Fraternity

Yesterday was the first entry in my new commitment to writing; I hope you enjoyed it. I think I’m going to like the Monday entries the most, because they let me postulate a little bit about current opportunities available in the marketplace for entrepreneurs. The Tuesday one will also be fun, albeit in a different way; it will allow to really think outside of the box and dream up some crazy ass ideas that you would never attempt unless you had a few years and a large trove of someone else’s money.

The first big idea I have requires a bit of exposition. Like almost everyone in the tech world, I was what you could charitably call a nerd growing up and in high school. I’m not saying that from a point of regret or from self-deprecation or anything like that; it’s just the truth and there’s no longer any reason not to be open about it. It wasn’t until college at CMU that I really blossomed into the social and moderately extroverted person I am today. The root of that development is partly due to the demographics of the school and being surrounded by other people with similar interests, career goals, and experiences. Another, perhaps equally large part, is due to the structure in which social life at CMU is set up, with a surprisingly robust Greek life and a host of activities and traditions baked into that experience. It’s fair to say that at just about any other school, it’s unlikely I would have found myself in a fraternity. But I did, and inasmuch as those experiences were the most CMU could do to create a proxy of the prototypical college experience, it ended up a profound effect on my life then and my friendships to this very day.

Now, into the meat of the post: I think the current fraternity system, despite it being an overall net positive for me, is outdated and tangibly useless.

If we take the idea of college at it’s most utilitarian value, we conclude that it’s there to prepare the student for professional life. We can assert that the whole reason why people choose to attend and to pick a course of study is to set themselves up for a long-lasting career in the field that they choose. We all know however that the full potential of that career is not only shaped by domain knowledge, but the development of a professional network and the social skills necessary to succeed in the real world. Given that, we can generally conclude the traditional idea of college is well-suited for the former but very ill-suited to the latter.

The question then becomes, what’s the best way for students to gain those skills? For a minority of the population, they’re self-starters and can do it themselves, hustling their way into internships, conferences, networking events, and a host of other things that allow them to hit the ground running upon graduation day. Those students are few and far between, and if we’re being realistic about how we develop those skills in the majority, the scale of resources required to teach that on an individual level to a student is functionally impossible for a university to take on.

To solve this problem, I look at the opportunity for a third-party organization or club to take on this role, sort of like a finishing school. Play this out with me for a second:

Let’s say I wanted to create a non-profit company called Success, Incorporated. (Or whatever, I didn’t think about the name too much.) This company would be tasked with starting branches at college campuses, merging the social concept and exclusivity of fraternities (only accept the most promising of students, creating a cache of interest) with the utility of exposing those students to business executives, career advice, skill development, and the social intelligence that conventional education doesn’t teach. Keeping it in the tech world, I would start with a campus like CMU and reach out to established alumni executives in the Valley and elsewhere to join the cause for that specific branch of the company. The value prop for them would be the honest chance to help out students who are interested – thereby leveraging the natural altruism of people – and concurrently give them first crack of graduates coming out of CMU – thereby leveraging their pragmatic side. I’m also somewhat convinced that both sides of this would pay money for the opportunity, given the difficult competition for the best young talent (corporate) and the value of having this advantage as an emerging graduate (student).

The perfect implementation of this is figuring out a way to combine the positive things that people report about being in a fraternity – the shared experiences, the leadership development, the philanthropy, and yes, the social life – with all of the advantages that a strong professional network and a course of education in the more intangible aspects of career success can bring you. How it potentially could work out in the real world is beyond me, but it’s fun for this ex-frat boy to think about, and given how many people in the startup ecosystem were also in college fraternities during their undergraduate days, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there were people who are already working on something similar.


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