The following is the summary of a conversation between Patrick McGovern, Director of Membership Development at Acacia Fraternity International Headquarters, and Derek Robison, Venerable Dean of the Iowa State Chapter.
PM: So I understand that this week is Initiation Week for your chapter – congratulations on bringing new brothers into the fraternity!
DR: Thanks – we’re excited to be initiating an excellent class of new Acacians!
PM: Being the Malcolm Award-winning chapter from Conclave 2010, it would be easy to slide into complacency and think that you’d reached a higher plateau.
Talk about how your chapter has continued to challenge itself to grow & flourish.
DR: Sure – I was initiated in the fall of 2009, and there have been some things that have changed, and some things that have stayed the same. We’ve kept many of our most meaningful traditions, and made some adaptations.
One thing that we noticed was that every fall, about half of our pledge class would end up with a GPA that was below a 2.5, our minimum standard. Our chapter GPA stayed strong, but we knew we needed to make some changes.
This past fall, I was Senior Dean and decided that we were going to overcome the GPA issue, and committed to the goal of having all of our pledges above the 2.5 mark. We gutted the pledge education process & made everything focused on supporting our pledges in the area of academics. We talked about academics all the time. At the beginning of the semester, all of the pledges set goals, including academic goals, and we just checked in on those goals at each meeting. We developed a Pledge Points program, modeled from the example in the Senior Dean Gold Book, and just held everyone accountable.
I’m happy to report that 14 out of 14 new members were above the 2.5 standard, and they had a combined 3.45 GPA, which is highest on campus, and a pretty cool coincidence…
We also created the ACACIA 101 program, which is basically an orientation program for the pledges. We focused on orienting them to “how things work” around the chapter house. It was really a lot of simple things that you may not think are important, but that helped the pledges feel more at-home & less likely to need to ask for help. For example, we covered things like: “how to use our chapter laundry room”, “where our tools are located”, “kitchen duty rotations”, etc.
PM: It sounds like you focused on helping them settle into their new environment, in order to provide a stronger foundation to start from, which then would allow them to perform better in all areas.
DR: Exactly. We also showed them around campus, including the location of all of their classes. We also explained how much time & energy they would need to spend in order to get good grades at Iowa State. Big Brothers were encouraged to always be checking in on their grades, as well as being encouraged to model strong academic habits and attitudes. And of course, we have them get involved with the chapter in our Human Service projects.
Another thing that we have done is to use journaling to help the pledges process all of the information being presented. With my pledge class, we had the journals, but no one really took the time to write in them on their own.
So with the class I was Senior Dean for, we decided to add the journaling process to the agenda of every pledge meeting. Pledge meetings do run a bit longer than in the past, but every one of the guys is journaling basically an entire page of content every week. We ask them questions like, “Why do you want to become Recruitment Chairman (or whatever position)?”
Another good one was, “Based on what we know about Pythagoras, we know that he struggled on his journey of life. How have you struggled in the past, and how did you overcome it?”
PM: Awesome! So you basically just changed the approach, no longer expecting them to do the journaling on their own, but rather providing the time and structure for them to complete the journal entries.
DR: Yep, a simple switch in perspective made a big difference. We’ve also made some changes at the chapter level to utilize the Cornerstones 2.0 model & the associated development activities. Every two weeks, we have “Professional Development Time” on our Chapter Meeting agenda. Three weeks ago everyone did the Values Clarification exercise. Everyone filled out the form, then partnered up and shared their values with a fellow brother. I was honestly surprised how much everyone engaged in the activity.
Last week, we did the activity where you “Draw the Perfect Member”, then discussed the type of values that would be evident in the “perfect member”. Again, I was thrilled to see how much everyone participated. Through doing these exercises, I can’t even describe how strong the bonds of brotherhood have grown within our chapter. When we share our work, there are a few brothers that throw in some humor, which is good to keep it light.
Another cool thing that we’ve done this year is to require that every brother be present for dinner at the chapter house. It has changed our meal time from a situation where you never know if there’s going to be three brothers at dinner, or fifteen, to a situation where almost all of us are getting together, catching up, laughing and having a good time. I honestly feel like our chapter is the most close-knit group of guys on campus.
PM: So it sounds like you truly have made the transition from “we only work on development during pledgeship” to “we work on personal development throughout our entire undergraduate career.”
DR: That’s right. And it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort or planning to start to move in this direction. One thing we did as a chapter was to go out to dinner & then to see a musical together. It didn’t take much coordination to setup and it was a good cultural event for all of us to take in together. After the musical, we all discussed our reactions to it, and discussed what else we would like to do. We don’t do stuff like that every weekend, but two or three times per semester is a good goal to have.
PM: Tell me about the vision you have for the Cornerstones Program at your chapter going forward.
DR: We will continue to do ACACIA 101 with new members, and plan to expand it to include showing the new guys around town.
We’ll show them where to hop on the Cy-Ride bus, where the Walmart is, locate a few auto repair shops that we know are good mechanics, and of course show them where the grocery store is.
We’ll continue to do the “Professional Development Time” at Chapter Meetings, and we’d like to get to the point where every member brings their laptop and logs their activities on ACACIAconnect (via the MyCornerstones feature) during the meeting.
One of the biggest challenges that we have is that our members are so busy on campus that they just don’t take the time to record their activities. So again, we’re going to try to “provide the time during a regular meeting”, rather than expecting everyone to complete it on their own.
PM: Any final thoughts to share with other chapters?
DR: Before we did the first Cornerstones activity at chapter, I didn’t know how people would react. Part of me thought that everyone might make a big joke of it. But to my surprise and relief, everyone really bought into it and understood how important these kind of discussions are. So my piece of advice is “try it, you’ll like it”. Challenge your chapter members with the Cornerstones activities. The top achievers in the chapter will be motivated, and those who aren’t currently interested may become interested once enough others are buying in.
PM: Great – thanks Derek! We look forward to further leadership and development from your chapter!
* Here’s a link to the chapter website for anyone that is interested: Iowa State Chapter Website