Monday, January 30, 2017

New Year, New Beginnings


January is a time of new beginnings. Maybe this stems from my time as a teacher, but after the holidays, I am ready to get back into a routine, eat better, get back to the gym, etc. With the start of the new year, I am ready to recommit to working hard at my job (National President) and on my hobby (music).

Grand Council kicked off the year by spending the first weekend in January in Tampa, Florida. For our quarterly in-person meeting. We met on Thursday (a day earlier than usual) and spent the afternoon working through our agenda on basic business items. Thursday evening was reserved for some sisterhood time together. We all know the value in time spent together. This is the essence of who we are. We designated one of the hotel rooms as the “hang-out room”, changed into our comfy clothes, and ordered in pizza for dinner. We exchanged Christmas gifts and spent the evening sharing stories and songs, getting to know each other, discussing Theta Phi Alpha, and generally solving the world’s problems. The seven women who are on Grand Council are a team who are committed to working together to serve our Fraternity. This bonding time helped build our trust in our ability to work effectively together.

On Friday, thanks to Katie Owsianiecki, National Vice President-Collegians, and her facilitation on StrengthsFinder for Grand Council, we learned how all our strengths work together. For the rest of the day we dove into the main purpose for our meeting:  our goals for the biennium. We did a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) of the Fraternity as it is right now. We talked about what keeps us awake at night about Theta Phi Alpha. As we looked at all of these things which we had written on big charts and posted all over the room, we began to see a path to what we felt we most need to accomplish this biennium. 

The biggest area of need and therefore our highest priority is developing and serving our members. As alumnae, our responsibilities are to be loyal, life members of Theta Phi Alpha, adhering to our Creed in our daily lives and offering our time, talents and treasure to the Fraternity as we are able throughout the various stages of our lives. We are here to support our collegiate members, helping them develop into the future leaders of this Fraternity. To our collegiate members, your responsibility is to maintain high scholastic and moral standards by adhering to our Creed in your daily lives and to support your chapter sisters in working together to create the best chapter experience possible.

This is what we have expected from our members since 1912 and will continue to do so.  We have grown tremendously in the number of chapters and associations and now need to make sure we are serving the needs of those individuals by providing support and consistent communication. Easier said than done, though. Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring, remember?  Our goals for the biennium center around member development that will benefit our alumnae volunteers individually as well as our chapters-both large and small, well-established, and younger.

This is a business, and we have to spend our money wisely, in ways that will bring the greatest benefit (or return on that investment) to the Fraternity. If we are supporting our chapters as well as serving the needs of our individual members, we will grow. Without that growth, we will die. We, as Grand Council, are working to clarify roles and responsibilities of National office staff and volunteers from Grand Council on down. Our goal is to streamline and strengthen procedures that enable our Fraternity to function well and serve our members. Part of this involves improving the teamwork between staff and volunteers. We are committed to providing and improving training and support for our volunteers.

We also need to strengthen the infrastructure and prepare for the future financially. We can’t stay in our current National office space forever. The physical building is not very conducive to our needs, but we have made it work. However, we have been talking in our strategic planning about finding a better office space for more than 10 years. That move will become a necessity rather than a wish in the near future so we have started preparing financially. There is no guarantee that the next time we sign a lease it will be offered without an increase in cost. The issue is not if the cost will increase but when.

We have to run the Fraternity like a business, but remember at the heart of it all we are in the business of relationships. Nurturing those relationships is the number one priority.  Spending time with my sisters this past weekend at Officer Leadership Training was a refreshing break from the “business” side of the Fraternity. Listening to our collegiate women work together to define leadership (based on our values) was inspiring. These young women get it. Their responses were well thought out and they gave several real life examples of how they have lived our values. Working with my fellow “facilisisters” and Caitlin Parker, our Director of Collegiate Services (who is a fellow Panhellenic sister) was also inspiring. These women get it as well. The promises we all make to serve the Fraternity are alive and well.

Do we have improvements to make? Without a doubt! 

Is Grand Council committed to taking steps immediately to address these issues? Absolutely! 

What can you do to help?  If you are a collegian, serve your chapter to the best of your ability. If you are an alumna and you serve as a National Officer or a volunteer, work in your position to the best of your ability. If you aren’t sure what you should be doing contact the Grand Council member you report to. If you cannot fulfill your obligation, please let Grand Council know so we can work together to find the best person or solution. If you would like to volunteer, fill out the interest form on the website at, http://thetaphialpha.celect.org/national-volunteer-form so we can have a pool of available sisters as positions open. If you are not able to or interested in serving nationally, stay connected locally or virtually. 

Finally, remember another quote from St. Catherine of Siena, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”  Our sisterhood and support for each other is alive and well. I am truly proud to be a Theta Phi Alpha and I’m excited for our future.

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 Reflections

As 2016 draws to a close and we begin a new year, many people make resolutions. Whether you usually make resolutions or not, the end of a year is a good time to reflect on that year. What did you learn? What did you do well? What would you like to do better in the future? Are you particularly thankful for something?  

For me, the last half of 2016 was full of changes. In July I was elected National President, a huge responsibility and honor that I take very seriously. Two weeks later my father passed away somewhat unexpectedly and three weeks after that I closed out a business I had owned for five years. It was more than a business to me, though. I had been a member of this Curves for nine years when I purchased the franchise and I then owned it for five. Many of the 200 plus members, as well as the staff, had become my friends over the years. We shared pictures of our families and our pets, celebrated birthdays, and attended calling hours. When it closed, I felt very much the same as when Sigma chapter closed. 

I knew months in advance that the business was going to close so I focused on keeping members informed, creating ways for them to stay connected, facilitating their transfer to another exercise facility and holding a celebration of the time we had together. I fulfilled my obligations to Curves, to the landlord, and to my members. Many of them thanked me for closing in such a way. I have run into many of my members around town in the last few months and we always greet each other with a hug and spend a few minutes chatting and catching up. 

Change is inevitable, the question is how do we deal with it? Many of my members stayed with Curves right up until the end even though they could have quit and gone elsewhere.  They felt a connection with the people there and wanted to keep their membership until the end. They fulfilled their obligation to the club as well. I could not have fulfilled my obligations financially without their continued support. That relationship worked both ways.

It is the same with Theta Phi Alpha. Without members, we would cease to exist. We rely on our collegiate women to recruit excellent new members, to educate them in our traditions and values and to instill in them a lifelong commitment to Theta Phi Alpha. We rely on our alumnae volunteers to support these chapters, to manage local alumnae associations and to support our organization nationally as well. We rely on each one of our members to fulfill her obligations, to take seriously the promises we all make at initiation. 

One of the most powerful moments we share is found at the end of our Founders’ Day ceremony where we join in a circle and sing White Rose. Whether it’s a small gathering of a few sisters or the whole Convention body at the end of Fraternity Night Banquet, that event always brings me to tears. I’m usually just mouthing the words to the song because I’m trying not to cry. Don’t judge 😊. Looking around the room at our circle of sisterhood never ceases to amaze me. 

So, as you reflect on the end of 2016 and think ahead to 2017, ask yourself: How can I serve Theta Phi Alpha? Am I fulfilling my responsibilities as a member and as a volunteer to the best of my abilities? Can I make it a point to reach out and connect with a sister this year? Remember that you were chosen for membership in Theta Phi Alpha for a reason. Your sisters saw something in you. I know I am thankful for each and every one of you and look forward to serving you to the best of my abilities in the coming year.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Nurturing our Sisterhood into the Future



I’m writing this as we have just elected a new President of the United States of America. There are very polarized feelings of great fear and great hope across the country as this was a very close election. Our Founders in 1912 were not afforded the rights women have today, including the right to vote. And while many are concerned today about women’s rights given the recent turn of events of the election, we as a sorority should continue to stand for the rights of women by honoring our past sisters, supporting the present collegians and alumnae, and nurturing the future of our organization.

The world we live in today is vastly different from the world our Founders’ experienced in 1912. I don’t think they could have imagined the technological advances we have made or the issues we are facing as a society. Yet the values they felt were important enough to base their fledgling organization on, are still important and relevant to us today. Justice, friendship, and truth still resonate with our members, both new collegians and more seasoned alumnae. 

We’ve come a long way from our humble beginnings at the University of Michigan. Much of our growth has occurred quite recently in our history. That success over the years is due, in part, to the efforts of women who remained involved for many years. Part is due to women who volunteer for the first time right out of college or perhaps after a gap of 10 or even 20 years with no involvement. Past Grand Councils have focused on growing our chapter base, developing a support system for those chapters, increasing alumnae involvement, professionalizing our National Office staff and generally bringing us up to speed with the rest of the NPC community. This is the “sandbox” we play in, if you will. We must continue to strive to be competitive with other NPC groups or we will cease to exist.  In many ways a national sorority is like a business. We are competing for the women on our collegiate campuses, mainly with other NPC groups but also with other organizations in general. If we don’t have something of value to offer these women, they will choose to spend their time elsewhere. 

I believe we do have something of value to offer women of all ages and I know you all believe that too or you wouldn’t read this blog, volunteer your time for Theta Phi Alpha, donate to the Foundation or keep in touch with other sisters. It’s been said that managing your problems can only make you good, whereas building your opportunities is the only way to become great. Yes, we have some problems—every organization does. But, we want to focus on building our opportunities. Because of the efforts of our faithful members throughout the years, Theta Phi Alpha is in a very good place with an exciting future. Grand Council will be meeting for an extended time in January to celebrate past accomplishments and determine how to capitalize on our opportunities to strategically plan for the best interests of the Fraternity. We are all excited and looking forward to this time together to dream and plan for the future that we have already begun preparing.

We are all challenged to live our creed in our daily lives and committing to meaningful opportunities that align with our values. I invite you in the comments below to celebrate your chapter, your association, or a sister for creating a valuable Theta Phi Alpha experience for which you are grateful. We should share our successes and pat ourselves on the back. In the midst of so much negativity in the world, let’s celebrate our values, support our network of sisters, and share the positive connections we bring to the world!

Yitbos,


Susan Lee
National President

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Moment from the Executive Director


This month's guest blogger is Shane McGoey, Ph.D., Executive Director of Theta Phi Alpha. This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of The Compass.

For those who attended this summer's National Convention, you know there was a wealth of information shared to help better Theta Phi Alpha nationally, as well as improve chapter operations. One of the many presentations Convention attendees participated in was regarding a new Member Development Program, presented by Karyn Nishimura Sneath.

In Karyn's presentation, she presented a relational leadership model authored by Drs. Komives, Lucas, and McMahon (Exploring Leadership for College Students Who Want to Make a Difference, Jossey-Bass, 1998), all of whom are graduate professors who teach and conduct research on issues pertaining to student affairs and leadership. The model utilizes an acronym, I-PEEP, which stands for Inclusiveness, Purposeful, Ethical, Empowering, and Process. As leaders on your campus and in your chapters, you may have heard your Fraternity/Sorority Advisor or other administrators talk about this model.

As I listened to Karyn's presentation, I began to wonder if any of our chapters were aware of this model, how we could ensure that each felt comfortable with the model, and what each delegate thought of utilizing the model in the new Member Development Program. Below, I pose some rhetorical questions for you to consider. Use the questions to see where you are utilizing the relational model.

Inclusiveness. As leaders on your campuses and in your chapters, it falls upon each of you to ensure that the Theta Phi Alpha experience is inclusive. This helps your chapter by using the talents and skills of each individual to benefit the greater good – in this case, your chapter. This includes both internal and external stakeholders and utilizing each to help your chapter grow and develop.

Think about how you presently achieve this in your chapter. Can you think of ways to improve? How often does the chapter have frank discussions about this? In what ways can you see the chapter being more inclusive?

Purposeful. We all think that we are purposeful when we are able to "check something off" our to-do list. In this particular area, however, being purposeful means something more. It's up to each of you to think about whether your goals are strategically aligned in a way that fosters improvement in your chapter in incremental, sustainable steps. Often times, our goals may seem to be at odds with other goals. Taking the time to critically examine things will help bring goals in alignment with each other.

In your chapter or executive board meetings, do you take time to think how one decision could impact future decisions? Do you consider things pertaining to your chapter in the moment as things occur or do you take time for thoughtful consideration about how decisions will benefit the chapter membership in the future? Maybe even after you have graduated?

Ethical. Sometimes individuals make mistakes. As an organization, Theta Phi Alpha espouses certain values that each member is to uphold. Ensuring that members are ethical in their behavior, understanding the difference between right and wrong, and appreciating the notion of being accountable for a greater good is what each chapter is expected to do when educating its members.

Members who behave badly or do something that is antithetical to the values of Theta Phi Alpha should be educated and mentored by members through modeling good behavior and communication that does not leave room for any doubt pertaining to what is expected of each member. Only in severe cases should it be necessary to suspend or remove a member.

In what ways does your chapter hold members accountable? How do you ensure that a member, who may not be living up to the values, is able to change their behavior to align with the membership's expectations?

Empowering. People learn by doing. Empowering others is one of the values that all fraternal organizations strongly believe. Theta Phi Alpha is no different. Empowerment should be a keystone of your chapter's membership development program. Empowering others leads to maturity, increased responsibility, and improved sustainability of your chapter.

How do you empower each member to become involved to offer their talent and skills for the greater good of Theta Phi Alpha on your campus? Nationally?

Process. Leadership is a process. It is a journey that continues over time, throughout your life. Establishing processes ensures the legacy of your chapter. It facilitates the understanding of expectations of membership and sets clear what you believe to be right and wrong.

Do you revisit your processes regularly to see if they continue to work properly or do you use the excuse, “We've always done it this way. . .?” Once you have achieved success, do you relax and rest on your laurels or do you take time to recognize your achievement and then look at what ways you can still improve?

I pose the above questions to facilitate a discussion occurring in each chapter. I hope you take the time this year to have discussions and look at your membership development program differently as you educate your members. The new member education program will be a great resource for you and your chapter when it is completely developed. But with all things, it will need to be constantly improved upon to remain relevant to future members. Your input will help us achieve that!

Best,

Shane

Monday, September 26, 2016

Changing Times, Changing Terminology: From ‘Colony’ to ‘Emerging Chapter’

It’s out with the old (i.e., “colony”) and in with the new (i.e., “emerging chapter”) for Theta Phi Alpha and our extension efforts! So be sure to update your Theta Phi Alpha vocabulary as follows:

Colonization Weekend ---> Opening Weekend
Colony/Colonies ---> Emerging Chapter/s
Colony Program ---> Emerging Chapter Program
Colony Member ---> New Member

The reason for this change was twofold:

The revised terminology more accurately reflects the process through which a fully installed Theta Phi Alpha chapter is established. What was formerly the “colony program” has been restructured to better prepare individual new members and the collective group for chapter operations, with an increased programmatic emphasis on new member education, Theta Phi Alpha Ritual, and committee-structured chapter operations training. 

Similarly, chapter installation will now mark the start of an extended period of supported educational programming to better transition and orient our newest chapters to the operations, policies, and programs of Theta Phi Alpha. Thus the women that join Theta Phi Alpha as part of our extension efforts are, in essence, part of an “emerging chapter” working toward independent chapter functioning within 3-5 years after Theta Phi Alpha is established on a campus. 

In many contexts, the term “colony” may seem harmless (e.g., a colony of ants; or “a group of individuals or things with common characteristics or interests situated in close association,” as in one of many definitions provided by Merriam-Webster). Nonetheless, we recognize that for many, the terms “colony” and “colonizationcannot be separated from the colonization and subjugation of indigenous peoples. That understanding informed the change in terminology as well.

As we continue to grow Theta Phi Alpha throughout the nation, we hope you appreciate the changes – both in the terminology and programmatic content – to our Emerging Chapter Program!

Want to continue the conversation?  Contact your Grand Council – we’d love to hear from you!

Note: Official adoption of this new terminology will take place after the February 2017 mail vote.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Happy 104th birthday, Theta Phi Alpha!


Theta Phi Alpha was founded on this very day 104 years ago by 10 remarkable women at the University of Michigan. Our Founders were certainly progressive, modern women. Very few women attended college in 1912. Female students weren’t even allowed to enter the student union!  In the United States, women weren’t allowed to vote or to own property. Yet these 10 women not only attended college, graduated and had careers but also felt it was very important to create an organization where they could meet and support each other. Our Founders saw the value of relationships with other women not only during the collegiate years, but for life. They could have just founded a club for college women, but they didn’t.  The college years are simply a foundation for a lifetime as an alumna. 

I think our Founders would be very proud of us today and how we have grown and spread across the country, opening our membership to all women yet remaining true to our core values. I’m sure they never dreamed what the world would be like 104 years later with all the technology we have available. I do think they would be shocked and dismayed at the social and political climate of the country; yet I also think they would be impressed by our members today. Theta Phi Alpha sisters in 2016 are still dedicated to advancing educational, social and philanthropic interests, encouraging spiritual development and adherence to the highest moral standards and promoting lifelong bonds of friendship just as they were in 1912. The world has changed dramatically, but these ideals are timeless.

Change is inevitable, but with it comes opportunity. Technology makes it possible for us to connect with sisters around the world instantly. It also helps us provide support and eventually training for our alumnae volunteers and our collegiate members through our website. Multiple avenues of communication are available to us now. We don’t have to wait days or weeks for a letter to arrive. This is an exciting time for Theta Phi Alpha, we are growing and improving in so many ways. Keep watching for updates through email and check the website for news. Let the compass be our guide as we stay true to the values in our ritual written over 100 years ago. 

Yours in the bonds of sisterhood,

Susan Lee
National President