Trio of Gamma Brothers building a digital community start-up

For Nicholas Neilson-Slabach, Γ ’20, and Kyle Herbert, Γ ’20, it began with the existing infrastructure in one of their classes. In-person connections were difficult to make, and the few digital groups formed for studying or sharing notes often became oversaturated in larger courses. So, they came up with their own solution.

“We felt we didn’t have any support in those bigger classes,” says Neilson-Slabach. “We wanted to produce something that would be more inclusive, capable of creating a simple group chat, and easier to use.”

Brs. Herbert (L) and Neilson-Slabach (R)

So, in 2019, DaisNotes was born. The co-founders brought on another Brother as a partner and Vice President of Design, Thomas Lee, Γ ’21. Together, the trio set out to create what they hoped would help college students connect to each other both academically and socially. They first went to the CIE (Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship) at Ole Miss and got some feedback. From there, DaisNotes took off.

“We entered a few competitions and won the first one,” says Neilson-Slabach. “We raised $50,000 in funding from there and then won more and more competitions. We were able to use some of that money to pay for an outside development firm to create a beta version of the app.”

With a combination of their own coding skills, personal and professional networks, and what Herbert calls “an obsession” with their budding business, the DaisNotes team has put itself into a position to officially launch next month.

They have excelled so far largely because the product is smart and comprehensive, and they are devoting intense amounts of time to it. But their existing friendship has also had a hugely positive impact. The Brothers, who have been close since joining Chi Psi around the same time, say it’s a strength of the business.

“As we’ve turned this into more than just an idea and tried to execute on it, there have been some disagreements at times,” says Herbert. “However, we’ve always been civil, and we use that friendship we have to figure it out and move forward. We’ve all just been through so much together and know each other so well, and that’s easy to fall back on.”

For all three Brothers, this is a business they expect to devote much of their immediate post-graduate time to. Neilson-Slabach, who graduated last semester, and Lee, who graduates in Spring 2021, expect to continue working on it pretty much full-time. Herbert, who graduates this semester, said the online classes have allowed him a lot more time and flexibility to devote his own time to it.

They have applied to a contest in Atlanta later this month and are also hoping to hear back from a Silicon Valley business incubator. Being chosen for the latter would mean they move out to the Bay Area for three months at the start of 2021 to get mentorship from prominent venture capitalists, as well as the opportunity to earn more seed funding.

DaisNotes improves upon other programs of its nature by simplifying everything. For example, instead of manually going in to create a group chat for a class, DaisNotes will allow users to choose from the university’s class catalogue and essentially upload their entire schedules into the app. From there, all a user has to do is join a study group or a chat.

“Instead of waiting for someone to take the initiative and create something and add people to it, DaisNotes automates inclusivity,” says Neilson-Slabach. “You don’t have to be added by someone you know. It groups all of those steps together and makes it less random and exclusive.”

Hypothetically, DaisNotes would also allow students a social connection – they can share notes and study tips in their groups, but they can also get the group together for a meal or a drink after a big test (after COVID-19, of course). That’s an extra feature that should appeal to a broad range of college students.

On that note, Neilson-Slabach, Herbert, and Lee feel that they were buoyed along the way by another social group: their Chi Psi Brothers. Lee says that they received both feedback and encouragement from Brothers at Alpha Gamma as DaisNotes blossomed from an interesting idea into a legitimate business.

From L to R: Brs. Herbert, Neilson-Slabach, and Lee

“One of the cool things about this app development process has been how Chi Psi was intertwined with it,” says Lee. “We would sit in Alpha conference rooms, hear our Brothers’ input, and go back to improve what we needed to. Now we can ask for support and help on the beta version, and we know the feedback will be honest. Chi Psi has helped a lot.”

You can find more information on DaisNotes at their website. You can also request a demo or download the beta version for iOS devices. Follow DaisNotes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates!

Rho Delta creates position of Sustainability Chair

“The earth is hurting,” says Eric Woods, PΔ ’23. “Climate change is real. The facts are out there, and major changes need to be made. This initiative we’ve created at Rho Delta is a way to make a small change.”

The initiative Woods speaks of is the creation of a Sustainability Chair in the Rho Delta Lodge, which he gladly took ownership of. The position was created after Woods and Rho Delta Lodge Manager Andrew Gherlein, PΔ ’22, expressed interest in creating the specialized position.

“I was really conscious of sustainability at home, and felt a little disappointed when I came to school seeing no access to a recycling bin at the Lodge,” says Woods. “We brought it up to a few guys and announced the initiative at our first chapter meeting this semester.”

Brs. Gherlein (L) and Woods (R)

With nearly 30 Brothers living in the Lodge at any given time, Woods and Gherlein saw an opportunity to provide education on environmentally-friendly practices while reducing the Alpha’s footprint. They purchased a huge recycling bin to place next to their normal dumpster and three large bins for inside the Lodge.

“We’re emptying the outdoor recycling bin twice a week now because of how much the guys are recycling,” says Woods. “We’ve incorporated emptying the inside bins into our weekly chores. We’ve already accomplished so much, even though this is a brand new thing.”

Woods took the lead on educating everyone on correct recycling practices, how to be more environmentally conscious in general, and which materials are and are not recyclable (like, for example, red solo cups – NOT recyclable, for the record).

It was after a conservation trip to Belize in high school that Woods’ interest in the subject really peaked. The experience fundamentally altered what Woods wanted to focus on, and he felt that the education he received on the trip was best shared by implementing the practices into his life at home, and sharing with as many people as he could.

“I realized my family could do so much better,” says Woods. “I wanted to use what I learned to educate others around a common goal. At home, my family switched to a bigger recycling bin, became more cautious of purchasing products that create waste, and started a compost bin.”

It’s small changes like this that Woods believe can take Rho Delta – and the rest of the Miami University community – to a greener place. He says he focuses on being thorough and educational, but not too pushy. He tries to use “suggestive phrasing” to get his points across gently.

Woods, Gherlein, and the other men of Rho Delta are eager for the future and to pass the Sustainability Chair position down over the years. As fraternity men, they feel a duty to expand into philanthropy, and environmentalism is going to be a key one for future generations.

“I would absolutely encourage other Alphas to adopt this project and this position,” says Woods. “I think it would be an excellent addition to Chi Psi at a national level, too. I want to grow our philanthropy with a focus on conservation in the future, and I’m super excited to see where it goes.”

The men of Rho Delta hope this will lead to bigger things. Next, says Woods, is working on the purchasing step, to avoid having excess waste in the first place. He wants to get Brothers not living in the Lodge involved at their residences, too, and then pivot towards the larger Chi Psi and Miami communities.

But the biggest challenge may remain a general disregard for the main issue at hand. Climate change and environmental activism are not necessarily the priority for college-aged kids, even if they do agree with policy that supports it. To Woods, it’s just a matter of educating Brothers, fellow students, and members of the community at large to take the onus of research off of them.

“Seeing everyone being on board with the idea was a pleasant surprise,” says Woods. “I’ve yet to come into contact with anyone who is against the idea. Even if I send a photo of something that shouldn’t be in the recycling bin to the group chat, the reaction is still positive. It’s nice that Chi Psis seem to be open to new ideas like this, and that they’re okay with me educating them on best practices.”

Rho Delta #1 opens up about mental health

Kieran Davidson, PΔ ’21, has been the #1 at Alpha Rho Delta at Miami University since the spring of 2020. He recently had a personal mental health epiphany after COVID-19 shuttered his campus and Alpha in the spring. Br. Davidson came to us asking if we would share his story to encourage more young men and Chi Psi Brothers to seek out the help of therapists and counselors during these transformative and often difficult college years. Below is a lightly edited version of our Q&A.

Chi Psi: Kieran, thanks for taking the time to openly chat about this! Can you start by just giving us a little bit of background about yourself and the topic at hand?

Kieran Davidson: Sure! Well, first of all, I’m most certainly an extrovert. I’m motivated by the people I’m surrounded with and that’s something Chi Psi has given back to me. Living in the Lodge and being the leader of 80 quality gentlemen on Miami’s campus is the thing that keeps me going. Before COVID-19, interacting with those guys on a daily basis and having small conversations and sharing meals with them kept the flame lit for me. Transitioning from that to an empty Lodge and going back to live with my parents was a huge readjustment for me.

XΨ: What made you want to share your story with a wider audience?

KD: First of all, I recognize that I am a very vulnerable person who wears his heart on his sleeve. And because of that, that gives me an opportunity to give back and do something with this. I also want to share my success. I want to empower my Brothers in Chi Psi across the country. I want them to know that it is cool to go to counseling. A #1 of an Alpha went to counseling. Everyone thinks we have our stuff together as #1’s. And I do, but it’s still okay to go to counseling. It doesn’t matter who you are or how put together you feel.

XΨ: You said the time off after COVID-19 was difficult, and you broke it down into a few phases. Can you elaborate?

KD: First, I had to do my schoolwork and get to making action plans for the Alpha in a virtual setting. I also had to communicate to stakeholders, connect Brothers to each other, and do it all without delegating too many tasks to the rest of my team. There was a lot of pressure on me. Next – and this was a really painful one – I had an internship in Manhattan this summer that was very difficult to land, and it was turned into a virtual setting, too. Instead of wearing a suit and walking on Wall Street after all my hard work to earn the internship, I was doing Zoom calls in pajama pants in my Mom’s basement. Finally, I describe myself as a workhorse, and this was the first time in a few years that I had nothing to do for work. That was lonely, and hard to overcome the disappointment of not being able to experience things as they were and not being able to interact with my Brothers in the same capacity.

XΨ: At what point did you realize you wanted to seek out help?

KD: I could feel the stress starting to get to me, and I had all these emotions like getting easily irritated about the dumbest things, or just feeling numb some days. I was so unsure about why I was feeling those ways, and became constantly worried about coming back to campus, the response of the university, and more. I started having trouble sleeping and that’s when I realized it was not a healthy routine and that something bigger was going on. So, I called the counseling center at Miami and they got me in the next day.

XΨ: You worked as the Mental Health Chair at Rho Delta before becoming #1, right? How did that experience factor in?

KD: Yes, the wonderful thing about Rho Delta is that we are very open about mental health. We are advocates for mental health with college-aged men, and that was one thing that reassured me when I initially went out for Chi Psi. These guys don’t just say they care, they have actual forums in place to make sure everyone’s doing okay and so we can talk about our problems. So, in my role as Mental Health Chair, I made sure that wherever we met was sacred and private and that everyone in the room was respectful of each other. I learned a lot through that experience, like the things young, college-aged men go through that people don’t really consider. I also made sure we used all campus resources that were available when I was in that role. So, I had the information and tools when I wanted to call for myself, and it couldn’t have been easier.

: Tell us about that first counseling experience.

KD: I had an initial consultation with a counselor who is a fellow Fraternity man, and I was floored with how quickly I was able to get in front of someone, talk through some things, and surrender to my emotions. I realized after talking to him that I have mild anxiety, which is something I never would have considered, since it’s so opposite of my personality. At first, I had some scary thoughts, like “are they going to lock me up and prescribe a bunch of drugs?” But I can say after a few meetings, I felt like a totally different person.

: How so?

KD: The counselor suggested a few different exercises that have really helped. Now that we’re a few weeks into school, there is more stress on my shoulders than there were this summer, but because of that experience taking care of my mental health, I’ve been able to handle the stress really well. On my last session with the counselor, I realized I was doing way better and suggested that I only come to him on an as-needed basis. I didn’t totally have to cut it out, but I can take time to use the exercises they gave me and try to center myself.

XΨ: Can you share some of those exercises that have worked so well for you?

KD: I’ve been practicing something called mindfulness. Between being #1, trying to get a full time job during a pandemic, being a student, being a son, a Brother, etc., I was always just on to the next responsibility. I never really enjoyed what I was doing in the moment. Mindfulness is a lot like meditation and it’s one of my favorite things to do now. Instead of sitting in my living room or bedroom to have a cup of coffee, I walk to a park near my house in Oxford and sit on a bench alone. I either listen to a guided meditation or relaxing music like Cat Stevens or The Eagles. The whole point is to live in the moment; to try to understand how you’re feeling right now. You want that physical sensation of sitting on a park bench, feeling the breeze, and being grounded to the earth. The other part is just to admire what you’re seeing. Oxford isn’t Los Angeles or Nashville, but it’s a beautiful college campus, so I try to enjoy the nature and the architecture of Oxford and celebrate how it all relates to my experience in Chi Psi.

XΨ: Very cool! And you feel this has improved your mental health?

KD: Definitely. Before going to counseling, I would always wake up early to try and use every minute of my day, but I learned that it’s give and take. It’s okay to work hard, and you should work hard for things you care about, but you also have to give yourself time to relax. This lifestyle I was living where I’d wake up at 6 every morning to work all day, socialize all night with friends, go to sleep at 1 a.m., and then wake up five hours later…it was almost like I was in a tornado and couldn’t get out of it. I didn’t even realize how much I was wearing down my mental health.

XΨ: It’s safe to say you’re a major proponent of seeking mental health help now?

KD: Before going to counseling, I thought it was a good thing that I personally didn’t need. Then I went, and I thought, “wow, nobody should feel like they can’t go to counseling!” The progress I made was incredible. I feel completely different in a lot of ways. I am absolutely a proponent of it.

XΨ: You mention that stigma about receiving mental health assistance. Did you deal with that before, or now? If so, how did you get past it?

KD: It’s almost ironic. When I was Mental Health Chair, my main goal was to defeat that stigma, at least within our Alpha. I’d always been an advocate for counseling and would suggest that my Brothers seek it out when necessary. I also had my own feelings about the idea of what is “masculine,” and largely rejected the idea that you should just “man up” or “rub some dirt on it.” But I still struggled with the stigma. It was one thing to tell someone else it’s okay to go to counseling, but I needed to ask myself if I would go. Mental health is just as important in your routine – whether you have mild anxiety or severe depression – as anything else. It’s part of being a good, healthy human and a good man. I think that self-reflection is how we defeat the stigma.

XΨ: What’s your parting message to your fellow Chi Psis about seeking help for mental health?

KD: Well, first of all, I just hope people realize that this is a difficult time for everyone. Don’t be a jerk. Love one another, practice empathy, and wear a mask. It’s not that hard. But, anyway, it’s insane how much progress and change can occur in just a few weeks. Even though I felt crazy going to the first appointment, it was such a relief to let it all out. It gets you excited to go back to your next session. Even if you have to do it virtually like I did, the words and feelings you can exchange are so valuable. I also try to preach to my guys at Rho Delta the benefits of programs like Talkspace that the Central Office offers us. I hope people read this and understand that it’s okay to seek out help with their mental health, and to utilize those resources that are readily available!

Support the Travis Fund during Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month

Every September, we honor Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month. For Chi Psis – especially those in Alpha Omega Delta at George Mason University – Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month holds special meaning. That’s because in 2017, former Birge Award recipient and founder of Alpha Omega Delta, Travis Valentine, ΩΔ ’05, passed away from a ruptured brain aneurysm.

Now, every September, the Travis Fund runs a special campaign to raise money for essential research into brain aneurysms. Evan Del Duke, ΩΔ ’15, who knew Br. Valentine personally and helped find ways to honor his legacy, tells us that it was finding Dr. Juan Cebral’s work that sparked the creation of the Fund and the special effort each September.

Br. Valentine

“We were looking for opportunities to honor Travis’ memory,” says Del Duke. “We ultimately found Dr. Cebral’s work at George Mason, which was nice to have a connection at our school. We asked if he would give us some insight on how the aneurysm rupture happened and to teach us about them in general.”

It turns out, Dr. Cebral and George Mason have the largest database of predictive aneurysm models in the world. They track everything from geometric characteristics of aneurysms (like size, shape, and structure) to the hemodynamics (how blood flows through an aneurysm). This presented a huge opportunity for the Travis Fund.

“He has been proving that models show that certain aneurysms might be a lower risk of rupture, even if they’re bigger, and that some small aneurysms might actually have a higher risk of rupture,” says Del Duke. “We’re hoping to get to the point where we can provide real-time models to give physicians the tools to make the best decisions possible for their patients. And, ultimately, save lives.”

Del Duke says all of this work really encapsulates Br. Valentine’s memory and legacy. Br. Valentine liked helping people, says Del Duke, and even had launched his own non-profit named YourTurn after graduating.

“He just wanted to help people,” Del Duke says. “Travis was a really, really great guy. We want to help people for him, and hopefully prevent the unfortunate scenario he endured from happening to anyone else.”

The Travis Fund directly supports high-risk, unfunded, and groundbreaking projects related to aneurysm modeling. For example, last year, the Travis Fund was able to financially support research published in medical journals, attendance at relevant conferences, studies, and even two graduate students at George Mason. One of those students successfully defended her thesis and is now working as a postdoc at Harvard Medical School.

“Hopefully, researchers like her supported by the Travis Fund will find a methodology to better detect aneurysms and develop treatment,” says Del Duke. “Someone like that might go out and one day find a procedure or create a technology that changes everything.”

Right now, there are a few different types of procedures available to those who have unruptured brain aneurysms, but it’s statistically riskier to treat than to just live with it. Del Duke notes Brain Aneurysm Foundation data which report that about 1 in 50 people have an unruptured brain aneurysm, but only 10 percent of those will experience a rupture. Once ruptured, the survival rate is about 50-50, and of those who survive, about two-thirds suffer some sort of neurological deficit.

So, the Travis Fund is supporting work to model the likelihood of rupture and provide patient-specific data and models to physicians who can then make the most informed decision. find better treatments and support studies that will bring those numbers down. The Fund also seeks to increase awareness about brain aneurysms – which occur because of the thinning of a wall of a blood vessel in the brain over time.

“Beyond fundraising for research, it’s just promoting awareness,” says Del Duke. “The general public needs to be able to recognize signs and symptoms. People need to know that something can potentially be more than just a headache or migraine, and when to seek help. A brain aneurysm rupture can occur instantaneously.”

Dr. Cebral

Additionally, Del Duke and others have also begun advocating for the formal recognition of September as Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month, with the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, and requesting more funding for brain aneurysm research from Congress. Currently, the federal government spends only 83 cents per year on brain aneurysm research for each person afflicted, which is why private donations to efforts like the Travis Fund are so critical.

This year, an anonymous donor has agreed to match all donations up to $5,000 in September, so even a small gift can make a larger impact. The Fund is also being conscious of the strain COVID-19 has put on the economy, so they’ve set a goal of reaching 50 total donors, rather than putting a dollar sign on it. The actives of Alpha Omega Delta have also officially adopted the effort as their philanthropy project, and will be helping drive donations through social media efforts.

“Ideally, we’d get to fulfill our whole matching opportunity,” says Del Duke. “And there’s a really strong community of support for those who knew Travis or have been impacted by brain aneurysms themselves. But, we do recognize that there are a lot of philanthropic opportunities right now, and rightfully so. We hope people will take a moment to consider our cause and donate even $5 – which turns into $10 with the match – to the Travis Fund.”

To give to the Travis Fund, visit this website and click on “Make A Gift” at the top of the page. You can also navigate to a page on the Travis Fund’s efforts over nearly three years at this link.

Psi Delta Brother walks to raise money for NAACP

For Bradley Hansen, ΨΔ ’23, and his friend, Josh Harmon, walking long distances was a hobby that began on a spur-of-the-moment decision. The first time the duo walked a long distance, they did so “just because” – about 53 miles in 23 hours. They trekked from Boulder, where they attend school, to their homes in Castle Rock, CO.

“We have a passion for walking and going on adventures,” says Br. Hansen. “After that first one, we realized we could push ourselves a lot further than we thought.”

When the men saw video of George Floyd’s death, they got on the phone. They felt compelled to help. But they wanted to come up with a way to raise money and awareness that was more than “just posting a black box on Instagram.”

“We were seeing a lot of people from our generation getting involved and protesting,” says Hansen. “We are both very passionate about this cause, and wanted to have our own call to action and support it to a higher degree.”

So, Hansen and Harmon decided to do another lengthy walk, raising money for the NAACP chapter in Boulder. The NAACP, or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is a Civil Rights organization dedicated to ensuring “a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race.” Hansen says they picked the NAACP because one of their professors with connections to the Boulder chapter heard about their idea and suggested it.

“Our professor is really involved with the NAACP and was able to connect us to them,” says Hansen. “She was excited about the idea, and the NAACP was super supportive. It’s more relevant to our community, too, being in Boulder.”

Hansen and Harmon decided another way to honor Floyd and racial injustice in the United States was to peg their fundraising walk at 84.6 miles – for the 8 minutes and 46 seconds Floyd was pinned to the ground. The walk took place over two days, including a 22-hour stretch on day one. After sleeping in a car that was placed at a pre-determined point for them, they got up and finished the final 17 hours.

“We had people resupplying us along the way,” Hansen says. “We had to re-fill our Camelbaks with water, for example. But we also had some people meet us with food. Besides five hours of sleeping, it was pretty much continuous walking. We finished at 10:45 p.m. the second night.”

Hansen, who is leading an eight-day backpacking trip just a few days after the fundraiser, says his legs are still barking at him, but that he wouldn’t change a thing.

“This cause is so much bigger than us,” says Hansen. “The goal was to raise $10,000 for the NAACP in Boulder and we’re almost at $11,000 now from 175 different donors. We’ve had such fantastic support.”

The men were hesitant to do any interviews at first because they didn’t want to divert any of the spotlight off the fundraiser and the cause they were walking for. However, they quickly realized that more media coverage meant reaching more people, which meant more awareness and more money raised.

“All the funds go straight to the NAACP,” says Hansen. “It’s crazy to see local and national news channels picking up our story. But this isn’t about us. It’s about supporting the cause we were walking for.”

Hansen also mentions the support he’s had from his Chi Psi community. Many of his Alpha Psi Delta Brothers even asked about where they could meet him to walk along the way. He hopes that this direct involvement with the NAACP will allow Psi Delta to be a part of that philanthropic community in the future.

“The Chi Psi community, especially up at Boulder, has been incredibly supportive of the fundraiser,” says Hansen. “I feel very fortunate. It’s the most supportive community you could ask for!”

Hansen and Harmon plan to keep the GoFundMe open for at least another couple of weeks. If you can contribute to their fundraiser, visit the page here.