Dartmouth SigEps report on Grand Conclave and Ruck Leadership Institute 2015

One of the challenges the NH Alpha chapter faces in being part of the largest and most progressive National fraternity is that, tucked in the hills of New Hampshire, with the next nearest chapter being more than two hours away, it's easy to feel isolated and disconnected to brothers from other campuses. With Dartmouth's D-Plan and deferred Rush until Sophomore year, many of the issues of the issues that other chapter's face (non-payment of dues, struggles with GPA, hazing) are outside the ken of NH Alpha brothers. Still, when we do get to National fraternity events, we find that there's a reason to be very proud of our 106 year old membership in Sigma Phi Epsilon, and there's still much we can learn. 

Here are reports from brothers Ellis Guo '17 and Drew Zwetchkenbaum, who attended Grand Conclave in Nashville, TN, last August; and from Jose Burnes Garza '17 who was selected to participate in the Ruck Leadership Institute in Richmond, VA back in July.

Ellis Guo '17 2015 Grand Conclave Report

Conclave showed me a dimension of SigEp that I had never before given much consideration. “National” always seemed like a far off, irrelevant entity and I never felt like I had a strong connection with any other SigEp chapter around the country. However, after attending Conclave it was impossible to deny the scale and capability of the fraternity as a whole. National had clearly put in a serious amount of effort and money into creating such an experience, and I would say that for the most part, it paid off well.

Taking part in legislative sessions was one of the more memorable experiences that I had during the weekend. I was pleased to discover that the voting body was comprised of 85% undergraduates, and that the discussion around most proposals was taken quite seriously. I also enjoyed being a part of the vote to mandate BMP participation on a national scale, even though it was obvious from the start that it was going to pass. My particular committee (Ways and Means, which dealt with finance-related proposals) saw little action this Conclave, as we only had two proposals to discuss, but I was able to meet some incredibly bright and thoughtful brothers during our short sessions. I’m confident that legislative decisions at Conclaves to come will be made by a very capable body of delegates.

Other programing was good for the most part, but I found some of the information sessions to be lacking. Steve Hofstetter’s show, the morning boot camp workouts, the awards banquet, and the Balanced Man Celebration, and the career fair were all worthwhile. The awards banquet was particularly impressive, as it showcased just how much good some of the chapters and members were doing throughout the year. However, the session on chapter bylaws that I attended seemed to only cover a portion of what it needed to (not to mention that much of it dealt with disciplinary measures that would almost never be necessary at our chapter), and the session on mental health lacked some specifics on how to deal with mental health issues within a chapter. Overall solid experience, but some of the smaller sessions could be focused more on specific actions for undergrads.

As for the Buchannan Cup, the feedback that we received highlighted for me a significant disconnect between our chapter’s activities and what National thinks of us. I am proud of the impact that SigEp brothers have on Dartmouth’s campus as leaders in all fields, but based on the feedback, National did not see what I do. I believe that this is due to both a lack of documentation on our part and a misalignment of priorities between the chapter and national. The documentation is a simple problem; the relative emphasis that National puts on ritual is where a larger disconnect lies. It seems to me that brothers live the values of the Balanced Man Program independently from ritual, and see ritual as an unnecessary representation of what they already do on a daily basis. I therefore think that National puts more weight on the act of ritual itself than is at all necessary for our chapter.  Further discussion with the chapter will be needed before determining whether or not we want to change our activities to better align with National’s goals for us, though I suspect that few brothers will want to do so just for another Buc Cup in our trophy case, and that a greater incentive would be needed.

Overall, I would definitely recommend the Conclave experience to other brothers, and have already done so with the ‘17 class. Having a large crew of Dartmouth SigEps in Orlando would be terrific fun, and I think that others would enjoy seeing this new side of SigEp that so few of us have experienced in the past.


Drew Zwetchkenbaum '16 2015 Grand Conclave Report

Sigep Conclave was an eye-opening experience. While I knew the fraternity had a large student and Alumni network, I never expected to walk down a Nashville highway and see about a half-mile stretch ahead of and behind me consisting exclusively of brothers of Sigma Phi Epsilon. The number of attendees, the level of participation and the quality of the set-up at the Gaylord Opryland demonstrated the size and capacity of the organization.

The actual programming, in my opinion, was overall, hit or miss. The banners and aesthetic presentation for most everything was quite impressive, as was the food at the dinners. Unfortunately, the actual events I attended were fairly inconsistent. The career fair was a great way to network with brothers in a wide array of industries across the country, and the morning boot camp workouts provided a brutal, but ultimately beneficial wake up routine. However, the educational workshops were not particularly helpful. I attended one on Work-Life Balance that did not really instruct on any tangible ways to achieve that balance or really any vague ways either. The workshop instructor just listed metaphors of growth and discipline using a nice Prezi presentation without giving any concrete advice. I attended another workshop on helping a brother with mental health issues as well, which, although was important, ultimately felt a little too introductory and spent very little time on how to help brothers. Even the talk where they invited a speaker who had written a column decrying the bad influence of fraternities on college campuses lacked any bite and therefore any opportunity for self-reflection. I do not know how much of my criticism comes from the actual quality of the programming versus the fact that most of the educational programming was geared toward schools of a different caliber than Dartmouth, but I felt it lacking in many areas.

            Overall, I am happy that I attended. The conclave provided great entertainment from Steve Hofstetter, the stand up comedian, to a night in downtown Nashville. The resort was amazing and the spectacle of the awards ceremonies was impressive. I think that a larger Dartmouth contingent would have greatly enhanced the experience. As great of company as Ellis is, I did envy the large roaming packs of delegates that other schools brought. I will do my best to advertise to the younger brothers the advantages of going to Conclave and I might even look into buying a ticket for Orlando in 2017.


Jose Burnes Garza '17 2015 Ruck Leadership Institute Report

The Ruck Leadership Institute was far better than I had expected.

The program focuses on developing leadership skills and fostering the Balanced Man Ideal on Sig Ep's top rising leaders. As former Grand President Stephen B. Shanklin said, Sig Ep has been in the forefront of change for generations now, will continue to do so in the near future, and the Ruck Leadership Institute is a living proof of this mission.

                Ruck was held in the University of Richmond campus, which is an incredibly beautiful with great amenities, dorms, and food! They fed us extremely well, which was a huge plus considering the fact that college students are always hungry and easily distracted.

                I was at first surprised at the talent and experience that some of my brothers from other chapters had. Everyone came from extremely different backgrounds that ranged from an international student from Australia to a kid that had never left Wisconsin. But the most interesting thing was that even though we all came from different parts of the world, everyone shared a deep overarching feeling of Brotherly Love towards each other and commitment to the ideals of the fraternity, our founding brothers, and their own chapters.

                I was assigned to the Green team lead by two prominent SigEp alumni.

My mentors were Marcus Robinson who is the current Vice-president of Student Affairs at the University of Pennsylvania, and Brent Osborne who founded his own start-up and is currently working in Ohio. Both of them were really amazing people and I got to know them on a more personal level.

                The first couple of days consisted in a classroom-based theoretical leadership training. The curriculum was based on the Leadership Challenge which is a very famous leadership development book written by SigEp alumni Barry Posner. Although I thought that there could've been more in-depth discussion, I thought that the constant extrapolation from the classroom to how it could apply to our particular chapter was fairly successful. The exercises that I enjoyed the most were: developing your own set of core values, developing concrete goals for yourself and your chapter, and try to identify your leadership strengths and weaknesses. Before Ruck I had never systematically tried to define what my core values were or how they aligned with SigEp NH-Alpha's purpose. I realized there that everything we do needs to have an overarching purpose that goes beyond us, and that we need to strive for SigEp NH-A to never forget what its purpose or values are. We also did a survey that assessed our leadership skills in five different categories, which was incredibly detailed and explanatory. I didn't realize that most people saw me to have far more leadership potential than I had originally envisioned for myself. Those exercises mixed with the extremely personalized leadership training and feedback given by our alumni mentors made my experience at Ruck an extremely fruitful one.

                Two other experiences in Ruck that I really enjoyed were the ultimate Frisbee tournament and the Ropes course. I got to experience first-handedly how my leadership style interacts with other people's leadership styles and how I manage uncomfortable or uneasy situations. In most cases I was calmed down by my fellow brothers and pushed to my limit. I thought this was an incredibly positive experience and I think we should do something like this in our chapter with Sigmas or with the whole brotherhood.

                I would like to conclude my Ruck Leadership Institute report by saying that I thought the experience was extremely worthwhile for the connections I made, the brothers I met, and the uniqueness of this leadership program. I will definitely encourage other brothers to go to more events like this in the near future. I also think that there are a lot of things from other chapters and Ruck that we could implement in our chapter.

For example, having a Sigma Leadership Retreat with SigEp NH-A prominent alumni as guides could have a very positive impact on them. That way they could meet our graduates, build connections, and establish an early relationship with our AVC. I think that there is also a lot of potential for more SigEP NH-A members to go to these kinds of events, especially since they're all expenses paid. I think that it would be very positive if we could bring Shanklin or someone else to tell the full history of SigEp to our chapter so that other brothers can understand where we fit in the fraternity world and how we have come to this moment in time. Most brothers in NH-A don't know how this brotherhood has been in the forefront of change for generations and will continue to do so because this fraternity IS DIFFERENT than all of our competitors.