AMHERST, Mass. – A new fraternity at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is dedicated to changing the perception of Greek life on campus through community service and academic achievement.
Theta Mu, a chapter of Pi Kappa Phi, has received national and campus recognition for helping the disabled through fundraising and construction projects while maintaining academic excellence. The fraternity won eight awards from the national office of PKP and four awards from groups at the university in their first year as an associate chapter.
“It’s incredible to see fraternity in action,” says chapter advisor and UMass Amherst assistant dean of students Paul Vasconcellos. “This is what can happen when young men commit themselves to a set of ideals and support each other.”
This spring, Theta Mu held a second annual road race that raised $11,800 to aid the disabled through Push America, a national philanthropy founded and maintained by Pi Kappa Phi. “Funds were used to improve the infrastructure of an Easter Seals camp and donate $5,000 to the facility,” says President Philip Benevides. Theta Mu member Jerome Roglich will be cycling 4,000 miles this summer as part of the Journey of Hope, a national event sponsored by Push America. Roglich will be accompanied by member Kyle Wood.
Theta Mu also raised over $4,000 in the Relay for Life organized by the American Cancer Society and participated in community service initiatives with OxFam America, Special Olympics, Amherst Friends for the Homeless, Easter Seals and the Children’s Miracle Network. Members also constructed two wheelchair ramps for residents of Florence and Amherst in conjunction with the Stavros Center for Independent Living.
Founded in December 2005, Theta Mu spent one year as an associate chapter before receiving its charter in December 2006. Since then, the 44 brothers have maintained a 3.34 overall grade point average. Nine members received honors this spring for achieving a GPA of 3.8 or higher. Matthew Pearlson, the fraternity’s first president, recently graduated and was honored as a 21st Century Scholar. Diego Torres-Palma, the second president who led the fraternity to a successful chartering, also graduated recently and is a leadership consultant with the national office of Pi Kappa Phi.
Theta Mu members are also involved in campus leadership. “Over half the members are resident assistants or apartment living advisors,” says Vasconcellos. The fraternity served as volunteers to the UMass Amherst Homecoming Committee, the Southwest Area Government and at the UMass Amherst commencement.
One thing that sets Theta Mu apart is a policy forbidding alcohol at group functions. “Social events are part of chapter life,” says Vasconcellos, “but it’s not the main focus.” All members must pass a national test and are required to complete an alcohol education program before being accepted.
Vasconcellos, who has a disability, was named Chapter Advisor of the Year by the National Office. “I returned recently from being hospitalized and going through rehabilitation. Most of the brothers were waiting at my house to help me when I returned home,” he says.
Theta Mu is already planning for a fall recruitment period that will include building a third wheelchair ramp and a service retreat for new member education at Easter Seals Camp Hemlock. A benefit concert and third annual 5K road race for Push America will be held in the spring.
Awards received from the national organization of Pi Kappa Phi include 2006-2007 Associate Chapter of the Year, 2006-2007 Master Champion Chapter Award, Master Chapter in Sound Chapter Operations, Master Chapter in Superior New Member Education, Master Chapter in Living the Ritual, Master Chapter of Commitment to Service, 2006-2007 Push America Core Values Award and Master Chapter of Academic Achievement. Member Eric Buchka received the 2006-2007 Thomas Sayre Award for the Push America Chairman of the Year.
The Chapter also won several awards from the university including Outstanding Fraternity of the Year from the Center for Student Development and awards from the Office of Fraternities and Sororities for Outstanding Philanthropic Event and Outstanding Philanthropic Program. Theta Mu also won the Silver Chapter Award from Student Affairs.
Pi Kappa Phi is a national fraternity with over 90,000 members and chapters on 139 campuses exemplifying leadership, academics, sportsmanship and service. Pi Kappa Phi is the only fraternity to establish and maintain a national philanthropy, Push America, which organizes cycling events and construction projects to raise money for the disabled.