September 2, 2014  

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Greek Life at Southern Miss: Good Grades, Giving, Growth

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University of Southern Mississippi students who participate in the school’s Greek Life system are more likely to be among the school’s highest academic achievers and most active in community service.

In a three-year period from 2010-2013, students who are members of the university’s 25 fraternities and sororities carried a 3.0 grade point average or better, considered a record at the university in modern times according to director of Greek Life Josh Schutts.

Schutts points to efforts to encourage an overall culture of achievement that includes not only academic success, but community engagement that he believes helps Greeks become the kind of graduates who positively impact their communities after they leave Southern Miss.

“We’re focused on success in three areas – academics, community service and retention, as well as growth,” Schutts said.

A tutoring program among Greek Life students in which volunteers help fellow Greeks in particular subject areas, as well as one-on-one sessions between Greek Life Office staff and students who need academic assistance, are just part of a strategy for success. “We care about our students and want them to be successful,” Schutts said.

Schutts noted other superlatives, including that the average Greek Life student raises an average of $200 a year for charity through the various organizations’ designated charity of choice, as well as contributing 20-25 hours of community service annually.

“Over time, we’re seeing growth in all of these areas. Growth translates into motivation and motivation translates into reinvestment,” Schutts said. “That makes the whole system better.”

Schutts believes these superlatives are reasons the number of students who choose to join fraternities and sororities has increased, from 13 percent in 2010 to more than 23 percent this past academic year.

“We’re elated that our fraternities and sororities are thriving in unprecedented fashion,” said Southern Miss Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Joe Paul. “Every positive indicator of a healthy Greek system is up - grades, recruiting, retention and philanthropy. A healthy Greek system helps retain students who will most likely continue to be engaged in their communities and with the university for a lifetime.”

Recently, the “Dean’s Challenge,” honoring Southern Miss Dean of Students Dr. Eddie Holloway, was instituted as a way to give fraternities and sororities benchmarks for improvement in the areas of academics, retention, recruitment, community service and philanthropy. Meeting the Dean’s Challenge is another way to inspire Greek organizations at the university to advance their own missions and meet their goals in these areas.

Ned Nelson, a senior from the Hattiesburg area who serves as president of the Interfraternity Council at Southern Miss, said being a member of a fraternity has been a positive experience since his freshman year.

“Being in a fraternity has expanded my sense of community even more,” he said. “It’s a great resource of support academically and socially, completely invaluable.”

The lessons he’s learned are ones he and his fraternity brothers will carry with them in life and work, Nelson said. “We have tremendous autonomy to run our organizations, so we learn how to manage finances, work together and with other Greeks on campus to achieve goals that benefit not only our fraternity, but the university and others who need our help. Those kinds of experiences prepare you for life after graduation.”

Nelson pointed to the student-led recovery effort to clean up the Hattiesburg campus after the Feb. 10 tornado as an example. “The students who turned out the best were those who were members of sororities and fraternities,” he said. “We have a strong tradition of philanthropy and give more hours of community service than any other student segment on campus. We don’t just preach it, we live it.”

Hakeem Oduniyi, president of the university’s chapter of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, is also proud of the record he and fellow Greek Life members at the university have achieved.

“It’s a sign that we’re striving to do better and continue improving academically,” said Oduniyi, a senior criminal justice major from Tupelo. “We also care about what’s going on in our communities. Helping others isn’t just about gaining some personal reward.”  

For information about Greek Life at Southern Miss, online visit http://www.usm.edu/greek-life.