Learning to function within an organization is a highly valued asset in any business, or perhaps any enterprise in life. And one of the best places to learn those skills lies within the world of Greek fraternities and sororities.
If that's a surprise to some, it's common knowledge among graduates of Augustana's network of 14 Greek fraternities and sororities.
"You're part of a team, but your team is not driven by a sport. It's driven by the founding values you have in common like teamwork, leadership and service," said Travis Greenlee '11, former president of Delta Omega Nu at Augustana and now assistant director of student activities and engagement at Knox College.
Those core values, or pillars, of Greek life also include scholarship and lifelong relationships that extend almost to familial bonds. Translated to life after college, they become mentorship, career networking, and strategic planning skills, as well as community service and engagement.
"This can be found in countless aspects of life outside of Greek life," said Scott Evans '11, a member of Delta Omega Nu and now a strategic planning analyst in Chicago for Northwestern Medicine, a huge consortium that includes hospitals, healthcare networks and insurance.
"It's incredibly difficult to find a profession that does not hinge on the ability to work collaboratively with others. Being a part of a fraternity gave me the opportunities to learn how to work with others when trying to achieve something that is bigger than myself. These achievements cannot be met with the effort of one member alone."
Opportunity and structure
Similar core values have always been embedded in the larger mission of Augustana College. What's different about the Greek system is the opportunities it provides within its organizational structure.
"For example, if you look at leadership, there are so many different opportunities within each Greek chapter," said Katey Bignall, assistant director of Student Life and Leadership and coordinator for Greek Life. "Some of them are small, like the apparel chairperson, where you're in charge of ordering the T-shirts, dealing with the vendor, coming up with the design. But you are still learning so many skills."
The organizational structure can include chairs for technology and risk management, as well as more conventional offices like chapter president and treasurer, and can continue upwards to executive boards and the Greek Council, the governing umbrella group on campus.
Augustana's Greek organizations are also set apart from those at other colleges. All 14 of them were founded at Augustana, some more than 100 years ago, and are completely autonomous. They are unique in name and charter, having no affiliation with any national Greek organization.
"I think that autonomy is another opportunity," Greenlee said. "If you have a really great idea on how to reorganize the structure of your executive board to create more meaningful experiences, you can have that conversation and give it a try, and see how it works."
The role of service
Another pillar of Greek life, service, is central to the Greek experience at Augustana. While Greek students make up about 40 percent of the student population at Augustana, they use organizational incentives to log about 90 percent of all the service hours recorded on campus each year.
They join a growing number of young people who expect service to play a continuing role in their lives after college.
Kelsey Jaekel '13 found a calling as the service chair in her sorority, Pho Rho, organizing service projects with non-profits in the Quad Cities. She translated that calling to the business world, and now deals with broad issues of corporate responsibility as strategic assistant for the chief of staff at Zurich North America, a multinational insurance company, in Schaumburg, Ill. The company has six core charities. Jaekel is involved with them on a daily basis.
"I think young professionals do have an impact in this area," Jaekel said. "A lot of organizations are starting to create boards that consist of young professionals in addition to the traditional board of experienced professionals who are helping to make decisions for the organization."
In almost every case, the connecting thread is organizational expertise, learning to work productively with a team to achieve goals whether they concern philanthropic, civic or corporate life.
"It's the little things, like that you can't love everybody you work with," said Bignall. "It's the same thing in Greek life. You're not always going to be best friends, or get along equally with everybody in your chapter.
"Being able to work with others in your chapter, and the Greek community as a whole, is what drives the larger enterprise forward, and is a valuable skill to learn, and one of the best preparations for life after college, and the realities of the workplace."