Early on a Sunday morning, more than 200 Stevens Institute of Technology undergraduates set out on a tour of Hoboken in search of trash. The group, comprised entirely of fraternity and sorority members, spent the next several hours traversing parks and green space with trash bags in hand and sharp eyes peeled to the ground. They also spent a significant portion of this six-hour mission digging up tree stumps.
The mile-square municipality is their home during the academic year, and the students feel a responsibility to keep it clean.
Community service is likely not the first thing that comes to mind when people think about Greek Life. While there is the side that movies portray – parties and rituals – sisters and brothers of sororities and fraternities also promote camaraderie and forge strong bonds through acts of good citizenship.
This is particularly true at Stevens, where the Greek Life is almost as old as the 142-year-old university. “Our fraternities and sororities understand and appreciate doing work for the greater good,” says Kenneth L. Nilsen, Dean of Student Life at the university. The cleanup day was just one example, he says, of how Stevens sororities and fraternities work to improve town life and strive to support campus and national causes as well.
This is exactly what drew alumna, Victoria O’Connor (B.S. ’11) to join Phi Sigma Sigma during her freshman year.
“I was unsure if Greek Life was something I wanted to pursue in college,” O’Connor admitted. “The philanthropic focus of the sororities and the strong bonds among the sorority sisters won my heart. From that point forward, I knew that joining a sorority was something I wanted to do.”
As a member of Phi Sigma Sigma, O’Connor made the most of her time at Stevens. The sorority holds two major events, a pancake night and a lip sync contest, that raise money for the national Kidney Foundation. The organization has partnered with other organizations to raise money for the Children's Aids Foundation and regularly participates in community events.
“One of my proudest moments was to see all our hard work come together when we sent in our National Kidney Foundation donation of about $68 per sister. Our chapter was considered one of the exemplars from our national sorority,” she said.
Similarly, Michael Consoli, a brother of Beta Theta Pi, is no stranger to giving back. Since joining his fraternity, the senior civil engineering major has participated in St. Matthew's Trinity Church cleanups, Lunch Time Ministry, a Cub Scout barbecue, the Curesearch fundraiser and barbecue (where numerous fraternity brothers shaved their heads in order to raise money for children's cancer research), post-holiday food drives, slip-and slide-barbecues, Greek Week Community Service Day, and many more.
“Just as most people stereotype Greek Life with an Animal House persona, so did I coming into school,” said Consoli. “However, there is much more merit and depth to these organizations. I have felt great personal accomplishment through the work of my fraternity.”
That is a point that Nilsen wants to drive home: “They are not just here to party; they want to make a difference.” The Dean says that being part of a Greek organization is great training for the job market, where students learn the value of extra hard work, interpersonal communication skills, and a sense of increased responsibility. “They experience this ethic firsthand and are encouraged to be responsible adults in the real world.”
Looking back at her last four years at Stevens, O’Connor realizes how much difference a student organization can make. “Being a part of the collaborative efforts of the more than 60 women in Phi Sigma Sigma, all working towards a common goal and achieving that goal, is an amazing experience,” she says. “We all reap the benefits of focusing our efforts on achieving a goal for the greater good.”