Hot shots

Want to see what future success stories look like? They’re doing lunch in Chico’s fraternities and sororities

MORE THAN BEER GOGGLES <br>For Aaron Ross-Swain, fraternity life is more than parties and babes. It’s about successful business marketing.

For Aaron Ross-Swain, fraternity life is more than parties and babes. It’s about successful business marketing.

Photo by Tom Angel

For Rick Callender, it started way back, this ability to “hustle and move,” as he calls it. At 32, Callender, a former Associated Students president, has done more than many people twice his age: He just completed work on his master’s thesis (an exhaustive study of affordable housing); he’s on the state Board of Directors for the NAACP; and he’s been a two-time Congressional Fellow, a special assistant to former San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer, and a member of the powerful Mountain View/Cupertino Chamber of Commerce.

He’s also a graduate of a slew of executive-leadership programs, and he’s civic-minded, to boot. Just take at look at his past service to the Santa Cruz County Campfire Boys and Girls Club, the San Jose Human Rights Coalition and the Santa Clara County Civic Diplomat Leadership Project, or his work in the Safe Neighborhoods Coalition in his own Bay Area neighborhood.

Callender, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, credits much of his current success to his Greek affiliation. And he’s illustrative of many Greeks: highly driven and successful, clean-cut and sociable, and well-connected. Networked, as he calls it.

That networking started 12 years ago, when he was new at Chico State and looking for a family away from home. He joined up with Alpha Phi Alpha and forged bonds that he maintains to this day. Callender has always been a well-connected kind of guy, but he says his networking went into overdrive after he joined the fraternity.

“I definitely made some great connections as a fraternity member,” he said. “It gets you in to places you might not normally get to and gives you some legitimacy. It was a great way to start out.”

Callender, who now serves as the local-government-relations manager for the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Greek affiliation—and not just in his own fraternity—makes any job candidate “just a little more appealing.”

“When you’re in college, I think there’s more of a, ‘This is my [fraternity], and that’s yours,'” Callender said. “When you get out, you kind of get the big picture, that all Greek members tend to be very similar—and the kind of people who make great employees.”

Let’s face it, fraternities and sororities, especially those in Chico, do put a major focus on, ahem, socializing, but they’re also the cradles for future leaders. Take Aaron Ross-Swain, a Theta Chi member who’s cutting his leadership teeth on an A.S. government position, as executive vice president.

If there’s a look to a stereotypical Greek, Ross-Swain would fit it to a T. He’s clean-cut and preppy, handsome enough to look right at home in any Abercrombie & Fitch catalog, well-spoken and ambitious, athletic and organized.

Greeks, he acknowledged, do tend to stick together—professionally and socially. Indeed, he got his job (as a paid advertising sales rep for Chico State’s student newspaper, The Orion), through a referral from a fraternity brother. The ad sales staff is a popular place for newbie Greek salespeople: Of the 15 staff members, 14 are Greek.

“I’ve found that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” Ross-Swain said. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing; I just think that’s the way it is. … Some people might say that we’re picking favorites or whatever, but I think we’re just looking out for each other.”

He credits his Greek affiliation with much of what’s good about college life: friends, parties and the promise of future business contacts. And given the typical major for the vast majority of Greeks (that would be, by a long shot, business marketing or communications), he will count many of his current brothers among his future colleagues.

“I think the people who would join a [Greek organization] are a social bunch,” he said. “We like people, and we like to do well in life. I think that’s a characteristic of fraternity men.”

It’s impossible not to notice that most of Chico State’s Associated Students government officers are also Greek. Why the blend? Sorority member Monica Chesini, who’s A.S. director of university affairs, said it all has to do with opportunity.

“I think we’re just the kind of people who set a goal and go for it,” she said. “It’s a social thing, but it’s also a business thing for us.”

Chesini reports that she’s always been a “go-getter.” A native of a small town in Sutter County, Chesini was active in high-school student government. Although she’s only 20 years old, she already has most of the next decade planned: After college, she plans to go to law school, practice law for a few years and then run for elected office.

She’s confident of success, and if the past is any indication she should be. Her chapter keeps in informal contact with many of its graduates, and many of them are using the contacts they made in college to scale the career ladder.

So says Rick Callender, who’s seen that kind of success over and over again. He’s still in touch his fraternity brothers, most of whom are well-entrenched in successful careers of their own.

He gets e-mail messages from brothers he’s never met (men from other chapters around the country) asking for his support—and just because they’re brothers, he gives it to them. He told of an e-mail he’d just received from campaign workers for David Scott, an Alpha Phi Alpha brother from South Carolina who just announced his candidacy for a congressional seat. Callender plans to help him “any way I can.”

“I do think that it’s really after college that you get the real benefit from being in a fraternity," he said. "It’s amazing the support you can get, the doors it can open up for you. … My brothers are still looking out for me, and I look out for them."