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Why Conferences Are NOT Worth It

Are Conferences Really Worth the Cost?

by Nicholas Reid
University of Iowa, ‘21

From left to right: Nic Reid, Dr. Michael Brown, and Isaac Kracht at the Naperville BBLA.

From left to right: Nic Reid, Dr. Michael Brown, and Isaac Kracht at the Naperville BBLA.

Usually people see conferences as a waste of a weekend. Time spent away from their normal, fun weekends. In all honesty, who wants to sit in a meeting all weekend?

Many members of a fraternity would rather stay home, spend the weekend with their friends and have a good time. What people don’t understand is actually how enjoyable Phi Kappa Theta conferences are.

By having the opportunity to attend our weekend meetings, whether regional or National, I have learned more about myself and have been able to change my life for the better.

The first time I went to a Phi Kappa Theta conference was last August in Orlando. I had recently finished my freshman year, was working full time, taking summer classes and having to finish writing our petition to charter.

My first thought was, “I am the only one who can go to this meeting and how in the world am I going to find the time and money?” The answer of time was helped by my boss, who allowed me to take two days off (when I really wasn’t suppose to have any days off) to go to Orlando. The money aspect was funded by our alumni, who I am so thankful to this day that they did. It seemed as if there was a reason, an outside force that wanted me to go to Orlando, and I am so grateful I got the opportunity.

Travel became a hassle to arrive at Orlando (I had a total of 7 hours of delay), so I unfortunately missed the opening on Friday. The next day, I entered the room with no idea of who anyone was, as I was the only representative from the University of Iowa there (which is the best school in Iowa, but that’s another article).

The first man I met at breakfast was an alumni named Ross Walters (University of Louisiana, ‘02). As he offered me the top-secret, highly classified, shall not be named handshake of Phi Kappa Theta, he did not realize that I was from Iowa and had not yet been initiated.

As I did not know the handshake, he reached back in shock as if he had just touched a leper and started questioning if I was a Phi Kap. I explained that I was from Iowa and we were currently rechartering, and he laughed and joked with me the rest of the weekend.

Over the weekend, I made connections that have carried on throughout my life since. I met BRUCEEEE, legally known as Bryce Frey (Iowa State University, ‘20), the Iowa State representative. We have gone on to continue communicating and planning Iowa vs. Iowa State events.

Another important person I met, who I recently saw again at the Naperville BBLA, was Dr. Michael Brown. If you have not met Dr. Brown, I recommend that you make every effort to. Not only is he the only man I know that puts peanut butter on cheez-its, but he is extremely intelligent and a great brain to pick.

He is also one of the most caring people you will ever meet and always ready to have a conversation. I also was able to meet all the National Staff and several Alumni who I had never met in person, including Johnny Hohenstein, Robert Riggs, Doug Dilling, Adrian Gonzalez, Sarah Everhart and so many more.

The most impactful part of the trip were the meetings, but the most memorable part were the nights. Brothers from all over the country would gather at the pool or in the lounge, telling stories of their own chapters and talking about solving theirs and others chapters problems.

Of course, at the same time joking with each other and becoming close friends. I can honestly attest to that being one of the best weekends of my life, and I am still in contact with many people who I met at IMPACT18 in Orlando, FL.

The reason that I brought up Orlando was that recently my brother, Isaac Kracht from the University of Iowa, and I attended the Naperville BBLA.

I’m sure when I told him to go with me he thought the same thing as me: “oh great a weekend away from Iowa city, why in the world would I want to leave here for Naperville?” But being the kind guy he is, he accepted to come with.

I knew from talking to Johnny Hohenstein, that Dr. Brown was going to be there, and Isaac was going to love talking to him.

The weekend went very much the same way as Orlando, a great experience with a large impact on my life and good times with other chapters. Talking throughout and after the weekend with Isaac, I could see it had a resounding impact on him too.

We talked about deeper things that we had never talked about before, and he seemed energized and excited to start a new approach to life.

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend making a trip to a regional or national conference. If your chapter can, implement it into dues so that everyone can go! Or, you could plan to have Dr. Brown come for a weekend and speak to your chapter.

Regarding my clickbait story title? Phi Kap conferences are indeed worth it. Whether you desiring to become a better version of yourself, or interested in meeting other brothers from around the country, I promise it will have a lasting impact on your life.


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Brother Reid is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Engineering with a focus in Business Management. He is the current Vice President of Fraternal, Recharter Head and Social Media Chair for Phi Kappa Theta Iowa Delta. Nicholas grew up in Peoria, Illinois, attending St. Vincent de Paul grade school and Peoria Notre Dame High School. He was involved and active in many things, including scholastic bowl, numerous sports with his primary being soccer, key club and French Club. Nic also received the Presidental Award, National Honors Society, Old Gold Scholarship and an Illinois State Scholar. He is the first person of his family to move out for college, attend a big 10 school and join Greek life. Knowing nothing of what Greek life is about graduating, Nic has since taken a strong passion towards Phi Kappa Theta and bettering himself, along with his brothers. Nic is also involved in Dance Marathon and Intramural Sports, along with numerous service projects through the Fraternity. In his freetime, he loves to workout, play sports, hunt, fish, play video games and hang out with friends.

The Pillar That Sets Us Apart

Brother Vavek (University of Nebraska-Lincoln, ‘19) (left) and Brother Evan Helman (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) at IMPACT18 in Orlando, FL.

by Jeb Vavak
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, ’19

Most fraternities will talk up their brotherhood’s social, academic and leadership achievements until your ears fall off. Those are incredibly important, don’t get me wrong. But what distinguishes our fraternity from all the others? I rushed Phi Kappa Theta because it offered something that I didn’t see in any of the other fraternities on campus—the Spiritual Pillar.

This past January I had the privilege to travel to Indianapolis alongside 40 other brothers of the Nebraska Pi Chapter to attend SEEK2019.

SEEK is a biannual conference put on by FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, a national collegiate outreach program. Over 17,000 students who attended the conference were able to hear inspiring talks from top Catholic speakers, attend Mass daily, take part in adoration and confession and hear a concert from Matt Maher and NEEDTOBREATHE. We were also able to connect with fellow brothers from four other Phi Kap chapters. Some of these opportunities were made possible by FOCUS Greek—the FOCUS outreach tailored to students in fraternity and sorority life.

That weekend, it seemed like the pieces just fell into place like a puzzle. First of all, we were fortunate that the conference was held in Indianapolis this year, not far from the National Office. Employees of the National Office as well as our National President, Adrian Gonzalez (University of Texas at Austin, ’78), were present at a the Phi Kap vendor booth throughout the entire conference. The fraternity served as a sponsor for the conference, obtaining a booth to gain leads for students and chaplains interested in starting a Phi Kappa Theta colony on their campus. This also allowed Phi Kaps attending SEEK to connect with staff from the National Office and network with other brothers that stopped by the booth. Some brothers even took a break from the conference to visit the National Office in Indianapolis, only 20 minutes away from the convention center.

Members of Nebraska Pi at SEEK 2019.

But it didn’t stop there; the pieces of the puzzle kept falling into place. It also happened that the weekend of SEEK was the same weekend that Dr. Michael Brown and his DMB Coaching team would be in Indianapolis training alumni volunteers on the new spiritual development curriculum.

This resource guide, Beyond Belief, will soon be launched to chapters all over the country to assist in strengthening brothers spiritually and embracing the pillar that makes us unique. This perfect timing allowed the DMB Coaching team to hold a special session for the brothers attending SEEK: a sneak preview of the Beyond Belief material. I was taken aback when I got my hands on a hard copy of the resource guide because of how thick the booklet was!

Dr. Brown then gave us an introduction to some of the resources and activities inside. The wealth of information in those pages couldn’t even be covered in the three hours we had together.

After getting a sneak peak of Beyond Belief, I am convinced that it will be incredibly beneficial to all the chapters that give it a chance. It is inspiring to see the our Fraternity making an investment into the spiritual formation of its members.

As a brother, I am proud to be part of an organization that embraces and values spiritual development. The new Beyond Belief spiritual curriculum is a great example of Phi Kappa Theta’s commitment to developing well-rounded, passionately driven men. Development in all five of our pillars is crucial. As Phi Kappa Theta Fraternity continues to be dedicated to a pillar that many other fraternities neglect, we will begin to truly distinguish ourselves as the premier organization for developing servant leaders. Furthermore, we will begin to live every day more in line with our mission: Phi Kappa Theta actively develops men to be effective leaders who passionately serve society, Fraternity, and God.

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Jeb Vavak is a senior Management major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is from Ashland, Nebraska and graduated in 2015 from Ashland-Greenwood High School. He has served the Nebraska Pi Chapter as President, Philanthropy Chairman and Recruitment Assistant. On campus, he is active at the Newman Center, is a member of Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society and served as an Orientation Leader for UNL New Student Enrollment. In his free time he enjoys playing basketball and listening to music.

Main Image: Brothers from all chapters at FOCUS Greek Bid Day event.

Making Resolutions?

Plan for your Role as Chapter Leader!

by Dan Bureau, PhD
University of New Hampshire, ‘95
Board of Trustees
Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Memphis

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Resolutions are often made the end of one year and the beginning of the next because people are scientifically proven to be ready for change. There is a mindset that comes with making resolutions: I have not achieved my goals in the past year (or years) but now I feel ready to make that change. When considering what changes you need to make, also give pause to how those changes will ultimately impact those around you and what strategies you need to enact in order to achieve those goals.

As you consider some of your resolutions for 2019, think about what you need to do relative to your role in Phi Kappa Theta. Leaders can always turn things around even with really difficult situations, but you have to be ready. Here are three resolutions you might adopt in your role as a leader in your chapter, your alumni association, or as part of any other committee/board on which you serve that is connected to Phi Kappa Theta.

1. I will be more focused on listening to others than only asserting my opinion. You have been elected/selected based on qualifications. Therefore, you have a right to give your opinion and it is likely one that has been considered in depth at some point. However, good leaders listen as much as they talk (if not more).

Ask questions even if you think you know the answers.

- Dan Bureau, PhD

Talking at people does not really work unless they are clear on your rationale and also how it will impact them. Moving forward, ask questions even if you think you know the answers. For example, rather than share with a brother that you wish he would pay his dues, ask “what can we do to make this experience worthwhile for you so that you invest in it by paying dues” or “what can we do to help you make the payments towards your dues” rather than assume it is just how he chooses to prioritize. Paying dues is one example, but this resolution can be applied to all aspects of leadership.

For more information check out this article from Inc. magazine.

2. I will seek to engage others rather than doing everything myself or letting the elite few who do work tackle these tasks. It is easy just to get something done the way you want it, but as you and your fellow leaders conduct themselves this way it lets many others all around you just opt out. This is a challenge particularly for those who are concerned with their legacy of leadership versus the overall effectiveness of their organization. The truth is that your greatest legacy of what you achieve as a leader will come long after you are gone: the test is whether those after you can carry on in a way that is making the organization successful.

What you achieve as a leader will come long after you are gone: the test is whether those after you can carry on in a way that is making the organization successful.

- Dan Bureau, PhD

As a leader, make the resolution that you are going to seek out brothers (recall the ritual here) and ask them what could help them become more involved. In what are they interested in helping? What are their ideas? Leadership needs to be shared in order to be impactful. Engage others and while the initial work may seem harder, you will empower others, including those who “follow you” to step up and make the difference.

For more information on leading toward results AND relationships, check out this blog post.

3. I resolve to be focused on leadership as acts versus position. This is a reality for any leader. The way it impacts our Fraternity though is that the act of leadership can feel more positional than relational. Anyone can lead and they may lead differently or the same as you but we often default to those in positions of leadership versus all the leadership potential around us. There is a body of research focused on countering this view of leadership. While leadership needs to have “leaders” and “followers” it is important to be clear that anyone may need to step up to lead in a given situation. If you are a positional leader in your chapter/alumni association/other PKT context, then you may or may not be the right person to demonstrate leadership in other ways. For example, if a brother is struggling with something, sometimes the best way to demonstrate leadership is to make sure someone who he is most closely connected to is prepared to connect with him in a way that feels helpful.

Central Michigan University hosts a leadership camp annually. Check out their overview of what’s called the social change model of leadership. This focuses on many things, most notably that leadership is not just position.

These three resolutions connect powerfully around any sort of change management efforts. If you identify change is needed then once you listen to learn, you may feel better informed to implement change that people will buy into. If you engage others in change, they will feel invested more or at least that their voice was heard. Finally, if you focus on leadership as a function versus position, and a function that anyone at anytime can step into, then you will empower people to new heights.

Resolutions often fall apart, so if you start one of these (or all of them) and something goes wrong, then consider what needs to change for you to successfully complete. Also, there may be a need for you to apply these resolutions differently depending on the context of the situation (for example, at some point there are issues within Phi Kappa Theta that simply are driven by the policies of the Fraternity), but keeping these resolutions in mind will help you reflect as a leader on what you can do, what you can do with others, and how you all can work together to make your Phi Kappa Theta experience one that is positive, educational, fun, and impactful to you, your campus and society.


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About Dan:

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Dan Bureau joined Phi Kappa Theta at the University of New Hampshire, and graduated in 1995. He later earned a PhD. in Higher Education and Student Affairs at Indiana University. Dan works for the University of Memphis as the assistant vice president for student affairs. He also volunteers for the Council for the Advancement of Standards through the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors. Dan enjoys spending time with his family, playing tennis and staying fit.

18 Hours in Pullman, Washington

Ross Walters (University of Louisiana, ‘02) as a Collegiate Brother.

Ross Walters (University of Louisiana, ‘02) as a Collegiate Brother.

by Ross Walters
Current National Vice President
University of Louisiana, ‘02

My journey in Phi Kappa Theta started at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in the Fall of 1997. During that fateful September I was introduced to several active members of the fraternity, and ultimately made the decision to join our esteemed brotherhood shortly thereafter.

Despite only knowing two members at the time, I was compelled to join from the beginning and have never looked back.

I went on to serve in a variety of collegiate positions within Louisiana Omicron, including two years on the Executive Council, and two years on the University’s Interfraternity Council.

Through my involvement in Greek Affairs I was provided the opportunity to travel to various National Conventions, where I have discovered my long-term passion for serving Phi Kappa Theta. Now, as a current member of the Board of Trustees, I have met countless Alumni members, as well as many Collegiate members over the years. These introductions have become the highlight of my travels and have led to long lasting friendships that will certainly span the test of time.

The last two years I have ended up sitting next to members of our chapter from Washington State University, and both years these guys have extended an invitation to me to visit their campus in Pullman, Washington.

Ross Walters as judge for the Miss Washington USA Pageant.

Ross Walters as judge for the Miss Washington USA Pageant.

As it turns out, I recently found myself in Seattle serving as a judge for the Miss Washington USA pageant (long story…) and I thought it was a great opportunity to get to Pullman for a visit. So after confirming my visit with chapter leaders, I bought my Alaska Airlines round trip ticket from Seattle to Pullman for a quick overnight stay.

I knew it would be an interesting experience upon arriving at the Seattle Tacoma International Airport and coming face to face with the very small aircraft that would be serving as my transportation to Pullman. After a 45 minute flight across the state of Washington (and great views of Mount Rainier), I arrived safely at my hotel (The Residence Inn, a very nice place to stay in Pullman if any of you are interested). A quick Uber ride and I was at the Phi Kappa Theta house on WSU campus.

I have heard how impressive this house was over the years, and I was not let down. Upon walking in I was greeted by a dozen or so current collegiate Brothers having lunch. I had a few minutes to sit and talk with them before Brother Tanner Moyer (WSU, ‘19) met up with me and brought me to a hot lunch spot in Pullman, The Coug. Joining us was Monique Nianekeo, a member of Alpha Chi Omega Sorority at WSU. Over our lunch the three of us discussed various issues which were having an impact on Greek life in general. Monique was also able to provide valuable insight from a sorority perspective, which I truly appreciated.

Ross Walters (right) with WSU Collegiate and Alumni brothers.

Ross Walters (right) with WSU Collegiate and Alumni brothers.

After lunch we headed back to the house for the weekly chapter meeting. I got a quick tour of the house from President Hogan Leffel (WSU. ‘20) before the meeting started on time.

I was given a very warm introduction to the membership before giving a report on current National Fraternity business. Sitting through the rest of the meeting I was struck with the similarities of issues facing this chapter and other chapters around the country.

While personalities, size of individual chapters, financial statues, etc… may all be quite different, it is apparent that we all share common attributes which bond us over geographical distances. I admit, this made me smile to myself knowing that the ideals of the Fraternity are what keep us together.

After the meeting, I went with Hogan and Tanner back to The Coug where we met up with former chapter president and current alumni member Kyle O’Malley (WSU, ‘17). We had a great conversation, discussing Fraternity topics well into the evening.

I probably stayed too late as my return flight to Seattle was at 4:00 a.m. the following morning.

On my very early return flight I was able to reflect on my 18 hours in Pullman and realized how pleased I was with my decision to make the trek to visit our Brothers at Washington State University.

If ever you have the opportunity to visit a city, town, or region where we have a chapter of Phi Kappa Theta Fraternity, I challenge you to take the first step in trying to coordinate a visit. It’s these bonds and friendships that I have made over the last 21 years that have kept me coming back for more, and will hopefully keep me involved in this fraternity for many years to come.


About Ross:

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Ross Walters earned degrees in business management, biology, funeral service and embalming from the University of Louisiana and Texas Commonwealth Institute. Ross currently works in his family’s businesses, Walters Funeral Home and Greenlawn Memorial Gardens cemetery. He also owns a production company called XLR8 Productions. Ross volunteers for the following organizations: Louisiana Metropolitan Expressway Commission (board member), Cite’ des Arts (board member), University of Louisiana Alumni Association, Louisiana Funeral Directors Association. Ross was selected as the 2000 Greek Man of the Year for the University of Louisiana, and also was an Outstanding Graduate at Commonwealth Institute.