Colonizing in November and installing as a chapter in April is no small task, but with passionate leadership from Awais Qazi, the Chi Zeta Chapter at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) did just that. Awais led the colony as president from their beginning and saw them through to installation. Awais graduated from NJIT on May 16 with a B.S. in Business and was selected as the gonfalon carrier for the Martin Tuchman School of Management (see image below) for commencement. Now an alumnus, he is excited to see how the chapter will grow and how he can give back to Alpha Kappa Psi.
1. How were you first introduced to Alpha Kappa Psi? What drew you to starting the colony?
The story behind my starting the fraternity is actually a bit interesting. Throughout these past four years, I have always been heavily involved on campus. It was an interesting transition from High School, in which I was not the least bit involved as a student. However, early in my first year, one of my friends asked me to come with him to a meeting of the Student Activities Council. At the meeting, […] I saw that the council needed a volunteer to man the popcorn stand. I decided, “Why not?”, and I manned the popcorn stand in the best way possible. […] After that, things kind of spiraled out of control. I continued to man the popcorn stand on a weekly basis and people started recognizing me on campus. From then on, I began hosting my own events, helped start the now annual NJIT Idol, served as an executive member of HighlanderThon in which I helped raise over $20,000 for the Children’s Specialized Hospitals, and decided to run for student body president. I put up a strong fight, but I lost by a slim margin. I felt that regardless of the results of the election, I still believed in my ideas and I still wanted to see them out. I just needed a new outlet to do so. So at the end of my junior year, at the University Awards Ceremony hosted by the new president, I was laying on the grass contemplating what to do next with my friend Reza [future colony vice president of administration] and I said the words that started it all. “What if we started a fraternity?”. We both laughed it off and thought it was unrealistic but it planted the seed in my mind. I then did a lot of research. An underlying fear of mine was always that I was graduating from a Tech School with a business degree and I knew I wanted to do something to enhance the reputation of the Business School at NJIT. Naturally, I combined the two ideas and looked into the process of starting a business fraternity. I narrowed it down to AKPsi and Delta Sigma Pi. I then reached out to both and AKPsi seemed more appealing to me. After that, I had an objective in mind and I used my persistence and perseverance and did whatever I could to make it happen.
2. Did you have any assistance from other chapters or alumni members around the area during the process?
We had help from so many different places and to be quite honest, we could not have been as successful as we were without that help. Right off the bat, we had the full support and assistance of the Martin Tuchman School of Management. I leveraged the connections I made through my experience in student government and used my relationship with the Dean of the Management School and the head of the alumni department at NJIT to create a relationship in which all parties would come out ahead. I made a case to the Management School that AKPsi would help with PR, by entering in competitions and becoming strong leaders to reflect positively on the school, as well as helping engage local businesses. In return, the School of Management gave us funding to subsidize our dues which helped us grow our numbers immensely in a short amount of time. In addition to that, I had access to all the classes so I was able to give a short recruitment spiel to many classes and get members that way. They paid for a lot of our events and sent our members to PBLI and are funding our members for convention. The Alumni Center connected us with high level NJIT Alumni. We have been able to host many Alumni events and engage the NJIT Alumni Community very quickly and they have been more then supportive in our efforts. We are now working with them to create a mentorship program for our brothers in which every brother has an Alumni mentor in their field to help guide them through their college experience and professional development. We have also been in communication with many other local chapters of AKPsi. We arranged for a few trips to visit the Rutgers Chapter of AKPsi and learned a lot from them. They gave us a lot of advice on how to run our colony and our chapter. In addition to that, we had the Seton Hall Chapter come visit us for a joint meeting and activity and we learned a significant amount from them. Our chapter adviser, Dan Savage, basically held our hand through the process of starting the fraternity. Any question I had, he was able to either answer or get the answer. With all of this help, our year ended up becoming almost a breeze. We could not have become successful without the help we received.
3. What was your experience like as a colony attending PBLI?
It was one of the most tremendous experiences I have had thus far. As a new colony, three of the brothers and I tried to make it a point to make a positive impression at PBLI. We spent every minute of free time at a different table, talking to a different chapter of AKPsi. We volunteered for almost every activity. I even got up in front of everyone at one point to answer a question and whoever was moderating awarded me a one hour free consultation with him about anything. We went to the Idea Exchange and pitched an idea of ours. I happened to have a few NJIT t-shirts with me so the four of us went around to different groups of brothers and we played trivia with them as an icebreaker. We took two random groups and brought them together and made them go head-to-head and awarded the winners with a t-shirt. It was a little goofy but everyone seemed to enjoy it. We really made a lot of worthwhile connections with other chapters of AKPsi that are still in place today. It was a great way to meet other brothers and I look forward to attending more as an alumni. I will also be attending Convention this year alongside the delegate and alternate delegate selected by the fraternity.
4. What was most rewarding from starting a colony and installing as a chapter?
The most rewarding part was the connections I made with the newly installed brothers. I am not typically an emotional person but as soon as the new e-board was put in place and I was no longer president, it became real to me that my college experience was coming to an end. I have done so much during the past four years but nothing got me more upset then the thought of leaving behind the people who stood by my side for the last year. I cried for days; I can’t remember the last time I cried, it must have been during middle school. The thing that struck me the most, and I didn’t realize it until the very end, is that 56 people decided that they wanted to spend a year of their life and a bit of money and invest it in what started as nothing more then an idea of mine. They believed in me and they followed me for an entire year. There were times when I thought things weren’t going to work out and that everything was just too difficult to maintain, but they stayed by my side through the ups and downs. I did not know 90% of these people when I started, yet for some reason, they blindly stood by me and helped me and they built everything. I can’t say I was a great leader. I was lost half the time. What I did was listen and the brothers did the rest. That sort of teamwork and comradery is hard to find. I remember all the e-board meetings where everyone was freaking out and trying to figure out how we would make an event successful or how we would raise money or some other arbitrary problem that seemed to plague us at every meeting. We were all so consistently stressed out over the year but every week, we came back to the meetings. We stayed on our toes. We continued to argue and fight for solutions and what I realized is that things were so intense at times, but they were tough because everyone was equally passionate and equally vocal. Everyone was fighting and arguing and getting stressed out because they wanted so badly to see this succeed. In all the organizations I have been a part of, I have never seen that much passion. That was so moving. I tried to serve as a role model to first year students this year and inspire them by my journey from nothing to chapter president of a fraternity, but in reality, the first year students ended up inspiring me. The people who were unaccustomed to sharing the opinion inspired me. They took ownership of the fraternity and they gave their input and that was so inspiring to see. Even now, after my term as president, I am so inspired by the new e-board and seeing all that they have planned and all that they want to accomplish next year.
5. If you were to give advice to someone interested in starting a chapter, what would you tell them?
Keep on pushing. Our first meeting as a colony, we had about 8 people interested. We did not even have a meeting room; we sat outside in a circle. Within a month, we had almost 86 members and then it settled down to 56. It would not have happened if we had not kept on pushing. If we just gave up because things were hard, we would not have accomplished anything. The thing is, there are so many struggles, especially in doing something as significant as starting a chapter of AKPsi. With that said though, it is so rewarding. People will tell you that you have inspired them. You will be inspired by the hard work and passion everyone puts into the process. It is a process unlike any other and no matter how hard it gets, the reward completely outweighs the struggle. The struggle makes the reward so much more appealing. The feeling that you get when people say they look up to you or when they attribute their success to something you did is unlike any other. You should always strive to impact people. Always strive to make a difference. Always strive to inspire by taking action. Most importantly, do not wait for opportunities to fall into your lap. Create opportunities. Not just for yourself, but for everyone around you. If you are doing everything you can to make the people around you successful, people will recognize that and you will be rewarded. In my case, I was rewarded with an experience unlike any other. When I go to a job interview and I talk about this experience, people can tell how passionate I am about the experience and how impactful and genuine it is. Because of that, I was quickly rewarded with the respect of my brothers, a job, awards from the university, and relationships that will last a lifetime. Those rewards definitely outweigh the struggles of getting here.