SigEp’s new Residential Learning Community at Louisville received the 2017 Pay It Forward Grant at Conclave. Recipients of the $5,000 award are selected based on the promise they show in establishing a Residential Learning Community as well as their commitment to delivering highly innovative programming in a substance-free chapter home.
The grant program was developed and funded by SigEps from the University of Illinois in 2011 as a way of paying forward funding their chapter had previously received from SigEp’s Educational Foundation. In 2003 and 2009, Illinois Alpha applied for and received grants from the foundation to enhance its historical 1925 home and support a Residential Learning Community. The chapter used the funds to renovate and build out a classroom as well as a dual-purpose conference room and technology center. In recent years, the chapter and its faculty fellows have hosted guest lecturers and a series of for-credit courses within the chapter house. The chapter has also developed programming partnerships with the school’s leadership and career centers, and it covers the cost of online study tools like Course Hero and Chegg.
“It is clear to us that the environment we have created within the chapter house has had an extraordinary impact on the success of our brothers,” said Ryan Hamrick, Illinois ’16, who leads the AVC’s 10-man volunteer board of advisors. “Our chapter is 165 members strong and consistently boasts one of the highest GPAs on campus. Reflecting back on all that Illinois Alpha has accomplished in the last two decades, it is impossible to ignore all of the help we’ve received from others.”
Longtime Chapter Counselor Shawn Dalgleish, ’81, was a member of the Illinois Alpha Alumni and Volunteer Corporation when the board decided to invest in the success of other chapters. They felt the grants they had received were a loan that needed to be repaid, he said. “The idea was that this was not our money to keep, but to recycle, reuse and return into the developmental cycle in an appropriate way,” said Dalgleish. “Since the original grants were earmarked for RLC use, we thought we should return it for RLC use and update it with a matching focus on substance-free housing.”
In addition to financial support, grant recipients receive mentoring from the Illinois Chapter’s leadership team. Undergraduate officers and chapter volunteers discuss faculty fellow recruitment and engagement as well as best practices for designing and using common space within a chapter home.
Illinois volunteer Chris Dillion, ’03, has helped administer the grant since its inception and has mentored chapter volunteers supporting new and aspiring Residential Learning Communities. One of Dillion’s favorite success stories is Montana State, a 2013 recipient. The chapter’s alumni and volunteers matched the grant with an additional $5,100 and used the funding to improve the academic functionality of the chapter’s substance-free home, adding whiteboards, audio-visual equipment and library furniture. They also invested in chapter programing, including a SigEp lecture series with topics ranging from ancient Greek philosophy and music education to conflict management and critical thinking. The chapter went on to win Buchanan Cups in 2015 and 2017.
Illinois brothers hope that Louisville will be the grant program’s next big success story. Louisville has already built many of the components necessary for a successful program and received accreditation as a Residential Learning Community in May 2017. Their faculty fellow, LaMont Johnson, Louisville Renaissance, holds regular office hours at the chapter home and helps brothers navigate their academic experience. He has also facilitated partnerships with the campus faculty and community to create chapter programming that has received funding support from the university and local businesses. The chapter’s robust educational curriculum includes several speaker series and monthly forums with topics that range from current events and urban living for freshmen to mental, physical and sexual health.
In the years since the Pay It Forward Grant’s inception, SigEp’s Ohio State and Nebraska Chapters have also made financial contributions to the fund. Illinois Alpha’s Alumni and Volunteer Corporation has now expanded their ambition and hopes that additional chapters and individual donors will participate in the program. Currently, grant recipients receive $5,000, but additional donors would allow the amount to grow and could ultimately establish a permanent endowment.