed my perspective of SigEp,” explained Jason Marshall, ’13. “It helped me develop invaluable leadership skills as well as social skills. You are challenged to think about situations in a complex and detailed way. Carlson will help you grow as a person while developing friendships that will last a lifetime.”
The long-lasting value of Carlson has compelled many Indiana State undergraduates to return for a second or even a third year. This repeat attendance has helped create momentum for the chapter as brothers develop a stronger sense of SigEp and what’s possible for their chapter.
The impact can be seen in more than just historically high grades and chapter size. The overall SigEp experience at Indiana State is more robust than ever. The chapter now boasts 15 alumni mentors, compared to just one in 2006. And alumni-supported scholarships have helped the chapter recruit and retain high-performing students. In 2018, the chapter will award more than $22,000 in scholarships.
The Indiana State brothers are also continuing to strengthen their Balanced Man Program. They’re designing unique learning experiences that add value for members and help the chapter stand out on campus.
In March 2018, with the guidance of chapter volunteer Jeff Davidson, the brothers launched the Stroud Talks. Named in honor of alumnus and Order of the Golden Heart recipient Jerry Stroud, ’60, the event brought brothers together to discuss ideas of personal interest and fine tune their public speaking skills. The weekend concluded with the chapter’s first-ever Brother Mentor Rites of Passage ceremony.
Their efforts have attracted the attention of university officials like Brooks Moore, associate vice president of student affairs. Moore congratulated the chapter on the Stroud Talks, noting, “I would like to recognize and thank you all for this initiative. The men of Indiana Delta are modeling the way — not only for our campus — but for fraternal life.”
Based on Carlson’s outsized impact on his chapter, Delaney encourages alumni and volunteers from other chapters to make a similar investment. “I’d challenge every group that has had their own positive Carlson experience to think about a campaign to include more than just the executive board at your Carlson,” Delaney said. He thinks this is especially important for struggling chapters. “Send as many as possible so the undergrads come up with the solutions and create their own paradigm shift,” he said. “I guarantee it’s possible.”