FIU brought them together, and Greek life made them brothers. And because they attribute their success to FIU, they all believe in the value of giving back to the university.
The alumni of one of FIU’s oldest fraternities, Sigma Phi Epsilon, are channeling their spirit of giving to fill a need at the university: They plan to build a multistory educational center on the Modesto A. Maidique Campus that will provide space for the university’s Greek organizations to hold weekly chapter meetings, host events and recruit new members.
“We have a dire need for meeting space on campus for Greek organizations,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Lunsford. “We just don’t have a large enough space, because we’re up to 38 sororities and fraternities, with 200 in some of the groups.”
So the brothers of SigEp, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary, have joined forces with their national chapter to raise more than $2 million for a planned 6000-square-foot facility near the east entrance of campus.
The first floor will house a SigEp suite – though the facility is not a physical living quarters for the brothers – and the upper floors will be available for rent to other Greek organizations and FIU departments or services in need of space. The blueprints currently include convertible rooms that can serve as smaller conference rooms for meetings or open up into ballrooms.
“The goal is to create a center for our chapter to have a place to meet and have an identity and have a permanent presence on campus,” said SigEp alumnus Ben Sardinas ’01. “In the spirit of doing it the SigEp way, we want to create an environment where the learning community is part of university operations.”
Many of the brothers joined SigEp to feel more connected to the university and to get involved on campus. At a national level, the fraternity encourages involvement on campus to ensure brothers receive a holistic education.
“My dad always said, ‘Sound mind, sound body. You need to have a balanced life,’” said SigEp alumnus Sean Gazitua ’04, who is now president and CEO of WTDC, a logistics and foreign trade zone business in Miami. This advice is what sparked his connection with SigEp.
During his time at FIU, Gazitua served on SigEp’s executive board, and helped coordinate the fraternity’s philanthropic events, including an annual wrestling marathon. Now, he serves on the fraternity’s Alumni Volunteer Council, coordinating the organizations’ alumni events.
“We really try to bring everyone back to the university, because at the end of the day we all got our education here,” Gazitua said.
Some of the ways they stay involved with FIU as alumni include monthly happy hour gatherings, pictured above, and a golf tournament on Feb. 24 that raised $40,000 for first-generation scholarships and SigEp scholarships at FIU, as well as the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis.
“SigEp traditionally is one of our stronger fraternities in terms of service to the university, so their involvement has been appreciated,” Lunsford said. “There’s a large number of alumni from this fraternity who have graduated, are doing well financially and can give back to their fraternity like they’re giving back to FIU.”
Eddie Hondal ’88, MA ’00, current president of the FIU Alumni Association, isn’t a traditional brother – he was made an honorary brother during his time as FIU’s alumni director in the 1990s, when he fostered relationships with the brothers as their faculty advisor and mentor. What he learned from the organization made it an easy decision to get involved.
“You build. You continue to expand your professional networks. You have an affinity with the university, as well as the fraternity. You work on a multitude of things. You learn to prioritize, organize and develop skills needed in every day professional life. You tend to enhance and perfect those skills,” Hondal said.
Like his brothers, he has dedicated his life to giving back to the university that gave him his start.
“Harvard, Yale, all the great universities have a strong alumni component that gives back and donates their time,” Hondal said. “We want to instill pride in current students so when we’re gone, they will do the same.”
Tom Jelke ’90, who owns an educational consulting company, said SigEp culture works to instill a spirit of giving back in its members. Among his many contributions to FIU, he has funded a scholarship for students studying his undergraduate major, English.
“Part of our ritual talks about support and loyalty to the alma mater,” Jelke said. “Personally, I feel I learned a lot in my classes, but I also learned a lot of interpersonal skills, problem solving skills, and how to interact with people who were different than me through getting involved on campus.”
Said Sardinas: “More than anything we’re just trying to build something that is a part of the university. This is bigger than SigEp. If we can build this for the university, I think we can help our organization and a ton of other organizations in ways we least expect.” ♦