The Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter at Drexel University held its 12th annual SigEp Head Shaving Event March 5, the pinnacle of the fraternity’s year-long efforts to support the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and its fight against childhood cancer.
In an effort to show solidarity and raise awareness for children with cancer, over 40 people shaved their heads and six girls donated their hair during the carnival-like event, which also included a special appearance from a local pediatric oncologist, alongside a former cancer patient the fraternity has sponsored; however, this singular event represents only a piece of the fraternity’s dedication towards the foundation.
SigEp began supporting St. Baldrick’s in 2007 and since then, its annual head-shaving event has blossomed into one of the foundation’s most successful student-run events in the nation, according to Jonathan Moore, a mechanical engineering student who has been the event’s volunteer event organizer for the past two years.
“We continue to do it today because we find fulfillment knowing that the hard work we put in makes a difference in so many people’s lives,” Moore said.
The fraternity expects to reach their outlined yearly goal of $30,000 by June, according to Moore, who said they have earned about $25,000 so far. Over the past 11 years, the fraternity has raised over $400,000 to support the foundation and its mission to train researchers, fund supportive care research and open high-impact clinical trials.
According to the t. Baldrick’s, in the United States, one in 285 children are diagnosed with cancer — a worldwide total of 3,000,000 children a year — yet only 4 percent of U.S. federal funding is solely dedicated to childhood cancer research. The foundation works to provide grants to researchers who are solely focused on curing the various cancers that affect these children’s livelihoods.
Moore, alongside about 50 other brothers, has partnered with David Barrett, a pediatric oncologist in the Cancer Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Barrett attended the event to discuss how St. Baldrick’s drives cancer research, ultimately changing the lives of children — both locally and nationally.
“I get to do this because you guys do this,” he said, to the bustling crowd that was predominantly sporting green shirts, bald heads and cotton candy.
Frank Tiesi, a freshman studying mechanical engineering, fully supports his fraternity’s dedication to the organization since it helps children directly.
“They have a whole future to look forward to and they shouldn’t have to deal with illnesses like these. They should be having fun,” he said.
Every year, the fraternity matches with a local patient whose life has been haunted by pediatric cancer. This year’s match was Sophia Fox, who also made a special appearance at the event with her father. Fox was diagnosed with Stage IV Neuroblastoma in April 2016, but after a long journey filled with several rounds of chemotherapy and an exhaustive ICU visit, she successfully finished treatment this March. She is still limited by the cancer in many ways, but her father explained how SigEp’s endeavors have helped patients like his daughter — who sported an accomplished smile throughout the event — maneuver the tortuous path of cancer.
Freshman chemical engineering student Ryan Light said supporting St. Baldrick’s is a natural fit for the fraternity, whose key values include virtue, diligence and brotherly love.
“An act of philanthropy is one way we seek to display one of our cardinal principles of brotherly love, by helping people in need,” Moore added.
While the annual head shaving event is the culmination of the fraternity’s support of St. Baldricks, the boys spend all year preparing for the day and raising funds to contribute to the cause. Moore explained how yearly fundraising begins every fall with brothers reaching out to friends and families, in addition to local companies and other university members. They also spend many weekends panhandling in nearby towns to collect additional funds.
But this particular event allows the boys to come together to celebrate the work they’d done, said Tim Averianov, a student in the electrical engineering program.
“It’s like a capstone,” Connor Mayer, a sophomore studying construction management, added.
Jonathan Schneider, a freshman in the Film & Video Program, agreed that it commemorates the continuous efforts of the fraternity.
“It’s something the whole chapter looks forward to all year,” he said. “We all go gung-ho over this and we come out of this better.”
In fact, this was one of the reasons why he joined this particular fraternity. But Schneider said that he isn’t the only one who wholeheartedly supports the organization.
“The kids love it. We’re just like them,” he said.
Schneider also likes how the event makes the boys stick out. To add even greater emphasis prior to the shaving, he dyed his hair bright colors and wore it in a mohawk for about a week. Dull, green blotches on his bald head confirmed his efforts to make the change even more drastic.
“I’m ready to shave again,” he said with a laugh.
But it’s not easy for all of the boys to give up their locks. Avi Patel, a sophomore studying management information systems, did not intend on getting his head shaved when he first arrived at the event.
“At first I didn’t want to, but then I saw everyone else doing it,” he said, patting his freshly-shaved head. “But it’s a cool experience giving back.”
And for others, this experience is tradition.
David Lee, a 2004 alumni of the Drexel’s former Commerce and Engineering Program and the fraternity, has shaved his head all 12 years.
“It’s a great cause,” he said. “And it’s something easy to do.”
Lee said Drexel’s close proximity to CHOP validates his interest in the cause, since he knows that his participation is yielding real effects that can be seen not only locally, but nationally as well.
Josh Gliva, a pre-junior studying mechanical engineering, never thought twice about participating.
“It was just something you did,” he said. “It’s hard not to get excited for it.”
After months of hard work and dubious farewells to their locks, the boys still thoroughly enjoy the event.
“We always have a good time and we learn from it,” Jin Chen, a pre-junior studying management information systems, said. “It shows solidarity.”
“It’s really cool that a bunch of guys come together about something we’re passionate about,” Giancarlo Larusso, a sophomore studying civil engineering, said.
Larusso said it’s a great symbolic representation of forming awareness more generally. His favorite part, however, is seeing the smiles on children’s faces, which justifies his decision.
“I will miss my hair, but for this cause, it’s the least that we can do,” he said.