Alpha Connect Sisterhood Series

Special Edition: Past National President Melissa Koch Merriam, EE

May 07, 2021 Season 1 Episode 29
Alpha Connect Sisterhood Series
Special Edition: Past National President Melissa Koch Merriam, EE
Show Notes Transcript

On this final episode, Kelly speaks with Melissa Koch Merriam, EE, who served as national president from 2014-2018.

Alpha Connect Sisterhood Series Podcast transcript
Special Edition Podcast: Past National President, Melissa Koch Merriam, EE


Disclaimer: This transcript was developed with an automated transcription program, spelling and grammar errors may occur.

Kelly  
Welcome to this special edition of the Alpha Connect sisterhood series podcast, featuring stories from our living past national presidents. I'm Kelly McGinnis Beck, national president and your host. today's podcast is the final one in this series. I have heard from many of you about how much you have enjoyed hearing these stories, and I am so honored to have been able to bring them to you. This episode features our most recent past national president Melissa Koch Merriam, an Epsilon Epsilon from Emporia State University, who served from 2014 to 2008. Melissa oversaw many milestones of Alpha Sigma Alpha during her tenure. So without further ado, I bring you Melissa Merriam. Welcome to the podcast, Melissa Merriam.

Melissa  
Thank you excited to be here.

Kelly  
I'm excited to host you as part of our past national president series and so I'm going to ask you to start like I do for every guest, tell us your ASA story. How did you become a member?

Melissa  
Sure. My ASA experience, or my college experience, starts at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas. And I reluctantly went to Emporia State because while I'm from Emporia, so this was why I'm a hometown girl going to the hometown University. And I went there, because of scholarships and it just really did not make logical sense for me to travel elsewhere. So I thought my plan was I would go for a couple years, and then I would transfer to another university. So that was kind of, kind of the background, my friends from, so I had all my friends from high school going to college with me and they were all going through formal recruitment, so I joined in the gang. And I went through formal recruitment and for some reason, I just, I just fell in love Alpha Sigma Alpha, I just, I just loved everything about it. I love the women, just loved experience how I felt when I was with them. But then sadly, I didn't get invited to pref tea. And my 18 year old self said, I just, I just didn't know I think at that point, I didn't know if I was going to go to a different school or if I was going to, but I just felt like I should just drop out of recruitment. So I just dropped out of recruitment. And I didn't join a sorority and I was actually cool with that I found some other ways to get involved and life went on. And then second semester, I had a good friend from high school that had joined Alpha Sigma Alpha. And she came up to me and her name is Sarah. And Sarah came and said, Hey, would you join us for and I'd like you to come to Alpha Sigma Alpha for an informal recruitment event. And I said, Oh, wait, are you sure they want me? You know, all that good stuff. You would think when you didn't come to the pref tea. But she said Oh, no, no, I've already, you know, they definitely want you to come and the rest of kind of history because she came and got me and brought me to that first, or that informal recruitment event. And literally, I walked in the door and it just I was welcomed by Chrissy and Robin. And it just felt the same as it did when I had done before. It just felt like home and that's how I joined.

Kelly  
So glad that Sarah brought you back to us. That's wonderful.

Melissa  
Me too!

Kelly  
 So, Emporia State, I can't remember he said this is home to our Epsilon Epsilon Chapter.

Melissa  
No, I didn't say that. Yep.

Kelly  
So tell us your path to becoming national president from when you became a member Epsilon Epsilon.

Melissa
Sure, I think you know, sometimes you think things work out the way they should. So I feel like that semester really gave me, I really got gained more confidence. And so I jumped right into my chapter experience and, in fact, you know, I joined in January in December meeting I was even elected a position. So because there was an open position, but that just kind of catapulted me and I love that you're doing all the leadership positions. And really, when I went to convention, and I kind of saw, I went to convention in 98, and I saw all the leaders, I was like, I just want to stay involved. And then we had when I was chapter president, we had consultants come to our chapter and they just really inspired me. So I applied to be a consultant. So that's really I would think, where my journey started. And I traveled in 2000-2001. So Kelly, that's 20 years.

Kelly  
And I traveled a little bit before you, so

Melissa
I know, I'm like 20 years?! So I think that I mean that's really where my journey started  as a leadership consultant. I traveled that year. And then after I traveled of course, I was committed to staying involved and I did some volunteer positions. But I think the really, when we started a new structure, what 2002? And I became, I was asked to be the recruitment coaching team leader. And that's where I kind of, that's where I started volunteering. And I actually was in that position, not a long while before I became a district facilitator. So that's, I guess, similar to the region facilitator. And, you know, in those positions, I'll tell you what, since the structure was new, I really learned that's where I learned that I loved starting new things and doing, I just really got to love I think, I think my path has been I just really loved all the positions I've done and just loved being involved with Alpha Sigma Alpha. But I was, So let me go back to my journey. I was back, I was district facilitator for maybe a year or two, I don't even really it wasn't a long time. And Lori Scott called me and said, we need assistance. We were wondering if you would do the volunteer recruitment and placement team leader. And at that time, we were working on the volunteer interest form and how to place volunteers. And you know, this Kelly, because you follow me on this job, but I was, you know, it's really like, again, another job, we were setting up new things on how we were going to, the best way to place volunteers. And then randomly, I was in IKEA with my husband and we went to Chicago, and I was a Nike and I got a phone call from Lori Scott again, who was national president at the time and she asked me to join National Council. So that's kind of how my journey journey began. But I joined. I wasn't aware that this could even happen. But a member of the team had, the national council team had stepped down. And so the so the current national council had to appoint someone to replace her. And they had selected me. So I came on in 2007, on national council and then became national president 2014. So that's my journey.

Kelly  
Who would have known all those years ago when he joined Epsilon Epsilon that that's where you would end up?

Melissa  
Yeah, crazy.

Kelly  
So you served from 2014 to 2018. So you are our most recent past national president. And so while I have served alongside you for years, because I joined the board in 2008, right after you had come on, I know a lot of what you have done, not all of our members know about the things that have happened while you were national president. And so I thought I'd give you a chance to share a little bit of, you know, what was happening in the world of ASA and you know, if there's other things happening in the greater world around us that had influence around some of the things that were happening during that time period.

Melissa
Sure. I think that era from 2014 to 18 for Alpha Sigma Alpha, I didn't even have to look up to tell you that the main thing was growth during that time. And I think all of us remember, we had record breaking membership numbers, which is was really exciting. I think I installed 13 new chapters during those four years. So it was it was a busy time. Yeah, I was busy traveling to different installations. And it was so much fun, but we were just growing in every way. And I actually, if you remember, Kelly at the beginning of the biennium, and we even expanded our national headquarters. So everything was just it was just a really, everything was growing. Just a really exciting time to be an Alpha Sigma Alpha, not that every time isn't an exciting time, but just a lot of, a lot of members. And it's growing like crazy. Trying to think of other things. The other thing I really thought of during our during my presidency was we started hitting a lot of milestones. So right into the beginning, I think it was the 100 year of the Phoenix Magazine. And then there were a lot of chapter anniversaries. So a lot of 100th anniversaries, which was exciting because it was the first of those. So I got the opportunity to go to separate 100th anniversaries. And then the end of my last convention was our 50th convention. So I just kind of like we had a lot of fun milestone activities.

Kelly  
You hit all kinds of milestones in those four years, didn't you?

Melissa
Yeah, I was just kind of fun. It was kind of a crazy milestone thing. The other thing I thought of, and you'll think of this too, and I think it's just very timely is we started doing a lot of technology things especially like National Council, don't you remember we finally started zoom, zoom meetings, I felt like we were ahead of our time now it's kind of almost crazy that we that we weren't doing that but

Kelly  
But we were because I think about-

Melissa  
We were! All our zoom videos.

Kelly  
Well when I talked to the other national presidents now like I think a lot of those groups have just started to use zoom in the last, you know, year if you will, and a lot of it because of the pandemic where you know, Alpha Sigma Alpha sitting here like we've been doing this for years. This is all Pat.

Melissa
I think that really helped our our board and moving things forwards and you know, doing, doing things and just switching to that. I also think about, like, we also started doing remember all our council messages at events were video, live videos. And we worked on a lot of national council meet and greets when we would go to cities. So just kind of trying to let our members get to know us what you've even just taken that to another step here with the podcast. 

Kelly  
Yeah, I mean, I tried it. Where we brought technology into Alpha Sigma Alpha has been pretty fun. And I think we started when you were president with, you know, recording our videos and pictures for social media posts and things like that as just another way to connect with members.

Melissa
Yeah, the other big highlights I thought of for my four years, we did change the region. So the region implementation that came with that was The Academy and the Women's Advancement Series. And then also our first Region Volunteer Weekend. Those are some pretty exciting things.

Kelly  
Yeah, we had a lot of fun. Lots of new things.

Melissa  
Yeah!

Kelly  
I remember that it was a busy four years with you as president, with lots of new initiatives that we rolled out.

Melissa
Yeah, it was almost like it did feel like we were rolling out a lot of new initiatives. But man, we had fun, and we kept busy. 

Kelly  
And we grew our membership

Melissa  
And we grew our membership, yeah. The other two big things I wrote down where our membership education program changed, so we were no longer have the Advantage. And then also the big sisters certification. So the big highlights I can think of you were there with me, what else?

Kelly  
There were a lot of things, why don't you talk a little bit more about the chapter anniversaries that you attended, because very few chapters have hit that 100 year mark, and you got to go to several. So I think members might be interested in hearing what those look like because for many of us, we won't like I think about my chapter Epsilon Kappa, I won't be here when they hit 100. So and you got to be president, when Epsilon Epsilon hit their 100 years. So even even another cool component of timing, if you will, so maybe you could share a little bit more about what that was like?

Melissa
Sure, well, like the first. So I'm trying to think of the anniversaries and how they played out. So Alpha Alpha at Miami, they had theirs just before I became president, so I did not attend that one. And then Alpha Gamma, and Beta Beta, well Alpha Gamma, I did attend theirs. And that was really exciting for me, especially since our foundation Chairman, at the time, Christine Thomas is an Alpha Gamma. Also, it was my personal, this is my personal, I want to make it to all four of the Alpha chapters. And that that made it possible for me by joining, just by going to that 100th anniversary. But the cool part about that is they brought back, I think the difference they did, if I think of the other 100 anniversaries, is they had local groups that came back, you know, like from this era, and from that era. Just close tight women that were friends forever, and they came back to the chapter for that. And they had a really nice banquet. It was an awesome, awesome event. And there was also Beta Beta, which I was not able to attend during that. Gosh, had let me not forget any of these.

Kelly  
What about Alpha Beta?

Melissa
Alpha Beta also, yes. And Heather attended Alpha Beta, yes. And that was, I think that was prior to me being president too, or was right around the same, it was I had a conflict I can't remember exactly why didn't attend Alpha Beta's but Heather attended theirs. And then the last one, like, as you said, was Epsilon Epsilon, which was my chapter. And that was almost the last year of my presidency. So I just kind of lucked out that I got to attend that. And what's so exciting about that is they planned for, we were able to take the knowledge, not me, my chapter was able to take the knowledge from all the Alpha chapters and then Beta Beta's as well and there are hundredth anniversaries in the big celebrations that they planned. And they were able to use that make ours, you know, even step ours up a notch was was really, really cool. But we had over 300 attendees in Emporia, which was so cool. And women just from all, every year you can think of and they did kind of the banquet, they did kind of a little re-, what would you say, a reunion of every era so they kind of shared a little bit about every decade and went through and had women from that decade share stories or share what was going on with the chapter. It was so cool. And in fact, Emporia State that it was the largest gathering of like alumni that they've ever had at the university for an event. Isn't that crazy? 

Kelly  
That is.

Melissa  
There's still a connection, I guess with your collegiate chapter to come back. It was so fun.

Kelly  
Yeah, that is awesome. I just had a thought and it popped out of my head. I needed to come back and I was gonna ask you something else that had I know had happened while you were national president. I should have wrote it down.

Melissa  
I'll tell you a little bit more. So the anniversary weekend you were asking about that. Like they basically like a lot of these groups planned events for the whole weekend. So we came in like a Friday night and they had a social and they went to football games and when I went and saw the chapter women and then had a big banquet, so it was a it was a blast.

Kelly  
Yeah, we I've had the fortunate, the good fortune to attend to I've been to Zeta Zeta's and Eta Eta's. And Eta Eta's was literally like, a couple weeks before COVID started to shut down the country. So they got that in just in time this year.

Melissa
So awesome. Awesome that they got it in, not awesome covid. 

Kelly  
And I remembered what I wanted to ask. So okay, I think one fun story that I remember that I'd love for you to share. I'm sure some members are familiar with it already. But for those who aren't. So you had your mom initiated while you were national president. And maybe you could share a little bit, because I love I personally love the story of how you had your mom initiated and, and the piece leading up to that of when you had the conversation prior to that about having her initiated.

Melissa
Sure. Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, my my first of all, my mom has always been a huge supporter of Alpha Sigma Alpha and always just pushed me and, but in a positive way. So she was always very supportive that I joined and she didn't have the opportunity. She actually would have been if she was going to school right now. She would be affiliated with Emporia State to her bachelor's, she has a RN, bachelor's in nursing but as a registered nurse. So she just didn't have the opportunity to join a sorority. But as I was a consultant, and I learned more as a leadership consultant, I learned more about alumnae initiation and that you get initiate women I was, I was gung ho ready to initiate my whole family at 22.

Kelly
And you have a large family.

Melissa
I do a large family. And actually I, you know, later my sister joined, and I have my brother married an Alpha Sigma Alpha. So I just worked out that I did get a lot of those people initiated, but I was going out. And I remember I was telling my mom, I was wanting her to be initiated, and I was telling her all these opportunities, you know, you could be initiated, I want you to be initiated. And she was always for being initiated. But I think she kind of was just, you know, just putting it off a little bit. As she told me, I'll be initiated when you're national president. And that was when I was. And I don't know, if she just believed in me so much that she thought I would be national president or she just was saying that so she didn't have to be initiated. But we were coming on the end of what my term as being national president and I, I got on to her and I said you have to do it. So we, they still live in Emporia there were our chapter is, my chapter is Epsilon Epsilon. So I was able to hook up and she was initiated the spring of 2018 with the women there in the chapter. So that was really fun. And my, my younger sister who's five years younger than me, who's also an Epsilon Epsilon. And then my sister-in-law, as I just said, she's married to my brother that's younger than me, they all came back to for it. And we all participated in her Sanctuary Degree but it was really cool. I wanted it to happen. I was well you said it would happen when I was national president so it'll be awesome if it can happen now. And you get all the things that you know, like the certificate and all that stuff with that timing.

Kelly  
That is fun and it's a very special, special memory to have for that period of time as well. So your mom, obviously, you know, just had the good foresight to realize what your potential is going to be with the sorority.

Melissa  
Yeah, I think it was more like, I'm just gonna put it off. But yes, you're right.

Kelly  
Moms have that uncanny way of seeing in the future beyond what we know.

Melissa
Yeah, because I definitely didn't I mean, even I was like, okay, fine, whatever. But, yeah, I thought there might be a day that I get her.

Kelly  
You did, and we are glad to have her as a member as well. So tell us a little bit about what you have been up to since you finished your term as national president, which wasn't that long ago. And I know we've had you involved in a number of different things.

Melissa  
Yeah, it doesn't. It's one of those things that feels like it was like yesterday, but at the same time, it feels like it was a long time ago. So it's kind of a funny feeling. But I'm trying to think Kelly, so one thing I worked on was the ritual revision. I love the team that visited our ritual. 

Kelly  
That was huge.

Melissa  
Yeah, that was that was fun. I, you know, I think, I think I've learned I just really love projects. I love any kind of project where you're, where you're leading something, and you know, you have an end goal. And I like the strategic part of thinking that out and the vision, but I also like the implementation. So yeah, I love that. And then my latest project is I'm a Foundation ambassador and I lead the new RISE, their new Foundation initiative for chapter fundraising. So that's been my, those are the two big things I've been focused on. I can't think of anything else that I do anything else Kelly?

Kelly  
I'm sure you have, but those are the two that stick out in my mind as well. And maybe you can share a little bit more for folks what a Foundation ambassador does, because I'm not sure everyone is as familiar with that volunteer position.

Melissa  
Yeah, well, a Foundation ambassador, well especially now that we've implemented this new program, the focus is on this new fundraising initiative, working with chapters to help them understand what the Foundation is, and then also assist them with raising money for the Foundation. So the way that we have it, basically, I just, I just promote the Foundation and tell people about the Foundation and why they should give money. And then what the programs that the Foundation supports. So that's, that's the basics. Kelly, what did I miss? 

Kelly  
No, I think you captured it. Well, it's a lot of raising awareness. I think for folks, especially in our collegiate chapters, where members and officers turnover year after year, so kind of keeping that communication piece going.

Melissa  
And I can tell you more about RISE, I didn't really get way into that. But, but yeah, rise stands for raising money to inspire, inspire, support and elevate women. And so it replaces the chapter challenge for those that are familiar with the chapter challenge. But this is an opportunity for our chapters to raise money, so to support the programs that basically come back the money that supports them. So it's really cool. And we've been as an ambassador, I've been working with five chapters, actually, I work with another ambassador, we have nine chapters total, and we split our chapters in half that just working with those chapters on helping them come up with easy ideas to do for RISE. So easy, it's an easy fundraising idea. And then actually just through the whole process of planning it, to implementing it, to raising money and then sending the check into the Foundation.

Kelly  
That money is certainly helpful from the sorority side to be able to fund the programming that we are pushing out to both our collegiate and alumnae members. So tell us maybe some of your most fun or most memorable trips or moments when you kind of look back on your Alpha Sigma Alpha experience thus far, knowing that there's many, many, many more years ahead of you. But still, I think, you know, members love to hear kind of some of those fun stories or whatnot. And I'm sure that you have plenty.

Melissa  
Wow, Kelly. That's a hard question. Especially to narrow it down. I I feel like any installation I attended to me was a fun trip. But one stands out to me is the last one that I installed Iota Eta in Arizona. It just I think it was just that it was my last one and we you know, the the part that stands out to me about it is it was a large chapter. So there are just so many unique things that came to bat, we had an awesome hotel with the awesome overlook in Arizona. And that's, that one just really stands out. I mean, it just really a great experience. But I really don't I mean, there's just tons of every sorority experience I've had, I don't feel like there's any that I'm like, Oh my gosh, this one's better than this one. I feel like every one of those experiences has been awesome. It's just great to have time, one on one connect with women from you know what I mean, from all over? I just, you probably felt the same as you travel the chapters. I'm trying to think of unique stories.

Kelly  
What was your first one? Because I feel like when you were a consultant, you installed a chapter and I think your fellow consultants came and joined you as well, if I remember correctly.

Melissa  
No, well, yeah, you're they didn't join me for the first one. So this was one thing and this was kind of a fun story. My first one is at Niagara Falls, New York. I was the consultant or leadership consultant that worked with our Zeta Chi chapter and installed them and actually worked with them for half the year Jen, Jennifer Rassett worked with them. She started with them in March and then I had him in the fall. We installed them at the end of October. That was my first one. I, what I remember about that, especially since you're interviewing presidents is that was Marianne Bullock's first one. So it was my first one as a consultant, but her first one is national president. And I just, in fact, my during my 13 installations, I just was always so impressed with Marianne. It just, the way I felt like a national president should behave at a installation and what she should do so even the whole time I was national president, anytime I went to an installation, I always thought of Marianne and how she, how she conducted and how she, you know, how she gave the gifts and everything that she did at installation. So it's kind of fun, but for her first was my first as a consultant.

Kelly  
And then what was your second?

Melissa  
My, my second one? 

Kelly  
Because I thought that some of the consultants that you traveled with came.

Melissa  
The story of that, that you're thinking of Kelly is you're thinking of it was at Coe college. And that was when Laura Zabel Hockstra, that was going to, that was her she was going to be in ending being a consultant. And so that was in the spring of our consultant year. And yes, that's the one where all of us traveled, that traveled together went to that one. And we had so much fun. And yeah, so that was an exciting one. But yes, you're right, that was the one we all took time off and went to Iowa and enjoyed one installation all together.

Kelly  
Which is nice. And so when you travel, I believe there were five of you correct?

Melissa  
There were five, the fall, the fall and then six in the spring. 

Kelly  
Okay.We've slowly been growing I was, when I talked to some of our other past national presidents that's one of the things we've mentioned here there is you know, how the consultant program has grown over the years. I know the year I traveled in the fall, there were three of us, and in the spring, there were four, and then we've gone as high I think while you were president to hire 10. And then we've, we've scaled that back a little bit over the last couple of years. But it's amazing to see how much our consultant program has grown.

Melissa  
And so yeah, it is, it has been. I remember when we, it was a big deal when we were at six during our era.

Kelly  
Or five.

Melissa  
That was a lot. Yeah. And then now. Yeah, and then to go to 10. Yeah, it's kind of crazy.

Kelly  
Anything else you can think of that's been an interesting or fun experience. I mean, you've you've traveled quite a bit between being a leadership consultant, and then in during your term, especially as national president because I, when I think about those four years, and the growth that we experienced in I felt like every time I turned around, you were on a plane off somewhere, at an anniversary or an installation or whatnot. But you, you just kind of were all over the map and shout out to Andy, your husband for holding the fort down and in providing the support so that you could, we could we could have you during that time.

Melissa  
Yeah, you know, Kelly, I don't really have any I think of I was trying to one day gather up how many chapters I've been to. And yeah, it's a high number. I've been to a lot of chapters, but you know, it's just those experiences they're just so awesome. I really don't, you know, there isn't anything really, every single one of them I go, I know, and I know what to expect. And I'm going to meet some awesome members, I know I'm going to have a fun time. I enjoyed every minute of every chapter experience I had, maybe some consultant ones, I ehh, I just because of some some of the news that I maybe had to bring to chapters. But even then I still like I've still connected with women, and we share that special bond of being alpha alpha. So it's, it's just been my pleasure to get to travel all the, everywhere I've been so it's been awesome.

Kelly  
Well, and I have to say, you know, to you, thank you for your leadership, especially over those past four years. And as you've overseen the sorority grow in a number of ways that you know, I think, when you look back, many of us had hoped to see over the decades and so we we experienced such a phenomenal amount of a growth period. I can't stress that enough when I think about especially those four years, and where it helped position Alpha Sigma Alpha to be moving forward. And as we adapt in a pandemic world, having some of that structure and growth in place today has allowed us to continue to sustain moving forward. So thank you for your leadership during that period.

Melissa  
Oh, thank you, Kelly. I appreciate that. But it wasn't just me and you know that. It's a big team of people. So it's not it's the team I served with, as long as our staff and you know, yes, yes, I was leading that team but I had a lot of help from others.

Kelly  
Melissa, I have enjoyed our time together and getting to reminisce and walk down memory lane a little bit. So thank you for again, your leadership and for sharing your stories with us.

Melissa  
Thank you, Kelly. Great to chat with you. 

Kelly  
Absolutely. And and to our listeners, until next time.