By Merritt Onsa
Although five years apart in age, Adrian (UC Davis) and James (UC Santa Barbara) House are as close as brothers can be. Both men were Founding Fathers of their respective chapters, served as Eminent Commanders, and in January 2014, Adrian finally got to pin a Sigma Nu badge on his younger brother at UCSB’s chartering.
Shortly after Adrian House enrolled at UC Davis, Sigma Nu began re-colonizing Zeta Xi following a 17-year absence from campus. He had lots of friends joining fraternities that year, but none of them stood out to Adrian. That is until he bumped into a high school friend who encouraged him to come to a colonization meeting for Sigma Nu.
There, alumnus Mike Wheeler (UC Davis) shared the values of the Fraternity and the opportunity to create something from the ground up. Adrian was sold.
But his parents weren’t so sure. Neither had gone to college, and a fraternity was not what they had in mind for their son. Adrian shared the LEAD binder with his dad, including examples of all the things he wouldn’t learn in the classroom but would learn at Sigma Nu—things like how to write a speech, time management, conflict resolution, how to motivate people, and especially the values of the Fraternity. Adrian says it was those values that helped him convince his parents to let him join.
Like any Founding Father, Adrian was involved in all aspects of the colonization process. Just two months in, he decided to run for Eminent Commander and, to his surprise, was elected. Adrian says it was a scary time, since he knew nothing about starting a fraternity from scratch. But he felt tremendous support from Headquarters staff members Chris Healy (Fresno State), Jake Welshans (Indiana), and Andrew Meeks (Kent State) as well as alumnus Mike Wheeler. “I feel like I couldn’t have done it without them,” says Adrian.
Director of Expansion and Recruitment at the time, Andrew Meeks recognized Adrian’s leadership potential from the start. “He always focused on the legacy of the group over his own legacy. As Commander he gave individual committees freedom and ownership. ‘I’m relying on you as leaders to build these plans,’ Adrian would say. That made everyone in the chapter buy into the effort. He’s a very thoughtful and quiet leader, but when he had to speak he made the words count,” says Andrew.
Brian Woodall (Virginia) served on the advisory board during Adrian’s tenure at UCD. “I was impressed with Adrian the first time I met him. He’s a really sharp young man. All of the guys who were part of the colony gravitated towards him,” he says.
Making Rock Chapter a Family Tradition
After 13 months of hard work and a 398-page application, Zeta Xi was chartered in May 2009. That summer Adrian was selected to serve as a Collegiate Grand Councilman. The chapter went on to earn Rock Awards in 2012 and 2014.
“With Adrian’s leadership and the dedication of all of the guys there, you really couldn’t have asked for a better result. What they’ve done over the last five years—becoming a Rock Chapter that quickly—it’s just really impressive. It goes back to the foundation that those first brothers laid. It was really all built around integrity and doing the right thing,” says Brian.
Adrian says his Sigma Nu experience changed him. “I feel like I really grew into my role as a man. I graduated high school at 17 and came to Davis. I didn’t know who I was. For whatever reason, Sigma Nu crossed my path, and I attribute a lot of who I am today to the values and skills I learned there,” he says.
The impact of Sigma Nu on Adrian also touched his younger brother, James. “When I left for school, it was hard for me and for him. We are very close, almost like twins. But now I was in a new place and didn’t have my best friend. He came out and visited me all the time,” says Adrian.
Though he was still in high school, James was enthralled with his brother’s Sigma Nu experience. “Ever since Adrian was Commander, I always knew it was the fraternity for me,” says James. As a high school sophomore, James even approached then-Regent Joe Gilman (Morehead State) at Zeta Xi’s chartering ceremony and asked when he could join.
Following Big Brother’s Lead
From that point on, James was determined to go to Davis and become a Sigma Nu. Unfortunately, he didn’t get accepted to UCD. He was put on the waiting list and was required to select another UC school. James reluctantly selected UC Santa Barbara and eventually received an email saying he wouldn’t be accepted from Davis’ waitlist. That’s when he learned UCSB didn’t have a Sigma Nu chapter.
“I was pretty down about that. My brother always said he’d fly back from med school to pin me at my initiation. Knowing I was going to a campus that didn’t even have a Sigma Nu chapter meant that was never going to happen,” says James.
Little did he know the Sigma Nu expansion team would be at UCSB that spring, recruiting men for the re-colonization of Kappa Eta.
When James arrived at UCSB in the fall of 2011, he saw “Sigma Nu” penciled onto the fraternity rush schedule, so he went to check it out. The interest group was small—maybe 10 men at the time—without a house. James consulted his brother who encouraged him to consider the opportunity to be a Founding Father. “Not everyone gets that chance,” Adrian told him.
Adrian flew out from Boston, where he is attending medical school, to finally pin a Sigma Nu badge on his brother.
James decided to give it a try. The fall quarter was unremarkable in terms of the colony’s progress, but James says it was clear things were faltering when he returned from Christmas break in January 2012.
Meetings were cancelled. Momentum waned. Nothing happened with the colony. Not willing to let it fall apart, James posted on the group’s Facebook page asking to meet with anyone still willing to be involved. Eight guys showed up.
That night James learned about a several-weeks-old email from Headquarters expressing concern about the lack of response from the group. James reached out immediately to Josh Green (Arizona), Sigma Nu’s Director of Expansion and Recruitment at the time. A week later, the colony elected James to serve as Commander. “That was the beginning of Kappa Eta in my mind,” he says.
The group got permission to continue and went into spring quarter with just 10 guys—four of whom would graduate at the end of the term. Over the next year, the six who remained slowly began to build interest on campus about the opportunity to build a fraternity from the ground up.
Discovering a Recipe for Success
In talking to prospective members, they focused on friendship, brotherhood, and the idea of being part of something new and different from any other fraternity on campus. They even spent a weekend calling 150 guys who had gone through formal recruitment but didn’t end up joining a fraternity. “We knew we didn’t have to sell Greek life to them. They’d already signed up for recruitment but, for whatever reason, didn’t join,” he says.
A year later, in spring 2013, they had 33 guys on their rolls. “That was a make-or-break year for us. There were times when we felt like it wasn’t going to happen. It was really hard not to give up, but in the long run it paid off. It was the greatest achievement of our lives,” says James. And their success with recruitment helped built momentum, courage, and motivation within the group.
In November 2013, James was elected to a second term as Commander. That same month Kappa Eta got the call saying their petition to charter was accepted.
“When we got our charter in January 2014, it was the single greatest weekend of my life,” says James. There were 200 people at the chartering ceremony, including representatives from Sigma Nu Headquarters and local Division Commanders. Adrian flew out from Boston, where he is attending medical school, to finally pin a Sigma Nu badge on his brother.
There is no doubt; Adrian is proud of what his younger brother has accomplished. “He had a rough time. I feel like I had it easy recolonizing at Davis. There was work to do, but the infrastructure was there. When James started out, it was just him and a handful of others. I’m surprised they got it rolling. I give him a lot of credit for being able to stick it out,” says Adrian.
Today, the House brothers are relishing the success and momentum of their respective chapters—both at California schools, both of which closed for various reasons but are now thriving. Today, Kappa Eta has 70 members.
Adrian says, “It’s incredible that our chapters have taken off. A lot of who I am is because of that experience—the failure, the success and the emotions that are at play. I feel fortunate and blessed to share that with my brother and for him to have this opportunity as well—it’ll radically change the trajectory of his life.”