Greek houses increase academic programming

by Noah Goldstein and Parker Richards | 2/8/15 7:48pm

Experiential learning and entrepreneurship have formed the majority of academic and educational programming put on by Greek organizations recently. From Experiential Learning University, or ExL — a leadership and entrepreneurship organization — to faculty dinners, Greek houses have been focusing on developing the leadership and entrepreneurial skills of both their members and other students through experience and interaction with professionals.

ExL is a program created by Dartmouth students and alumni, which bring successful entrepreneurs connected to the College to campus to talk about their experiences with business and investment.

ExL events are hosted by a Greek house and then streamed live on the internet and made available on YouTube. Beta Alpha Omega, Gamma Delta Chi, Kappa Kappa Kappa, Phi Delta Alpha and Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternities and Kappa Delta and Kappa Delta Epsilon sororities have hosted or will host ExL events this term.

John Turner ’04 Th’05, the program’s founder, said that connecting practical leadership skills used in Greek houses to business and entrepreneurship is a valuable way of teaching students skills that will be applicable later in life.

“I would love to see Dartmouth really embrace the Greek system as an enormous opportunity to develop these experiential learning skills and these entrepreneurship skills,” he said.

James Furnary ’16, a student organizer for ExL, said that the program has been valuable in bringing alumni to campus and in getting people excited about entrepreneurship.

“It’s been an incredible experience getting to know the alumni who have fascinating stories about entrepreneurship, and these have been some of my favorite lectures in my time at Dartmouth,” he said.

This term, speakers have included chair of Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees Bill Helman, a member of the Class of 1980 and partner at Graylock Partners, a venture capitalism firm; Sarah Apgar Tu’11, the director of new stores and facilities at Warby Parker, an optical fashion company; Michael Clarkin, a member of the Class of 1985 and vice president of Sykes Enterprises and numerous others.

Phi Delta president Taylor Cathcart ’15 wrote in an email that the event with Helman, hosted by the fraternity, was “very successful.”

Helman and the founders of a startup called Kno-It-All engaged in a mock venture capital pitch during the event, with Helman asking the questions he might ask an organization in which he was considering investing during an actual business meeting.

Demand to host events was so high that some houses that might have wished to participate in ExL were not able to, Delta Delta Delta sorority president Camila Vigdor ’15 wrote in an email.

Turner emphasized the ability of ExL to bring speakers to students in a new, non-classroom setting, which he said could allow students to approach learning in a different way.

“Dartmouth’s traditional liberal arts academics offers one great way to learn things, but the Greek system, I think, has long offered these opportunities, but it just hasn’t been recognized or put into words or put into some sort of program,” he said.

The program’s inception dates back to a conversation between Turner and former College President Jim Yong Kim. Kim directed him to various programs at the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy, which inspired ExL.

Turner said that many alumni, including himself, gained their leadership skills in large part through working with their Greek organizations.

Greek organizations allow their officers to oversee numerous students and large organizations, promoting leadership and management skills development, Turner said. Those skills fit well into the Greek system’s ongoing mission and work, he said.

“I think the idea of experiential learning isn’t anything new or revolutionary,” Turner said. “It’s one of the experiences and one of the opportunities enjoyed by people who have participated in the Greek system for the past 100 years or so.”

Chief executive officer and co-founder of ImmuNext, a company that develops technology to use immunotherapy to treat cancer and chronic infectious disease, David DeLucia, a member of the Class of 1980, gave a presentation at Sig Ep on Feb. 3 as part of ExL.

The program was titled “Intro to Entrepreneurship,” and was the fifth of ExL’s programs.

Despite taking classes in the disciplines he was interested in while he was a undergraduate, DeLucia realized he did not know what people in his profession did on a daily basis. DeLucia said that programs, such as the one he offered at Sig Ep, can confirm whether or not a student wants to stay in that field.

“Talking about any career option with people who are in that field really could help undergraduate students thoughtfully choose their own careers,” he said.

Although the presentation was well-attended and organized, the audience was quiet, DeLucia said.

DeLucia decided to share his experience not only because of his contact with Gregg Fairbrothers ’76, founder of the Dartmouth Entrepreneur Network and the host of the series, but also because of the College’s community.

ExL events occur every Tuesday in a different Greek house, beginning Jan. 6 and running through March 3.

Aside from ExL, programs such as faculty dinners sponsored by Greek houses bring students, faculty and alumni together.

Taylor Watson ’16, former academic chair at Sig Ep, said that his fraternity has organized numerous discussions with faculty and alumni focused on both entrepreneurship and experiential learning, among other topics. Recently, Sig Ep hosted economics professors Charles Wheelan ’88 and Marjorie Rose to discuss topics such as personal finance with an emphasis on their own experiences.

Watson said that it can be challenging to provoke a great deal of interest in such events among students. Appropriate topic selection and thorough advertisement are key to raising turnout, he said.

“You basically have to pick professors people know, pick interesting subjects, interesting food and advertise it well,” he said.

Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity, which has not been involved in ExL, hosted Andrew Seidman ’09 in a discussion about risk evaluation, poker and entrepreneurship recently, president Noah Reichblum ’15 said.

Reichblum also emphasized the ability of Greek organizations to bring together student leaders from around campus in one place to foster academics and entrepreneurial efforts.

“Within Alpha Chi, academics do take a priority,” he said.

Greek organizations do not have a common agenda for academic events, Watson said. They typically organize their events separately, and he noted that the prioritization of members’ interests dissuades houses from working together to host events.

“The real goal of bringing academics and Greek life together is to put academics outside the context they’re traditionally viewed in,” Taylor said.

Panhellenic Council vice president for public relations Jessica Ke ’15 said that each Panhell member organization plans its own events, but Panhell may fund events hosted by multiple member chapters.

“Every house tries to emphasize things that are important to its members,” Ke said.

While College President Phil Hanlon has emphasized experiential learning, neither ExL nor other Greek programs are directly affiliated with the College’s efforts.

“It’s exciting to see that President Hanlon is on board with experiential learning throughout the College and that he embraces that throughout the Greek system,” Turner said.

The presidents of numerous Greek organizations either declined to comment or did not respond to requests seeking comment by press time.