By Chris Gosier, Special Projects Writer, Office of Marketing and Communications,
In September 2014, as they began their senior year, the leaders of Fordham University’s Alpha Sigma Nu chapter set out to uphold the honor society’s traditional tenets of scholarship, loyalty, and service.
But they also had a fourth priority in mind: visibility.
For an organization that embodies the core values of Jesuit education, Alpha Sigma Nu had quite the low profile on campus, according to student leaders who said they’d heard little about it before being invited to apply. To address that, they joined with other service groups on and off campus and found novel ways to put Alpha Sigma Nu in the path of students to ensure it was noticed more often.
This past May, Fordham won Alpha Sigma Nu’s Chapter of the Year Award, thanks in part to the students’ efforts to widen the chapter’s impact. The leaders have also positioned the chapter for a more active role at the University in the years ahead.
“We wanted to increase the visibility so hopefully more students would know about us before junior year [when qualifying students are invited to apply]," said Michael Charboneau, a 2015 Fordham graduate and Alpha Sigma Nu vice president for the University's Rose Hill campus in 2014-15. If more students are seeking out the chapter’s events, “that definitely contributes to the longer-term vitality of the organization on campus,” he said.
The national honor society of Jesuit colleges and universities, Alpha Sigma Nu inducts students as juniors based on their academic achievement, service work, and commitment to the ideals of Jesuit education. Fordham’s chapter has 129 student members along with alumni members in the thousands. A selection committee approves new members; at Fordham, they apply after receiving an e-mail during their junior year.
But students should also be encouraged to take an interest in the group before then, chapter leaders said.
“We’re doing great things, so we’re trying to integrate the younger [students] to at least know what we're doing and know who we are and then, if they do qualify, apply,” said Rachel Mae Aguilar, chapter president in 2014-15 and a 2015 graduate of Fordham.
The chapter’s service work reflects this higher-profile approach. Last year, the student group held several service events, including a haunted house for Bronx schoolchildren that took place in a Rose Hill campus residence hall. They collaborated on the event with Part of the Solution, a social service agency in the Bronx.
Other new events were designed to catch Fordham students’ attention. Chapter members set up KanJam and Corn Hole games on the Rose Hill campus, asking student passers-by to donate a dollar for charity before taking a turn with the Frisbee or beanbag. Late one night during finals week, they surprised students preparing for exams at the University Library by bringing them milk, cookies, and notes of encouragement—“almost a guerilla marketing campaign,” said Charboneau.
In the spring, the chapter joined the Crotona Achievement Program, a mentoring organization in the Bronx, to teach middle school students about planting and composting at St. Rose’s, the University’s community garden. Last Christmas, members of the chapter joined Fordham's University Choir to provide caroling and conversation at Murray-Weigel Hall, the retirement home for Jesuits located near the Rose Hill campus.
At Fordham's Lincoln Center campus, Alpha Sigma Nu members hosted a career fair (open to non-members) and worked with the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen at the neighboring Church of St. Paul the Apostle. They served food, mingled with the clients, and listened to their stories, said Gianna Sciangula, the chapter’s vice president for the Lincoln Center campus and a 2015 Fordham graduate.
“It was really eye-opening,” she said. “It was just sort of like, ‘This woman has kids, and this woman has multiple degrees and they still are suffering in New York City and coming here?’ It’s a sad reality, and it sort of made me think, ‘What more could I be doing? What more could we be doing as a society?’”
Her fellow chapter members found their Jesuit education deepened in other ways. When asked to speak about the tenet of scholarship at a chapter meeting, Charboneau focused on being grateful for the opportunity to study at Fordham in the first place.
“Being asked to sit down and talk about the value of scholarship and what that means was really enlightening for me,” he said. “It kind of renewed my commitment to learning and to really being mindful of what I'm there to do.”
Aguilar said she joined as a way to give back before leaving Fordham, and appreciated that the chapter’s faculty adviser—Rosemary DeJulio, Ph.D., who retired this year as assistant to the University president—gave them such latitude to craft events.
“Everyone has a different idea of what service and loyalty and community means to them,” Aguilar said. “That’s part of the fun of being in Alpha Sigma Nu; you get to choose something that’s important to you and you get to run with it.”