Alpha Phi Alpha at S&T turns 50

Happy Phriday

Members of the Epsilon Psi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha high five fellow S&T students as they enter the Havener Center on Friday, Jan. 23. Every Friday at lunchtime during the school year the fraternity brothers host such “Happy Phriday” events. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Chartered in 1965 at the height of the civil rights movement, Missouri S&T’s oldest African-American fraternity encountered obstacles on the way to its 50th anniversary, especially in the early years.

“There were some difficulties in getting the fraternity off the ground,” says Henry Brown, a 1968 civil engineering graduate of Missouri S&T and one of 18 founding members of the Epsilon Psi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

There was pushback from the university when Howard Manning, a 1967 civil engineering graduate, and Louis Smith, a 1966 electrical engineering graduate, transfer students and Alpha Phi Alpha brothers from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, approached administrators with the idea of establishing a chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha in Rolla.

Administrators questioned the need for a new, historically black fraternity when there were already a handful of nationally recognized fraternities at the university, Brown says. “But it wasn’t a realistic possibility for us to walk up and join one of the fraternities already on campus,” he says.

The 18 founding members of the Epsilon Psi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

The founding members of the Epsilon Psi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha: Wayne C. Harvey, Henry Brown (first row), David B. Price, Wayne R. Davis (second row), Maurice W. Murray, John H. Jackson, Lloyd Sowell, Gregory Bester, Louis W. Smith, Walter G. Reed (third row), Howard Manning Jr., John D. Abrams Jr. (fourth row), Robert L. Coleman, Gerald Lyons (fifth row), Reginald L. Ollie, Daniel H. Flowers (sixth row), Theodore T. Marsh Jr., Paul L. Silvers Jr. (seventh row), and Eugene D. Jackson (eighth row). Not pictured: James E. Brown III. Contributed photo

Using the clout of Lawrence C. George, who had agreed to be the fraternity’s resident advisor, the students eventually convinced school administrators to approve the new fraternity. George, a respected Rolla chemist, was an alumnus of Alpha Phi Alpha’s Beta Pi chapter at Dillard University.

With a resident advisor, the fraternity was now in need of a house. Once again, the fraternity got pushback – this time from local real estate agents.

“You have to think about what Rolla was like in the ’60s – a small, Midwestern town,” says Brown, a native of St. Joseph, Missouri.

The fraternity spent the spring and part of that summer contacting local real estate agents for house tours. Brown says that fraternity members had no trouble scheduling tours by phone, but when they showed up in person, they were almost always turned away.

With traditional housing options exhausted, George once again stepped in to help. He had an acquaintance who owned a former car dealership that was willing to sell the property to the new fraternity. It wasn’t ideal, but the fraternity brothers worked every day that summer to rehab and convert the building into suitable housing.

George, who only stepped down as the fraternity’s advisor in 2013, passed away in March. “He was very influential on not just us, but the well-being of all black students in Rolla,” said Akil Hutchins, a senior in engineering management from St. Louis.

“He touched a lot of people’s lives,” added Lister Florence, 1995 civil engineering graduate and the fraternity’s current advisor. “He was a father figure in my life.”

Through a half century of service at S&T, Alpha Phi Alpha has been instrumental in forming a number of student and faculty organizations focused on diversity and inclusion, including the Association for Black Students, National Society of Black Engineers, the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on African American Recruitment and Retention, and Black Man’s Think Tank. The fraternity also helped bring the Minority Introduction to Technology and Engineering summer camp to campus and created a number of scholarships for minority students.

Members of the Epsilon Psi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha hanging out at the 1969 Greek Week; two fraternity brothers enjoying the 61st “Best Ever” St. Pats; the fraternity’s original house, as pictured in 1965. Contributed photos by Henry Brown

Members of the Epsilon Psi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha hanging out at the 1969 Greek Week (clockwise from left); two fraternity brothers enjoying the 61st “Best Ever” St. Pats; the fraternity’s original house, as pictured in 1965. Contributed photos by Henry Brown

With Alpha Phi Alpha’s continuing involvement in diverse service projects and organizations on campus, the fraternity promises to be a voice for minority students for the foreseeable future.

Florence says he certainly owes a great deal to the fraternity.

“I don’t think I would have become the man I am today without Alpha Phi Alpha,” Florence says. “They did a really good job, not just with the fraternity members, but everyone, of reaching out to African-Americans, Hispanics and students of other nationalities. The door’s were always open,” he says. “They understood what you were going through. They understood what it was like to be singled out.”

Nowadays, you may recognize an Alpha Phi Alpha brother as someone you emphatically high-fived last Friday at the entrance to the Havener Center, but the brothers of the Epsilon Psi Chapter do so much more than brighten your “Phriday.”


Every February, the fraternity sponsors a National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day in conjunction with Black History Month. Members also organize outreach events in conjunction with their national organization, such as A Voteless People is a Hopeless People and Go-To-High School, Go-To-College. And they host Missouri’s longest-running collegiate dance competition, Dance XXXPLOSION. The 2015 event will be held at the ARK in Waynesville, Missouri, this April.

The fraternity will also be hosting a week long 50th anniversary celebration centered around the chapter’s charter day on April 27. The celebration will begin in earnest with a welcome reception on Thursday, April 23 at 6 p.m., and will feature a golf tournament, bowling tournament, flag football game, BBQ, and roast and dance. More details will be posted to the fraternity’s website as the event nears.

By Greg Katski

Whipping up a custom career

Darian Johnson

Chemical engineering junior Darian Johnson with cupcakes she made for her fellow camp counselors at Missouri S&T. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Food Network aficionado Darian Johnson always wanted to be a chef. In high school she also discovered an affinity for chemistry.

“I thought, ‘I like chemistry and I like food. What can I do with this?’” she says. “So I applied to all the food science-y schools.”

Of course, Missouri S&T was not one of them.

“My plan was to go to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville to study food science. My twin brother was going to UT-Martin. I thought it was perfect; we could be together!” says Johnson, a junior in chemical engineering from Kansas City, Mo. “But then I thought about my mom — she only has two kids and he’s going away to Martin. I just couldn’t leave her.”

Then her best friend from high school came to Missouri S&T and told Johnson, “I love it here, but there’s just one problem: You’re missing.”

A Missouri S&T representative who visited Johnson’s school during a college fair also encouraged her to give Rolla a try. “He said, ‘I’ve seen your test scores. You should really think about engineering,’” says Johnson. He suggested she study chemical engineering, supplemented with some online food science courses.

Johnson visited campus for a Pre-College Initiative program. “After meeting students and seeing campus I thought, ‘I might actually like this place,’” she says.

But when Johnson arrived as a freshman, she didn’t participate in anything outside of class. She also ignored numerous emails inviting her to meet potential mentors, she says.

“I just kept hitting delete, delete, delete. So my freshman year I didn’t have a mentor,” she says.

Today, she mentors others through the student diversity program, during Opening Week, and as a student success coach at the Burns & McDonnell Student Success Center. Johnson is also the new president of the Association for Black Students and is active in Phi Sigma Phi national honor fraternity.

“I love it here now,” says Johnson. “I’m meeting all types of new people and I’m very involved.”

She’s also networked with people in the food science industry and is researching online courses. “I would like to work in product development,” she says. “I want to make new food products that are more tasty, healthy and cost effective.”

By Linda Fulps

Driving culture change


Steve Parks, a 1982 engineering management graduate, is director of diversity for Ameren Corp. in St. Louis. Photo by B.A. Rupert.

Steve Parks knows how hard it is to challenge and change the culture of a workplace. “You have to be patient,” he says. “Sometimes you have to go back and look at how things used to be so you can see the progress.”

[Read more…]