Category Archives: scholarship and academics

Research shows how fraternity membership enhances personal growth

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

Chapter presidents share best practices at College of Chapters, Sigma Nu’s flagship leadership training conference.

By Merritt Onsa

The UniLOA assessment is a 70-item, self-reporting instrument designed to measure student growth, learning and development or “GLD” of college and university students. The research is conducted by the Center for Learning Outcomes Assessment at Indiana State University.

UniLOA measures behavior at key points in a student’s college career and focuses on seven critical domains: critical thinking, self-awareness, communication, diversity, citizenship, membership & leadership and relationships. In the last few years, this diagnostic tool has provided a rich source of new data to inform program development and support services on campuses across the nation.

To ensure high reliability, the authors spent three years developing and testing the instrument before reporting their findings. Now, after six years of data collection, themes and patterns have emerged about the impact of fraternity membership on the development of male students.

The spike in development—especially in the first 15 credit hours—is not seen in athletics, student government or residence life; it’s found uniquely in fraternity members.

Five national fraternities have participated in this research along with more than more than 300 institutions of higher education. Students—not just fraternity members—from across the campus life spectrum have participated in the study.

However, the results confirm what many fraternity members have known all along—the fraternity experience positively influences the personal development of male students. This is demonstrated in three key outcomes from the research:

  • Fraternity men experienced higher net gains in growth over their academic lifespan in each of the seven critical domains.
  • Average growth of fraternity men was higher than non-affiliated men during the first semester of their first year in college, which is often the “pledge” semester.
  • Fraternity men scored substantially higher in “citizenship” and “membership & leadership” than non-affiliated men.

The spike in development—especially in the first 15 credit hours—is not seen in athletics, student government or residence life; it’s found uniquely in fraternity members. And the North-American Interfraternity Conference President and CEO, Peter Smithhisler, says it’s the best argument against deferred recruitment. “The earlier a man can join, the more significant his development,” he says.

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

Director of Leadership Development Scott Smith facilitates a discussion at the 2014 College of Chapters in Roanoke, Va.

Of course, the authors of the UniLOA acknowledge that growth, learning and development happen naturally through the maturation process; but meaningful and consistent engagement in organized activities like fraternities tends to accelerate the rate of GLD for those students.

The NIC has been aware of UniLOA for the past five years; however, the organization waited to react to the results until the data could be replicated. Now that it has been deemed a reliable and valid instrument that consistently reveals the same overall patterns, the NIC is working to help undergraduate members and college administrators understand the total impact of the fraternity experience on male student development.

“While we own, acknowledge and are dealing with the issues that are out of line with the values of the fraternity experience, we also have to start identifying what’s going right. As a result of the new member experience, young men have leadership opportunities, interact with a diverse group of students and develop personal relationships. If we can eliminate the negative aspects and enhance the positive aspects, I expect the fraternity experience to become even more impactful,” says Smithhisler.

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

Chapter presidents discuss ways to positively influence their campus at the 2014 College of Chapters in Roanoke, Va.

And that opportunity rests in the hands of our current chapter members. “Our current undergraduates are entrusted with the future of fraternities. What they do today in the ways they recruit, create expectations and how they lead, all of these things will determine the focus of fraternities in the future. And it’s up to the undergraduates to ensure our future,” says Smithhisler.

At the same time, alumni play an important role in the development of young men. Smithhisler challenges all fraternity alumni to reengage with their organization as role models and mentors. “Undergraduates need positive role models to provide guidance and encouragement along the path to becoming fraternity men. It’s through mentorship that student leaders are taught the value of fraternity membership and how to live out those values in their daily lives,” he says.  Equally as important, “alumni must resist perpetuating the myths and stereotypes through their interactions and expectations of the young men in our chapters.”

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

Vice Regent John Hearn stands by to assist chapter presidents during a goal-setting session.

To continue to share the research outcomes, the NIC created The Case for Fraternity Rights website and is working through multiple channels to disseminate the information therein. They are communicating directly with IFC and campus leaders, especially those campuses with deferred recruitment. And they’ve translated the research into a 60-minute presentation that their 75 member organizations can use at national conventions or provide to traveling staff members to share with individual chapters. In case you’re wondering, the NIC is not affiliated with UniLOA and does not commission, finance or influence the research in any way.

In addition to communicating the good news about fraternity life to those closest to the experience, the NIC is working to share this research with other stakeholders like the media, government officials, parents and potential new members.

To learn more about the research visit http://nicindy.org/fraternityrights/ and help us spread the word about the dramatic positive impact fraternity life has on student growth, learning and development for the young men who join.

This story originally appeared in the fall 2012 issue of The Delta.

7 Tips to Ace Finals Week

Image by Flickr user rosipaw

1. Visit your professors’ office hours.

Of the already small number of students who actually use office hours, few of them know how to take full advantage of the face-to-face meeting.

Rather than asking the professor what’ll be covered on the exam – a question that should be obvious and was probably already asked by the inattentive student in the back of the room – ask some thoughtful follow-up questions related to subjects from class.

Even more valuable than asking questions is the chance to help your professor put a face and personality with the name (or worse, student ID number). When your professor is slogging through hundreds of answer sheets the night before grades are due, she’ll remember the personal interaction with students who bothered to take advantage of her office hours.

2. A) Make a list of distractions. B) Don’t do those things.

Important Desperate times call for pro-active desperate measures.

Delete Facebook, Twitter and Angry Birds from your phone until after finals week. If you’re especially prone to compulsive Facebook use, give your username and password to a trusted friend to avoid the temptation while in the computer lab.

Fill your Netflix queue with some documentaries that complement your classwork so you won’t be tempted to watch an entire season of The Wire all in one sitting.

Find a study carrel that faces away from high-traffic areas. It might be terrible feng shui, but keeping your back to passersby can improve focus and limit the temptation to compulsively hit “refresh” on your favorite news sites.

Finally, have some good excuses ready for when your friends come calling with invites to Benihana.

3. Make your own study guides.

At least one week before the test, complete typed study guides for each chapter or subject that will be covered on the exam and carry them with you everywhere. Summarize the information in your own words and use small pockets of time between classes or waiting for a friend to quiz yourself.

Once the semester is over you can stick the study guides in the chapter’s scholarship file for future brothers who take the same class, provided they meet your school’s honor code guidelines.

4. Explain the class to your grandmother.

You’ve probably heard the popular saying “You don’t truly understand something until you can explain it to your grandmother.” (Those who’ve tried to explain Twitter to their relatives at Thanksgiving dinner can relate.)

Okay, maybe you’re not actually going to give Nana an organic chemistry lesson over the phone. But explaining the core concepts of a class to a friend or family member can be a useful way to see how well you know the material. If they can repeat it back to you then you’re on the way to owning this exam.

For another strategy, try forming a study group with classmates and assign a different section to each person. Sometimes you don’t really understand something until you teach it to others.

5. Simulate the testing experience.

A buzzing cellphone, a new building, a frigid classroom, an unfamiliar testing format. The tiniest [or justifiably maddening] thing can throw off your concentration. Thankfully there’s a way to prepare for that.

Don’t let the actual exam be the first time you’ve been tested on the information. Write some practice tests using class materials and the study guides you created earlier, and then take one in the same building where the exam will be administered.

Trick yourself into thinking this is the actual thing – however you do here will be your actual grade. This is it, no redo. Use your score to make adjustments accordingly. Repeat.

This is how prospective graduate students master entrance exams like the GRE, GMAT or MCAT. Simulate the testing experience so the real thing feels like a piece of cake.

6. Take care of yourself.

Eat. Sure, you may not have as much time to cook or sit down to eat during exam week, but this doesn’t mean you need to eat stale Funyuns from the vending machine every day. Make a trip to the grocery store and stock up on some relatively healthy snacks you can carry around campus. Eating small meals every few hours will help you stay focused.

Sleep. There are various conflicting studies out there about how many hours of sleep we need each night. The important thing to remember is that there’s a point of diminishing returns to sacrificing sleep for cramming sessions. No matter how well you’ve prepared, don’t expect to ace that 100-question multiple choice psych exam after sleeping for only two hours the past five nights. (If you’re following these tips ahead of time, you won’t have to.)

Exercise. You don’t need to hit the gym twice a day or schedule a Tough Mudder during finals week to stay mentally awake. Just commit some time each day – as little as 15 minutes – to take your mind off studying with a little exercise. Jog around the block a few times. Do a few sets of push-ups and pull-ups in your room after waking up (hopefully after more than 2 hours of sleep). Walk to campus instead of driving. Or maybe you’re more of a desk treadmill kind of guy?

7. Leave nothing in doubt.

This final tip for exam week preparation is more of a mindset than a tangible study habit. “Leave nothing in doubt” means you’re going to leave the exam room already knowing your score. You were so focused and thorough in preparing for the exam that you don’t even need to wait for the grades to post to know how you performed.

Congrats, you killed it. Now you can go home and watch all those Netflix documentaries.

Can Fraternity Leaders Find Inspiration from a Hipster Clothing Company?

Struggling chapters are often quick to blame their underperformance as part of a bigger trend.  “Sure, we only recruited three guys this semester but numbers were down for everyone,” or “grades were down across the board this year, it wasn’t just us,” I often hear.  And as you might expect, chapters that repeat this narrative to themselves remain mediocre.

On the other hand, high performing chapters find a way to defy the trends.  When recruitment numbers are down campus-wide, excellent chapters increase the quantity AND quality of their membership.  When the IFC average GPA takes a nose dive, excellent chapters find a way to increase their scholarship performance.

Like most struggling chapters, underperforming companies are quick to blame their weak performance on larger economic trends.  But occasionally we find a company that refuses to bow to the patterns around them.  From Economist magazine:

Uniqlo’s parent company, Fast Retailing, is Japan’s biggest clothing company, with sales of $9 billion forecast this year. Whereas many Japanese businesses are ailing because of the stagnant domestic economy, Fast Retailing is flourishing. Last year sales grew by 17%, despite the recession, or because of it: its clothes combine a touch of style with enticingly low prices.

The Economist article offers another lesson in enduring success and leadership transition:

Mr Yanai himself may also create problems. A brilliant strategist with uncanny fashion instincts, he is also unable to delegate, say Fast Retailing executives. He controls all decisions, down to approving samples and colours.

This micromanaging has pushed talented executives to quit the firm, leaving no obvious successor to Mr Yanai, who plans to step down as boss (but remain chairman) in four years, at 65. Previous attempts to cede day-to-day control have been aborted.

It’s too early to tell whether the perceived micro-managing of Fast Retailing founder and CEO Tadashi Yanai will harm the company in the long run.  But this example reminds us of Jim Collins‘ famous observation of clock building vs. time telling.  It would be great to have someone who can tell us the time of day merely by observing the angle of the sun, but how will we tell the time once he is gone?  Clock builders, or leaders who prepare the organization to succeed after their departure, are far more valuable than time tellers.

The article offers one final inspiration for chapters reaching for the next level, the courage to break tradition:

When pressed, Mr Yanai says that he has decided not to hand the company over to his sons. They will be big shareholders with board seats, but will not take operational roles. In this, he once again defies traditional Japanese business practices. Firms that rely on primogeniture, he notes, perform poorly. So, in the long run, do those that rely on a domineering leader.

Breaking tradition isn’t necessarily good, but the courage to abandon an arbitrary one is praiseworthy.

Ignore the Outsider’s Advice at Your Peril

Here’s a recent conversation I overheard between a collegiate officer and one of my esteemed colleagues:

Collegian: We can’t just stop recruiting with alcohol.  We wouldn’t be able to compete with the other elite chapters on our campus.  Everyone does it and we have to keep up.

HQ Staff Member: What if I told you there were other chapters recruiting without alcohol that are not only getting by but are excelling more than any other chapter on campus?

Collegian: That may work some places but it could never work here.  It’s different here at _______ University.

HQ Staff Member: What if I told you that we recruited the men to start this very chapter without alcohol?  (And did quite well I might add.)

Collegian: Wait, hold on.  Where are you from?

HQ Staff Member: I grew up and attended school in the ______ region of the country.

Collegian: See, that explains everything.  Things are different here in the ________.  There’s just no way you could understand how things work if you’re not from here.

So goes the conversation, so predictable in its nature, that every Greek Life professional has had many times over with their student leaders.  Here is what the well-intentioned collegian really means:

TRANSLATION:  I don’t care if recruiting with alcohol attracts members who are causing us to fail.  I would rather continue to fail than accept information from an outsider.  I’ve made up my mind and I’m so stubborn and arrogant that no amount of contrary evidence is going to change my decision.

Sometimes it’s natural to be skeptical of outsiders, but eventually we all learn the hard way that automatically dismissing outsider’s advice makes us one step closer to failure.  A brief mention of two historical figures shows that outsiders can teach us more about ourselves than we ever imagined.

Take philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand, author of bestselling novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.  Rand, originally named Alisa Rosenbaum, grew up in communist Russia and eventually emigrated to the United States.  Surely a woman raised in such an authoritarian, collectivist culture could never be qualified to write novels about capitalism and individualism.  Who in their right mind would listen to her?  To the contrary, many would argue that this outsider (putting aside her controversies for this particular example) has taught us more about our way of life than any homegrown American philosopher or economist.

Or what about Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous French politico best known for his work Democracy in America.  Born and educated in France, Tocqueville traveled the United States providing an outsider’s perspective on the American way of life.  Widely regarded as one of the most influential political philosophers of his time, Tocqueville is still quoted in speeches by American politicians to this day.

Consider this example that hits closer to home.  Out of all of our excellent College of Chapters facilitators, the majority of whom are initiated Knights, the female facilitators are often the most effective.  Mindy Sopher, Kristin Morgan, Lindsay Grifford, Krystal Clark, and Kayte Sexton Fry–to name a few–are revered by College of Chapters participants by week’s end.  Hardly outsiders, these women understand our organization as well if not better than we do.

Our founding principle of Truth is often confused with honesty, an equally important virtue to be sure.  However, in the context of Sigma Nu’s founding, Truth is more closely associated with seeking sound information to make the most informed decisions possible.  It calls for the willingness to abandon a false paradigm even if it might be psychologically painful.  Seeking the Truth encompasses the process by which we make good decisions, including the consideration of all viewpoints even if it means swallowing our pride and listening to a perceived outsider.

Organizational Culture

Chapter officers are often looking for the silver bullet to solve the big problems.  Bad grades?  Just craft the perfect scholarship plan with the right incentives.  Low numbers?  Develop a year-round recruitment plan using Sigma Nu’s Recruitment Bluebook.  Poor meeting attendance?  Implement a complex points system with fines and rewards.  So why do these expertly-crafted plans often fail to show visible results?  Could it be the group culture?

What is group culture?  The Washington Post’s leadership blog explains:

Corporate culture is the system of beliefs, norms, practices and values that guide an organization – determining how people act, make decisions and govern their affairs. It represents the way things really work, how decisions are really made, how emails and communications are really composed, how promotions are really earned and how people are really treated. (emphasis mine)

Announcing change and a new culture is easy. Making it happen is hard.

So how do you change group culture?  It’s simple, really.  There’s a reason Jim Collins wrote an entire chapter about ‘getting the right people on the bus':

First, align your recruitment practices with your chapter’s vision.  If you don’t want a chapter full of deadbeat partiers then stop using parties and alcohol to recruit new members.

Second, expel the members who don’t uphold the values of Sigma Nu.  Period.  Not next year, not next semester, and not after they’ve promised to change for the seventeenth time.  Pick up the phone, call your Leadership Consultant to learn Trial Code and make it happen.  Now.

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