As recipients of the California Iota Sigma Phi Epsilon President’s Scholarship, freshman Brian Harris and junior Daniel Phelan each carry not one, but two Wildcat legacies: their family’s and that of Chico State’s earliest and proudest Sigma Phi Epsilon alumni.

Bob Koch (BA, Economics, ’70; MPA, Public Administration, ’72) and his fraternity brothers established the scholarship to support students in honor of the role Sigma Phi Epsilon played in their own lives. It not only celebrates academic achievement, but also the values they cultivated at Chico State—commitment to service, ongoing personal development, leadership, and achieving a healthy, balanced life.

“Back then, that helped a person like me,” Koch said of the formerly active chapter, which taught him to be professional, confident, and mature socially while building lifelong friendships.

“… there’s still a lot of alums who care about the school they came from.”

—Junior Daniel Phelan, scholarship recipient

“It was exciting seeing that there’s still a lot of alums who care about the school they came from,” said Phelan, whose parents always wanted the civil engineering major to attend their alma mater. Being offered the inaugural scholarship in 2013 is what sealed the deal.

The scholarship freed up family funds to pay for the dorms and, when the award was unexpectedly upped from $3,000 to $5,000 this year, Phelan was able to work fewer hours as a shift manager at Taco Bell, helping him to better balance commitments to the Chico State Triathlon Club and his duties as an officer for the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) campus chapter.

Like the scholarship committee, Phelan and his family believe you gain as much through extracurricular activities as you do in the classroom.

“A big thing about college is exposing yourself to different ideas and different ways of thinking,” Phelan said. His parents are both teachers in the Chico Unified School District and say their top family values are education, hard work … and fun.

“That’s important,” said Sherri Phelan (BA, Liberal Studies, ’85; Credentials, ’92, ’93), who still organizes local charity events with her sorority sisters and believes play is critical to memory, creativity, problem solving, and building a solid community.

Tom Phelan (BA, Industrial Arts, ’84; Credential, ’85) is grateful that the scholarship gives his son more time for himself, and that it has helped the family avoid insurmountable debt—especially now that their second-oldest son joined the Wildcat family this fall.

“Fighting something that hard, I’m prepared for college mentally.”

—Freshman Brian Harris, scholarship recipient, on fighting T-cell leukemia all during high school

Brian Harris’ parents never had the chance to go to college. Together, they’ve influenced him most as he watched them work to support him and his three older brothers.

“Seeing my brother go to college and seeing how much easier it was with a degree really inspired me,” said Harris, who battled T-cell leukemia for four years. The mechatronics program was the first thing to attract the 2015 recipient to his brother’s alma mater, and the “super nice and helpful people” convinced him it was the right
place.

Traveling from Ukiah to San Francisco for monthly chemotherapy during all of high school taught Harris to juggle school with life’s most pressing challenges.

“Fighting something that hard, I’m prepared for college mentally,” he said. Harris graduated at the top of his class and also served as the junior class vice president and participated in the Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement (MESA) club and his high school’s community service club, Interact.

The scholarship helps Harris pay for college expenses and allows him to focus on school without getting a job.

“My hopes are to get the degree, connect with new lifelong friends, and just get involved with some organizations,” said Harris, who plans to check out fraternities and “every opportunity there is.”

Koch says the committee hopes to inspire more alumni to support students like Phelan and Harris by donating to the president’s scholarship.

“It’s very great to help a student in need,” said Harris. “Donors are investing in the next generation of scientists and doctors and teachers. They’re basically investing in the improvement of the world overall.”