Going Greek

Fraternity and Sororities Set the Bar High in Academics and Service

Over spring break, with classes on hiatus, a group of young men hunched over 30,000 plastic eggs, filling each with candy. Later they would scatter them around campus to the delight of hundreds of children who came for the third annual Easter Egg Extravaganza.  Sponsored by the Omega Delta Phi fraternity, Gamma Alpha Omega Interest Group and Heritage University, it’s just one example of the commitment and energy Greek organizations lend to the campus. The fraternity joins two sororities on campus: Kappa Delta Chi and Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, as well as several Greek interest groups. Together they are a positive influence on the campus and the wider community.

Going Greek“You can’t miss the members of these organizations,” said Lindsay Brown, director of Student Life. “They are the most active and engaged student organizations on campus.”

When Brown says you can’t miss them, one reason is they are decked out in their Greek colors… hot pink and maroon for Kappa Delta Chi, burgundy and gray for Lambda Theta Alpha and scarlet, silver and black for Omega Delta Phi, which they wear with great pride.  But more importantly, their efforts are highly visible on campus. They lead community fundraisers, arrange study groups, serve hot dog lunches to other students, clean up the campus, start donation drives, and more.  They have some of the highest grade point averages of any students while busily serving as mentors and leaders. They dispel the myth that fraternities and sororities are bastions of bad behavior. At Heritage, and in the majority of Greek organizations, this could not be further from the truth. To the contrary, many hardworking, high-achieving students are attracted to sorority or fraternity life because of its lofty values, which include honesty, integrity, unity, respect, leadership, love and service.

Although each organization has its own personality and focus, all serve the same overriding goal – to provide a supportive network to students, a second family as some explain it, so sisters and brothers can grow to their potential and succeed academically and socially.

“They provide a sense of belonging,” confirmed Brown. “Students are more engaged in student life, building partnerships and friendships that help them get through tough times. They have a sense of community, a place they can go, that helps them get over hurdles.”

All three Greek organizations were Latino founded – in fact, Lambda Theta Alpha was the first Latina sorority in the country. The members are quick to add, however, that the sororities and fraternity are inclusive to all, welcoming all races.

“We say, ‘Latina by tradition, not by definition,’” said Jiovanna Lamas, president of Lambda Theta Alpha and a junior mathematics major. Going GreekLamas was attracted to the sorority, which has 39 members on campus, because it paved the way for all multicultural organizations. Its mission, to provide a sisterhood based on unity, love and respect also aligned with her own values. “They were things my mom taught me,” Lamas said. “I live with those values every day.”

Ana Gonzalez (B.A.Ed., Education, May 2018), the 2017/18 academic year president of Kappa Delta Chi or KDChi for short, helped bring the sorority to Heritage after friends at another university told her about the organization. Established in 2015, it now has 14 active members, and focuses on professional development and academic excellence. Weekly chapter meetings are run like a corporate meeting, with professional attire required, once a month. Everyone is expected to take a leadership role, even new members. Gonzalez says they gently nudge shy or newer sisters out of their comfort zones, encouraging them to tak

e on responsibilities that feel uncomfortable but stretch them and ultimately instill confidence.

Jesus Mendez, who graduated in May with a B.S. in Computer Science, took his own step of faith when he decided to join the lone fraternity on campus. He admits now that he had no idea what it was about.

“I was told it would be a strong support, and it’s been that,” said Mendez, who plans to pursue a career in software engineering. “There are a lot of people in our fraternity I might never have met or talked to, but because we had this one thing in common, it broke the ice. We crossed (moved pledges into members) 12 people as freshman, so I had 11 people, right away, that I could count on. It really helped.”


Although students typically have very busy schedules, balancing sorority and fraternity meetings and events with coursework, their grades usually go up.

Grades come first, confirmed Brown. All three hold members to specific academic standards and they leave nothing to chance. If students are falling behind or struggling, there are specific remedies to get them back on track. Lambda Theta Alpha sisters must log 10 study hours each week, but most spend closer to 20. In KDChi, an academic officer monitors grades, and if a sister is struggling, they step in and help arrange tutoring or a meeting with the professor.

“We’ll even go with a sister to talk to her professor,” said Gonzalez, who admitted that some are embarrassed or afraid to do it alone. “We help them get it figured out.”

All three groups have structured study times, but they look different in each. Omega Delta Phi uses study buddies, two brothers on similar schedules who pair up.  KDChi holds group study sessions at a local coffee shop and invites any Heritage student to come. Lambda Theta Alpha sisters typically study together on campus. The added attention pays off. According to Brown, the Greek organizations have a 3.1 cumulative grade point average.

Mendez put it simply: “Our goal is to graduate our brothers.”


The sororities and fraternity hold weekly meetings and actively partner with a variety of charitable organizations in the community. They’ve hosted stuffed animal drives and sent coloring sheets to St. Jude’s Hospital. They’ve sponsored cultural events and professional summits in which they teach career skills. They’ve raised money for domestic violence nonprofits, held career days at a homeless youth center, and cultural celebrations at the Heritage Early Learning Center.

Some of the most entertaining campus activities are also philanthropic, thanks to the Greeks. Lambda Theta Alpha’s Big Man on Campus male pageant raised funds for Lower Valley Crisis Center and Support Services and provided scholarships to winning participants.   Their sponshorship of the Walk a Mile In Her Shoes fundraiser had men tottering in sky-high heels for a mile to raise money and awareness of sexual assault.

“The sororities and fraternity set an example for students,” said Brown. “They have fun but with a purpose.”


Serving and studying together creates a strong bond between fraternity brothers and sorority sisters. Not just in active members but across gaps in age, seniority, experience, and even distance, thanks to a network of graduates who give a hand up to younger sisters and brothers. Connecting with sisters and brothers out in the professional world opens doors for students in a way few other relationships do. For instance, Mendez is mentored in computer science by the national president of his fraternity, who majored in computer science and manages a team of gaming software engineers. Lamas’ current boss is a sorority sister.

This generosity extends across the miles, too.  Gonzalez and Lamas have put out the word several times for Heritage sisters traveling to conferences who need a place to stay. Each time, the response has been quick and overwhelming with many offers of hospitality.

“The sisterhood is really a second family,” said Gonzalez. “It’s a second support network and a place to learn from our mistakes and grow as leaders.”

Lamas called it a lifetime commitment. But perhaps Mendez summarized it best: “It has been a once-in-a lifetime experience. The relationships that have been built have helped get me through rough times.”

Welcome to the Jungle

In a balmy rainforest in Costa Rica, frequented by big cats, poisonous snakes, screeching monkeys and exotic fauna, four students from Heritage hiked along dirt paths, collected water and plant samples, set up wildlife tracking cameras, and had the experience of a lifetime  over  winter break. The reason they traveled so far on their time off from school was to conduct environmental and biological field studies at the Las Cruces Biological Research Center, about three miles from the Panamanian border.  Founded in 1962 as a botanical center and nursery, it is the home of the Wilson Center, the country’s best-known botanical garden. In 1973, it expanded its emphasis to include tropical research, particularly in conservation.

Welcome to the JungleSteve Dupuis, the IMSI director at Salish Kootenai College in Pueblo, Montana, reached out to Dr. Jessica Black about the trip, which he had done the year before. It was structured to bring tribal students in the sciences together from  colleges across the country. Heritage University’s  participation was made possible by a partnership with the All  Nations Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program, in conjunction with the Organization for Tropical Studies.

“Research shows that when students are given the chance to travel internationally for study abroad experiences, it has a profound impact on their academic performance, empowering students as they work towards completion of their degrees and ultimately leading to higher GPAs,” said Black. “It’s something we were really lucky to do, and my hope is that it will become an annual event for our Native American STEM majors.”

Welcome to the JungleKimberly Stewart and Zane Ketchen were two of the students invited to travel to the Central American country.  When Stewart received the text from Black, she was immediately intrigued – not just about the chance to dig into field work in such a rich environmental location but also because she would meet and work with other Native  American students from around the country.  “I had traveled, but never to Central America,” said Stewart, a junior who is interested in working with the Yakama Nation Department of Natural Resources when she graduates. After an 11-hour flight to San Jose, the team hopped aboard a bus for the six-hour journey into the Talamanca Mountains the next day. Taking the coastal route, Ketchen had his first look at Costa Rican wildlife, including crocodiles, macaws, and Black’s favorite, the toucan!


The students faced a much different culture and climate in Costa Rica. The weather was more humid than at home. the hikes were challenging, long and windy, up steep and muddy paths. And, the wildlife! Ketchen recalls stumbling across snakes on several occasions, and one was the fer-de-lance – a deadly pit viper!

The research projects pushed all the students out of their comfort zone, in a good way. There were 14 participants from all the colleges involved, and they met as a group to brainstorm about potential projects. From there they whittled down a whiteboard of ideas to a few, and students could self-select the one they were most interested in: invasive species, water quality  or botany. They spent most days in the field and then summarized their  findings in a poster and presentation at the program’s conclusion.

Stewart and Corbin Schuster, who graduated this year with a B.S. in Biomedical Science, chose an invasive species project. Their team measured the severity of a plant fungus to determine if humidity levels contributed to its spread. They took samples from different elevations and used software to calculate the area of each leaf that was compromised. Stewart is excited to continue  with research in the next phase of her education. “I’ve been nervous about going to grad school,”  she admitted. “Now I feel certain I can do it.”

Ketchen and Robyn Raya’s field project centered on hydrology, the study of water movement, which is one of Ketchen’s career interests.

“On another field trip with Dr. Black, a hydrology expert told us if you fix the water, you’ll fix everything else,” said Ketchen. That resonated with him. At the center, his team tested water samples and took temperatures at different locations, learning that the tributary waters were warmer than the water in the main river. That was a surprising discovery because it’s typically the opposite in the Yakima Valley.


This trip was about more than science, however. It was also about connections with other Native Americans across the country and globally. The teams took a day off from their research to meet members of a Panamanian indigenous tribe called the Boruca. The tribal elders shared about family life, traditions, and gave a demonstration in purse making, in which they grow and weave the cotton and use leaves to create different dye colors. Students also painted traditional  masks, used to warn potential conquerors away, and they participated in their tribal dances.

“We learned that the tribal members in Costa Rica are experiencing many of the same issues as the Native American tribes,” said Black, who pointed to their concerns about water usage and land sovereignty.

“It was cool to see how much respect they have for the land,” said Stewart. “And how self-sufficient they are.”

Ketchen particularly valued the time spent networking with other Native American students, mentors and even visitors to the center.

“Well, I really liked the whole trip, but meeting other people was what I liked best,” said Ketchen. “While we were in the field, we ran into a family from France bird watching on the grounds. I don’t think they had ever met a Native American before, and they were excited … It was nice.”

He also found it surprising that the other Native American students on the trip, including his lab partner who was from Montana, had tastes and stories that were so similar to his own even though they lived in different places.

“For me, it was great to get a different type of education – to meet other people who are culturally like me – while getting an education,” concluded Ketchen.

Pictures courtesy of Brian Amdur Photography