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I had always imagined that fraternities and sororities were formed of groups of students who spent their time binge drinking and avoiding school. My impressions of frat houses had been formed from their depiction in the movies: reckless college students with mediocre futures who didn’t take life seriously. This led to reservations about joining a fraternity; I did not want to be hazed and I did not want to be a “frat boy.” These impressions were further reinforced by family members and friends, who kept telling me that fraternities were a bad idea.
I joined UC Berkeley in September 2005, and one day I was approached by two South Asian students. A quick conversation revealed that they were double and triple majoring, and had bright outlooks for gaining admission to top notch graduate schools. They mentioned that they were members of Alpha Epsilon Zeta (AEZ), a South Asian fraternity on the UC Berkeley campus, and encouraged me to come out to their informational session the following day. I was impressed by the students’ professional demeanor but decided that I’d wait till the following year, when I would have settled in as a sophomore.
I ended up attending the session after all, thanks to a freshman friend of mine who was keen on it. When I arrived, I noticed that the AEZ brothers (as fraternity members are known) were clean-shaven, wearing suits, and had high quality presentations printed for each attendee. What caught my eye immediately were the free refreshments, but I was struck by the meticulous organization of the event. The presentation emphasized the fact that the AEZ fraternity was not about partying, binge drinking, and finding mediocre jobs. I remember hearing one of the speakers say, “We prefer individuals who stay up until 3 a.m. working on their class presentation to those that are out getting drunk until 3 a.m.” It was a little funny to hear something so “grown-up,” coming from someone just a year or two older than me, but it was also refreshing. I learned about the corporate relationships the brothers had built and how they all helped each other find jobs, research positions, and post-grad opportunities.
The ideas they presented were great, but I still wasn’t sure about joining a campus organization my freshman year. I wanted to ease into classes and college life without having to stress about other commitments.
A few days later, I ran into two AEZ brothers, Rakesh Vij and Neil Bhalerao, who invited me to their rush event later that day (Editors note: a “rush” is a sales pitch to recruit new members). I explained that I wanted to wait until my sophomore year to join.
Rakesh responded: “AEZ is a great choice regardless of what year you decide to pledge. The skills you will learn throughout the pledge process are invaluable and are likely to aid you throughout your college career—in classes, internships, and other on-campus groups. We understand that you’re smart; nobody who comes to Berkeley is here by chance. But once you’re here there is nothing that distinguishes you from the other 40,000 students. There is nothing that puts you a step ahead. The goal of our organization is to help each brother make the most of his potential during his four years in college. The best way to accomplish that is by using all four years to get there, as opposed to three.”
I was sold!
I had no idea at the time that I was making the best decision of my college life. Since being inducted to AEZ, I’ve had the opportunity to meet CEOs of various companies, leverage AEZ’s connections for internships, and establish a lifelong brotherhood with many friends. And it truly has helped me make the most of my potential. I had no idea what a proper resume should look like and what guidelines it should follow. Older AEZ brothers have helped make my resume effective and now the younger guys are turning to me for guidance. The system of paying it forward in AEZ is quite impressive. I can call anyone, at any time in the day, and be assured that he’ll take the time to make sure his brother is doing okay and getting the needed information.
The other area in which AEZ has given me phenomenal guidance is with interview skills. AEZ’s emphasis on extensive mock interviews and company/industry research has helped me find job opportunities and convert them into offers. Of the five positions I’ve interviewed for in the last three years, I have received four offers and taken three of them.
But AEZ doesn’t stop at creating opportunities. It has given me skills to succeed in the work place as well. Prior to crossing, (Editor’s note: novice members, called pledges, “cross” when they are accepted as brothers in the fraternity) I had already taken workshops in Microsoft Powerpoint, Excel, Outlook, and more. To ensure each brother is well rounded, pledges attend workshops that cover topics in multiple industries, not just the area in which they are majoring. For example, during my pledge process I attended workshops on investing, the pharmaceutical drug industry, and computer engineering.
Realizing early how powerful and valuable this organization can be to those who participate, I make it a point to always give back in any way I can. As a sophomore I was the fraternity’s first ever Alumni Relations chair and I put into place multiple programs and events, such as alumni-active networking dinners, that will be an ongoing part of AEZ’s programs. As a senior in college now, I serve as an advisor to the new leaders.
Looking back at my earlier uncertainty about fraternities, I am very thankful I decided to join AEZ. Not only have I learned many valuable skills, but I have also helped shape the future of those younger than me who share my passion for this powerful network. If you are an incoming freshmen at UC Berkeley, I strongly suggest you check out AEZ and see if it’s right for you.
Alpha Epsilon Zeta, or AEZ, is the premier South Asian professional fraternity in the west coast. Its goal is to create the largest South Asian network amongst professionals and graduate students.
The AEZ informational for Fall 2009 will be held in the Madrone Room at the UC Berkeley campus on Tuesday, September 8th, from 7-9pm. Directions to the venue can be found at http://www.berkeley.edu/map. More information on AEZ can be found at http://www.aezinc.org.
Tushar Kumar is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley and is starting a career in San Francisco with the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.