Preparing Tomorrow's Leaders

Chapter Spotlight: Ohio State Chapter, February 2012


The following is the summary of a conversation between Patrick McGovern, Director of Membership Development (now Executive Director) at Acacia Fraternity International Headquarters, and Zach Bell, Senior Dean of the Ohio State Chapter.  

PM: Zach, you and your chapter have recently made a significant positive shift in the area of pledge education & membership development. How did you get in the position to make an impact?

ZB: I was initiated last winter, and elected Senior Dean almost right away. When I came into office, the position had no structure. There was very little educational material passed down to me, it was a mess. So, I saw that as an opportunity to start from scratch and build something meaningful. We’ve come a long way and without the support of (Venerable Dean) Andrew McGowan, there’s no way we would be where we are today.

We eliminated some questionable activities and replaced them with activities designed with higher values in mind. This was a big change for our chapter, a lot of guys were resistant – “we didn’t do it this way, this is not ok.“ Brother McGowan stood by me, and assured me we were doing the right thing.

PM: What you describe as your “transition process” is something that I think a lot of other Acacians will understand, and I really admire your attitude in looking at this as an opportunity as opposed to just throwing your hands up.  Where did you start?

ZB: Actually I followed the Cornerstones model, and went for some experiential learning, by attending ALA (the Acacia Leadership Academy) and UIFI (the Undergraduate Interfraternity Institute, facilitated by the NIC), and those two experiences really expanded my understanding of the greek experience and gave me focus for my task of working on pledge education & Cornerstones.

These experiences led me to challenge myself by saying, “Sure, it’s important to know the history of the fraternity, but what can we contribute to their pledgeship experience that will really impact them positively in their lives for years to come?”

PM: And what did you come up with?

ZB: We concluded that in order to make Cornerstones work, you really need to tailor it to your chapter. Those of us that attended ALA were very impressed by Brother John Dudeck’s presentation, on the Seven Pillars of Achievement, so we modeled a 7-week pledge program such that we focused on one of the seven “pillar values” each week (Faith, Integrity, Attitude, Discipline, Relationships, Growth, & Balance). The first time we used this system for the pledges it wasn’t perfect, but by the second time around, we’re much more comfortable teaching this material.  We also started discussing each value in more depth after our Chapter Meetings.

PM: What have you learned thus far in using this model?  Made any improvements?

ZB: Probably the best improvement that we’ve made is to do a “Team Building Activity” each week, in addition to focusing on the core values. I would highly recommend this to other chapters. Once we started doing this each week, we really started getting positive feedback from everyone involved.  (Brotherhood Building Activity examples.)

PM: Your chapter has taken responsibility for this aspect of your brotherhood, which is the only way to make progress. Talk a little bit about how the chapter has adapted in light of these changes in culture.

ZB: We believe Cornerstones is really just all about stepping out of your comfort zone and being active. This expands your mind and perspective on life. I’d say we’ve changed in terms of how proactively we seek new experiences.

A group of us went to shabbat services at the Hillel Center, and then just had a brief group discussion afterward to process some thoughts. We took a meditation class at a Buddhist temple, which was really cool.

We do Open Gym every Thursday and go to the gym at the same time to encourage physical health. A well-known nutritionist is coming to campus and we’re going to attend her presentation. Some of us have gone to the Art Center on campus to watch controversial and thought-provoking films, then we’ll go get a coffee and discuss. We went and saw a film about environmental issues, then attended a forum discussion with experts.

The way we look at Cornerstones activities is really a chance to question your own values, and determine if you want to adapt them. After all, how do you know if you hold a value true unless you challenge it?

PM: That’s so great! You guys are getting it – it really is about expanding your comfort zone and learning about new areas of interest.

ZB: Thanks, we look at it like this: “You can only control what you do, and everyone makes their own choices. All we can do as leaders is set the conditions up right, and if a few come along with you, that’s a success.” We are also realistic and know that not everybody is going to want to open up and have a conversation about values, so again, the Team Building has been very helpful in getting people involved.

PM: A final thought about Cornerstones & the development of our members?

ZB: I wasn’t always sure how we would end up while we were going through the change, but I knew we weren’t going back, and in the end, myself and others really just appealed to the consciousness of the chapter.  We voted on everything, had lots of dialogue and chose to challenge ourselves to really utilize Cornerstones as an instrument by which we achieve what is best for all of us.

PM: Thanks Zach, keep doing what you’re doing and keep us updated! Congratulations to the Ohio State Chapter for making lots of positive changes.

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