By Chiara Wright
Not all fraternities are Greek organizations filled with boys dedicated to binge drinking, sports viewing and other youthful debauchery. In a quieter corner of campus, away from the booming dance music and the beer-can-littered front lawns, a certain brotherhood has been developing their own vision of a good time. All year they have been working to hone their business acumen, occasionally donning sleek black suits and meeting in small groups to discuss finance, business plans and their next idea for a startup. These are the members of Johns Hopkins Alpha Kappa Psi, Rho Psi chapter.
The Alpha Kappa Psi professional business fraternity has been quietly building momentum over the last few years. And it’s on the verge of some big events in the next few months.
Though the campus chapter was founded in 2001, its parent organization, Alpha Kappa Psi National, is the first and largest coed professional fraternity in the world. According to its website, the organization currently has over 240,000 members initiated worldwide and over 300 charters between the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom and Hong Kong alone – all of whom share a vision to help create the world’s premier “principled business leaders.”
Here at Hopkins, the members of AKPsi are making strides to mold themselves in that image. Since its inception, the chapter has accumulated dozens of members across all grade levels. “Our biggest goal is to empower the people that we take in the fraternity as future business leaders. We want them to have the skills necessary to succeed professionally and also in their time here have real on the job skills, “ said Tushar Rawal, current president of the organization.
Through pledge projects, mentoring, networking events, internships and speakers they have been working to educate members on the world of business. Students across a diverse set of majors without any prior experience in business have joined the organization. Many Entrepreneurship and Management minors who have completed all the major business classes at Hopkins have looked to AKPsi as a means of deepening their education. Joining AKPsi has provided students with the opportunity to practically apply the knowledge that they’ve learned from courses within the entrepreneurship and management department.
Some of the benefits of attending a school that isn’t well known for business are the networking opportunities. Although the alumni network for business professionals is smaller at Johns Hopkins, it is also closer. Many alumni, especially AKPsi alumni, are eager to give back to their peers by helping them get a foot in the door at their companies or with other high profile executives. An organization such as AKPsi gives students access to hundreds of alumni who come back to campus to visit during events like the group’s recent Spring Fair BBQ.
As an international student, Rawal found the support network in AKPsi invaluable. “I was born and brought up in New Delhi, India so the first time I came to America I had no idea what a fraternity was . . . my idea was based off of American Pie.” Though movie stereotypes had made him apprehensive about joining the fraternity scene, when he heard about the opportunity to get involved in business activities on campus, his interest was piqued.
“I went to the info session and that was kind of the turning point for me when I said wow this is so much more than I expected, it’s a completely different environment from what I envisioned. And it was just a great community of people willing to help out and kind of nurture newer people,” Rawal said. He went on to rush the organization and received a bid in the fall of 2012.
The Rho Psi chapter of AKPsi has accepted new members through a rush process every semester. Junior Nadine Abdullat currently serves as Fundraising and Rush Chair for the organization. According to Abdullat, the rush process isn’t formal. Two information sessions are held at the beginning of each semester to garner interest in the organization. After that, the Rho Psi chapter hosts a “professional night” in which students are invited to dress up in business professional attire and meet current brothers. “It’s kind of like speed dating,” Nadine said.
The last rush event is always a game night. Prospective pledges join brothers in playing board games and eating snacks. Dress is casual and students are welcome to stay for as little or as long as they would like. “This fun night, game night, is to get to know them on a personal basis, because while we are a professional fraternity, we’re still a fraternity, we’re still a brotherhood,” said Nadine.
The next step in the process is for students to submit a written application to the organization. If his or her application is selected, the student will be invited to interview for a bid. Based on the strength of the pool of applicants, at least 10 pledges are selected to join the new class each semester. Nationals does not cap the number of new members that may be accepted, but the Rho Psi chapter usually takes between 10-15.
The pledging process is much lauded by members. The pledging events have lasted a minimum of five and a maximum of ten weeks per semester. At the beginning of the pledge period, pledges are divided into one of four groups, based on their indicated area of interest – either entrepreneurship, consulting, finance or marketing. Throughout the semester students meet with their groups to complete a final project that they will present to the brotherhood at the end of the term. These group projects function as a way to unite members within each pledge class and develop first-hand experience working in a potential field of interest.
Newly initiated member Joseph Vincent agreed that he enjoyed the process of pledging this semester and learned a lot about finance, an area he had previously never explored. “I definitely learned an incredible amount. I am so much more aware of everything that’s going on.”
Vincent also mentioned some of the difficulties he faced juggling his course work and pledging AKPsi as a ChemBE major.
“I think it was more challenging for me because of my schedule. I’m a ChemBE and sophomore spring is the worst semester for us.” This semester, between AKPsi events, he spent almost all of his free time in the library, even on the weekends.
According to Abdullat the level of academic rigor sets Hopkins’ AKPsi pledge process apart from those at other schools. “The pledge projects that you’re required to do, they’re a lot of work. So that’s something that’s unique to a pledge in AKPsi at Hopkins and unique compared to AKPsi nationally. We’re the only chapter in the nation that does pledge projects like this actually as far as we know… we feel like this is the best way to teach pledges about what it means to be in business.”
Though pledges are notified ahead of time about the time commitment they are expected to make, many are still overwhelmed by the work.
“It was very intense and at times very high stress. It kind of actually felt like, wow am I actually in finance right now?” said Vincent.
Entrepreneurship Chair Richard Shi also offered some insight into his difficulties managing the entrepreneurship team. “We’re all stressed with so many different things, it’s natural for a student to have so many other organizations or projects vying for their attention. But I need people to work, I need a team, so a big challenge is convincing people what I’m doing has a lot of potential.”
All this structured fraternizing has yielded some interesting results in the last year. One of those results is a new fitness startup founded by several AKPsi brothers. Shi helped to develop the platform Shape U, which helps busy college students and students who feel intimidated by the gym atmosphere to stay fit. Students can sign up individually to be placed in group with similar fitness goals, or sign up in a small group of 3-5 using the platform’s website. They’re then paired with a personal trainer who meets with the group several times a week in a more relaxed setting. “We’re hoping to launch our platform in the Maryland Athletic Club’s gym . . . They’re really interested in using our software.”
Another project that’s turned startup is Dearest, a college care package company founded by six AKPsi members in 2014 that markets itself as a healthier alternative to other care package companies currently out there. Instead of the standard junk food, the company’s care packages contain organic, locally grown products sourced mostly from Baltimore’s farmer’s markets.
But perhaps the most dramatic result is the Bizhacks event. Set to take off during the Fall 2015 semester, AKPsi leadership hope the event will help foster a stronger sense of brotherhood between chapters in the local area and also help them retain more members from year to year. According to Rawal, membership retention has been the biggest challenge the group has faced over the years. Some students who are initially very ambitious about the organization become overwhelmed by their academic work and choose to go inactive or leave the fraternity entirely. He hopes that by introducing new and exciting activities to do as an organization, members will feel incentivized to stick around even when the going gets tough.
“BizHacks isn’t about launching a startup in less than 12 hours or about coding your way through the night to assemble the next software to top the charts. BizHacks is an opportunity to grow, and possibly make the world a better place while you’re at it.”
Bizhacks, will invite chapters from around the Maryland area to participate in a day-long professional competition in which students are asked to brainstorm innovative ideas that solve real-world problems. Members from each chapter will be divided into teams based on their individual strengths and then paired with members from other chapters for the competition. The goal of Bizhacks is for brothers to learn new skills from each other, network between chapters and socialize. The event will conclude with short presentations to pitch the new ideas and prizes will be distributed to the winning teams.
“Think of it as a short, fun, and intensive ‘innovation boot camp,’” explained Augusto Ramirez, a sophomore brother who helped to launch the project. “By building a progressive community and fostering innovation, I think we will have an event and opportunity that will benefit not only brothers but also the rest of the world for years to come. This is our mission.”
The idea was inspired HopHacks, John’s Hopkins annual student-run hackathon that provides students with the opportunity create and showcase new applications. The name “Bizhacks” is meant to point to the similarities inherent between both events. Bizhacks, however, focuses on the development of business ideas as opposed to software tools.
“A lot of the thought that went into the name,” said Ramirez. “What we wish to express is that, yes, we are a hackathon-style event, we share similarities with startup weekend events, but we’re also more than that and unique.” The ultimate goal for Bizhacks, he explained, reaches far beyond simply the sharing and implementation of ideas. “BizHacks isn’t about launching a startup in less than 12 hours or about coding your way through the night to assemble the next software to top the charts. BizHacks is an opportunity to grow, and possibly make the world a better place while you’re at it.”
The concept of Bizhacks has not been yet tested at any other AKPsi chapter nationwide. The Rho Psi chapter will be the first to kick start the event, under the approval and support of national headquarters and national president Alexander Sultan.
A previous version of this article misidentified the full name Johns Hopkins Alpha Kappa Psi chapter as “Psi Ro.” We regret the error. The above version has been corrected.