Kind of Old-Fashioned, But Classy

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Chemist Turned Vintner Recounts His “Fantastic” Fraternity Experience

When Robert Edwards ‘64 joined Alpha Chi Sigma, following many of his chemical engineering and engineering peers, he had no idea the lifelong impact the fraternity would have. The resulting “fantastic experience,” he says, combined both serious educational dedication, as well as plenty of fun. “In a massive university, [we] had a small home of 38 people that were great friends…friends for life.”

It was those friends that really made the experience worthwhile for Edwards. While there was plenty of fun and a good social life, he says “bonding with the brothers was most important.”

After graduation, Edwards went on to the corporate world, as a chemist in chemical engineering. “I had a successful career thanks to the education at Penn State,” he says. “It’s a wonderful school for chemists and engineers. [I] worked for various corporations and went up the line fairly well and had several high-level jobs.” Some of the companies Edwards worked with include General Electric and the pharmaceutical company Warner-Lambert, which was later acquired by Pfizer.

He retired early, in 1999, and now runs a winery in Connecticut with his family, Jonathan Edwards Winery.

Over the course of his career, Edwards found the communication skills he learned at Alpha Chi Sigma remained very valuable. While in the fraternity, he says he learned self-confidence and how to properly express oneself. “Later in life, when I was working in corporations, those skills came through – you had to stand up and speak and sell your skills and talk about your ideas.”

While Edwards and his brothers are scattered around the country now, he manages to still keep in contact with quite a few of them, especially those located in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. While he hasn’t been able to make it back to Penn State recently, he still loves watching the football games. He says the last time he was back on campus, was when Alpha Chi Sigma had lots its charter, and many of the alumni came together to plan their next steps. This experience prompted Edwards to recognize problems in the greater fraternity system as a whole. However, with a return to the same fraternity values Edwards himself experienced, he thinks Greek life could prosper.

“I guess the issues have been about drinking, drinking, drinking…It’s spreading across the fraternity system…We had rules and house parents. I think those rules are probably gone by now. They only allowed social events on the first floor. There were jackets at dinner. It was kind of old fashioned, but it was classy. I think people would still [like that] if it were done in the right way. I think once you get to that standard of professionalism and respect…people want to be drawn to that, rather than other things.”

As far as advice to current undergrads, Edwards encourages them to take advantage of the friendships and networking that can come out of the fraternity experience. “Those relationships will last the rest of your life,” he says. “After graduation or after going into whatever field you’re going into, you’ll find yourself reaching out to those friends you created in college at the fraternity.”