Leveraging Relationships to Facilitate Positive Culture Change

What can enhance the transformational experience of fraternity and sorority life (FSL) for undergraduate students? Relationships. New relationships can change a college experience for an isolated freshman student. Students from an unprivileged background may benefit in a community inundated with privilege (e.g., social capital) needed for upward social mobility. Empowering community members to develop passion for a new cause (e.g., philanthropy) occurs  through relationships. We all know relationships are the foundation of families, classrooms, groups, sports teams, organizations, and the fabric of our our society. At Cor, we do not overlook this critical fact, but rather use the science of relationships to improve our ability to facilitate positive culture change.


Social Network Analysis (SNA) is a statistical analysis based on graph theory that represents social actors as nodes and their relationships as ties. For example, individuals may be connected through ties of mutual influence (e.g., leadership, power imbalance at school, or roles at work). Groups could be nodes, connected via ties of liking or disliking. Have you ever wanted to know what group (dis)likes each other? Imagine seeing how information exchange patterns (e.g., emails, posts, texts) linked multiple people. The image (to the right) is a representation of social network data in a sociogram. Social actors (e.g., circles in the sociogram) could be represented as different colors because the individuals belong to different groups (e.g., individuals working in marketing, sales, human resources). The size of the circles could be altered based on an actor’s “influence” in the overall network (e.g., larger the node, larger their influence). The color of the lines could be altered based on type of relationship (e.g., like, dislike).

We recommend the use of SNA to all stakeholders who may implement our programming because  it may enhance the effectiveness of our programs. For example, a study by conducted by researchers at Yale, Princeton, and Rutgers compared school interventions using SNA to identify high-status influencers in middle schools relative to interventions that didn’t target specific students as change agents. The study showed using high-status influencers had a significant decrease in student conflict reports (decrease of 30%) and improved school climate (Paluck, Shepherd, Aronow, 2016).

We apply the same science and approach for our FSL program—High Influencer Training (HIT). The HIT program uses SNA to identify high-status influencers in a fraternity or sorority. We then motivate and train these high-status organizational members to facilitate positive culture change based on organizational change theory and prosocial-organizational behaviors. Our training covers developing organizational change strategies and teaching participants how to utilize reinforcement and rewards to facilitate behavior change, to the promoting bystander intervention related to a range of risk behaviors (e.g., sexual assault, binge drinking, hazing) among organizational members.

Why utilizing high-status influencers is vital for FSL interventions:

Reason 1: Position does not equal influence

In my first job following ungrad, and then as a graduate assistantship, I worked in Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) for three years. During the time, I observed FSL professionals relying heavily on positional (formal) leaders within a chapter to lead organizational change. This ubiquitous strategy is based on the assumption that formal leaders inherit a degree of power and influence with their formal position in the organization. By associating positional power with influence, we spend significant less time with the “invisible” leaders within an organization. Research shows that these “invisible” leaders may hold more influence because an individual’s network of relationship holds more organizational influence than an individual’s formal position in an organization (Simpson, Farrell, Oriña, & Rothman, 2015). What happens when an influential member becomes an “invisible” leader? Their potential to create positive organizational outcomes may never be realized.

Our HIT program utilizes SNA to identify the most influential positional and “invisible” leaders.

Reason 2: Influence does not equal positive influence

Holding the assumption that influential organizational members have a positive impact on their organizations is dangerous. Such an assumption fails to recognize and respect the power of negative influencers. In fraternities and sororities, it is the high-status negative influencers who encourage and perpetuate a harmful fraternity and sorority culture. In fact, the most dangerous chapter member is the negative informal influencer. Not only are they “invisible” to FSL professionals, but their influence can negate or reverse any positive efforts to develop leaders who want to benefit their chapter or community.

By using SNA to identify the most influential organizational members, all influencers—both positive and negative, formal and informal—are included in the positive organizational culture change process. We believe identifying and intervening on negative influencers is essential if you want to change harmful fraternity and sorority life culture. Negative influencers can be empowered to leverage their influence for positive organizational change.

Reason 3: Always strive to improve programming

It is our belief time can be saved and resources maximized if FSL professionals  use SNA in their practice. Is sifting through participant applications the most effective selection process for choosing the right students for a program? Are mandatory, all-member presentations with motivational speakers, an effective and efficient culture-change approach? Is increasing the number of students you reach in a presentation more important than getting the right students for creating change?

If the answer to any of the previous questions is, “no,” shouldn’t we be searching for a solution? For five years,  we searched for the answer and we believe SNA is a critical component of the solution.


Paluck, P. L., Shepherd, H., Aronow, P. M. (2016). Changing climates of conflict: A social network experiment in 56 schools. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 113(3), 566-571.

Simpson, J. a, Farrell, A. K., Oriña, M. M., & Rothman, A. J. (2015). Power and social influence in relationships. In M. Mikulincer & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), APA Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 3, pp. 393–420).

Working with Students and Partners in Ohio Schools

Last week, Laura Beth, Kyle and I took a road trip to Cleveland, OH and spent a week with educators, School Resource Officers, and students. It was a blast and we can’t wait to share the highlights with you!


The Town of Chardon and the broader Northeast Ohio region have a special place in our heart. Throughout graduate school, the Actively Caring group from VT  and I traveled over 12,000 miles from Blacksburg, VA to Northeast, OH and back to deliver workshops to Chardon HS after their 2012 shooting and neighboring schools.  Although Monday of last week marked the 5th year anniversary of their shooting (read Blog by Chardon alumnae Kaylynn Hill), it was also a day of idea generation and sharing of best practices at a conference held by the Coach Hall Foundation: Providing a safe environment for our school children: A layered approach. We presented with speakers who shared our passion for violence prevention and more compassionate schools, including representatives from Chardon High School, Ohio Department of Education, National Association of School Resource Officers, and Sandy Hook Promise.

Personally, it was humbling to present at this event. Sports Illustrated refers to the Coach Frank Hall as an “american hero” for his courage after he chased the shooter out of the Chardon school building. When we visited Chardon for the first time in May 2012, we delivered a school-wide assembly and held breakout sessions. I remember Coach Hall encouraging some of his more quiet football players to “speak up and share ideas” in my student group as we led a workshop on healing, care, and community building.

Laura Beth, Kyle, Shane of the Cor Foundation & Coach Frank Hall, Principal Andy Fetchik

Laura Beth, Kyle, Shane of the Cor Foundation & Coach Frank Hall, Principal Andy Fetchik

We shared our story, research and programming with the 140+ conference participants (educators and School Resource Officers) at the Paradigm building in Mentor, OH. The response was overwhelmingly positive and we look forward to more partnerships with more northeast OH schools in Fall 2017.


On Tuesday, we finalized training and plans for our forthcoming Actively Caring summit on Friday at Berkshire HS (Burton, OH). Then, we drove to the beautiful new school building of Streetsboro High School for a workshop on goodness friendships. Inspired by an article in About Campus by Dr. Frank Shushok, which highlights the three types of friendships as defined by Aristotle, our Program Director Kyle Pacque developed a new workshop about pleasure, utility, and goodness friends.  We believe our workshop on goodness friends is one of the most important ways for us to promote personal well-being, a positive school climate and a more connected society.


On wednesday, we visited students at Berkshire High School (Burton, OH) for a workshop on followership. Leadership seems to be the golden term. Everyone is told they should be a leader, but in reality, there are much more followers than leaders in teams. In order for students to accomplish critical team goals related to Actively Caring at their school, they must understand the types of followers. A search on Google books for leadership reveals 12,900,000 results compared to 73,000 for followership. Yes, 176 times more books on leadership than followership. Woah!  In his article, In Praise of Followers, Robert Kelly discusses four types of followers: sheep, “yes” people, and alienated followers, and effective followers. During this workshop, students learn the causes and outcomes associated with each follower type and how to apply effective followership to their own life and club.

Then, Chardon Alumnae Kaylynn Hill and her friends in Actively Caring at Lakeland Community College met us at a unique coffee shop -- full of all antique furniture. They updated us on the progress of AC @ LCC and shared some stories.


On Thursday, we delivered the followership workshop to the Chardon Leadership class. Formulated as a means to sustain the Actively Caring Club originally formed in 2012, Chardon’s Leadership class serves as a means to sustain Actively Caring programming and initiatives. Then, we drove to Cleveland to meet with Seema Sharma, our new Kevin R. Lawall Fellow, who will deliver the middle school curriculum at East Clark K-8 school in East Cleveland. Laura Beth and I trained her on the research and middle school program.  For dinner, we joined Alexis and Dana of Centreville High School (VA) to share more about our work and the students in these Ohio schools.


Daily, high school students from neighboring schools are brought together to compete, but on this Friday, March 3rd, 75 high school students from four high schools focused on collaboration rather than competition. We partnered with Berkshire Local Schools, Sandy Hook Promise, and the Coach Hall Foundation to connect, train and empower students from Berkshire Junior/Senior High School, Chardon High School, Mentor High School, and Streetsboro High School at the 2017 Actively Caring Summit.

The 2017 Actively Caring Summit was the third held in Northeast OH.

  • The Summit began with a message from Cor Foundation staff, Superintendent Doug DeLong of Berkshire Local Schools, along with Cor character coaches from Lakeland Community College and Allegheny College (Berkshire and Chardon HS alumnae)
  • Each high school received a tailored workshop based on their unique school issues and aspirations in order to ensure the sustainability of programming

  • Sandy Hook Promise Leader, Casey Durkin delivered the Sandy Hook Promise: Start With Hello presentation (Ohio Program Coordinator Patricia Parker-Perry and Tony Baker were present)

  • Student participants worked collaboratively through team-building exercises to develop cross-district relationships for future community-wide Actively Caring initiatives.

  • Students had a "family style" lunch to share ideas with students at different schools, provide new ideas for our mobile app, and work collaboratively.

For example, the marble run activity instructed students to get a marble (a gumball for us) from one cup to the other using half pipes. This required leadership (and followership) to emerge, students to communicate and provide feedback between attempts when failure occurred. The mixture of thoughtful activities with student discussion led to high engagement and meaningful connection to their respective clubs.


It was a busy, yet motivating, week in Ohio schools. We cannot wait to see Actively Caring continue to grow from these empowered student leaders!

Thanks for reading, Shane


Chardon: Five Years Later

Written by Kaylynn Hill

Today marks the five year anniversary of the shooting which devastated my high school. I’m Kaylynn Hill, a proud alumna of Chardon High School, who has grown up here my entire life.  As I reflect on the day, I wanted to share my story and the impact on my small town in Chardon, Ohio.

Currently, people often describe me as a kind and passionate leader, but this was not always the case. In fact, before the shooting, I was a very shy person. I did not really get involved in many school functions or even speak unless spoken to. As a sophomore, I did not have any plans after high school graduation or even concrete life goals for that matter. I was just a kid trying to get through my high school courses and go to football games with my friends. I fit perfectly into my small town of Chardon.

Chardon is the kind of small town where everyone knows one another. You can walk down the street with your dog and see your barber, your history teacher, or your mom’s childhood friend.  Chardon has always been a place where I just feel at home and so many others do too --  it was even recently named one of the best places to raise a family.

The morning of February 27th, 2012, shook the Chardon community to its core. I remember walking into my first period English class as if it was any other Monday morning. Why think otherwise? Of course, it was not just any Monday. Even five years later, I still have flashbacks when I hear sirens or wear the same shirt I wore on that day. Although February 27th turned into a day that the entire Chardon community will never forget, our healing process is the story I want to share -- it’s how we moved forward. One Heartbeat, One Community.

High schoolers never stop to think that a few moments can drastically alter the course of their life. The shooting was a turning point in my life and so many others because it reminds you how much you take for granted. We are so caught up in the rat race of making it through those four years that we never take a moment to appreciate the people and pleasant events that we have in our lives. February 27th opened our eyes to the fact that tragic things can happen anywhere, to good people, and even inside of our comfort zone in Chardon. It’s very easy to believe the tale of invincibility and go through life living the motions. The shooting really shook up those beliefs.

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For weeks following the shooting, Chardon was overflowing with cards, food, and other items from people all over the world who were expressing their condolences. People within the Chardon community were going out of their way to care for their neighbor.  I remember watching the superintendent in a press conference as he encouraged students to hug their parents a little tighter every morning and take the time to say “I love you”. I saw students who would have never spoken to one another checking in on their fellow peer. With all this kindness pumping into Chardon, we found ourselves asking, “How do we sustain the caring?”

A few months after the shooting, a group of Virginia Tech students came to deliver our first school-wide assembly at Chardon High since the shooting. This group was Actively Caring for People (now Actively Caring). While presenting, every single person was hanging onto the words of the student leader, Shane McCarty, who spoke Shane McCarty. Although there were over 1,000 students and faculty, you could hear a pin drop in the gymnasium. The Actively Caring message was simple: recognizing people for going above and beyond for each other. It was this presentation that helped so many people find their purpose after the shooting. This purpose was to serve others at school and in the community. I knew—Chardon knew—that Actively Caring would be the vessel in which we sustained the compassion after the shooting and begin to move forward in our healing process.

The construction of that vessel began immediately following the Actively Caring presentation. Students—including me—were invited to workshops with the Actively Caring coaches, where we were given the language and tools to bring Actively Caring into our school and into the surrounding community. We started with an appreciation luncheon for our school’s staff. Our focus was to give back to the many people who had helped us throughout our healing process. Throughout the next few years, the club expanded and completed other service-oriented events such as: a yearly Valentine’s Day dance for the elderly community, “Kick It For Cancer” kickball event, and creating a “27 Acts of Kindness” challenge. In addition, the college students from Virginia Tech (aka Actively Caring coaches) empowered us to go into our local middle schools to lead mini-lesson plans on how to bring Actively Caring into their school. Throughout all of these events, not only were we giving back to the community but we were also gaining transformational experiences ourselves. We were gaining leadership, communication, and service skills. Actively Caring empowered me to shift from the shy individual that I once was into a passionate leader.

I often think back to the morning that Actively Caring came to Chardon. It’s amazing that one or two events in your life can completely change your life course. Before Actively Caring, I did not have any clear goals that I wanted to achieve. It has become an integral part of my life. I brought Actively Caring with me to college. I mentor students on how to spread kindness in higher education. Through my mentorship role, I discovered my passion for making a positive impact on college students, and thus will be pursuing a masters in student affairs administration. Actively Caring has helped me realized my purpose to serve others and has given me the voice and the tools to create a lasting impact in the world around me.

From Caring to #ActivelyCaring

Do you feel overwhelmed by the copious amounts of information available to you every moment of the day? Or perhaps, you’re so put off by it that your feel numb to it all. Whether the info comes from newspapers, conversations with family, social media updates from friends, or mobile apps, today’s culture of content saturation is our greatest asset and greatest hindrance. Poet Prince Ea’s spoken word on social media says it’s “ironic how touch screens can make us...lose touch,” and “it’s no wonder in a world filled with iMacs, iPads, and iPhones, so many ‘I’s, so many selfies, there are not enough us’s and we’s.”

Whether you’re feeling overwhelmed or even numb, we all want to feel valued by and connected to others. For those reasons, we seek out mediums of expression (e.g., face-to-face conversations, posts on social media) with the hopes to be heard, acknowledged, and validated. In today’s world, it may be a “like” online or even a head nod from others, but both forms of expression fulfill a need—to feel care.

#ActivelyCaring challenges you to shift your focus from receiving care to actively expressing care for others. We can all care for others:  family, friends, neighbors, strangers, the homeless, and the hopeless. But if you don’t translate that sense of caring into action, does it matter? Does it make a difference?

It was Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Having a sense of caring is personal, innate, but internal. It is silent.

Translating that silent sense of caring into action is #ActivelyCaring.

Three forms of action, or resources, you can offer to translate caring into #ActivelyCaring are:

  1. Time: Committing your time to something you care about is #ActivelyCaring

  2. Talent: Providing your skills and knowledge to something you care about is #ActivelyCaring.

  3. Treasure: Giving any of your wealth to something you care about is #ActivelyCaring

Tips for #ActivelyCaring

  1. Start with yourself: Before you can actively care, you should spend time identifying what means the most to you. Tackling issues you care about most will will likely keep you motivated.

  2. Set goals: Tackling a big societal problem can become daunting and defeating. Start with small achievable goals. If you care about veterans, perhaps start by volunteering. Reach out to your political representatives. Then build on your success!

  3. Assess your impact: How often do you see a post on social media and think to yourself, “That’s not really going to make a difference.” Perhaps the individual has a clear goal: raise awareness.Understanding the goal of impact you want to make and your sphere of influence will allow you to more effectively actively care. Once you’ve actively cared, assess if you’re making an impact. If you are successful, continue the work you’re doing or strive for something greater. If you are not being successful, reassess your strategies, gain feedback from friends and those you want to serve, and keep trying!

We at Cor challenge you to #ActivelyCaring this week!

Share with us how you are caring for others with the hashtag #ActivelyCaring.


Did you see the viral videos of the Mannequin Challenge on your social media feed or on TV? You’re not alone if you were confused as to why teens were frozen in place with a popular rap song playing in the background was going viral.

It is hard to miss video sensations such as Charlie bit my finger, the Ice Bucket Challenge, or the Mannequin Challenge. Do you ever wish viral videos had a purpose like the Ice Bucket Challenge and that kindness would go viral like some of these other videos? Your wish is our command because students and the Cor Foundation are working tirelessly to generate more kindness worldwide.  

You can find Actively Caring students across Connecticut, Louisiana, Ohio, and Virginia trying to make kindness become the next cultural phenomenon! These teens put their own twist to the Mannequin Challenge by making it a Freeze Kindness Challenge in effort to spread the Actively Caring movement.

Students need your help to make kindness go viral. Can you join the Actively Caring movement on Tuesday, January 17th by making the Freeze Kindness Challenge go viral? 

Spreading Kindness is only one step away :


  • Take your own video or picture of you Freezing Kindness with someone you are grateful for and upload it to Facebook with the  hashtags #FreezeKindess #Gratituesday