Derek Berger, Beta Xi (Central Michigan)

Derek has continued his education and has earned both a master’s degree and a doctoral degree in higher education from Ball State. Derek currently serves as the Associate Vice President for Development at the Ball State University Foundation and is engaged with the higher education community as a board member for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education – Indiana. Derek is also engaged in the local Muncie community as a Rotarian and on-campus as the chair of University Council.

1. If you had the opportunity to start your collegiate career over again from scratch, is there anything you’d do differently? If so, why?
The first change I would make would be to go to Central Michigan University straight from high school. I spent my first year at another university and it was just never a good fit for me. The school was very good academically but was a commuter institution and I just never connected on a social level. I went to that institution because they offered me the most scholarship money. So I also learned a life lesson through that experience – following money does not always bring you happiness. At Central Michigan I really found myself and connected both academically and socially.

With that said, if I had the opportunity to start my collegiate career over again at Central Michigan, I would have entered with the mindset of taking advantage of the opportunities available in a college setting that are not available to individuals at any other time in life. I would have taken the opportunity to investigate different career paths, I would have taken the opportunity to engage more fully in campus leadership experiences, and I would have taken the opportunity to challenge myself through study abroad, alternative breaks, and a summer Ability Experience event. In the end; however, I am very thankful for the college experience I did have because it was incredibly impactful on who I am and has led me to what I am doing in life.

2. As an alumnus, you’ve clearly been a leader for Pi Kappa Phi. How has the concept of leadership changed for you over the years?
I use to think about leadership as a title or a position, “once I do or achieve XYZ” that signifies me as a leader. What I have come to understand and work at every day is that leadership is about relationships. Leaders need to invest in people and through people the entire group is able to achieve. Edicts from on high may suffice in the short term but they do not create long-term change. And the role of a leader is to work to lead long-term positive change. When we forge relationships and develop collective goals and aspirations, change becomes ingrained in our organizations and communities and it lives on longer than the leader. It is not about what we have accomplished in our organizations, but what they continue to do after we leave. That is the true testament of an impactful leader.

3. What are some of the most important pieces of advice you’ve received in your life?
The first piece of advice is that “luck is when preparation and opportunity meet”. Being prepared puts us all on the favorable side of luck. Each day you need to work your hardest to ensure when an opportunity is before you, you have the ability to take advantage of that good fortune. I think this piece of advice coupled with the Wayne Gretzky classic, “you miss 100 percent of the shots you never take” helps ensure you develop a carpe diem type of mentality. Those who wait for their opportunity to come to them typically never find it. It is important to take the necessary risks to make opportunity occur and to be fully prepared to seize the moment.

The second piece of advice is “be careful who you step on, on your way up because you will see them again on your way down”. This advice goes back to the core importance of developing meaningful relationships with others. Relationships are not about what you can get from someone to advance your own agenda but how you can work together to build something better. Those who treat others as a means to an end find that when they fall few are there to help lift them back up. I have had incredible mentors along the way and I can point to key individuals who helped to lift me up. I will always remember these individuals, their lessons, and their willingness to risk their credibility on me.

On a more lighthearted note, I remember during leadership consultant training where Durward Owen was discussing with the consultants his life lessons. Besides his famous, “life is too short to drink cheap beer” lesson, he also encouraged us to “always marry up”. Like any good Pi Kapp, I think I have taken that lesson to heart and followed it very well!

4. What have been two or three of your most meaningful Pi Kappa Phi experiences?
I was a student attendee at the 2005 Pi Kapp College at Queens University in Charlotte. That conference was a life changing experience for me. The Archon track that year was the Life 401 program presented by John Healy from the Eta Upsilon Chapter (Miami-Ohio). Life 401 was about personal development. I left the conference with a renewed focused of who I was, what I wanted to achieve, and how I could achieve it. This experience sent me down a path of interest in leadership and personal development.

Working on staff for several years significantly changed my overall experience with Pi Kappa Phi. I grew a great deal as a person and Pi Kappa Phi was a catalyst for that growth. Additionally, I had so many opportunities to meet brothers from across the country and develop long lasting relationships with students, alumni volunteers, and my colleagues. A number of my groomsmen and best friends to this day ended up being from this truly transformational period in my life.

In 2011, my father passed away suddenly from a heart attack. At his calling hours, I had brothers both from the Beta Xi Chapter and from my time as a consultant in attendance, some traveling over four hours to be there, just to turnaround and head back home. The upwelling of support from both the national fraternity and my local chapter during this difficult time reinforced the importance of Pi Kappa Phi in my life and was a true demonstration of the power of lifelong brotherhood.

5. Between all of the undergraduate and alumni members of Pi Kappa Phi, there are brothers that span so many different “ages and stages” of life. What have you learned about brotherhood, and also leadership, that could apply to all of those men, no matter their stage of life?
Like everything in life, you get what you give. In brotherhood and in leadership, it is what we do for others that truly matters. At the end of the day, what people will remember about you is how you made them feel. A kind word, a helping hand, or a small gesture of kindness may be all is takes to make someone’s day but those small acts of kindness add up to significant impact on the lives of others.