By Caroline Quattro
One phone call can change the trajectory of a person’s life, for better or for worse. Riley Martin just happened to be the recipient of both kinds. The first call was one any daughter would never expect to receive at the age of 20. Not even 24 hours later, the second call was enough to provide her with the hope she needed to persevere through it all.
Martin is currently a senior at Rider University, double majoring in public relations and musical theater. Her involvement is extensive across campus, but the one that has been most impactful is her position as president of Zeta Tau Alpha (ZTA), a title she has wanted to take on since her freshman year.
“I always knew I was going to be a sorority girl,” Martin said without hesitation. “I was president of the drama club in high school so leadership and a busy schedule was not a foreign concept to me.”
Before even moving into her dorm freshman year, she knew everything there was to know about Zeta Tau Alpha and their philanthropy. Once she arrived on campus she knew that ZTA was where she needed to be.
“I’m affected by breast cancer, my grandmother is a survivor. I wanted to be in so badly to support and give back to a cause that I care so much about and is so close to home,” explained Martin.
In the spring of 2020, Martin went through formal spring recruitment and got her bid from ZTA which was only the beginning for her.
“As soon as I was eligible, I applied for the program council. I wanted to take on leadership positions to show how much I cared for the fraternity at heart,” said Martin.
ZTA is known as a fraternity as they are not partnered with a brother fraternity. The founders of ZTA designated the organization as a farternity since being founded in 1898.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic cut her first year in the chapter short and sent the sisters home for the remainder of the school year. However, Martin did not let this roadblock deter her from doing what she loved. While still living in a virtual world, she applied to be the rituals chairman for her chapter and was elected for the role soon after.
“Getting this position on the executive board and having everyone be so supportive of me throughout it really made me feel a deeper connection to this organization,” said Martin. “As ritual chairman you are learning the ins and outs of the fraternity and really understanding why we do what we do, and that really helped my goal of pursuing president more of a reality because I wanted all my sisters to understand the shared factor of why we are all here.”
Martin gave a lot of credit to other members of the chapter for her accomplishments. Specifically, her big sister in the chapter and Rider alumni Madi Rae DiPietro, and past presidents of ZTA helped her tap into her true potential and give her the confidence to take on such a large role.
“In my heart, I always wanted to be president since my freshman year, but I would never admit that to anyone at the time. Having these seniors who I looked up to tell me that they saw potential in me was the push I needed to become more open about wanting it and actually trying to make it a reality,” said Martin.
When interviews and elections came around in October, Martin’s path in ZTA became less clear.
“The day before interviews is when I found out about my dad. The day before,” said Martin.
On Oct. 15th, 2021, Martin received a call with the news that her father had passed away unexpectedly.
Minutes after the call ended, DiPietro helped pack her bags and Martin headed home for the indefinite future.
“When something like this happens you just kind of black out, but I could remember Madi Rae telling me she would take care of everything and not to worry about my interview. She made sure I knew not to worry about it,” said Martin.
Not even a day later while home, Martin received a phone call from the president at the time with the news that she was elected as the new president of ZTA.
“It was this brief moment of,” Martin paused, “nice,” she finished. “All my family were there and I remember my mom saying to me that we weren’t going to try and think ahead, we were just going to celebrate in the present and deal with the next steps when we have to.”
For about a month, Martin stayed home to be with family and to be the executor of her father’s estate.
“It was this crazy thing to take on at 20 years old but it also kept me busy and I think it saved me,” Martin reflected. “Having the position in ZTA that I had to fulfill back at school kept me grounded.”
Martin returned to campus in November and was met with unconditional love and support from her sisters.
Caroline King, a senior English major and Martin’s vice president of ZTA, commended Martin’s resilience and leadership throughout their term together.
“Riley was extremely adaptable especially while dealing with everything going on in her life. Whether it was changing an event to be online or hosting a huge event neither of us had attended due to COVID-19, she was able to make it happen,” said King.
Junior marketing major and newly elected president of ZTA, Hana Doroba, also was able to express her gratitude for Martin.
“Riley has been a great mentor to me and her encouragement throughout the process of me applying for president was unmatched,” said Doroba. “I’m nervous to fill such big shoes but I know she is going to be there for me every second of the way.”
Leadership is a quality that Martin has mastered. From leading a drama club in high school to leading a chapter of 47 women through a time of personal struggle, she has proven it is her strong suit. When met with the question about what she is most proud about during her term, her response was almost immediate.
“I am most proud about setting an example of being kind. You never know what anyone is going through so the least we can do as someone on the outside is show kindness. To a sister or to a stranger, everyone deserves to be treated kindly,” said Martin.
Hannah Newman and Olivia Nicoletti are employees of The Rider News and sisters of ZTA. Neither were involved in the writing or reporting of this article.