When this month’s Dirigo Award recipient, Eddie Gonnella, departed for college in 2013, he didn’t journey very far—just a five-minute drive from his home in Old Town.
But following his graduation from UMaine on May 13th, long-distance travel will be a regular occurrence for him as he takes on an unexpected opportunity, one he earned as a result of his co-curricular involvement on and off campus.
Gonnella, a member of the UMaine chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity (“SigEp,” as it is known), has been selected by the organization’s national office for a one-year paid position as a regional director. In that role, he will advise and mentor members at 15-20 of the 242 SigEp chapters located throughout the U.S.
For the civil engineering major, his selection presents a unique opportunity.
“The chance to serve SigEp in improving other chapters, to represent UMaine on a national level, to get paid to travel the country, and the opportunity to grow my relationship with SigEp and get to know so many other people was impossible to pass up,” Gonnella explained.
As Gonnella understands, not all students are interested in joining a fraternity or sorority. (At UMaine, 14% of undergraduate students belong to a Greek organization.) But he believes there is a student group on campus for everyone. For him, SigEp has defined his time at the university, and it’s been a life-changing experience.
“When I joined SigEp, my strengths and weaknesses were put to the test,” he recalled. “My ability to interact with other people was challenged and leadership opportunities were endless. I grew, learned, and experienced so much due to these aspects of SigEp and it really provided me with the avenue to develop into who I am today compared to who I was when I first arrived at UMaine.”
Gonnella cites several examples: earning Dean’s List status in one of UMaine’s most challenging academic majors; being a finalist in the UMaine business challenge; traveling on SigEp’s 10-day leadership development Tragos Quest to Greece; student leadership roles on campus; and civic and community involvement as a volunteer and youth sports coach. His contributions have not gone unnoticed.
“There are not enough Eddie Gonnellas on this earth,” stated UMaine junior Zachary Goulette, an electrical engineering major. “Eddie is a leader who over and over again gives selflessly of his time, talents, and effort.”
“A few words I would use to describe Eddie are devoted, trustworthy, philanthropic, focused, driven, and scholarly,” added Joshua Stanhope ’13, ’16G, UMaine’s assistant director of campus activities and student engagement.
Gonnella says he is not sure what path he will take after finishing his one-year appointment with his national fraternity. Possibilities include taking an engineering job in Maine, grad school, more travel, or yet another unanticipated opportunity. No matter what, he says he is ready.
“I feel as though my experience at UMaine has helped me develop a wide variety of skills and interests,” he shared. That experience has “opened doors for me and set me up for success in the future.”
The UMaine Alumni Association’s Dirigo Award, granted with support from University Credit Union, recognizes an undergraduate student who exemplifies the academic and civic ideals of the University of Maine.