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Developing Leaders through College of Chapters

Sigma Nu Fraternity recognizes successful chapters are built on a solid foundation of leadership, which sets direction, values, and goals for all members within the organization - from the Commander to the candidate.  

In early January, Sigma Nu Commanders from chapters across the country will gather in Roanoke, Virginia, for the annual College of Chapters program. Over a four-day, intensive, and interactive training, chapter leaders will gain the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out the essential duties of their office when they return home.

“While the format and intended outcomes have changed over the years, College of Chapters has served as a consistent opportunity to bring together all collegiate chapters of Sigma Nu Fraternity on a regular basis,” explains Scott Smith (Central Arkansas), Director of Leadership Development for the Fraternity.

Leadership programs have been a part of Sigma Nu in one form or another going back decades. The LEAD (leadership, ethics, achievement, development) Program is an award-winning curriculum regularly used by collegiate chapters.

The College of Chapters program has been around since at least the 1950s, serving as a leadership school and brotherhood convention in multiple models over the years. From 2001 to 2009, College of Chapters offered specific training to emerging leaders during leadership retreats held every other year. A decade later, the event became an annual one, with the focus shifting to a wider view of leadership under the chapter Commander and enhancing connections between chapters.

The re-focus started in 2010 during Sigma Nu’s Strategic Plan update. The High Council, Sigma Nu’s Board of Directors, created a new imperative, known as “Chapter Strength,” which continued the emphasis on leadership training for chapter leaders and sought to identify and share best practices across all Sigma Nu chapters.

“Though we have chapters from Washington to South Florida, Southern California to New Hampshire - they all share the same core values, rituals, and expectations,” Smith said, noting approximately 3,500 Commanders and leaders have been through College of Chapters since 2001.

National Perspectives and Local Chapters

For many participants, College of Chapters may be their first experience of Sigma Nu on a national scale or the first time they’ve interacted with brothers outside of their campus chapter.

Smith explains College of Chapters helps minimize differences between chapters by creating small discussion groups, which bring together Commanders from chapters that share similar attributes – size, geography, housing situations, and even “personalities.”

“This helps in customizing the content to fit their situation since budgeting, committee structures, or event planning looks different for a chapter of 150 versus a chapter of 45,” Smith explained.

However, the overall philosophy is the same across all chapters – big or small. The guiding philosophy for College of Chapters centers on Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle”: leadership starts with why, your purpose, and the strategies and actions you implement that serve that purpose.

“Each participant leaves with a personalized action plan for his term in office, including a short-term vision, two strategies that will move the chapter towards the vision, and six goals that will lead to the achievement of their strategies,” Smith said.

Commanders are further inspired by Kouzes & Posner’s definition of leadership from The Student Leadership Challenge, “Leadership is mobilizing others to want to get extraordinary things done in organizations.”

Smith notes College of Chapters helps Commanders understand that leadership is a process - not a position - and their actions can create positive changes in others for the good of the chapter. At the end of the day, Commanders understand that leaders set the course but must find ways to influence others to follow that path. 

Beyond the Basics of Leadership Training

Leadership academies and training are not unique to the Greek system, but the structure and format of College of Chapters are unique to Sigma Nu. The event includes training in core competencies, developing action plans, individualized coaching, and high-caliber keynote presentations.

During the 2022 College of Chapters, Past Regent Robert Durham (Georgia) – who developed the Chapter Strength initiative during his term as Regent on the High Council – will deliver the opening keynote in celebration of 10 successful years of College of Chapters in the Commanders-training model.

“These elements make this program vastly different from what other sororities and fraternities address in their typical national presidents’ training,” Smith said.

Since 2014, College of Chapters has been held in Roanoke, Virginia, allowing Commanders to travel to Sigma Nu’s national headquarters in nearby Lexington and the Virginia Military Institute where the Fraternity was founded.

Last year, College of Chapters was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the leadership training for members continued. “Leadership was even more important during the disruption,” Scott noted.

“The pandemic proved the value of each fraternity chapter and what it could provide beyond housing or a social element,” he said. “The chapters which operated strongly before the pandemic continued to do so, finding new ways to support and develop their members.”

In addition to the pandemic, Scott said that effective leadership is even more important in these times of social change. 

“College of Chapters gives new Commanders the skills to choose the harder right over the easier wrong,” Scott said. “Participants develop a support network, gain leadership skills, and learn practical guidance for ethically leading their chapter, managing events, and prioritizing member and guest health and safety.”

While the founding story of Sigma Nu and its basis in “anti-hazing” sets the Fraternity apart from many of its peers, visible leadership and action are important.

“Sigma Nu, higher education, our communities, and our entire country needs ethical leadership,” Smith said. “Fraternity, done right, provides the most comprehensive and impactful experience of any student organization on campus.” 

© 2015-2021 Sigma Nu Fraternity, Inc.
9 North Lewis Street, P.O. Box 1869, Lexington, Virginia 24450
Phone: (540) 463-1869 | Fax: (540) 463-1669 | Email: headquarters@sigmanu.org

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