Two things happened to Ben Compton when he entered Cal State San Marcos that would change his life: he pledged SAE and started working part-time in the college bookstore.
His brother, Christopher, had pledged what was then a colony of SAE, when Ben was a sophomore in high school. Ben continued to hang out with chapter members throughout high school and pledged the new Cal Alpha-Gamma in his freshman year at CSUSM when his brother was president.
Ben, now 37, pursued degrees in criminology another in sociology. He got a job on campus in the bookstore as a seasonal employee. He showed an interest in the business. They decided to keep him on, launching an 18-year career that took him to San Diego State, where he now manages all textbook-related course materials. CSUSM San Marcos also got him more interested in SAE.
The SAE chapter was down to 10 actives when he joined, he said. They added 17 in his pledge class. As an active in SAE, he held the positions of recruitment chair and warden. The chapter rented facilities for its events. For charities, the chapter participated in different walks for causes. It was active in a Designated Drivers program. Those in need could call for help and two people would show up, one person to drive and the other to drive the car of the challenged youth back to his or her residence. The other person would follow in the second car.
“This was a major benefit in reducing risks in the days before Uber and Lyft,” Ben said.
There was only one other fraternity at CSUSM when he joined and two sororities. The majority of the students were from the area and from Northern California. The school had a diverse student body because it was easier to get into than San Diego State University, which was impacted because only about 5 percent of some 80,000 freshmen applicants would be accepted.
Getting active as an alumnus
As an alumni, he was president of the Cal Alpha-Gamma Alumni Association for four years. Adam Porter invited him to sit on the San Diego Area Association SAE board some 18 months ago. He plans to continue.
Ben moved up to more responsible positions during his 12 years at San Marcos. He spent one year at Santa Barbara City College before his bookstore career took him to SDSU in February 2014 when he joined Aztec Shops as course materials manager.
“The bookstores do $25 million a year and are a big business,” Ben said. He has a staff of three, plus two students. Aztec Shops oversee campus stores, the store in Calexico and the Republic of Georgia. It has a dining division to manage all food services and a real estate division to handle its multiple locations. It operates as a 501c3 non-profit organization so all proceeds go back to support student activities.
Move to digital textbooks
For course work, Ben said hardcover books still dominate but there is a trend toward digital. He helped start a program almost three years ago to deliver lower priced digital books to students. Students get access before class begins and use the books for free for two weeks.
“Then, if they want to stay in the program, we charge their student account the discounted costs,” Ben said. “If they don’t, they just opt out. We have 95 percent of the students stay in. This past fall over 30,000 seats that stayed in the program.”
The SDSU discount program helps cut down the burden of the price of course materials and has saved students over $9 million.
SDSU was the first in the Cal State system to launch the program and it is now one of the largest in the country. His main focus is to save students as much money as possible. His office is even active in buying discounted books from third party sellers on Amazon during each semester, after demand has been fulfilled and lower prices prevail.
Some SDSU bookstore factoids:
After textbooks, the top seller is clothing. The Nike football/basketball gear sells well if the teams are doing well.
The most expensive textbooks are over $300.
Trendy merchandise: Nixon watches and Ray Ban sunglasses.
Also popular, hydro flasks.
A SDSU logo mini skirt and tube top set that has been selling really well for the past year and half.
For the future, he did think of pursuing advanced degrees but the going back to school in the classroom wasn’t appealing. He plans to grow his career in the bookstore industry, which does have a campus connection that he enjoys.
Outside work and fraternity, he likes craft beers (favorite is Lost Abbey in San Marcos, a mile from where he lives). His parents, Paul and Debi Compton, live in San Marcos. His brother, Chris, now 39, is with Wells Fargo in Charlotte, N.C. He is also falling in love with traveling. He spent two weeks in Germany, Belgium and Ireland. The latter was to see the blessing of the marriage of a brother from Ireland who got married in the U.S. and went home to have the marriage blessed in the same church where his parents were married.
What did he get out of SAE?
“Lifelong friends,” he said. “I was surrounded by people that I probably wouldn’t have known otherwise – a rewarding experience. San Marcos is an extremely diverse campus, which showed in our fraternity as well. I had a pledge brother, aged 40, who grew up in Liberia. Try singing Violets with him! We had a real melting pot, which made everyone a better person.”
Words of wisdom for future SAEs?
“Whether it’s being active and or as an alumni, you get out of it what you put into it,” Ben said.
The more the merrier!