5th Biennial Conclave

Undergraduates visiting the Alpha house

Undergraduates visiting the Alpha house

Phi Kappa Tau’s fifth biennial Conclave kicked off this past weekend at Miami University’s Oxford, OH, campus. As the birthplace of Phi Kappa Tau, the return to Miami University represents Phi Tau’s homecoming - an opportunity for undergraduates and alumni to return to Oxford, where it all started. 

Conclave began Friday afternoon with presentations for the Roland Maxwell Award - the trophy given annually to the highest preforming chapter. The “Founders Four” chapters competed in Shideler Hall - named for Founder William H. Shideler, Miami ’06. This year, Upsilon at the University of Nebraska Wesleyan, Gamma at The Ohio State University, Beta Beta at the University of Louisville, and Delta Tau at California Polytechnic University-Pomona competed for the honor of becoming Phi Tau’s best undergraduate chapter. They were given the prompt, “How does your chapter go far?” Each chapter gave their own explanation as to what makes them best, including community service, philanthropy, academics, alumni engagement, and diversity. 

That evening Phi Tau hosted a SeriousFun-A-Thon in one of Oxford’s community parks. A common fundraiser, this SeriousFun-a-Thon brought out dozens of children in the Oxford area for carnival games to raise money for the SeriousFun Children’s Network. In total, the event and fundraising raised $7,600 dollars, enough to send three children and their families to camp. 


Friday night, members of the Boles Society were invited to a donor-dinner, where alumnus Sam Medley, Transylvania ‘94, and owner of Medley Bros Bourbon sponsored a tasting for all those attending. Sam gave insight on the recipe, the aging process, and the Bourbon industry with experience from his 80-year old family-owned company. 

Saturday morning began with educational seminars hosted by National Recruitment Advisor Barry Mask, Auburn ’78. Undergraduates whose chapters have shown outstanding recruitment ability also presented their best-practice tips, including Jay Johnson, Alabama ’18, Caleb Baum, Florida ’18, Jacob Grow, Mount Union ’17, and Stephen Listinsen, Ohio State ’18

After seminars and breakout sessions had concluded for the morning, attendees gathered in Shriver Hall for the Awards Luncheon. Individuals and chapters alike were presented with awards on their outstanding work in the past calendar year. Some of the award highlights include: 

The Frederick R. Fletemeyer Prize for the most outstanding colony, presented to Chi at North Carolina State University

The George V. Voinovich Award for the highest number of community service hours per man, presented to Lambda at Purdue University

The Paul Newman Award for the most funds raised for SeriousFun Children’s Network, presented to Beta Beta at the University of Louisville

The Outstanding Colony Advisor Award for an advisor who has presented exceptional contributions to a colony, presented to Rick Rice, Southern California ’74, at the University of Southern California

The Jack L. Anson Award for outstanding inter-fraternal service to the community, presented to Luke Williams, Lynchburg ‘17

Phi Award for an alumnus who has made outstanding contributions to his home chapter, presented to Guillermo Flores, Southern Illinois ‘08

A full list of award and scholarship winners to follow 

After awards were distributed the crowd broke up into groups where they began Pride Tours lead by Executive Office staff members. Guests were able to see Shideler Hall, the Phi Tau circle on Miami’s campus, Alpha house, as well as the Executive Offices’ Centennial Garden & Heritage Room. 

The final major event of the weekend was the Brotherhood Banquet, a tradition at all Conclaves and Conventions. Hosted by Charlie Ball, Miami’ 82, Director of Philanthropy, the major award winners were announced amongst a celebration of brotherhood and fraternity. 

Drake Berlin, Bethany ‘16, received the Dwight I. Douglass Presidents Award for excellence in leadership. Drake, the newest member of the Executive Offices staff, was a two-time Phi chapter President and called “the face of Greek life on campus” by his Director of Student Affairs. Under his leadership the chapter maintained the highest all-mens GPA on campus for 5 semesters in a row and received nominations for Order of the Star Awards and the Maxwell Award two years in a row. 

The Shideler Award was presented next. Given annually to Phi Tau’s most outstanding graduating senior, Evan Marshall, Nebraska Wesleyan ’15, served his chapter as President, Treasurer, and Community Service Chair. He helped the chapter earn the 2018 SeriousFun Network’s Appreciation Award and increased the chapter service hours to 25 per man. He was a part of 2018’s Maxwell Award winning group at National Convention in Cleveland, as well as the 2017 presenting group at Conclave.

The only chapter award presented during the Brotherhood Banquet was the Harold E. Angelo Award for most improved chapter. The winners, Beta Xi at the University of Georgia, completely overhauled their recruitment method and new member process after a suspension in 2017. With the “Recruitment 365” method they managed to recruit 35 new members in 2018 with a focus on accountability, core values, and education. They threw themselves into their philanthropic work as well, raising over $6,000 alone in a single evening for their “Summer Nights” event. 

2019 Maxwell Award winners - Gamma chapter at Ohio State University

2019 Maxwell Award winners - Gamma chapter at Ohio State University

The penultimate undergraduate award - the Roland Maxwell Award for Most Outstanding Chapter - was awarded to Gamma at The Ohio State University. Gamma was honored with the distinction based on their service, GPA, and campus leadership. By creating a “culture of leadership,” 66% of Gamma men hold positions of leadership not just within their own chapter, but across campus at large. Their commitment to service is undeniable - every day of the week throughout the school year they send multiple members to the Columbus Boys & Girls club and their annual pumpkin sale raised $11,482 in 2018. By utilizing a “standards based” recruitment process Gamma is able to recruit like-minded men who push one another to be men of distinction. 

Two additional awards were presented before the night ended. Dick Michael, Michigan Tech ‘70, was recognized for his service to the Foundation after stepping down as Chairman. Wes Fugate, Centre ’99, the current Chairman, thanked Dick Michael for his dedication to the Foundation. 

John Green,  Nebraska Wesleyan ‘60 , accepting the NIC Silver Medal

John Green, Nebraska Wesleyan ‘60, accepting the NIC Silver Medal

The final award of the night was presented by special guest Jud Horras, President & CEO of the NIC, to a man who needs little introduction in Phi Tau circles. John M. Green, Nebraska Wesleyan ‘60, was awarded the NIC Silver Medal which recognizes exemplary service or leadership in a role that has advanced the fraternal movement. A Boles Donor and impassionaied supporter of risk prevention, John Green has served as National President, Executive Director of the Fraternity, and Executive Director of the Foundation. 

The NIC website posted a brief excerpt of Jud’s speech: 

John’s long-time volunteer efforts – including a term as national president – came to a head in the 1980s when he was hired as the fraternity’s executive director. In that role he was instrumental in the founding of the Fraternal Risk Management Trust and Fraternal Information and Programming Group. After serving as the fraternity’s top administrator for a decade, he later agreed to become executive director of the Phi Kappa Tau Foundation, in which he guided a successful $6.5 million campaign before he retired in 2007.

“John always replied in the affirmative when his fraternity and the interfraternity community called. His leadership and passion was needed during a variety of historical moments. I continue to be very impressed with John’s vision, compassion, leadership and dedication as a fraternity man.” 

The evening concluded with a candlelight ceremony by Bill Jenkins, Bowling Green '57, past National President and Executive Director. The following morning brothers who did not have to catch an early flight played the John Green Classic Golf Outing, a tradition following all Conclaves. 

Thank you to all our brothers and guests who made the trip to Oxford! While we will not see you again until 2021, we look forward to even more brothers attending the 64th National Convention in Fort Worth, next July! 


Phi Tau Receives Distinguished SeriousFun Award

Photo by Don Pollard

Photo by Don Pollard

Photo by Don Pollard

Photo by Don Pollard

Phi Kappa Tau was honored two weeks ago by our longtime philanthropic partner, SeriousFun Children’s Network, with the 2019 SeriousFun Excellence in Philanthropy Award. 

Photo by Mike Coppola

Photo by Mike Coppola

The award was presented on May 23rd in New York City to National President Bill Brasch, Louisville ’67, and CEO Tim Hudson, Truman ’97. The SeriousFun Gala is an annual event to celebrate the life-changing work of SeriousFun Children’s Network. This year’s gala was held in New York City with speeches and entertainment from actress Alysia Reiner, Broadway actress Ashley Park, and comedian Trevor Noah. This year, Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity and Foundation were invited as guests to receive the esteemed award. 

Also in attendance were former Foundation Chairman Dick Michael, Michigan Tech ’70, Domain Director Sasha Kanevsky, Rutgers ’05, Foundation Trustee Cliff Unger, Arizona ’98, Foundation Vice Chairman Buzz Green, ‘Ole Miss ’66, Director of Philanthropy Charlie Ball, Miami ’82, former Dean of Building Men of Character Retreats Scott Brown, Tennessee ’88, PJ Best, RIT ’04, Luke McKenzie, Georgia ’14, Bryan Butvick, Delaware ’91, Wyatt Kunzman, Louisville ‘12, and John Sierp, Delaware ’91

This award is an honor and we are excited to receive it. The nearly 25-year partnership between Phi Tau and SeriousFun is one of our greatest sources of pride. We will be covering the evening in more detail in the summer edition of The Laurel, expected to hit mailboxes late August. 

Photo by Mike Coppola

Photo by Mike Coppola

Photo by Don Pollard

Photo by Don Pollard

Marty Schendel becomes Domain Director of Leaders Region 


Marty Schendel, Michigan Tech ’81, has recently become Domain Director of the Leaders Region. 

Marty comes to this position as a long-term volunteer for Phi Tau. As an undergraduate, he held positions as Secretary, Historian, IFC Representative, IFC President, Winter Carnival Skit Chairman, and was a recipient of the Brother of the Year Award. As an alumni, Marty has been lauded for his work in helping to develop Michigan Tech’s thriving Graduate Council, which was featured in the summer 2018 edition of The Laurel as an outstanding example of alumni coordination, collaboration, and leadership. 

Marty founded the Gamma Alpha Alumni Association, or Graduate Council, with 5 others in January of 1988. He’s been on the Board of Trustees ever since and has served as a Trustee, President, and Secretary, his current position. Mary also serves as the Alumni Association Historian and worked as a Chapter Advisor in the late 80s. He attends chapter functions frequently and is an active donor of time, treasure, and talent. 

Professionally Marty is an engineer. He has worked at Metaltec Steel Abrasive Co. since 1985 and is currently Vice President of Quality & Purchasing. 

Welcome Marty to your role as Domain Director! 

We are still looking for a Southeast Domain Director. If you are interested in applying for the position or would like more information, contact our Associate Director of Chapter Services, Brandon Lewis.

Press Release Regarding Syed Arbab

For Immediate Release from the Phi Kappa Tau Executive Offices 

June 5th, 2019: Oxford, OH - On May 31st, 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed four counts alleging fraud against Syed Arbab in the U.S. District Court in Athens, Georgia. 

Syed was an undergraduate member of the Beta Xi Chapter of Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity at the University of Georgia. Neither the Fraternity nor anyone else associated with the chapter was a named defendant or indicted in the case.  

The lawsuit listed two other defendants, Artis Proficio Capital Investments and Artis Proficio Capital Management, companies set up by Arbab that used the street address of the Athens fraternity.  Arbab had a rental lease agreement in place at the fraternity house until his recent graduation from UGA in May, 2019.  

According to T. Scott Duncan, Jr., current President of the Athens chapter, Arbab’s membership in the organization was suspended upon learning of his indictment. Duncan said that the binding rental lease agreements between the chapter and fraternity members residing in the house specifically prohibit the use of the premises for any illegal activity.  Arbab’s rental agreement expired in May, 2019 about a month after he was indicted.  “Had we known about the indictment sooner,” said Duncan, “We would have taken the necessary steps to terminate his rental agreement and suspend him.” 

The Chapter and the Executive Offices are disappointed and disturbed by Arbab’s actions. The decisions made by Arbab do not represent the values of Phi Kappa Tau. 

Founded in 1906 at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Phi Kappa Tau is a national fraternity that includes 84 chapters and 9 colonies with more than 4,300 undergraduates in the United States and has served more than 97,000 initiates throughout the past 113 years. 

The mission of Phi Kappa Tau is to champion a lifelong commitment to brotherhood, learning, ethical leadership, and exemplary character. 

- - - 

Tim Hudson 
Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity 

J.J. Lewis becomes West Coast Domain Director 

J.J. Lewis, Central Michigan ‘04, has recently become the new Domain Director for the West Coast region. 


J.J. is an ’06 grad of Central Michigan University. He also holds degrees from Georgetown University and San Diego State. He is currently working on his Ed.D. from the University of Southern California. 

J.J. has worked as the Manager of Community Relations for ServiceSource in Alexandria, Virginia, the Manager of Major Giving for Detroit Public Television, and Interim CEO of the Academy of Arts & Sciences. He currently serves as Superintendent & CEO of Compass Charter Schools in Thousand Oaks, California, a position he has held for three years. 

J.J. has been an active volunteer, including previous stints as our Great Lakes Domain Director and Tidewater Domain Director and recipient of our Thomas L. Stennis II Award, a loyal donor to the Phi Tau Foundation, and supporter of our National Programs for many years. We look forward to his engagement in this role and we are confident he will be a good fit. 

Thank you to our past West Coast Domain Director Gary Klingsbergs, Cleveland State ’82, for your time in the position. Gary served in his role for several years. His loyalty and commitment to the Fraternity does not go unnoticed. 

We are searching for a Domain Director for the Southeast region. If you are interested in fulfilling one of those roles, reach out to our Associate Director of Chapter Services Brandon Lewis for inquiries. 

Hall of Fame Member Enters Chapter Eternal

Jack Soules.jpeg

May 15th, 2019 - Oxford, Ohio: Phi Kappa Tau Hall of Fame Member Jack Soules, Ohio State ’46, entered the chapter eternal on May 1st at the age of 91. 

Jack was born in Ashtabula, Ohio, in 1928. He attended The Ohio State University from where he obtained a Ph.D. in physics in 1954. Following that, Jack accepted a position as Assistant and later Associate Professor of Physics at New Mexico State University. From 1961-1963 he worked in Washington, D.C., as a physicist at the Office of Naval Research. He also taught at the University of Washington before accepting a position as the first Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Cleveland State University, where he worked from 1966-1994. In 2006 Jack retried and moved to Las Cruces with his wife, Shirl, where they celebrated 50 years of marriage last October. 

Jack received the Borradaile Award as an undergraduate in 1946. In 2006, he was admitted into the Phi Tau Hall of Fame. In addition to his work as a physicist, Jack was a private pilot, an avid swimmer, and actor. He acted in many theater productions and founded the Las Cruces Swim Club. He was also a founder of the Unitarian Fellowship of Las Cruces and a founder of the Las Altures Development Corporation. 

Jack’s sons are also loyal members of Phi Tau; Bill Soules, New Mexico State ‘85, and David Soules, New Mexico State ‘85.

Jack is survived by his three children, four grandchildren, and a great granddaughter. A private service will be held for his family members. In lieu of flowers, a gift can be made to the Halzo Foundation (contact p.desimino@crucescreatives.org) or Camp Hope (http://www.donationto/MVCH4CampHope). 

The Executive Offices are Seeking a Program Coordinator

Phi Kappa Tau is hiring! 

We are looking to expand our staff to fill the role of Program Coordinator. The Program Coordinator will work to ensure the timely and effective delivery of Phi Kappa Tau programming. The Program Coordinator will be a member of the Education and Wellness Department and will report to and work directly with the Director of Education and Wellness.

Major Duties and Responsibilities: 

  • Will work alongside Director to coordinate with site contacts for program and logistical needs for Leadership Academy, Presidents Academy, Volunteer Development Institute as well as Building Men of Character Retreats and Good to Great Retreats, which are delivered at the chapter level 

  • Create, run, and update program registration documents as needed

  • Communicate with participants and volunteers about program logistics as well as answer any questions they may have about travel to the programs 

  • Travel to educational programs and help with on-site delivery and execution 

Education Responsibilities: 

  • Help recruit facilitators for our educational programs 

  • Communicate with all facilitators leading up to educational programs about logistical needs and requirements 

  • Work with the Director to ensure facilitators are trained and prepared before the start of each program 

  • Maintain a database of facilitators and those interested in facilitating 

  • Help with curriculum writing and development for Good to Great Retreats

  • Serve alongside the Director on the program curriculum review teams for each program 

  • Help review and edit program curriculum documents before they go to print 

  • Work with the Communications Department to help create promotional plans for each of the programs

  • Work with the Director to help support the development of online education 

Wellness Responsibilities: 

  • Assist with updating Chapter GreekLifeEdu Data Sheets each year to ensure chapters have access to the most recent chapter data 

  • Help with updating the Chapter Campus Resource Document each summer for chapters and colonies to ensure chapters know the resources available to them on campus 

  • Help with the development of any program and/or curriculum to be delivered at the chapter level when it comes to prevention and wellness 

Other Responsibilities: 

  • Help coordinate staff travel for educational programs 

  • Other duties as assigned 

Position Requirements:

  • Bachelors Degree required, Master’s Degree preferred 

  • Experience with event planning and event management

  • Experience working with and/or volunteering with similar educational programs 

  • Knowledge around curriculum development or willingness to learn 

  • Membership in a Greek letter organization preferred but not a requirement 

  • This position would work out of the Phi Kappa Tau Executive Offices in Oxford, Ohio, but remote applicants will be considered 

To Apply:

To apply for the Program Coordinator role, please submit a copy of your resume, cover letter, and three reference to the Director of Education and Wellness Jess Schauble at jschauble@phikappatau.org. Please include salary requirements in your cover letter. Application review will begin immediately. The position will remain open and applications will be reviewed until the position is filled. 

Gregg Friberg Enters Chapter Eternal


May 2nd, 2019 - Oxford, Ohio: Gregg Friberg, Washington State ’50, entered the chapter eternal on March 14th, 2019, in Puyallup, Washington. 

His obituary read, “Wm. Gregg Friberg Gregg was a man of simple pleasures. He loved his family, strawberry milkshakes, rhubarb pie, a balanced checkbook, the football season, and a vodka on the rocks at precisely 5pm sharp. He believed in organization, hard work, and saving money.” 

Gregg was born on March 2nd, 1931 and grew up in Tacoma. In high school he was an All-City, All-State football player. Before college he spent seven months in the Bering Sea fishing for the “deadliest catch.” He was starting linebacker for the Cougars throughout his entire college career at Washington State College. In addition to being a member of Phi Tau he was a part of the WSU Alumni Association, President of Scabbard and Blade, and was a cadet Colonel for ROTC. 

He married his college sweetheart in 1952, Lorraine Rentsch. Greg served in the military at Ft. Benning, GA, where he was Tank Company Commander and earned the Expert Infantry Badge. He was eventually promoted to Captain. 

Following his time in the military Gregg and Lorraine returned to Washington where Gregg took a job as a teacher and coach in the Tacoma school district. He taught at the Junior High for 5 years before becoming the first football coach in 1961. Following that he became the school’s athletic director, a position he held until his retirement in 1984. He was inducted into the Tacoma-Pierce County Athletic Hall of Fame (football) in 2009. 

After retiring, Gregg and Lorraine spent their time traveling the world. Gregg also took to raising homing pigeons, a boyhood hobby, and was a World War II history buff. 

He is survived by Lorraine, their three children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.


Teaching Leadership - Guillermo Flores

It’s hard to spend more than a week with Phi Tau at the national level without at least hearing about Guillermo Flores. The Southern Illinois alum has made his career in higher education and, more specifically, Fraternity & Sorority Life. After graduating Southern Illinois, he completed Ball State’s Master’s program in Student Affairs. He worked at the University of Houston as a fraternity and sorority housing coordinator, then arrived at Michigan State last summer where he now serves as Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life.

  Guillermo dedicates his free time to Greek life as well – besides being an active Phi Tau alum, he recently facilitated Sigma Kappa’s Regional Conference, participated in the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors’ Annual Meeting in November, and gave four presentations at the Association of Fraternal Leadership & Value’s February conference.

And that’s just been the past three months.

  Guillermo is superlatively active. In addition to his volunteer work outside of Phi Tau, he is the Dean of Leadership Academy, a position he was appointed to last July and will serve until 2020. It’s his job to design and execute curriculum for Leadership Academy, which he explains to people who aren’t familiar with the program as, “A developmental piece for up-and-coming, rising leaders within Phi Tau.”

  But what are “rising” or “emerging” leaders, and how do you identify them? To Guillermo, “It’s not always going to be someone who’s the most outgoing or who has the best grades – but you see that spark in someone and sometimes it’s undeniable. They’re the ones who speak up at chapter meetings, they’re the ones who set up early for events, they’re the ones who stay late, the ones who ask questions, they’re the ones who know their resources.”

  Besides the developmental takeaways built into Leadership Academy – public speaking, running chapter meetings, strategic planning, and engagement – Guillermo stresses the soft skills as well. “I think men especially need to understand the importance of relationship building, communication, and how you work with people inside and outside of the chapter,” he said.

Guillermo and Phi Kappa Tau like members to leave Leadership Academy with quantifiable outcomes: goal setting, being better bystanders, promoting diversity and inclusion, or running for chapter office. But with a skill as difficult to quantify as “leadership,” what are the more abstract measures of our success? “If this makes you love Phi Tau and has you thinking and working towards making this a lifelong commitment, then we really have done our jobs,” Guillermo explained. “Thinking about other people, being intentional with their programming, being intentional with who they interact with, and hopefully just being a better person. That’s what I hope they get out of it.”

Register for Leadership Academy by following this link.

Interview with an Astronaut

Dr Leroy Chaio Talks Leadership 

Lilly Steger


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!