Recently, the staff of The Delta caught up with Dr. Jamison Keller, Division Commander for the Southwest Alpha Division and Sigma Nu’s Division Commander-of-the-Year for 2012-2013. Dr. Keller is an initiate of the Lambda Chi Chapter (Cal. State, San Bernardino) and a faculty and staff member of Cal. State, Northridge. Dr. Keller has served as a Division Commander for Sigma Nu since 2001.
What is your Sigma Nu story?
I’m a first generation college student. I didn’t grow up hearing my parents talk about college; I applied to a local state college right before the deadline. Cal. State, San Bernardino was still accepting applications and I applied in late March and got in. I was completely overwhelmed my first day in class. It was a huge university. I had been a leader in high school and I knew that getting involved was the best way to make the campus smaller.
I initially avoided fraternities but I happened to walk by some of the different chapters tabling during recruitment. The first two fraternities I talked to were very stereotypical and turned me off. I decided to leave and as I was walking out I had to pass by the Sigma Nu table. They were out in front of the table and actually engaging with people. They didn’t talk about the fraternity and they asked questions about me. Sigma Nu was not what I thought about when I visualized fraternities.
Joining Sigma Nu gave me the social capital that I needed. The chapter brothers taught me a lot of things I needed to know. I learned how to tie a tie, how to sign up for financial aid — a lot of the things I couldn’t get anywhere else. I moved through the ranks and eventually became Commander. Being Commander unveiled what I could be — a leader and public speaker. It catapulted me to pursuing other positions on campus.
I had a crisis when I graduated. Universities do a great job when you come to campus but not as great when you leave. I majored in business and psychology and when I started interviewing I had a big reality check. I had grown up hearing that as long as I had a degree everything would work out. I went back to my campus advisors to ask what I should do. That was when they told me about a career in higher education. I give full credit for my doctorate to that last table at that university recruitment event. Sigma Nu gave me the confidence to learn who I was and successfully navigate higher education. This is the reason why I continue to volunteer.
What has your experience been like as a Division Commander?
I’ve been a Division Commander now for 12-13 years. I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years. I have a unique Division (Southwest Alpha). The Southern California chapters all get clumped together as being similar when they’re actually diverse. I have to take a different approach everywhere. I have different conversations with every chapter.
I’ve always approached advising chapters from both an undergraduate and alumni perspective. It’s a partnership and the fraternity can’t work without both. I have an advantage over most because I work in higher education. I work with this age range almost every day and so I get to educate the alumni on the culture. A lot of alumni think that it is the same as it was when they were collegians. In reality, it’s totally different. My approach with alumni is always to help them see what a typical collegian sees.
What makes a good alumnus volunteer?
It’s important not to get bogged down in politics of the volunteer world. There is a ton of it and it reminds me of being an undergrad. Definitely stay true to the mission and strategic plan and don’t try to make up for an experience you didn’t get in college.
Focus on the fact that first and foremost we’re here for the collegians. This is their time to learn about themselves through Sigma Nu. It’s time to build future volunteers for the fraternity. A lot of collegians still see the fraternity as four years. Alumni need to be good role models for them to see that this is a lifelong commitment.
Another thing is to identify your strengths and volunteer in the areas that play up to those strengths. Don’t think that you have to do everything. That’s a great way to get burned out!
What have been some of your most rewarding experiences as a Sigma Nu?
The rewards for me have been at two levels: chapter and individual. Leading a chapter through strategic planning and seeing members make the decisions that will help them achieve their goals is very rewarding.
On the individual level it is great to see Sigma Nu craft and define a young man who is a minority or first-generation student. That is the power of fraternity and our values are so needed today. Society needs ethical leaders more than ever but we’ve had to expend a lot of energy putting out fires. It is crucial that we remain focused on our mission.
What are some of the best practices you have used?
Be very specific in approaching potential volunteers with commitments. Many of our best alumni are balancing families, careers, and other commitments. Many of these men don’t have a ton of time to commit to volunteering.
A lot of our alumni remember one chapter advisor doing all of the advising for the chapter, so they feel like they have to do everything when they get involved. The Alumni Advisory Board model makes advising more feasible for the typical volunteer. It allows an alumnus to target his time to a specific area. This eliminates a lot of the burn-out and gives them a whole new perspective on advising.
One of the best things to do is to diversify the chapter’s AAB. If possible, it’s good to have a collection of different chapters represented on an AAB. This applies to the age range as well. Ideally the AAB will be represented by multiple generations of brothers. Lastly, with technology, it is no longer essential for advisors to be physically present at all advising meetings. With Skype or Google+ people can video chat and have a similar experience to being physically present.