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“Why is it critical to give back?” Alumni President Martin Barbato ’79 asks rhetorically. “That’s the wrong question. Yes, it is critical to give back to sustain something in which we were all involved and from which we received so much. But why should we give back — that is the better question. It is not because of a demand from without … It is because of a desire from within. And that is what makes one’s motivation different. I give back to Phi Sig because I am a big believer in it. I value the basic idea of and the foundational roots of the fraternal community — it is the place where we learned how to run a business, where we became leaders and good citizens. I encourage any alums who feel the same to get involved with us.”

Barbato did not investigate other fraternities when he started at Penn State. “It wasn’t something I did,” he remembers. “I didn’t really have any experience with or knowledge about fraternities and rushing.” Instead, he learned about Phi Sig through the Blue Band. He arrived on campus a few weeks before classes started to begin practicing with the Blue Band and met fellow bandmates Bill DeGrandis ’77 and Craig Wilson ’78. They invited him back to the Phi Sig house where he says his first impressions were of “good guys having fun.” Within a brief time, he found himself going to rush and meeting other brothers. “This sounds pretty good,” he thought, and decided to join.

Barbato’s pledge class was a large one, and he says that they had a lot of fun. “There were good parties.” But he says that his favorite part about Phi Sig is not as much the memories from that time as what has transpired in the years since then. “For me, the more lasting things are the relationships I still have from those times,” he says.

After graduation, Barbato went on to get his MBA, and then his law degree, and has been a practicing attorney for over 30 years, having recently served as Chief Legal Officer with and as President for Amec Foster Wheeler North America Corp in New Jersey. Barbato lives in Madison, New Jersey. He has two sons, both of whom graduated from Penn State.

Over the years, his connection with Phi Sig brothers has deepened, along with his appreciation for the ‘eternal, living organism’ of brotherhood and fraternal organizations. He was part of the alumni board during the ‘80s and was involved again in the mid-2000s and during the capital campaign. And when his Phi Sig roommate Fred DeCock ’80 stepped down after his tenure as alumni president, Barbato followed him into the leadership position. “This relationship idea had always stayed with me,” he says. “The idea of fraternal organizations is very rooted in me, and I knew that it was important for me to get more involved.”

He says that when DeCock asked him to join the board, the fraternity — along with all fraternal organizations at Penn State — was going through a difficult change. As a result of the tragic death of Tim Piazza, the University banned first-year students from rushing in their first semester. For spring rush, students had made housing decisions for the next year already. Consequently, the numbers of sophomores moving into the house went down. “There’s a real economic impact from the University’s ban,” Barbato says. As he met with the University to discuss next steps in the post-Piazza era, he says that his appreciation for the value of fraternities grew stronger. “They are little incubators,” he says. “A fraternity provides a wonderful opportunity for growth that is not available elsewhere in college life.”

Today, in addition to serving as the alumni president, he also is an advisor to the undergraduates, a position he calls a labor of love. “I like developing the relationship between the actives and the alumni,” he says. “I am so thankful for my whole Phi Sig experience and everything that has flowed from it.”