Alumni, SigEp Blog

Alumni Spotlight: A Story of Airplanes, Medicine and Brotherhood

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Greetings to all fellow SigEp brothers out there and all across the world. As a continuation of DC Gamma’s focus on alumni involvement, I wanted to introduce myself and say some words about my involvement with the fraternity. The name’s Taylor Barnett, and I’m originally from Nashville, Tennessee. I had spent most of my childhood growing up in the South, but after having traveled around a bit and spent some time abroad in England and Chile while in high school, I decided to begin a new chapter in my life and venture north to much more frigid and, along those lines, political climates to come to Georgetown to study foreign languages. Freshman year at Georgetown was awesome: We had not one but two cafeterias, Darnall Hall was actually habitable, Philly P’s ruled the world of late night pizza, and snaps were ginger and oh-so delightful holiday treats and not your worst enemy on a Saturday night.  I got so excited coming here I joined no less than two dozen clubs at SAC Fair…and then proceeded to quit pretty much all of them, except for your standard Hoya Blue, NSO, and ESCAPE, to mention a few. And to be honest I’m glad I did, because it afforded me the option of pursuing other options outside of Georgetown, such as teaching ESL every week in Adams Morgan, working at the Whitman Walker HIV/AIDS clinic,  as well as getting to enjoy DC and see the sights. Armed with my SmarTrip card in hand, I’d go all over the district and even up to the University of Maryland in nearby College Park to visit some of my high school friends, one of whom was in fact a SigEp. That’s how I first got introduced to the fraternity, and when he told me that a chapter at Georgetown had just opened and they were looking for new brothers to join I thought, “why not?” They seemed like cool people, and who doesn’t like hanging out with cool people? So during the fall of my sophomore year I came out to some of the recruitment events and, whaddayaknow, I became a SigEp.

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect, especially with an organization just a few months old that had less than two dozen members and that then the university was resistant to accept, much less even recognize. I mean, when I came to college joining a fraternity was the last thing I had considered doing, but looking back I’m so glad and thankful I did. I saw DC Gamma start off from very humble beginnings and grow almost a decade later into a fortified and resounding brotherhood. Every aspect of SigEp, from the rituals and challenges to the retreats and formals, helped to make my years in college some of the best years I’ve had, and that included right up to my graduation, when just three days before my commencement ceremony I presented to the hospital for continuous ringing in my ears (we call it in the med biz “tinnitus”). Three hours after walking in the doors of the ER, I was diagnosed with metastatic testicular cancer that had spread to lymph nodes and parenchyma of the lungs, abdominal aorta, and spleen.  Yeah, that pretty much a huge dampening on the graduation week festivities. (if you want to read more about my story, head over to https://archive.org/details/SigmaPhiEpsilonJournal_838 and take a look at the Fall 2008 copy of the Sigma Phi Epsilon Journal). Nevertheless, I immediately had surgery and left the hospital the next day. And what’s more, I was thankfully able to make it to my graduation ceremony two days later and then to Europe a few days later for a three-week trip with five other DC Gamma brothers. Having to pass up on three job offers and spend instead the summer getting chemotherapy for about ten hours a day wasn’t necessarily on my to-do list then, but I have to say the support that poured in from the chapter was truly amazing. Now, over five years later, I’m glad to say I’m still in remission and the needles and alopecia are in the past.

Since graduating Georgetown and finishing surgery and chemotherapy, I worked a number of jobs, such as an interpreter for a local hospital, a high school foreign language teacher, and even an airplane pilot. But with all that I had just been through with the cancer, I gave medicine another thought and decided to apply to medical school. I got a scholarship to go medical school back in my home, the great Dixie motherland, at the University of Tennessee, where in addition to studying disease and then preparing to annihilate it in the hospital, I got involved with our student run Spanish speaking clinic for the uninsured Hispanic population of the city and even became clinic leader by my fourth year. And now, I’ve moved over two thousand miles away and am currently doing my residency at Scripps Hospital in San Diego, California, with hopes of someday  going into oncology so I can help other patients affected by cancer who may not be as fortunate as I have been. And I just took another step further with my career and joined the U.S. Air Force, for which I’ll be working after I finish my medical training as a flight surgeon and urgent care doctor.

One thing I want to get across to all fellow brothers is this: your role in SigEp does not stop at graduation. SigEp is something that will be a part of you far beyond your four years of college, and in fact some of my best and most meaningful experiences in SigEp were as an alumnus. When I left Georgetown, the nurse that took care of me while I was getting chemotherapy was a SigEp. My peer mentor in medical school was a SigEp from Vanderbilt. I’ve even been able to travel the world with many DC Gamma brothers, from France and Spain to most recently spring break in Hawaii.  And I still try to make it back to the Hilltop every so often to revisit the chapter and meet all of the new brothers. The journey has indeed been absolutely spectacular, and now I’m living in one of the coolest cities in the country, taking in all of San Diego’s glorious three “Bs” — beaches, breweries, and burritos  — while having the humbling privilege of taking care of patients from all walks of life, from surfer dudes and Marine recruits to the elderly homeless and immigrants coming in from across the border, and being a part of what is without a doubt the best and most noble profession there is. I even have several SigEps as patients in my clinic and am now the godfather to twins I once delivered whose father was a SigEp. And the best part of it all is that my roommate is none other than fellow brother Kevin Parvaresh, who was in my Sigma class at Georgetown and now is an orthopedic surgery resident at UCSD. Obviously, even a decade after joining SigEp, the fraternity and brotherhood indeed still have an impact on my life, and I think today I’m a better leader, a better doctor, and a better man for it.

I’ve seen DC Gamma take off light a rocket since its very beginnings. It has emerged as a prominent leader on the Georgetown campus in academics, athletics, community service, and so much more. Consistently the chapter ranks among the top of many other campus organizations in fundraising for Georgetown’s annual Relay for Life ceremony, which donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to the American Cancer Society. I’m astounded at what the current undergraduate brothers have done not only in their own individual fields of study and organizations on campus but also together as a brotherhood to make DC Gamma into a powerhouse of excellence on the Hilltop. Indeed, for anyone considering joining the fraternity, I’d say that if you’re looking to make your college years meaningful, wanting not to live your life in the background but rather in the spotlight and become a stronger leader and contributing member of society, and to learn how to do so and succeed at such in the company of some amazing guys from all over the country and world, SigEp DC Gamma is what you seek. Come to the recruitment events, meet the brothers, and ask them why they wanted to be a SigEp – they may have joined for different reasons, but you’ll see that what ultimately makes them stay is the brotherhood. And for those of you who’ve already made the wise decision to become a part of the brotherhood, understand that there is so much more to SigEp than what you have and experience during your years at Georgetown. As it has been so for me, SigEp will be with you far longer than your time in college. There is now a network of over several dozen DC Gamma alumni in all different career fields located all over the globe, from California and New York to Algeria and Kenya, who are devoted to giving back to the chapter and helping out younger brothers in any way they can. Never hesitate to reach out to any of them for whatever you may need, and if you’ll do you’ll be astounded by what they’ve accomplished and realize just how strong and amazing the SigEp DC Gamma brotherhood is.

Again, my door’s always open if you ever want to reach out to me with your thoughts and questions, and I will see you back home on the Hilltop soon.

HFF,
Taylor

Alumni, SigEp Blog

SigEp Alumni Spotlight: Supporting Small-Enterprise in Kenya

By Alex Villec COL ’13

Hey brothers!

As part of DC Gamma’s growing emphasis on alumni involvement, I wanted to say a few words to introduce myself, what I’ve been up to, and how SigEp fits into the picture. I spoke to some of this in a recent e-mail, so please excuse the redundancy where it exists.

Since graduating in May 2013, I have been working with an NGO that focuses on small-enterprise development in northern Kenya. The BOMA Project provides grants to groups of three women toward the objective of income diversification and drought resilience. Whether measured in nutrition, savings, or prevailing cultural notions of wealth, livestock is central to the pastoralist way of life. Climate change and conflict undermine the strategy of herd accumulation that defines “the pastoralist dream”, if there ever was such a notion. First, BOMA provides the capital ($100) needed to launch a small business. Second, participants receive training (e.g. record-keeping) and on-going support (e.g. weekly business visits) from local mentors who live in the very communities where BOMA operates. At six months, women receive a second grant ($50) to expand their enterprise, at which point groups form savings associations and begin extending credit to group participants and within the community. Our model rests on the idea that liquidity constraints and poor access to markets present pastoralists with high levels of risk that make it hard to plan and even harder to withstand negative shocks. Our model introduces a sustainable livelihood that complements pastoralism and equips women with greater financial freedom to fund medical expenses, invest in their children’s education, and purchase food.

My work with BOMA centers on monitoring and evaluation (M&E). In short, this means using data to improve our program. In the office, this involves designing surveys with relevant indicators, analyzing datasets, reporting internally and externally on changes in household characteristics and business performance, and then using our findings to inform how we define success among program participants. In the field, the monitoring component entails continuous communication between our local mentors, field officers, and office staff. Back checks, data collection, mentor visits, grant disbursements, and savings group meetings are all key components of our work in the “field”, either because I’m directly involved in their execution or because they serve as opportunities to better understand our program and its operations.

If you’re still awake at this point, I should simply mention that BOMA has not only been a stellar introduction to international development, but also to post-graduate life more broadly. It’s shown me what an organic and locally-run program can accomplish when development practitioners understand the communities in which they operate. It’s also shown me how fundraising needs, inter-NGO competition, and shortsighted planning can hinder non-profit actors in lifting large portions of the population out of extreme poverty.

I began with the BOMA Project by applying for a Princeton in Africa (PiAf) fellowship during my senior year at Georgetown. PiAf is part-placement organization, part-network, part-professional development program that places recent graduates with organizations based in Africa across the fields of humanitarian assistance, micro-enterprise, public health, and agriculture, to name a few. After the initial application and interview process, PiAf staff engages you in a personalized conversation about specific fellowship posts and potential fits, at which point you’re put forward as a fellowship candidate to interview with the decided-upon organization. It’s a fluid process that can last anywhere from 4-6 months.

A Georgetown degree will present you with incredible opportunities. Most important will be identifying what it is that you want from your first few years off the Hilltop. As I searched left and right, I placed a high value on gaining international experience, honing language skills, and developing a portable toolkit that would easily transfer across disciplines (e.g. data analysis, leadership, organizational/strategic planning). Once you can clearly articulate what you’re after, you’ll dive into the job hunt with a sense of direction and purpose. To me, these initial steps out of the Georgetown nest are prime for learning as much as possible, for growing my network, and for pondering how I wish to develop professionally over the next 5-10 years – all within a context where I have enough peace, flexibility, and freedom to think. Don’t underestimate how valuable it can be to live and wrestle with your own thoughts for a year or two! I’m talking about thoughts influenced, informed, and dictated by your judgment alone, not by a rigid syllabus, a mind-blowing extracurricular schedule, sacred words like “cum” and “laude”, a rapidly dwindling checking account balance, or a friend’s CV…)

Take this all with a grain of salt. Among those reading this are studs with a far firmer grasp on where they’re headed. Plus, there are so many other paths with so much to offer. While 90-hour weeks would make it tough to indulge in recreational reading on a Wednesday night or spend Sunday evenings learning a new language, I’d guess that a high-intensity career track can be one superhighway to long-term success. And, unless you join the Jesuit order, you’re not taking a lifelong oath to one fixed career path. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the beauty of post-graduate life – at least at the outset. Know that with momentum and motivation, you’ll be able to pursue Plan B if Plan A was a flop; just keep pressing ahead. It’s easy to turn a moving car.

Restore balance where it lacked in college, fill your brain, put yourself in uncomfortable situations, ask yourself difficult questions, and never stop meeting people.

Most important of all, don’t forget your brothers. The most meaningful exchanges I’ve shared since graduation have been with SigEps, and there’s a good chance I’ll be saying this 20 years from now.

As always, my door is open. Reach out with your thoughts and ask me questions – I’ll be challenged, more focused, and better because of them.

HFF,
Alex

SigEp Blog

Phis Reach New Heights On A Trip To Great Falls Park

By Kevin Lo, College ‘16

One of the last things that many of us want to do is to wake up early on a Saturday morning, especially after a night out celebrating the grand occasion of a Friday night. But, that’s what a group of brothers did on October 26th. Seeing a bunch of guys, clearly not yet awake from their slumber, trudge through the cold morning to the front gates at 9 AM was an interesting, and somewhat impressive, sight. We boarded a dangerously large van and hydrated—to replenish for the night prior and to prepare for the events upcoming. This was all in preparation for a hike coordinated by Christian Chung (SFS ’15) at the I-can’t-believe-it-is-only-twenty-minutes-away-from-Georgetown Great Falls Park.

After a van ride of failed attempts at sleep and some brothers refusing to allow dormancy by blasting music, we arrived at the unbelievably scenic Great Falls Park in Virginia. Though the hike started as almost unbearably cold for a Californian like me, it became beautiful as the day progressed.

On the hike, in addition to the beautiful scenery, we saw amazing things that allowed us to change our thinking for the better. First, as we were surprised by the challenging terrain of the trail and subsequently moved slower than anticipated, we saw a 60ish-year old woman traversing through the boulders without a problem. She seemed so full-of-life and at ease that it made us realize that a hike with friends really is not the worst thing that could happen. Second, we saw a man with disabilities with crutches make his way through the very same path we took. Enough said.

One of the most important things we strive for in SigEp is personal growth through self-reflection, and in a bustling environment such as D.C. and Georgetown, it is sometimes very difficult to take a step back from life and to contemplate the events and happenings in our life. Every year, we organize multiple events designed to give us the opportunity to do the reflection that is so important in a person’s development. Surrounded by nature that was incomprehensibly beautiful, brothers were able to escape from their clubs, internships, social commitments, and academics to just relax and contemplate. For myself, I—as I often do during a time of reflection—thought about how lucky I was to be in the position I was in. To be at Georgetown and to be surrounded by men that I know will be my true friends for life, I sincerely appreciated where life has taken me. Life often seems to be going at a break-neck pace and SigEp has always provided a comfortable shelter whenever needed; this hike and bonding was no different.

Oh yeah, the tradition of going to Chick-fil-a with any excuse available was nice too.

Alumni, SigEp Blog

Grand Chapter President Phil Cox Visits Georgetown

By Colin Walls ’16

Yesterday we were honored to welcome Phillip Cox, Grand Chapter President of Sigma Phi Epsilon to Georgetown. During what was the first visit to any SigEp chapter in the DC area by the Grand President since our chapter’s creation, President Cox met with several brothers to discuss Sigma Phi Epsilon and it’s impact on the lives of brothers across the nation. Brothers discussed the strengths of our chapter and the directions in which we plan to head in the coming years, and President Cox offered his input on our plans. With a wealth of knowledge about fraternal affairs, President Cox’s insights will undoubtedly prove helpful in the years to come. Above all, it was an honor to welcome Grand President Cox to our chapter and to show him SigEp’s place at Georgetown.

 

 

 

SigEp Blog

Fall Retreat and White Water Madness

By Colin Walls ’16

This year’s fall retreat saw a trip to Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania for whitewater rafting. After an early departure Saturday morning, the day was spent on traditional retreat activities and sports. Didactic encounters went especially well this year, and the new Sigmas did a great job offering new perspectives to the circles. After an important and lengthy goal setting session, we continued our traditional activities outdoors. Following a long period of brotherly bonding, we returned to the cabins. Some brave brothers ventured to McDonalds in the bustling metropolis that is Uniontown, Pennsylvania at 2 am. After a successful raid of their chicken nugget supply, these brothers rejoined the rest of the group and spent a little time relaxing before getting some sleep. The next day started early and was complimented by a fantastic breakfast next to the river. Soon after, we were given life jackets, helmets, and instruction on how to whitewater raft and were quickly brought down to the river. In squads of four or five, brothers were given rafts to pilot without guides. This proved to be difficult for some rafts (Chung’s) and easy for others. Many rocks were avoided, but many more weren’t, and plenty of brothers tested their swimming abilities. The trip consisted of around 8 miles of river with a lunch break in the middle. We were lucky to get a picture perfect day and the trees were the best they would look all fall. The brothers tackled several class four rapids with help from the stalwart raft guides that we had chosen. At the end of the trip, everyone had had a full afternoon and the raft guide’s mediocre jokes were just the way to finish the day. After a bus ride back to the village, brothers split up and headed back to Washington. In all the weekend was a tremendous success, and it set the bar high for retreats to come.

 

 

Alumni, SigEp Blog

Homecoming 2013

By Colin Walls ’16

Sig Ep’s Homecoming weekend 2013 proved to be a tremendous success. Starting with the induction of our newest class of Sigmas on Friday night, the festivities started early. After conducting the Sigma rite of passage, brothers partook on the now traditional welcome round of nine holes. This year’s class is promising and most of them shot par. We managed to have nine houses available from brothers for the festivities, and alumni and actives alike had a blast. Brotherly love was ubiquitous. The next day followed the customary homecoming tradition of a complete boycott of the football game, which proved wise considering the 55-24 defeat that Princeton had in store for our warriors. Festivities started early, with Burdick’s home serving as an embarking point. Later in the afternoon, Pink House welcomed a massive party with the infamous Saloun Band serenading the group. It was great to have so many alumni in attendance along with the new brothers and in all it was an ideal afternoon. Made us all damn proud to be part of SigEp.