Students have had a chance to start Greek life on campus

Fraternity, sorority groups are small but growing.

May 1, 2009 

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MERCED SUN-STAR

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is one of several that will chronicle the lives of members of the UC Merced inaugural graduating class. As pioneers at UC Merced, their contributions will leave a lasting effect on the Merced community.

Aaron Hill is a true gentleman. Born and raised in San Jose, his demeanor is calm, cool and polite.

Not what some might envision as the founder and president of a Greek fraternity at UC Merced.

Hill said the work his brothers in Sigma Alpha Epsilon do is far from the raunch-filled characterizations in such films as "Animal House." The 37 members of the group show their dedication to community service by planting trees and cleaning up parks.

Each member of the group must memorize and live by a creed: a quote by John Walter Wayland that defines how a true gentleman should live.

Hill, who started attending UC Merced as a freshman in 2005, said he was immediately taken by the opportunity to establish student groups on campus. He and a few friends decided then -- at a time when there wasn't even a classroom building on campus, much less a Greek Row -- to start a fraternity.

Hill and pals weren't sure which of the various national fraternities they wanted to identify with -- they just wanted to get it right.

Hill's older brother, Brock, who was studying at UC Irvine at the time, was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Hill was impressed with the group there and set about starting a new chapter here.

"The fact that I am helping to start a fraternity is a really amazing experience," Hill said. "I don't think I would have been able to do that anywhere else."

Hill wasn't the first on campus to come up with that idea -- Sigma Chi was the first fraternity, and sorority T-shirts can be seen all over campus.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon at UC Merced is designated a "colony" by the national organization. It's scheduled to be officially chartered by the group in an October 2009 ceremony.

A Greek community is quickly growing at UC Merced, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Charles Nies said.

The university has chartered three sororities and one fraternity. One other fraternity is in the colony stage with its national organization. Some 180 students are involved.

Ivan Noe, 21, is another founding member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. He said interest in the group has been "gradual, but consistent." Noe, who also started at UC Merced as a freshman, said the Greek life on campus is helping to create a more rounded academic environment.

The goal of Greek associations, Noe said, was simply to "make life here a little better for students and the community."

Even as the founding fraternity members approach graduation, their philanthropy is leaving a mark on the community.

Last week, 18 of the fraternity's members planted five trees at the Cruickshank Middle School campus. Principal Elena Bubenchik said they did an "outstanding" job.

Last summer, the men helped with the restoration of Merced Theatre and helped cover up graffiti around town.

Hill turned 22 yesterday. He's not sure what he wants to do after graduation, but isn't stressing out about the future. For now, Hill will work for his father's recycling company in San Jose, helping out with accounting.

His brother -- both in blood and fraternity affiliation now -- also works there.

Hill, who enjoys construction work because it requires one to "use your hands, get a tan," said the emergence of a Greek community was only one of the ways he has seen UC Merced grow over the past four years.

With two younger siblings -- 10 and 13 -- Hill hopes they will someday come to UC Merced so he can see how the campus will change.

What would he like to see? A swimming pool, football field, rowing team, several other innovations, he said. "I've had a lot of time to think about what is missing," Hill said. "The school is growing. It will eventually encompass all of those things."

And Hill has helped blaze the trail as a true gentleman.

Reporter Danielle Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dgaines@mercedsun-star.com.