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Jeff Bird '85

Jeff Bird '85

Jeff Bird attended IUP from 1980 to 1985, spending his first year on the Punxsutawney campus and graduating with a degree in Safety Science. Unfortunately for Jeff, he graduated during the economic collapse in Western Pennsylvania, and the unemployment rate in his hometown of Johnstown was more than 25 percent. So, Jeff moved to Portland, Ore., to stay with his brother and look for work in the emerging data communications field.

His first job was with Data Devices in Seattle, where he worked outside sales for the company. Jeff settled into the area, started a family, and has continued his sales career with a number of companies, including Optical Data Systems, US West, Blue Coat, and McAfee. In May 2009, he earned an M.A. in Management from the City University of Seattle.

While Jeff did not end up working in a safety science capacity, he credits his IUP experience with being a critical component of his career. “My education taught me not to be afraid to learn. Sigma Chi taught me how to deal with people.”

Jeff now lives in Auburn, Wash., with his wife, Keri, a Seattle native whom he met through a fellow IUP alumnus, and their three children, Kevin, twenty; Derek, sixteen; and Katelyn, fourteen.

What led you to attend IUP?

I grew up in Johnstown, Pa., and went to Westmont Hilltop High School. My mother really wanted me to attend St. Francis University in Loretto, but I stopped sending out applications as soon as I was accepted to IUP. I’d fallen in love with the campus on my first visit. It just seemed like the right fit for me. The Oak Grove was beautiful, and IUP was a large school, but still in a suburban setting like I’d grown up in.

Tell me a little bit about your time at IUP as a student. How involved were you in and out of class?

Being a member of Sigma Chi kept me very busy. I lived in the Sigma Chi house for over three years and served as ritual chairman, assistant pledge trainer, pledge trainer, and vice president of the fraternity. I helped out with the fraternity’s part in Homecoming and also in the annual Derby Day events, which was Sigma Chi’s primary philanthropy outlet. We raised money for Camp Orenda, a camp in Indiana for disabled children. Current undergraduates and many of our alumni still contribute to Camp Orenda.

How often do you return to IUP? Have things changed much? And, is there anything you miss or tend to revisit when you’re back in town?

I have been getting back to IUP rather regularly since about 2003, when there was a Sigma Chi reunion. Then the Sigma Chi house burned down in 2004, and I helped Dr. Pettit to raise funds for construction of the new house. I took Dr. Pettit’s place on the IUP Sigma Chi House Corp., and was just elected for a three-year term as its president in October of 2009.

When back in town, I love to revisit it all, from Sheetz to Al Patti’s, from the Coney to the Oak Grove, and of course IUP football games. I also used to drop in to visit Dr. [Robert] Soule from Safety Sciences before he retired. He was my favorite professor.

What do you do in your capacity as president of the Sigma Chi House Corporation?

Well, the House Corp. acts as landlord for the Sigma Chi house. We’re responsible for leases as well as upkeep and maintenance. It’s a 6,000-square-foot property, so there is a lot of work to do. As president, I manage a board of eleven members, and try to make sure that everyone stays involved overseeing some part of that work.

A new perspective that I’ve brought to the role is that we are not just landlords, but mentors. We recently started a big-brother-type program, where we’ll connect a current undergraduate with an alumnus who works in a field related to his studies to start them networking early and to offer them guidance. I make it a point to develop relationships with the undergrads to help them be better Sigma Chis and better students at IUP.

And you recently held a golf reunion for Sigma Chi at IUP?

Jeff Bird '85 and Andy Kalafatis '87Yes. A lot of guys from Sigma Chi were going on golf trips anyway, meeting up in different parts of the country, and I thought, why not channel some of that energy and those funds back into IUP and the House Corp.? So, for maybe half the cost of their other trips, about sixty-five alumni showed up this past August along with some of their wives and friends. The first twenty-five to sign up got to spend the weekend staying in the Sigma Chi house reliving a few of their undergraduate memories.

It was a good event for the House Corp., for the fraternity, and also for Camp Orenda. We were able to send $500 to the camp from funds raised during this event. That’s enough to pay for two to three kids to attend. I plan to make this golf reunion an annual August event.

What would you want other alumni to know about your experiences in these positions, or about giving back to IUP in general?

I have a rather unique outlet to be able to give back to IUP through Sigma Chi. It keeps me connected to other Sigma Chi alumni as well as the current undergraduates, and also to IUP through the Alumni Affairs and Greek offices.

Do you have a favorite moment or memory related to your service in these positions?

It’s been important to me to generate good will with alumni. When I started making calls for the golf reunion, I heard a number of guys say, “Hey, the only time we hear from Sigma Chi is when they’re asking for money.” At the reunion itself, at least ten guys showed up who hadn’t been back to IUP in over a decade. It’s great being able to help alumni reconnect.

Profile published on 9/13/10

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