The Added Dimension

Born leaders! That's what many of our
Commerce students seem to be.

In truth, for most of our students, the important life skills they need to succeed in their careers — and life — are developed and honed through their participation in student organizations. This is the added dimension. With twenty-four student clubs, just in the college, there is some extracurricular activity to interest everyone. They offer a wealth of opportunities — to develop close friendships, do good works, network with professionals as well as other students, develop leadership skills, interact socially. Many of the organizations function as a microcosm of the larger business environment they will enter upon graduation. The skills students develop in the clubs will be called upon in their first job, and every job they ever hold.

In this article, the first in a series on what's happening in our extracurricular organizations, InSight profiles the college's three business fraternities.

Phi Gamma Nu

Founded in 1924 at Northwestern, Phi Gamma Nu opened its Beta Pi Chapter at Illinois in 1974. "Phi Gamma Nu is the most important thing in my life right now," says Jill Stevenson who, like the other fraternity presidents, took office in January. A junior accountancy major from Sandwich, Illinois, she pledged as a freshman and notes: "All my best friends are in the fraternity."

"We are really paving the way for the future," she adds, proudly describing the professional, social, and philanthropic activities that are Phi Gamma Nu's three pillars. "Professional events include field trips, résumé-writing workshops, and corporate guest speakers (often our members' parents). We especially enjoy the presentations, because they tell us how things really are in the business world."

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Phi Gamma Nu members engrossed in a team-building activity.
Philanthropic projects — at least three every semester — include the Trick or Treat booths frat members manned last Halloween at Marketplace Mall. In an ongoing Adopt-a-Highway project, members do clean-ups twice a semester on Prospect Avenue in the heavily-traveled corridor around Meijer. They also recently held an ice cream social at the Carle Arbours Senior Citizen Center.

The fraternity's Web site is particularly polished, thanks to the efforts of Cedric Yau, a computer whiz. A temporal sophomore in LAS, but an academic senior — he graduates in June at the tender age of nineteen — Cedric belongs to a small band of students from other colleges who have chosen to join a Commerce business fraternity. "You meet great people — it's a great way to network," he says. Thanks to Cedric, the Phi Gamma Nu home page carries quotes from both the NASDAQ composite index and from Thomas Jefferson. The great statesman's observation that "I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have" aptly reflects the fraternity's aura of optimism and accomplishment.

Among the group's most prestigious work is handing out honors at the annual Commerce Awards Banquet. Each year, Phi Gamma Nu gives a Scholarship Key to the graduating Commerce senior with the highest grade point average. The graduating senior with the highest grade point average in the fraternity itself receives the Phi Gamma Nu Scholastic Key. The Phi Gamma Nu Rose Award is made to one member in recognition of outstanding service to the fraternity, the college, and the community. And the Patrick J. Cleary Award goes to the fraternity member who embodies the true spirit of the organization.

"We have a great deal to thank Patrick Cleary for," notes Jill. Cleary, Commerce assistant dean for administration, was faculty advisor to Phi Gamma Nu for sixteen years. Among his contributions has been personally funding the award that bears his name. "I did that when I retired as fraternity advisor," he says. "I wanted there to be some recognition beyond the plaque." Director of Commerce Career Services Lois Meerdink took over from Cleary in 1997 when he retired as fraternity advisor. In 1998 he was recognized with the Emerson Cammack Outstanding Service to Undergraduate Students Award for his work with Phi Gamma Nu. "These were big shoes to try to fill," Meerdink says. "Phi Gamma Nu is a very organized and active group — keeping up with all of the activities is something else." "Dr. Meerdink is a great advisor," says Jill. "She's wonderful. She's so excited to be a part of everything, and so involved."

"To me, the fraternity is about making college a little more personal," concludes the young president. "It brings about a hundred of us together with one common bond — and it extends that bond to our alumni, our speakers, and to the business world."

Delta Sigma Pi

"A business education at Illinois is very challenging," says John Bird, president of Delta Sigma Pi. "So we try to make people well rounded — give them opportunities to get to know each other." Bird, a junior accountancy major from Orland Park, a southwestern suburb of Chicago, notes: "There are people I went to high school with, but I never really talked to them when we were there. Through the fraternity, they have become my best friends."

Founded at NYU in 1907, the fraternity opened its Upsilon chapter at Illinois in April 1922. "We try to be there for our members, to help when it comes to those important lessons in life," John notes. "It's important to know people who have been through the same experience — those very personal experiences that you're going through right now. People you can talk to," he adds enthusiastically. The fraternity holds a formal each spring and a barn dance each fall, and every year makes a one-night road trip just to get away from it all. Closer to home, frat members enjoy such informal traditions as going out on Thursday evenings to socialize, and playing basketball on Friday mornings at IMPE. Each semester, the fraternity also ventures forth for a look at the business world. Last fall, Delta Sigma Pi members went to the Windy City to check out the Chicago Board of Trade and United Center. On tap for this semester — a journey to the Chrysler Plant and Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis.

On alternating weeks, the fraternity sponsors a speaker — a businessperson, or perhaps a motivational speaker. "Our alumni are very, very active, and
a lot of them agree to give presentations," John notes. "A new mentor program in which members are paired with alumni, based on professional interests, has drawn a great response — they give our members information on how to build skills for the future." The fraternity organizes a spring interview forum, where seniors share their job-hunting experiences with underclassmen. "Everyone pushes each other to be better," John observes.

The ninety-five active members and twelve pledges in Delta Sigma Pi are a particularly gregarious and friendly group, as reflected in activities such as Santa Calls, sponsored by the Champaign Park District. "About thirty of our members had a lot of fun calling up kids and pretending to be Santa Claus — or Mrs. Claus," says John. Frat members help out with scoring and refereeing two-on-two basketball, another Park District program. They have also provided help for the Fun Fair at Thomas Paine Elementary School in Urbana, manning games and dishing up goodies. Visits to the elderly, serving food at homeless shelters, putting together Easter baskets for disadvantaged children, and helping out with the Special Olympics in April are all on the Delta Sigma Pi philanthropic calendar. There's also a golf outing that serves as a fundraiser at spring Homecoming. deltasigs.jpg (37336 bytes)
All three fraternities work together for charity at the Business Olympics. Here's a crew of Delta Sigs.

Perhaps the most significant — and certainly the most poignant — philanthropic activity by Delta Sigma Pi has been the fraternity's ongoing support for the Josh Gottheil Memorial Fund for Lymphoma Research. Josh, an acclaimed music producer and beloved son of economics professor Fred Gottheil, died in 1989 of lymphoma. He was just nineteen years old. Gottheil, who has been advisor to the fraternity for six years, observes, not without emotion: "They have been very helpful and very kind — and so, for that matter, have the other two fraternities. When I call on them, they respond." Last fall, Delta Sigma Pi members raised more than $1,000 before the Illinois home football game with Ohio State by collecting donations at the entrance to Memorial Stadium.

"Being involved with the fraternity leads to a feeling of camaraderie between faculty and students," says Gottheil. "This is about distance-cutting. There's
the sense that we're part of the same enterprise. Among the students themselves there are feelings of friendship and of family. Such loyalty makes a very positive imprint on the College of Commerce."

"The fraternity has meant, for me, a lot of close friends," John Bird concludes. "Delta Sigma Pi is my place on campus. People come to a large university like this thinking they're going to be just a number. Belonging to an organization like Delta Sigma Pi means having someone you can turn to when you have a problem."

Alpha Kappa Psi

"Cherish your visions and your dreams, as they are the children of your soul; The blueprints of your ultimate achievements," reads an inscription in the front of the Alpha Kappa Psi scrapbook for Fall 1998. Like its companion book from Spring '98, it is filled with memorabilia and photos, schedules and poetic tributes, all saluting a year's-worth of good times and good deeds. Car washes. Auctions. An awards dinner at a pizza parlor. Scavenger hunts, sky diving, tennis tournaments, paintball, ice skating, a Halloween party.

Founded in 1904, Alpha Kappa Psi is the oldest co-ed professional business fraternity in the country. When it was chartered in 1913, the Illinois chapter became one of the first to be incorporated and is the oldest business fraternity on campus. Each year, at the Commerce Awards Banquet, the fraternity presents the Alpha Kappa Psi Scholarship Key to the graduating Commerce senior with the highest grade point average. Service activities include a Busey Woods clean-up, a River Clean-Up, a Walk for AIDS, a blood drive, and work for hunger awareness. On the social side, there are happy hours, tailgating, pledge parties, movie nights, trips to Jillian's, a barn dance, a Chapter Retreat, and a colorful assortment of parties. "I have the best of both worlds," claims Wayne Milczarek, a first-semester senior majoring in accountancy and finance. "Last year I was president of my social fraternity, Theta Chi. Now I'm president of Alpha Kappa Psi." This contrasts greatly with the way he was feeling about things when he first switched out of Engineering and enrolled in Commerce. "I didn't have any professional direction. I didn't know what I wanted to do. Then I heard about this great group.

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AKPsis in the woods — building friendships that last a lifetime.
" The people are everything," he adds. "This is the most highly motivated group I've ever worked with. Those who get involved tend to stay involved — even after graduation." In particular, younger alumni tend to come back for the Delta Sigma Pi Homecoming barbecue and the twice-yearly panel discussions. "We invite ten members and each one gives a five-minute talk on what they do." In conjunction with Commerce Career Services, the fraternity  also sponsors corporate development panel discussions in which representatives from major companies talk about their work in areas such as finance, consulting, and management information systems. These events have included speakers from such companies as Arthur Andersen, Eli Lilly, McDonalds, Motorola, Northern Trust, Philip Morris, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Young & Rubicam. "They can attract a lot of people," Wayne says. "At the Arthur Andersen meeting, people were spilling out into the hall."

As fraternity president, Wayne hopes to do something (though he's not sure yet quite what that will be) about a problem all three business fraternities face — serious attrition among senior accountancy majors who, in preparation for the much-feared rigors of the CPA exam, tend to relinquish their social lives and de-activate from their fraternities. "It doesn't have to be this way," he insists. "It's one of the things I'd really like to change to keep our numbers up." With 135 members, Alpha Kappa Psi is unquestionably a large organization. Yet it is a very personal one, too. "We try to get together at Legends every Thursday night to do something other than study. We try to balance life out." As for the fraternity's faculty advisor, Phil Rushing, Wayne says: "He's been great — he's been to so many events."

"This is only my second semester, so I'm still new at this," notes Rushing, an adjunct professor of finance. "My role is to come to meetings and events and provide a faculty (and adult) view of the activities they are involved in. I'm also help-ing them with fundraising ideas. I really enjoy the social activities and getting to know the students. Members are all on a first-name basis. This is definitely a fraternity and not a club."

"The people in AKPsi are the best of the best," their advisor concludes. "Over 200 students tried to get in at the beginning of spring semester and the fraternity took the top thirty. I think it's a great opportunity to get involved with the business leaders of tomorrow, as well as an opportunity to meet and get to know people from different cultures."