Scores of students in five fraternities and sororities create a vibrant connection between agriculture and the learning community at the University of Minnesota.
Curious onlookers were drawn recently to the spectacle of the ‘Alpha Gamma Rho-deo’ — AGR fraternity members held a mechanical bull riding contest in front of their house at the corner of Cleveland and Carter avenues. Riding the bull was the culmination of three days of charitable events. The winner of the contest could name his favorite charity to be the recipient of half of the funds raised. The other half went to ‘Movember,’ a campaign to raise awareness about testicular cancer.
Charity events, sports competitions, date nights and getaway weekends, plus a bunch of brothers and sisters pulling for you to achieve the best academic record you can. That’s what Greek Life means for members of the University of Minnesota’s agricultural fraternal organizations.
“The ag-based sororities and fraternities are very visible on the St. Paul campus,” according to Lauren Servick, president of the Beta of Clovia sorority, which has 67 members, including the 16 pledges joining up this fall. The sorority was founded in 1931 at Kansas State University and the house opened its chapter on the ag campus in St. Paul in 1937.
Farmhouse Fraternity was established in 1908 and has 32 chapters across the country. On its national web site, Alpha Gamma Rho calls itself both “a social and a professional fraternity.” It has chapters at 70 universities, including University of Minnesota’s chapter, founded in 1917.
“We participate in Homecoming, Spring Jam, Minnesota Royal and many other activities,” said Taylor Broderius, vice noble ruler of activities for AGR. “As far as the professional portion, we are a fraternity that is cultured around agriculture — food,fiber, and life sciences is kind of our catch phrase. The majority of our alumni work in agriculture. Along with that, almost everyone in our house has a tie to agriculture in some way.”
Says Servick, “Many of the teachers and faculty members recognize the fraternity and sorority members. The houses are all active in other organizations on campus. Our members hold leadership positions in those clubs and organizations. Likewise, our members are involved in a number of ag organizations off campus like the Minnesota Corn Growers Association’s Agvocates program, Dairy Princesses, Minnesota Farm Bureau, Minnesota Farmers Union. And many of our members arrive at campus already active in Minnesota FFA and 4-H.”
According to Servick, the broad involvement in campus life by the ag sorority and fraternity members helps the ag houses keep a high profile. Everyone knows the ag fraternities and sororities. Strong ag organizations help project a positive image of the university and of its College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Sciences (CFANS), Servick said.
Fun social events attract people to Greek Life, according to Michael Schmitt, president of the U of M chapter of Farmhouse fraternity. But the real glue is values, he said.
“We consider ourselves a values-based fraternity,” Schmitt said. “Our founding principles keep us focused on the basics: Developing ourselves to strengthen our spiritual and moral aspects, as well as our social lives, and our intellectual skills and physical fitness.”
Farmhouse’s 40 members maintain a 3.3 grade-point average. They’ve been in the top 3 fraternal organizations, academically, for the past three years running. “You have to make sure you are carving out time and space for studying. Afterall, you can’t forget the reason we’re all here.”
But there’s no denying that social interaction plays a very important part in Greek Life.
The social and the athletic often intersect. “The Traveling Cup,” also called “Spittoon” (that’s what the trophy looks like) is an ongoing sports rivalry between Alpha Gamma Rho and Farmhouse.
“We play each other in a football game in the fall, a basketball game at the beginning of winter term, and then we have a softball game in the spring,” said Kevin Welter, a senior and a member of Farmhouse. “Traveling cup is a blast. Whoever wins gets to keep the trophy and the bragging rights at their house until the next competition.”
All of these activities form lifelong bonds, and the U of M’s farm fraternities and sororities boast some of the most active alumni rolls. Current students enjoy meeting alums, and the connection also serves as a great entree to careers in agriculture.
“There are many benefits to joining a fraternity or sorority such as housing, scholarships, philanthropy and networking. I know that the alumni of these houses really allow us to become successful not only while we are in school but once we leave the University of Minnesota. Through providing mentoring, resources and valuable scholarships, our alumnae form a huge supports system for members,” Servick said.
Beta of Clovia sorority celebrates its Founder’s Day each year on October 26. The event draws many alums, according to Servick, and “provides a great opportunity for active members to meet and network with ag professionals as we come together to celebrate our Sorority! Along with Founder’s Day, every other year, our alums host the Clovia Market Place which is bazaar fundraiser that brings lots of folks back to campus and gives the active members an opportunity to give back to those who’ve come before, who have made the University what it is.”
Broderius, who is studying agricultural industries and marketing, with an emphasis on crops and soils, and a minor in agronomy and applied economics, plans to return to the family farm in Hector, where they raise sugar beets, corn, beans, sweet corn and peas. Thinking ahead, he may add a livestock operation, in order to generate the revenue to support another full time farmer at home.
He agrees that Greek Life helps students make helpful career connections: “One of the big selling points for recruiting new members is networking. The connections you can make through AGR are just phenomenal. Just about anywhere you go in the agricultural world, wherever your ag career takes you, you will meet alumni of AGR, not only just from this chapter but chapters nationwide. It’s crazy. Even I’ve noticed it, and I plan to go back to the family farm, so I haven’t been getting myself out there in the job search thing. Going to FarmFest or even the Minnesota State Fair, you run into people who have been AGRs.”
Beta of Clovia and the other houses support many philanthropic groups.
Says Servick: “We’ve participated in Minnesota 4-H, Feed My Starving Children, Adopt-A-Highway clean-ups and other fundraisers hosted by houses in Saint Paul and Minneapolis. I’ve always believed that one of the most valuable things fraternities and sororities do is give back to their community through service work.”