Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, better known around campus as SigEp, celebrated its 35th anniversary at FIU with an alumni reunion at Cerveceria La Tropical in Miami on April 2.
The celebration came on the tails of a successful Red Door Classic, SigEp’s charity golf tournament, in March. The annual event supports the FIU First Generation Scholarship Program, the SigEp Balanced Man Scholarship, and the Miami-based Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis. Attended by FIU alumni and community supporters alike, the tournament has raised $270,000 for the three funds since its inception in 2015, including $63,000 this year.
Alumni Thomas Jelke, Ph.D. ’90, CEO of the higher education consulting firm t.jelke solutions, and Sean Gazitúa ’04, president and CEO of the logistics company WTDC, remain actively involved with SigEp and FIU as mentors, fundraisers and volunteer leaders. Emulating a core value of SigEp, the two also have numerous civic and philanthropic involvements in the community, and Gazitúa is vice president of the FIU Alumni Association Board of Directors.
Jelke and Gazitúa recently sat down with FIU News to reflect on their personal experiences as members of SigEp, as well as the organization’s impact on the university and the community over 35 years:
How has being a member of SigEp made a difference in your life and career?
Gazitúa: SigEp introduced me to a network of brothers who share the same values instilled by my family. The fraternity’s cardinal principles of virtue, diligence and brother love spill over into my family life and my career. SigEp also teaches its members to be of ‘sound mind and sound body,’ a health and wellness directive that I follow and instituted into our family-owned [company] as president and CEO.
As president of the SigEp Alumni Volunteer Corporation for our FIU chapter, I’ve been able to meet, network and befriend countless brothers who also endeavor to lead a life based on our fraternity’s principles, and we encourage one another to make a difference at FIU, in the lives of our undergraduates and in our community.
Jelke: I had a great education at FIU that was greatly enhanced by the skills and relationships I gained in the fraternity. I think most people in SigEp had that, but I may be a little unique in that SigEp put me on a direct path for my career.
My first job out of college was working for the national fraternity as a regional director. I had the New England territory and worked with 30 chapters on recruitment, member development, finances, university relations and risk management. It was a great work experience and helped me realize I wanted to become a university administrator. I ended up getting my master’s and Ph.D. in higher education/student affairs because of that experience. I spent 12 years working at various universities. Today, I own a consulting firm that specializes in student affairs, and I can say without hesitation that SigEp was the main factor in me creating, building, and prospering with that business.
I have consistently volunteered for the fraternity locally, regionally, and nationally as well. Most recently, I was honored to serve as Sigma Phi Epsilon’s National Grand President. I was elected in 2019 and served for two years.
What are some of the ways SigEp alumni remain engaged with FIU after graduation?
Jelke: Because of the nature of FIU and South Florida, we have close to 850 alumni who live within 50 miles of FIU. Because of that, we have been able to stay extremely well connected as an alumni base. That has allowed us to provide mentoring, scholarships, seminars, career coaching and even internship and job opportunities to our undergraduate members.
We also feel strongly about giving back to FIU. You’ll see a big number of SigEp FIU alumni involved in Panther Alumni Week, supporting FIU sports, serving on university committees, on the Alumni Association board, and even on the FIU Foundation board. We actively support FIU First Generation Scholarships [and others] through [the Red Door Classic]… To date, we’ve been able to give close to $90,000 to support those first-gen scholarships at FIU, and we will continue to make that number grow.
Why does your organization believe giving back to your alma mater in these ways is important?
Jelke: Every fraternity and sorority has a set of principles and values they are supposed to adhere to. You learn these throughout your time in the organization, and it is reinforced through rituals and ceremonies. One of the key parts of our fraternity is a commitment to the alma mater. We pledge loyalty to our host institution, and our chapter takes that pledge seriously. We see giving back to FIU as part of our way of paying rent for all the things FIU provided to us. We fervently believe in paying it forward.
In what ways does SigEp give back to the community beyond FIU?
Jelke: Through the Red Door Classic, we also support the Buoniconti Fund in their efforts to do research so that someday they can end paralysis from spinal cord injuries. We had a brother who had an accident and was greatly helped by that organization, and we have been committed to them ever since. We also have done work with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and we encourage all our members to get engaged civically and charitably in their community.
A few examples include alumni Frank Gonzalez ’90, who is the new chair of the Orange Bowl Committee [and a member of the FIU Foundation Board of Directors], Esteban Bovo ’87, who is the current mayor of Hialeah, and [myself as a member of] the Miami Parking Authority Board of Directors. Those are just three of over 100 examples of how we try to stay engaged in our communities.
Looking back over 35 years as a chapter at FIU, what do you believe is SigEp's legacy?
Gazitúa: SigEp’s legacy at FIU is one of continuity and a commitment to the advancement of young men. The fraternity lays out a programming path for these men to develop the skills necessary to succeed in academics, health, education and society. Through their four-year journeys as undergraduates, SigEps at FIU strive to make themselves, their fraternity, their community, and FIU a better place.
After graduation, these brothers are engaged with the university community and more likely to commit their time, talents and treasure to its advancement. We have a legacy of leadership, and in that legacy, our brothers have gone on to do impactful things in higher education, the arts, business, politics, and community-based organizations.
Jelke: I believe our legacy is strong but still growing. We are an integral part of FIU’s history. We started 35 years ago when there was almost no student life. We wanted to create school spirit and camaraderie and provide a more traditional college experience for students attending a commuter school. We believe that student life has evolved a great deal, but still has a ways to go.
We have always tried to provide a family away from home for all of our members and give them the support and structure to excel in and out of the classroom. We will continue to provide the best experience for our members, serve as a partner to FIU’s faculty and administration, stay loyal to our alma mater, and be contributing members to every community in which our graduates reside.