This semester, an unprecedented 40 students rushed Alpha Chi Sigma (AXE), the Occidental chapter of the national chemistry fraternity. Only about 11 students rushed per semester over the past calendar year, AXE Master Alchemist Preston Lee (senior) said.
Lee attributes the large jump in potential new members to the tight-knit scientific community at Occidental.
“You know how in freshman year dorms, Newcomb is really nice and Rangeview is super nice, but they don’t have the same type of community like Chilcott or Pauley does?” Lee said. “Same thing with the chemistry department—the building is so janky and old, it’s the same type of deal.”
Recent pledges also credit the professional networking opportunities as another reason for joining. According to Ashley Andreou (sophomore), one of AXE’s new pledges, the national fraternity allows its members to meet many of their peers who attend other institutions.
“When you know most of the people in your major and you’re more connected, it becomes easier to get help or make things you want to happen, especially in regards to research,” Andreou said.
Although the Occidental chapter was officially recognized when it was first established in the 1960s, it has fluctuated between being a colony and an independent chapter throughout its history, former AXE Vice Master Alchemist Elya Shamskhou ’14 said. During its time as a colony, the organization had to rely on University of California, Los Angeles’s chapter to help with certain pledging activities because Occidental’s chapter did not have the money or space to do so.
The fraternity was officially reactivated and nationally recognized this fall, which means they can now be autonomous and send representatives to the national convention every other year. The event is an opportunity to discuss revisions to bylaws, re-emphasize good fraternity values and network.
“It’s a professional fraternity. The idea is that you build connections as an undergraduate that will benefit you in the future. If you go on in the chemistry world, it’s usually a really small community,” Chemistry Professor Derek Ross said. “Even though it started out as old white guys, it’s really turned into something that supports graduates all over the country.”
According to Ross and Lee, most members of AXE are already heavily involved in the chemistry department. These activities include researching, assistant teaching for chemistry labs and tutoring programs on campus such as AMP and SSAP.
“There’s a bond you form when you’re doing research in a lab at two in the morning with somebody else,” Ariana Rowshan (sophomore), another new pledge, said.
In addition to its weekly chapter meetings, the fraternity also encourages its members to contribute to scientific events that engage the local community. Last month they volunteered at the on-campus Science Olympiad, a national competition among middle school and high school students. They also judge science fairs at middle schools in Santa Madre and proctor reagent exams for local high schools. At Occidental, the members hold fundraisers to raise money for safety glasses and model kits for chemistry students.
AXE’s leadership aims to maintain members’ interest in the fraternity moving forward, which, according to Ross and Lee, has been a problem in the past.
“The No. 1 goal for me for when I became president was to become reactivated, and that has been accomplished,” Lee said. “That being said, I don’t feel like I’m in a lame duck position, and I really just want to build a foundation for Alpha Chi Sigma so that it can exist for a long time.”
Funding is another obstacle to sustaining a large chapter, Lee said. To address this, he hopes to enact inventive fundraising ideas.
“Smoothie fundraisers—we’re trying to make it our thing,” Lee said.
Despite having a primarily academic agenda, the members of the fraternity still make time to throw social events where they tell jokes that non-chemistry majors would be hard pressed to understand. Andreou, for example, told a classic chemistry pun involving the names of two very different molecules.
“Two men walk into a bar. One orders H20, the second says ‘I’ll have some H20, too’—and the second man died,” Andreou said.