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By Tadas Antanavicius '16

One aspect of Sigma Phi Epsilon that I find we often lose sight of within our "Penn bubble" is the idea of a national fraternity. The fraternity we joined extends far past the four years of current Penn undergrads and the occasional alumni who come to visit. There are over 200 other chapters out there, each with their own set of undergrads and extensive alumni network eager to interact with chapters like ours. And there's a headquarters ready to facilitate those interactions and collectively hand us tools that will bring us to new heights, if applied appropriately. 

The Frank J. Ruck Leadership Institute I attended in mid June, courtesy of a donation made by Brett Danko, was an exceptional embodiment of what a national fraternity like SigEp has to offer. In brief, 160 chapter leaders were selected to attend the four day program at the University of Richmond. Representing roughly half the chapters in the nation, these brothers were split into eight groups and guided through an intense leadership curriculum that challenged the brothers both physically and mentally from 6:30AM every morning to 12:30AM every night.

The core of the experience - several hours a day of group sessions studying the idea and methodology behind effective leadership - is based on The Leadership Challenge, a book cowritten by SigEp alumnus Barry Posner that you'll find on the bookshelves of many Fortune 500 CEOs. This training is supplemented by notable speakers taking the time to impart some wisdom in their fields of expertise, whether it be a past Grand Chapter President giving a 90 minute perspective on the ritual, or a professional nutritionist giving a presentation on what it takes to lead healthier lives. And once in the morning or evening every day, sound body takes the forefront in the form of activities such as a grueling workout run by Brother Frank Butterfield, renowned fitness instructor and national SigEp Wellness spokesperson.

My own Ruck experience will be one from which I will continue to benefit throughout my entire life. Over the four days, I grew extremely close to the group with which I spent day and night. We had everything represented from chapters that hadn't existed up until a semester ago, to established 130-man chapters, to chapters that were rebounding from a membership review a year ago. Ranging all the way from Oregon to New Hampshire. Not to mention we had a pair of overqualified volunteer facilitators - Jay Hurt, Executive Vice President of RelaDyne, a $1+ billion company in the oil industry, and Michael Powers, a healthcare consultant who was instrumental in SigEp's operations around the turn of the decade.

There was much to learn from this group of brothers, and their collective drive to grow their chapters from ground zero, or continual commitment to improvement even while sitting as the indisputable best fraternity on campus was inspiring. Spending time with them connected me with the national SigEp scene and perception, an experience somewhat different from Greek Life at Penn, but very valuable nonetheless.

I look back at our own chapter, think of the talent that a group of Penn brothers brings to the table, the strength of our dedicated Alumni Volunteer Committee, and strong on-campus foundation, and see no reason why, with the right direction, we can't be one of the elite bastions of Sigma Phi Epsilon within perhaps just a few short years.

Most notably, the aforementioned leadership training will hopefully prove to be the most valuable takeaway from Ruck. The timing for this program was impeccable - as the recently elected undergraduate President, I'll be able to come back to the chapter and apply the skills from start to finish. These skills seem so valuable that I cannot imagine how an undergraduate executive board could find guidance without them; I hope not another year goes by where we don't send a brother to Ruck, much unlike the relative drought we've had in the past decade or so.

"Challenge the process," we were taught. We as Penn Delta have often become enamored with the success of other Penn fraternities, and have attempted to emulate some of the things they do well. But if we succeed, where will we be? No better than whoever we emulated. Even if we refine a concept and do it better, we'll hardly be ahead of those who did it before us. No, the way to fraternity glory is to step back, evaluate how the process works, and find out what needs some innovation, a different approach. Some campuses have a chapter, whether it be a SigEp or not, that is far and away the most reputable on campus in every which measure possible. Penn doesn't yet have that sort of chapter. Why can't it be Penn Delta?

Even if we adopt an innovative mindset, it's all for naught if we're not on the same page. This is something Penn Delta desperately needs - a "shared vision." Right now, some brothers want to focus on their academic success. Others see sorority perception of us as the be-all end-all. Still others are here solely to form lifetime friendships. We've never sat down and considered how to tackle clashes between brothers' desires, because we've never sat down and considered to define what we really want out of the SigEp experience. Considering all that we've been able to accomplish without even developing this critical first step, who knows how far we could go if we started working with direction?

Let's get ready look past our innate aversion to change, to risk, to comforting stability and let's dare to think different. Let's make 2014-2015 a year to remember.

Click here to check out photos from this year's Ruck Institute on Facebook.