Interview with an Astronaut

Dr Leroy Chaio Talks Leadership 

Lilly Steger

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When the Laurel team sat down last fall to brainstorm what to feature in the spring edition of The Laurel, leadership was always set to be the theme. After several discussions and renovations, it was decided to seek out and feature Phi Tau alumni who had gone on to reach the top of their given careers. We wanted to be as expansive as possible in the fields we chose; the final list of alumni included CEOs, Senators, State Representatives, generals, professional broadcasters, and bishops. However, no matter who was in the room their first suggestion for a feature was none of these - it was always Dr. Leroy Chaio, Berkley ’79, former Commander of the International Space Station.

As the first man to be brought up, Dr. Chaio was also the first man to be interviewed. He was kind enough to give me 15 minutes of his time this winter for this feature. Dr. Chaio has always been generous with his time to Phi Tau in the past. He’s spoken at several of our events - Presidents Academy and Convention - and was eager to give us more of his time for The Laurel. As you will read below, Dr. Chiao began his career at UC Berkley and went on to obtain a Masters and PhD., as well as learn both Russian and Mandarin, to become the Commander of the International Space Station. Cumulatively, he has spent 229 days in space on 4 different missions. 

Because the full interview could not be included in the magazine due to space constraints, Dr. Chaio’s full interviewed is being shared below. If you would like to read the full article - including words on leadership from our other outstanding alumni - you can do so here. To be put on the mailing list for The Laurel fill out our opt-in form

What drew you to Phi Tau instead of another fraternity? 

I just remember going through the houses and meeting the people and getting a good vibe from the Phi Taus. It really had everything to do with the members and it felt like that would be a good fit for me. I started spending a little more time there during the week and I was invited to pledge, and I did, and the rest is history. 

Do you think that your time with Phi Tau has included your professional journey? 

Oh, sure. I think, like a lot of experiences, Fraternity is something that impacts you. You make lifelong friends in any organization, whether it’s a fraternity or it’s just your group in your professional studies. I still keep in touch with a few of the guys from my era. I think you learn a lot living in a fraternity or the Greek system. You learn about yourself and how to negotiate or manage yourself socially. You learn to manage your life and your time, of course university is a time when you’re figuring all that out, but when you’ve got a big support group of like-minded people, I think that helps a lot, and that’s what contributes to those lifelong friendships. 

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Was becoming an astronaut something you grew up wanting to do, or did that unfold on its own? 

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in airplanes and rockets and things like that, but it was really the Apollo 11 moon landing. I was eight years old when we landed on the moon, and even though I loved all those flying machines, I never really thought about being an astronaut myself until we did that. I remember going outside to look at the moon later and just marveling that up there, almost a quarter of a million miles away, two astronauts were getting ready to go out and step on the moon for the first time. So, when that actually happened, I just remember feeling, “Wow, I wanna be like those guys. I’m gonna try and do it.” So, I always knew I was going to try and get there.

So, I entered university and studied chemical engineering. I was always interested in technical things, so studying engineering was a natural course for me to follow. Then, getting the degree basically qualified me to apply to NASA. Every day when I was studying, I remember thinking, “What kind of career I want to have?” and I kept going back to, “Well I really want to be an astronaut.” I knew that I qualified to apply, because just before I entered university, NASA had selected the first group of space shuttle astronauts, and they included a lot of people from the civilian world. It wasn’t just a military thing anymore. 

When I was at Berkley as a sophomore, I did go down to the Air Force ROTC office. I had the intention of becoming a military pilot. I wanted to fly military airplanes, and I figured that was a way of bettering my changes to get into NASA. Unfortunately, during the first week I noticed my left eye was no longer 20:20, so I was no longer qualified to become a military pilot. Fortunately, I hadn’t signed on the dotted line yet to commit to the Air Force, so I went ahead and left that behind. But the fact that they started selecting engineers and scientists who were civilians for the shuttle program opened up that opportunity. That was exciting to me and that was the path I chose to follow. 

What is the training like to be allowed to go into space? 

The training - they want you to have a technical background in either science, engineering, or medicine. The idea is it’s not important what specific subset you study, what’s important is that you have a strong foundation or base that allows you to learn the systems of the spacecraft you’re going to operate, and the principles of the vehicles, procedures, and experiments you’re going to preform. All that. The best astronauts are the ones who are jack-of-all-trades. They’re trainable - you can learn a lot of different things and you’re good at the variety of things you’ll have to do. 

So, I have to ask, what’s it like to be in space? What is the space station like? 

It’s pretty crazy. The first time you go up into space and you’re instantly weightless at main engine cutoff, you’re immediately dizzy. Your inner ear is there telling your brain that you’re tumbling, but your eyes tell you you’re not and that mismatch makes you really dizzy. You also notice a fluid shift, there’s no gravity down towards your legs so that fluid comes up into your torso and increases the pressure in your head. It feels like you’re laying on an incline. But you’re also floating, so it’s pretty weird. 

One of the first things I needed to do on my first mission was to unstrap and put together the camcorder to take video of the external tank as we separated away from it, so I got to look out at the Earth right away. I was really, really taken aback at how beautiful it was. It was a surreal experience being up there, especially the first time. 

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What have you been up to since your time with NASA? You’re an entrepreneur and a speaker?  

Right, since leaving NASA a little over thirteen years ago I started working for myself. I jumped up and started doing some speeches first with the Speakers Bureau of Hosts. Then fairly recently, just within the past couple of years, with my own company to formalize some of that activity. 

I also worked as a consultant for both aerospace and other technology fields. I’ve been involved in some technology startups and right now I’m associated with universities. I was a Distinguished Chair Professor at Louisiana State for a while. I’m still a part of Rice University here in Hudson and Baylor College of Medicine. I do a lot of that, mostly for fun or personal interest. 

The thing I’m focused on now is my little company I started a few years ago, One Orbit. We have two sides to our organization. We do the corporate work like keynotes, workshops on topics you might expect - leadership, how to avoid complacency, how to bring your organization to the next level, things like that. A lot of personal views and lessons brought from NASA that can be applied to the corporate world. But on the more fun side we’re geared towards students. We do a lot of sponsored student activities; a corporation will come and pay us to go to their local area and visit schools and motivate kids to get them excited and start thinking about what they want to do. That’s really rewarding. I have twelve year-old twins, and I’m especially interested in helping young people develop their futures. 

These are young kids? Like elementary aged? 

Right! We speak to elementary all the way through university level students, so obviously we have different talks we give to the different levels. But our sweet spot is that middle school, twelve to thirteen year-old age group. That’s really when the kids are trying to figure out what they want to do. It’s those awkward years when hormones start up and the behavior starts changing and all that. That’s the sweet spot of hitting these young people. 

Do you view yourself as a leader? Do you feel like you’ve always been a leader or is it something you’ve grown into over time? 

I definitely have held leadership positions, including being Commander of the International Space Station. I’ve led more small-to-medium sized groups and organizations. I’ve never been the leader of a large corporate organization, but the fundamental principles are the same. But no, I do not consider myself a natural born leader. I was definitely not as a younger person. It was something I had to learn and grow into, and that’s kind of what I talk about in some of the leadership presentations. 

Not everyone - in fact, I would say most leaders are not born leaders. There are a few people that are unique, that you’ve known since they were young had that quality. But I think one of the best characteristics of a leader is someone who can take care of the people that they are leading, and doesn’t forget about what being a leader is about. 

Oftentimes, I talk about how leaders forget they’re supposed to be leading people and building teams. They’re not supposed to be managing people and the process, you hire a manager for that. I saw a lot of that at NASA. In my presentations, I talk about some of the folks that lost their way and present strategizes to keep yourself from falling into some of those traps. 

What qualities do you think make a great leader? 

I think it gets summarized pretty quickly with General Norman Schwarzkopf. To paraphrase him, and I think he was one of the best leaders of our time, he said, “It’s always about honesty, integrity, and always being willing to do the right thing.” It’s that last point that’s so important - always being willing to do the right thing. His point was most, if not all of the time, you know what the right thing to do it. A lot of the time that might be very difficult. There might be enormous consequences to making that decision and going down that path, but if you’re a leader who’s always willing to do the right thing, you’re going to earn the respect of the people around you. Not only the people you’re leading, but your peers and everyone else that is familiar with the situation. Sometimes it comes with enormous cost; you may lose your job or your position of leadership over it. But if you have those qualities of a leader then you’re going to find other opportunities. 

So, I think that kind of sums up what is important in a leader. Communication, of course. It sounds like a cliché but it’s so important. As a leader you have to be able to communicate both down to the people underneath you, as well as to those you report to - folks on the Board of Directors, whoever that is, you’ve got to be able to clearly articulate your expectations to your team. You’ve got to make sure everyone pulls in the right direction and you’ve got to take into account the difference of people. You need to understand your audience is not all going to respond to the same thing. You have to say the same thing different for different people to hear you. There’s different personality types. Some people like to get a direct order, “Here’s what you need to do.” Other people don’t like that, they bristle at it. You need to coax them and bring them along. Other personalities you need to explain why the decision is this and they need to understand to be a part of it. You’ve got to take all that into account when you’re talking to a lot of different types of people. When you’re talking to a group it can be especially challenging, but you’ve got to make sure you communicate and incorporate those different ways of saying the same thing to make sure you reach all the different types of people and they hear you. 

The mission statement of Phi Kappa Tau is, “To champion a lifelong commitment to brotherhood, learning, ethical leadership and exemplary character.” Do you feel like that is still a relevant vision statement today? Given that, what would your leadership challenge be to our young members? 

Oh, absolutely. I think those are very fundamental, visionary leadership statements. I think they’re timeless. Anyone who talks about leadership or knows anything about leadership is going to touch on those points, maybe in different words but it’s going to mean the same thing. I think those definitely apply to today. For young people, university life is an exciting time and a very difficult time. You’re going to be placed in positions, academically and otherwise, that could have far-reaching ramifications. Part of the social structure of being in a fraternity and the Greek system - even though the Greek system gets some bad press - is that there’s a lot more good things that happen than bad. You have the support of your brothers in your fraternity and your sisters in your sorority, and they can help guide you, especially the older members. If you’re in a situation where you’re facing some dilemma, you have guidance on those tough decisions. It’s important to have fun, but it’s important to remember to do the right thing as well. 

My final question for you: given that I’m sure there was only a limited amount of objects you could bring with you, why did you bring the Phi Tau flag into space? 

It was especially important on my first flight to bring things that were significant or had influenced me in some way. Phi Kappa Tau was part of that. My fraternity experience was a very positive one it was a very enriching one to me. As I mentioned before, I have lifelong friends. I learned some lessons – I made some mistakes, but I learned lessons – so it was import for me to bring along the symbol of the Fraternity. The flag was the best way to do that.
My heritage is Chinese - I was born in the United States, I’ve always been an American, but my parents were both born in China, - so I wanted to bring something that would represent Chinese people around the world. For example, I brought a Chinese flag. I brought and wanted to bring a Taiwanese flag, but the State Department didn’t like that, we had already broken off relations with Taiwan. I was able to bring a Confusion Scroll for Taiwan and present it back to them. I brought a carving of flowers – the name of the flower escapes me – but it’s a symbol of Hong Kong. I also brought personal items: jewelry, for family and loved ones. I brought my wrist watch, which was an important thing to me. I brought a wristwatch for my best friend, he wanted me to fly his watch for him. You know, little things like that. Photographs of your loved ones I kept in my notebook. Those are kind of the items I brought. 

Thank you to Dr. Chaio for giving your time to Phi Tau! 

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Rutgers Celebrates 25th Anniversary

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Lilly Steger

Last November, the Epsilon Kappa chapter at Rutgers University celebrated their 25th anniversary. Founded in 1993, the Epsilon Kappa chapter is now 46 men strong and boasts 297 alumni. 

The event was held on the Scarlet Knights football field. It was kicked off by remarks from the chapter President, Bhargav Lingala, Rutgers ’16, on the status of the chapter. Following Bhargav’s address were remarks from Alexander “Sasha” Kanevsky, Rutgers ’05, the chapter advisor. 

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After dinner, the outgoing Board of Governors chairman, Karl Freemyer, Rutgers ’08, spoke, as well as William Aprea, Georgia Tech ’91, one of the three founding fathers of Epsilon Kappa. The evening was closed by Fraternity CEO Tim Hudson, Truman ’97, who spoke at length about the chapter founding. Closing remarks were made by Luke Schneider, Rutgers ’05, the incoming Board of Governors chairman. 

Epsilon Kappa was featured in the summer 2018 edition of The Laurel for their thriving Board of Governors, managed by men like Sasha, Luke, and Karl. You can read about how they maintain and organize the group on pg. 18 here

Congratulations to Epsilon Kappa! 

Thank you to Sasha Kanevsky for sending this story in. If you have chapter news you would like to submit, please do so here. 

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Chapter Highlights: Graduate Council

The Gamma Alpha house

The Gamma Alpha house

Lilly Steger

In the summer 2018 edition of The Laurel, we highlighted the four “pillars” of a strong chapter - the Resident Council, the Housing Corp, the Board of Governors, and the Graduate Council. With the school year coming to an end soon, we wanted to share some of our outstanding examples of chapter organization, as well as alumni support, so chapters can begin considering their plans 2019-2020 academic year. Read this blurb from The Laurel to see how Marty Schendel, Michigan Tech ’81, and the rest of the Gamma Alpha chapter run their grad council:

If the enthusiasm and strength of these undergraduates can be retained and carried over to their alumni years, we begin to see truly great things happening. At Michigan Tech, Marty Schendel, Michigan Tech ’81, is running a superb Graduate Council. The Gamma Alpha Graduate Council was officially founded in 1987, when a group of more-active alumni met in Detroit to draft a charter, bylaws, and create a board of trustees. This Graduate Council has taken several innovate steps to support alumni as well as undergraduates. Spring of every year, Marty makes an effort to take the graduating seniors out to lunch and gives them an orientation packet, welcoming them to the Graduate Council. He goes through it page-by-page to help the seniors prepare for life as an alumnus. They even have a small-sum giving structure set up, where alumni can have $12.09 withdrawn from their bank account at the first of every month (1209 is the address of the Alpha Gamma house). They also maintain career opportunities through an email list, where alumni can post open positions and undergraduates can reach out about possible job inquiries. The email list has also been used for Co-Ops or housing and has proved to be a massive success. This is, in part, because it services both students and alumni. “We wanted to provide support to the active members of the house, but also to alumni, whether they’ve recently graduated or if they graduated decades ago,” said Marty about the accomplishments of their Graduate Council in general. “We would encourage any chapter to develop an alumni foundation that supports that feeling of bonding or ties being never ending. We should always be there to support each other.” 

If you are interested in creating a Graduate Council like Gamma Alpha, please contract your Domain director here.

Duncan Erskine Cull Enters Chapter Eternal

Lilly Steger

April 8th, 2019: Oxford, Ohio - Duncan Erskine Cull, Louisville ’56, entered the chapter eternal on March 26th, 2019. 

After graduating Louisville DuPont Manual High School in 1947 he joined the Marine Corps as a communications specialist and rose to the rank of Staff Sargent. He served two years in the Korean War. 

Following the military, Duncan worked at WAVE TV as an Electronics Engineer. He graduated the University of Louisville in 1959. He was hired by Bendix Radio and worked on missile guidance systems. He had a patent for miniaturized 2-way radios that was purchased by the U.S. Navy. He also worked at National Cash Register throughout the 60s-80s. While there, he created a Teleprinter used by the SKYLAB which allowed photo transmission to repair the Solar Umbrella Panel. He also created the “Mr. Microphone” Karaoke device. However most importantly he developed the touch-screen concept, now utilized in virtually all technology.

Duncan married his wife Elinor on March 30th, 1957, by whom he was preceded in death. Duncan passed away with his family at his side. He is succeeded by his sons William and Robert as well as his granddaughter Annaliza, his sister Jeanne, and three nephews Keith, John, and Matthew. 

The family asks mourners to consider donating to Hosparus or the Disabled American Veterans in his memory. 

Delta Gamma Celebrates Chapter 50th

Lilly Steger

On March 23rd, the Delta Gamma chapter at Ole Miss celebrated their 50th anniversary, a huge milestone for any chapter. When F. Harrison “Buzz” Green, Ole Miss ’66, returns home to Oxford, OH, from his trip to Mississippi, he makes a stop at the Executive Offices to tell us about it.  

Foundation Vice Chairman Buzz Green,  Ole Miss ‘66 , with National President Bill Brasch,  Louisville ‘67

Foundation Vice Chairman Buzz Green, Ole Miss ‘66, with National President Bill Brasch, Louisville ‘67

Now the Vice Chairman on the Foundation Board of Trustees, Buzz has been an active member since he became a founding father of the Delta Gamma chapter. When Phi Tau arrived at Ole Miss in the fall of ’66 they were called “The Group” because the University would not give them permission to use Greek letters. “The Group” spent a year fighting to prove to University faculty that there was a need for another Fraternity on campus. They were finally successful by the end of the academic year, when they were given permission to call themselves a Greek organization. It took another year from there to charter, which they did in the spring semester of 1969. 

As a colony, Delta Gamma purchased a chapter house they paid off in just 7 years. Buzz details some of the cost cutting measures they took to do this - the house would charge for 20 meals a week, he explains, but they would only get nine, and that ninth one would just be a peanut butter sandwich. They also did not have a big budget for social events. They wanted to have an open party - a big part of the Ole Miss social scene - but they did not have the funds to go all in. Instead, they hired a local high school band director. Expecting him to show up with a quartet, he brought a 35 member band and the party was a success. 

Founding members of the Delta Gamma chapter

Founding members of the Delta Gamma chapter

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Today, our Ole Miss chapter is 92 men strong. These undergraduates rallied together, with the help of their house mother, to put together a weekend-long celebration. It began on Friday with a reception at the Delta Gamma house, a newer one purchased in 1984. Phi Tau members and their guests were able to tour the property and see the way it has changed over the years. Saturday during the day the group met to discuss the future of the fraternity with the alumni. 

Saturday evening was the gala at the Oxford, MS, country club. There were 525 guests in attendance - when I expressed surprise at such high attendance, Buzz grins and says, “We’re loyal Phi Taus.” In addition to a band and food, there was a silent auction to raise money for a new deck on the chapter house. They auctioned off signed baseballs and jerseys, as well as Ole Miss items. One of the alumni in attendance agreed to match all donations up to $100,000, which he did. Several alumni received recognition awards, including a Phi award to Gary Thrash, Ole Miss ’69. 

One of the most special gifts of the night were several framed hand-painted photos of that original house, the one the founding fathers fought so hard to buy and pay off. Buzz, among several other people, received one of these special paintings. 

Buzz spoke about the history of the chapter at the reception, relaying the same stories he told me the following week. “I remember feeling so proud the day we put up the letters on that house,” Buzz recounts. “I just thought, ‘Wow, it’s happened.’” 

Congratulations to the Delta Gamma chapter for such a huge accomplishment! 

Beta Beta Undergraduate Receives "My Brother's Keeper" Award

Lilly Steger

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Houston Ray, Louisville '17, received the FSL "My Brother's Keeper" award for preforming CPR on a brother who had gone into cardiac arrest, due to a previously existing condition. A representative from the Beta Beta chapter said about the ordeal:

"The experience was terrifying to say the least. Brother Houston reacted in less than 30 seconds to begin CPR on Brother Jacob. There was around 35 brothers at the house that night when it happened and we all went to the hospital afterwards and stayed for around 8 hours until we knew he was stable. The doctors kept him in a medically induced coma for 48 hours, and he made a full recovery." 
#GoFar

Alumni Gather in Washington DC

Lilly Steger

The Lyndon B. Johnson room in the Capitol building where Phi Tau’s gather is not large but it’s ornate; from floor to ceiling the room is decorated in crimson, golds, and furnished with paintings, a towering glass mirror, and a golden chandelier. The idea to hold an alumni reception in collaboration with the following day’s National Council meeting had been decided a month earlier when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Louisville ’61, had suggested that a Phi Tau reception could be hosted in the Capitol building. It was a great opportunity to have an early Founders Day celebration and on March 13th, local alumni made their way to Washington to celebrate in one of the most iconic buildings of the city.

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There were over 90 guests in attendance from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and other surrounding states. Besides the location, one of the great allures of the event was the attendance of four Phi Tau Hall of Fame members, all of whom work in Washington, D.C. We were joined first by Leader Mitch McConnell, fresh off a vote on the Senate floor. He spoke to the crowd of guests about the current political atmosphere, drew a few laughs, then declared “I’m proud to be a Phi Tau.

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After Leader McConnell finished, CEO Tim Hudson, Truman ’97, National President Bill Brasch, Louisville ’67, and I travel back to McConnell’s office. Nearly everything in the Capitol is red, gold, or deep brown and McConnell’s office is no exception; it’s a beautiful room with old oak flooring and a large white stone fireplace that is the Leaders choice for a photo backdrop. On the wall there are portraits of Teddy Roosevelt, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush.

We were joined by Mississippi 1st District Representative Trent Kelly, Ole Miss ’87. Before being elected to the House of Representatives in 2015, Trent Kelly worked as a private lawyer for nearly a decade before becoming a city prosecutor. Following that, he was elected district attorney in 2011. Prior to his tenure as a lawyer, Representative Kelly had an extensive career in the Army Reserves which began during his undergraduate days. In the 1990s, he served as a Major during both Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield. He was promoted to Brigadier General in 2018, a position he still holds.

Also joining us was Brigadier General Terry Williams, UCLA ’87, another Phi Tau with an outstanding military career. After officer training through the Platoon Leaders Course, General Williams became a Combat Engineer at Camp Lejeune and deployed to Okinawa with the Third Marine Division, where he did a number of deployments around southwest Asia. For his second enlistment, General Williams served at MCRD San Diego where he was a Series Officer, commanding a platoon of Drill Instructors. He went on to be commanding General of MCRD Parris Island where he was simultaneously Eastern Recruiting Regions Commanding General before deploying to Afghanistan for a year. Now, he is the Director of Strategy and Plans Division at the Pentagon in Washington.

From left to right: CEO Tim Hudson, General Terry Williams, Leader Mitch McConnell, Representative Trent Kelly, and National President Bill Brasch

From left to right: CEO Tim Hudson, General Terry Williams, Leader Mitch McConnell, Representative Trent Kelly, and National President Bill Brasch

Representative Kelly was inducted into the Phi Kappa Tau Hall of Fame 2018 class in Cleveland and General Williams was inducted into the 2016 class in Sacramento. In Leader McConnell’s office - a 2006 inductee himself  -  they were presented with their Hall of Fame plaques.

Senator John Barrasso, Rensselaer ’71, from Wyoming joined us at the end of the night to receive the Borradaile Alumnus Award for excellence in his chosen field of endeavor. Senator Barrasso, a physician by trade, attended Georgetown Medical School and completed his residency at Yale. After finishing his residency in 1983, Barrasso moved to Wyoming where he would eventually become the Chief of Staff at the Wyoming Medical Center and State President of the Wyoming Medical Society. In 2002 he was elected to the Wyoming Senate. He was appointed to the United States Senate in 2007 and has served since. He was admitted to the Phi Tau Hall of Fame in 2008.

Senator Barrasso being presented the Borradaile Alumnus Award

Senator Barrasso being presented the Borradaile Alumnus Award

You can read more about Leader McConnell, General Williams, and Representative Kelly’s exemplary careers and relationship to Phi Tau in the upcoming edition of The Laurel, where they have been featured, expected to hit mailboxes in April. You can opt-in to receive The Laurel here.

The following day members of the National Council gathered for their spring 2019 meeting in downtown DC. Thank you to all of our members and their guest who attended to make it a memorable night!

View photos of the event here.  

Undergraduate Advisory Board Seeking Applicants

The Undergraduate Advisory Board (UAB) is a group of ten undergraduate brothers from chapters around the country who serve as the voice of all undergraduates to the National Council. Our members have direct access to the fraternity’s leadership and provide input, feedback, and ideas that impact the policy and decision-making from our elected National Councilors and Executive Offices.

A new function the UAB is developing has to do with fostering a chapter-to-chapter communication network for the sharing of useful information pertaining to recruitment, scholarship, and other best practices. Our greatest asset as a fraternity is the wealth of knowledge that our different chapters have and the UAB is looking to help share that knowledge on a peer-to-peer level.

The UAB is currently looking to fill 5 positions for a two-year term and 1 position for an interim one-year term. The selection process will be finalized and winners announced at Conclave this summer. The application is quick and easy, just looking to find out more about you as a candidate and why you are interested.

Application Deadline: Monday, July 1st, 2019

Click Here to Apply

Please reach out to the brothers below or the Executive Offices for more information:

Jonathan Zimmerman, President: zimmerman.jonathana@gmail.com

Ryan Lester, Vice President: rtlester@mtu.edu

The Accurate History of the Founding of Phi Kappa Tau

Lilly Steger

It’s true the founding of Phi Tau did happen on March 17th, 1906. And it’s true that the dorm rooms were inhospitably cold. 

But there’s much more to it than that. 

William H. Shideler had been visiting his family in nearby Hamilton, OH, during spring break of 1906. He went back to campus a day early to hang out with his friend Dwight I. Douglass, a senior who didn’t want to make the trip home to Illinois. They wanted to talk about the idea for a non-fraternity association, one they had been trying to organize with two sophomore friends, Taylor A. Borradaile and Clinton D. Boyd. They went wandering off to the Old Main Building, which was only a few yards away from the North Dorm rooms. 

The only room they could find unlocked in Old Main was the office of Dean Hepburn. “This was unlocked, so we entered and took possession,” Douglass said about the occasion. Douglass took a seat at the dean’s office chair and, while digging through the desk for a bit of scrap paper, uncovered a case of cigars. Douglass helped himself to one, lit it, kicked his legs up on the desk, and said to Shideler, “Well, Doc, let’s see what you have.” As they were in the midst of discussing their plans, cigar smoke pouring out under the door, Dean Hepburn walked back in. 

“He really could have made an issue of the affair, but he was a good old sport in addition to being a fine gentleman of the old school and at almost the age of eighty he still had an understanding an an appreciation of student’s problems,” Shideler recounted.

Dean Hepburn listened to Shideler and Douglass and, after hearing about their predicament, gave him his blessing. “Well boys,” Shideler recalls him having said, “I wish you all the success in the world!” 

The events that led up to this break in had been cumulating for some time. In the late 1800s, three other fraternities dominated Miami’s athletic teams, politics, and social life. By March 1905, the atmosphere was so toxic it was nearly impossible to participate in anything without admittance to one of the groups. March 5th of that year was the annual track meet, one that would become a catalyst for Phi Tau’s founding. Shideler and Douglass, coaches of the unaffiliated track team, were pushed out of any placing by other fraternities who had teamed up to dominate the competition. The fraternities that had collaborated to win took home the trials, the semi-finals, and the finals, and “nosed out” all the non-fraternity men. 

The track meet was actually not the first imputes towards organizing a non-fraternity group. In fall of 1905 Boyd and Shideler had organized two political groups on campus to give non-fraternity students a voice in the fall elections. Douglass and Borradaile lead the other. 

This led to moderate success - they were able to elect Ernest B. Southwick (a fraternity man but not part of the key “ring” on campus) as president and Boyd as vice president of the sophomore class. The second “test” against the fraternity men was the annual track meet again, where after bitter competition Boyd was able to win a gold medal - justice for the previous year’s bitter loss. 

Borradaile actually cites the the on-campus politics as the root cause for creating Phi Tau, rather than the track meet. He recalled Miami’s president as having called a meeting to work out the differences between the fraternity and non-fraternity men on campus. But when Borradaile and Douglass attended as representatives, they were told that without an organization behind them, they really did not represent anyone. 

Regardless of which drew more action from these young men, on March 17th, 1906, twenty one men climbed the steps of Old Main Building. Douglass made introductory remarks, then Clinton, Boyd, and Borradaile spoke to the assembly about the need for a permanent, non-fraternity organization to represent their needs on campus. They settled on the name “Non-Fraternity Association,” Douglass agreed to craft a constitution, and Borradaile was elected president for the upcoming year - and the rest is history. 

All of this information comes from Charles T. Ball’s, Miami ’82, book Old Main New Century. If you are interested in reading this book please contact Charlie at cball@phikappatau.org. 

Bethany Graduate Council Throws 95th Anniversary Party

Lilly Steger

The Phi chapter’s graduate council is one we have highlighted before for its exceptional organization and manpower. Years ago, Don Dallas, Bethany ’29, and Dick Mees, Bethany ’48, launched the Harvard Red and Old Gold Club, an educational endowment designed to help Phi Tau brothers. Phi alumni have also kept a detailed chapter directory, mailing lists, and host annual homecoming and fundraising events to keep the chapter engaged. Recently this dedicated group rallied together to host a milestone anniversary, one that will only be topped in five year’s time.

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Last October, alumni of the Phi chapter rallied together to collaborate their chapter’s 95th. “We weren’t sure how many would show up, since it was an odd year,” Tim Smith, Bethany ’75, said over the phone, “Our goal was 95 guests for 95 years and we got over 100.” From Friday, October 26th to Sunday, October 28th, Phi alumni gathered in Wheeling, West Virginia, some thirty minutes from Bethany College to celebrate their chapter’s legacy.

Attendees at the open Graduate Council meeting

Attendees at the open Graduate Council meeting

An event nearly a year in the making, it was decided October 2017 to host an event for the 95th. However due to some scheduling conflicts with Bethany, it had to be held at a hotel rather than on campus. Because it was held at a hotel and rooms had to be covered, organizers developed a “sponsorship” system where alumni could chip in during their own registration process to offset the costs for undergraduates. This system raised over $3,000 and all members of the Residents Council were able to attend.

Decor at the Saturday night banquet

Decor at the Saturday night banquet

The event kicked off on Friday night with a “Luau” party - a long standing tradition of the Phi chapter. This was held at the hotel and, despite some rain that canceled plans for a cookout and tiki torches - was huge success with many guests, good food, and custom anniversary Hawaiian shirts. Saturday Brothers and their guests took a tour of the Bethany campus as well as the Phi house, one they have had since 1983. They also had a Graduate Council meeting, open to all attendees, where they “passed the gavel” so all everyone could speak about whatever they wanted. That evening the Harvard Red and Old Gold Club sponsored a reception with speeches, a performance by the Warblers, and distribution of several chapter awards. Every brother that attended also received a new Phi Tau membership card. The event closed with a candlelight ceremony and singing the brotherhood banquet.

A performance from the warblers

A performance from the warblers

The Phi chapter will be celebrating their centennial in 2023 and preparations for the event will begin at least a year in advance. Congratulations to the Phi chapter on the milestone! #GoFar

If you are interested in hosting an event like this you can reach out to your Domain Director.

John Sayers,  Bethany ‘78 , at the luau party

John Sayers, Bethany ‘78, at the luau party