Sam Towell, MIT 2000, joins fellow International Balfour Award (IBA) winners GRANT FRANKO, R.I.T. 2022, and Jared Kuykendall, OKLAHOMA STATE 2021, where they discuss how Towell’s time as an undergraduate Sig made an immediate impact on his life at MIT and the lasting advice he received from Order of Constantine Sig, Significant Sig and former Sigma Chi Foundation President and CEO Greg Harbaugh, PURDUE 1978.
Towell, who won Sigma Chi’s 2000 IBA as the Fraternity’s most outstanding graduate that year, also discusses the importance of servant leadership that was instilled in him while working for Significant Sig and former Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, VIRGINIA 1983. He also offers advice for Sigma Chi brothers who are beginning their careers.
I got to MIT in 1996 and was part of the class of 2000. [as a student interested in joining a greek-letter organization,] You got to school before most everyone else and you go through a four- to five-day rush period and then you moved right into the house.
One of the things that I think really benefited me and my experience in college was the dynamics of living and being a part of Sigma Chi because I got to work on a lot of other life skills through Sigma Chi [with others who] were obviously more than friends, they were your brothers. so, the stakes were higher. You wanted to make sure those dynamics worked and when you’re packing 32 guys into a townhouse in Boston, you learn a lot of life skills you’re not otherwise confronted with but that have come in so handy over the last 20-some years.
When I had family members get ill or other challenges in life, it really was those strong arms in Sigma Chi that really helped me get through those four years. Without that kind of network, I think I would have had a significantly more challenging time navigating through the four years and my degree at MIT.
The night I was fortunate enough to win the [International] Balfour Award, I met brother [Order of Constantine, Significant Sig and former Sigma Chi Foundation President/CEO] Greg Harbaugh, PURDUE 1978, who was an astronaut and he said “Congratulations” and “to whom much is given, much is expected.” I have carried that with me, now, for 22 years and when trying to figure out what I ought to do next, or how I ought to do what it is I’ve chosen to do, I think about that a lot. That’s what led me to public service from New York, it’s what led me back into public service after law school for a while and it’s what led me to public service after practicing as a lawyer and it will likely be what will lead me back into public service in the future.
I take the role of a servant leader pretty seriously and recognize that if I’m going to be leading an institution of any size, then I’m going to need to rely on the subject-matter experts and the people that are in the trenches day in and day out. From my perspective, it would be disingenuous for me to tell people, who do great work every day, how to do their jobs. So I always saw my role as “how can I help them do their jobs.” I learned that definitely as a Pro Consul and Consul in Sigma Chi in the late 1990s because it’s part of who I am and it’s part of my leadership style. I learned that there and I learned how to do that. I’ve learned from my mistakes in trying it different ways and even within my leadership style learning what works and doesn’t work.
The job I’ve enjoyed the most and has been the most rewarding for me opened up at the close of the McCollough administration and that was the Attorney General of Virginia. I did that for about five years working for (Significant Sig) Brother Mark Herring, from the Psi chapter at the University of Virginia. That experience was amazing because every day I felt like I was wearing a white hat and using the legal system to really benefit Virginians and advocate for the citizens of Virginia and even defending the commonwealth from claims and knowing I could do it wearing the white hat and the goal was always to do the right thing, not always the least-expensive or the least-costly thing.
Something that has taken me awhile to learn, but what I feel is incredibly powerful, is if, like me, you find yourself moving from one kind of job or one kind of career path to another, it can be really easy to be looking forward so much that you may not appreciate or gather together the things you’ve learned or really benefited from where you are. As people go through their careers, I recommend to try to keep some of those artifacts from their journey. Not only are they fond to look back on but I think you’ll find they can also be helpful in future endeavors as well.
From left are International Balfour Award winners Grant Franko, R.I.T. 2022; Jared Kuykendall, OKLAHOMA STATE 2021; and SAM TOWELL, MIT 2000. Each won the award as the Fraternity’s most outstanding graduate during their graduation year. Photo illustration by David Jones, DEPAUW 2019.