Lambda Chi Brothers Elected to Lead Wabash Alumni Board in Hopes of Promoting Inclusivity
Photo courtesy of Wabash College
The National Association of Wabash Men (NAWM) recently elected two Lambda Chi brothers, Rob Shook as their President and Marc Nichols as Vice President. Not only are both of these men Lambda Chis, they are also the first openly-gay men to lead the Association. Hoping to further increase diversity and inclusion, the men are continuing their – and the College’s – work to find ways to reconnect previous and current students with each other and the institution. When Nichols steps into the presidency in May of 2019, four of the previous five NAWM presidents will have been Lambda Chis.
Wabash College is ranked No. 1 for its Alumni Network by The Princeton Review, due to the help and hard work of the NAWM. The Association exists to support Wabash’s mission to “educate men to think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely.”
The presence and active engagement of the alumni on campus offers students the chance to gain advice and learn from people who have firsthand business and life experiences, while also leveraging the vast network of Wabash alumni and their connections to others.
Rob Shook- President
Shook graduated from Wabash in 1983 and continued his educational career at Miami of Ohio and eventually the University of Texas-Austin. His intentions were to stay only a few months in Austin, but he soon fell in love with the city and decided to make that his home.
He has been working for IBM for 30 years in various sales, marketing, and executive roles around the U.S., Europe, and Asia and keeps coming back to Austin. He currently leads Marketing, Communications, and Digital Credentials for IBM’s Training, Skills and Support.
Shook cites significant accomplishments in his career as “working with LGBT community members and allies to get IBM to offer domestic partner benefits in 1997, followed in 2002 by a global non-discrimination policy inclusive of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.”
In 2011, a previous NAWM president and Lambda Chi brother, Greg Castanias, delivered a speech that was pivotal for Shook, Nichols, and the school.
Castanias, a long-time ally of the LGBT community, said, “…to our gay students, as well as to my gay alumni brothers, I pledge this to you: as the president of your alumni association, the Wabash tent is wide open, and you and your partners are welcome as a part of the Wabash fraternity, and as a part of the Wabash family.”
Moved by this statement, Shook recalls times at Wabash when students and faculty were discriminated against for being gay, experiencing a significant lack of awareness and engagement by the College.
“It’s important that we acknowledge that history and the impact it had on people – and it’s even more important to note that things have changed so much for the better,” said Shook. “Then, we must continue the process of rebuilding and re-engaging.”
The promise made by Castanias inspired Shook and others to return to the institution in hopes of continuing Wabash’s mission. Soon, Shook would find himself going from no involvement with the school to being elected to serve as the first openly-gay leader of the Alumni Board.
As President, Shook hopes to further progress the great work that has already been done. His main goal is to increase alumni participation.
He believes there are many ways for people to stay connected and ways to better reach under-engaged groups, such as international alumni.
“We encourage alumni to give of their time, talent, and treasure. Ideally, some of all three,” Shook says with a smile.
Further, Shook wants to continue to build upon Wabash’s inclusivity and make sure all alumni know they are welcome and encouraged to return to the school.
“Wabash College prepared me well; so many there were so generous to me and to others, and I have been rewarded many times over for anything I have given back to the school,” exclaimed Shook.
Shook is looking forward to getting to know even more of the over 14,000 alumni and learning about the impact the school has had on individual lives.
“Convincing prospective students and their parents to believe in the value of a liberal arts education is sometimes a challenge,” Shook said.
Wabash allowed him to learn a broad range of skills, which he still carries with him throughout his life, something he hopes to instill in undergraduates.
“Wabash College taught me how to learn, and how to communicate what I have learned… I draw on what I learned in my liberal arts education every single day,” said Shook.
Shook believes one of the more important decisions for a college student to make (other than the school they choose to attend) is the fraternity where they choose to devote their time.
Lambda Chi allowed him the opportunity to become part of a brotherhood and continue to have friends outside of that brotherhood.
“Stand on the shoulders of those who have been here before you. Be those shoulders for the men who are around you and who will follow you,” encourages Shook.
To those who may be uneasy about having a gay man as President of the NAWM, Shook would like to remind them of the words of Wabash alumnus and professor Dr. Bill Placher ’70: “Understanding each other may not lead to agreement, and respect for one another does not depend upon agreement.”
Marc Nichols- Vice President/President-elect
While attending a Wabash football game against rival DePauw University, Nichols was asked by the President of the Alumni Association at the time, Greg Estell (another Lambda Chi), about his interest in joining the board.
At first, Nichols declined the offer, but after having a chance to get acclimated, he joined the board in 2012, taking the seat previously held by Greg Castanias. He then became the head of the Alumni Advancement Committee, which works to further philanthropic efforts within the Wabash community.
This year, Nichols was elected as the Vice President/President-elect of the NAWM. He will become just the second African-American to serve as president of the Association.
Like Shook, Nichols hopes to make Wabash a place where everyone may feel welcome and represented, regardless of their identity.
“We don’t want people to have any reason to not engage with the college and if there is any way for us to help further that engagement… then that is for the benefit for everyone,” explained Nichols.
Because Nichols was away from the campus for so long, he missed out on the opportunities to get to know many of the alumni. He is looking forward to beginning relationships with new and old alumni, as well as creating a space to learn from one another.
“That’s really what this job is about,” stated Nichols. “It’s about taking their concerns and being a voice for their concerns with the college, and trying to figure out the best way to further engage alums to make sure that the message that all are welcome is heard wide and loud.”
One of the first major tasks that Nichols has been in charge of is restructuring the board and its committees.
Taking effect July 1, he hopes to ensure that the board members understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. This will guarantee that they may draw from and learn from one another in order to make the board as successful as possible.
As an undergraduate at Lambda Chi, Nichols became one of, if not the first African-American, to become president of any fraternity on Wabash’s campus.
During his involvement, he learned the skills necessary to run an organization smoothly, by learning that the best way to lead is taking the time to get to know his brothers and their differences.
“Part of the lesson I learned through my experience as president was making sure that I respected every individual and learned about every individual in order to augment what we were trying to achieve,” he explains. “I have taken that lesson into my business career and I certainly am going to do that as best I can as president of the Alumni Association.
“Bond of Christian brotherhood is a lifelong goal and if students learn to let that be sort of their guide, it will serve them well. It won’t keep the hard times from happening, but it’s a source of strength to draw on in the hard times when you’re trying to figure out the right thing to do. We’re human beings, we all make mistakes. I have learned as I reflect on my leadership, that it [Christian brotherhood] has served me well and I would commend that to all Lambda Chis to continue to draw on that lesson.”
Both of these men are excited to advise, as well as learn from the Wabash community, by creating an atmosphere which allows brotherhood to flourish.
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