We had the good fortune of connecting with Dr. Hildra Starks and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dr. Hildra, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
Honestly, I have always valued the importance of personal and mental freedom, which for me was the primary goal for starting my own business. I’ve never been content with the prospect of working for others for my entire professional career. Being furloughed in 2019 was the ultimate wake-up call for me, and it was at that moment I firmly decided that I would dedicate my time towards starting a business and becoming my own boss.
What should our readers know about your business?
For starters, it is important to understand that Sigma Chi Psi Sorority and the Gamma Sigma Gamma Fraternity are my fourth business ventures. Both are independent non-profit organizations, currently not affiliated with any Greek councils. We are the first sorority and fraternity for students pursuing an online degree with an emphasis on bridging the social gap for students. In addition, we also extend membership opportunities to community college, technical, and trade school students.
My pathway of discovery was fueled by the challenges I overcame in my own life. Not too many years ago, I experienced the isolation and hopelessness of being homeless in Los Angeles. This severe isolation forced me to analyze all the life decisions that led to my circumstances. By sheer determination, I was able to pull myself out of that situation and soon came to realize that it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Later I moved to Las Vegas, and I had my first opportunity to work with college students. It was then that I discovered my true passion for helping others. It is a very self-rewarding feeling to understand and be content with why things happened the way they did to push you into a place of purpose.
Fast forward a few years later, I was then living in Miami working on a third-party higher education company’s research project and discovered an under the radar yet growing demand for a sisterhood and brotherhood among women and men attending schools that primarily offer online programs. The phenomenon piqued my curiosity, and after further research on established sororities and fraternities, I recognized the vast divide that caused many online students’ to feel isolated and excluded from their peers.
I could immediately empathize with those students because of my own life’s journey, and I decided to make it my mission to establish the first sorority and fraternity for students seeking an online degree: the Beautiful Jades of Sigma Chi Psi and the Stones of Gamma Sigma Gamma. My goal was to add another dimension of student engagement to online learning programs—the social dimension. Studies show that online programs and distance learning have a much higher dropout rate than in-person learning due to a lack of opportunities for genuine and meaningful social interactions. When starting the organizations, I found that students at community colleges, trade schools, and technical colleges had a similar need to interact with peers like their counterparts at larger higher education institutions. In response to this demand, I extended our membership opportunities to include these types of students as well in order to establish a larger sense of community.
The ability to connect with peers is a lifeline for women and men who juggle careers, multiple jobs, family responsibilities, or all of the above. I, along with a close friend of mine, Stephanie Robinson, worked tirelessly to keep this lifeline in place throughout the pandemic. We are still moving at a cautious pace due to the pandemic. Though we encountered significant roadblocks, we continue to pursue our vision to connect students, faculty, and alumni of online programs through the organizations. Ultimately, our goal is to positively impact students’ personal lives and educational careers by bridging the social gap through networking, local meetups, national meetups, and charitable events.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I think in order to experience an area, you have to take part in what it truly offers. I would take my friends to Las Vegas to see some of the many famous shows that represent the culture and vibrancy of the city. Las Vegas has many different shows that appeal to a diverse audience, but I personally recommend the Blu Man Group, Jabbawockeez, and the Chris Angel show.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Absolutely, I would like to personally shout out to everyone who has played some part in the beginning stages of our organization and to those who currently dedicate their precious time to ensuring the organization succeeds with its mission and purpose.
Those individuals include Stephanie Robinson our co-founder, Hillary Davis, Toni Johnson, Tonya Rankins, Latasha Currie, Monica Shaw-McAlpine & her daughter’s, Amanda Maynard, Tiffaney Brown, Fawn Parden, Jasmine Taylor, Antoinette Walton, Fransine “Frankie” Sanchez, Alora Valadez, Deborah Witherspoon, Kayla Howard, Joann Cummings, Vanessa Oates, Valenicia Price, Tasha Johnson, Dana Coleman, Kapricia Miller, Ebonee Strong, Toimeka Starks, Natasha Pickett, Chankeia Scott and Briana Rasul (RIP).
Without their time and support, what we strive to accomplish would be next to impossible so I am very thankful for their contributions to the organization.
Images by Itsenutopia