In the media today, it’s easy to find examples of chapters driving wedges between themselves and universities. However, fraternities exist solely as guests on college campuses. Without a strong relationship with the university, it’s almost impossible for a chapter to be successful. The strongest SigEp chapters find ways to not only build relationships with university administrations, but to truly become a valued partner in higher education.
New Jersey Alpha RLC at Stevens Tech is a prime example of what success looks like. With more than 90 brothers, the chapter has over a 3.4 GPA, several student athletes, four consecutive Buchanan Cups and a strong partnership with university administrators.
Below are three highlights of their partnership that your chapter can pursue, too.
A high point in New Jersey Alpha RLC’s university partnership occurred last year when University President Nariman Farvardin came to the chapter house to meet the men. The event was simple – in a chapter room filled with chairs, brothers and President Farvardin sat and discussed university initiatives and fraternity life’s place at Stevens. Brothers got to hear about the university’s 10-year plan, and they even got 30 minutes to ask President Farvardin his thoughts on fraternity and sorority life. And it was all because they were members of SigEp that they had this opportunity.
“If I were to request a one-on-one meeting with him, it wouldn’t happen,” says Chapter President Mike McCarthy, ’17. But after receiving a message from RLC chairman Vinny Raimondi, ’16, Farvardin and his team put a date on his calendar and took the opportunity to meet the brothers and talk about life at Stevens.
“He wanted to hear what we thought – especially coming from a fraternity – about his goals and plan,” says Raimondi. “At the end of the day, we all want to be this great, phenomenal university.”
How to invite your university’s president to meet with your chapter:
1. Ask! Raimondi and New Jersey Alpha RLC reached out directly through Farvardin’s public email address. Farvardin’s staff responded directly to Raimondi to start setting up a date.
2. Be patient. Raimondi and Farvardin’s staff traded emails for a week before coordinating a time that worked for all parties. He and McCarthy then met Farvardin at his office together and walked him to the chapter house.
3. Make a great impression. New Jersey Alpha RLC is a dry chapter facility, and the men keep it clean. When Farvardin arrived, brothers listened attentively and were prepared with thoughtful questions about topics like the increasing student population.
Faculty open house
Many chapters across the country have faculty fellows – professors or other faculty who work with a chapter to improve operations and mentor brothers. New Jersey Alpha RLC takes this initiative a step further by opening their chapter house annually to hundreds of faculty members at the 7,000-person university.
“We want them to see our house,” says McCarthy. “Approaching a professor is difficult when … maybe they don’t want to get involved in a fraternity at all based on the [negative stories in the] news. The RLC open house is the best way to combat that.”
At New Jersey Alpha RLC, the process for holding the open house is simple – brothers simply compile a list of professors they’d like to invite, and the chapter’s RLC chairman invites over 100 of them. Then, on a date scheduled far in advance, the men open their house to the professors for a one to two hour event featuring appetizers and a networking session, a brief presentation on the chapter’s history and current programming, and a house tour with some additional local history mixed in.
“The food is definitely a positive,” says Raimondi, “but what brings the professors out is that many of them have never been in a fraternity house. For them, it’s an eye-opening experience.”
The chapter has held an open house for each of the last three years and usually brings in between 50 and 75 professors, advisors and administrators each year.
How to hold a faculty open house:
1. Make a list. New Jersey Alpha RLC’s brothers all contribute to a list of professors they would like to invite. Their chapter’s annual list includes faculty and administration from departments and colleges like student life, resident life, engineering, and business, among others.
2. Ask, and save the date. New Jersey Alpha RLC usually invites between 120 and 150 faculty members. When even 50 percent attend, they get to show SigEp to over 50 university employees.
3. Have a set schedule. The chapter sets some time for snacking and networking in the beginning, but they’re careful to respect the professors’ time. They dedicate most of the time to educating faculty on the chapter.
4. Follow up. Professors “need to understand what SigEp is about before they start getting involved,” says McCarthy, and the open house is a great opportunity to recruit a faculty fellow who may have otherwise not been interested in volunteering.
One obvious benefit of having such strong relationships with university employees is getting to know professors outside of lecture halls. At New Jersey Alpha RLC, one name is synonymous with brother/faculty relationships — Dr. Jonathan Wharton, Stevens Tech Renaissance. “Wharton,” as the men call him, began his role with the chapter as a dual resident scholar and faculty fellow when he was teaching undergraduate classes and studying for his doctorate. Upon graduation, he became the chapter’s faculty fellow. While Wharton obviously worked with brothers academically, helping the engineering-minded students with their political theory homework, his role with the chapter quickly expanded. As he got to know more brothers, he came to attend most chapter meetings and even brought his dining etiquette expertise to the chapter during semesterly dinners.
But his biggest contribution, as McCarthy put it, was “his one-on-one relationships” with brothers. Wharton was, “a professor who could bring himself down to the level of a student and was just there when people needed to talk.” Wharton’s years of dedication to the chapter culminated in a title change, when the chapter made him a Renaissance brother of New Jersey Alpha RLC.
The chapter’s current faculty fellow, Dr. Kevin Ryan, also helps with chapter operations. Most years, he attends the chapter’s final recruitment event to meet recruits and help encourage some who might be on the fence about joining. This way, the potential new members get to meet “our professors — and their professors — in a casual environment,” says McCarthy. And every member of New Jersey Alpha RLC can’t help but see the chapter’s values, and place on campus, from day one.
How to recruit a faculty fellow:
1. Appoint an RLC chairman. Delegate full responsibilities of any and all university partnership efforts to one brother who believes passionately in university partnership. This ensures that RLC efforts don’t fall off the radar.
2. Survey brothers. New Jersey Alpha RLC asks the entire chapter which of their professors might be a good fit and they encourage everyone to list at least one.
3. Narrow the list. RLC Chairman Raimondi takes the chapter’s list and pares it down to a manageable number based on the chapter’s needs and the professor’s skillset.
4. Make the ask! Finally, the RLC chairman and chapter president pitch multiple professors on the role. They ask more than one, and they don’t stop — Raimondi and McCarthy are currently in the process of recruiting another faculty fellow.
SigEp’s best chapters are those that build strong relationships with their university’s administration. With a little effort, they soon develop a more established role on campus and build a stronger experience for their members.
What does your chapter do to partner with your university?