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Zavala-Suarez’s love of his fraternity helps him stand out

Barry McNamara
Manny Zavala-Suarez is pictured receiving the College's Emerging Greek Male Leader award at last spring's Greek Week banquet.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Self-described “caffeine addict” Manny Zavala-Suarez ’21 had a feeling Monmouth College might be the right school for him when the College’s Chicago-based admission counselor, Peter Pitts, suggested meeting at a Starbucks.

A graduate of Chicago’s Curie Metropolitan High School, Zavala-Suarez broke out of his comfort zone to leave the city and attend college on the other side of Illinois. That experience has served him well, helping him continue to face new challenges successfully in his first two years at Monmouth. He received the Emerging Greek Male Leader award at last spring’s Greek Week banquet.

Now in his second semester as president of Phi Delta Theta, Zavala-Suarez added another honor over the summer when he was named one of 58 members across the nation to receive the fraternity’s Outstanding Undergraduate Brother award. It is presented for leadership and service to the chapter, campus and community.

“I have been impressed with Manny’s thoughtful manner in which he integrates Phi Delta Theta’s core values into the planning of chapter events,” said Associate Dean of Students Karen Ogorzalek. “He recently completed a strategic plan for the chapter focusing on academics, philanthropic events and membership development. Also, he collaboratively worked with the executive board to create goals that encourage the membership to reach outside their comfort zone. By doing so, they will strengthen their chapter and themselves as individuals.”

Another comfort zone escape

That collective stretch outside the comfort zone was necessary as Phi Delta Theta had fallen on challenging times during Zavala-Suarez’s freshman year.

“We got off to a bad start,” he recalled. “We normally recruit 8-10 members each fall, but that year’s class was just three. We were pretty unorganized, and we just weren’t having as much fun as you’d expect.”

An accounting and business major, Zavala-Suarez took on the fraternity’s treasurer position. He was immediately put in an “intimidating” situation.

“Dues were not being paid regularly, so I made it a point to sit down with each of the members and talk about that individually,” he said. “That was intimidating for a freshman. These were my friends, but I also had to communicate that they had a responsibility.”

His approach paid off, literally, as the fraternity’s income rose 30 percent that year.

“It’s all part of setting the culture,” said Zavala-Suarez. “That’s something I picked up from one of my business classes with (marketing professor) Tom Prince, who taught us about how businesses have successfully gone about changing the culture of their company. What I learned in those classes, I applied to the fraternity.”

Students mentors, such as May graduate Oscar Diaz, also helped sharpen Zavala-Suarez’s leadership acumen, and so have his parents.

“They came to this country to give me a better life,” he said of his mother and father, who immigrated from Mexico. “My parents always taught me to go above and beyond. There are so many opportunities here at Monmouth. You just have to take advantage of them.”

Zavala-Suarez is confident Phi Delta Theta will have its second straight successful recruiting year. His main goal for the fraternity is “to better our image. I want us to be more involved on campus.”

Ogorzalek doesn’t doubt that will happen.

“Manny’s love of Phi Delta Theta and its core values and his desire to have an impact on this campus are unmistakable in each of our meetings,” she said.

Choosing Monmouth

Although Zavala-Suarez typically takes his parents’ words to heart, he didn’t heed their words on at least one occasion.

“My parents wanted me to stay in Chicago for college,” he said, “but I’ve always been a bit of a rebel. I knew I wanted to get out and explore, and Monmouth was also the best place for me financially.”

It certainly helped that he fostered a connection with Pitts over coffee.

“In high school, I was that kid who had to have caffeine,” he said. “I was four years ‘running on Dunkin.’ I always had a Dunkin Donuts coffee with me, wherever I went.”