It’s not uncommon for full-time college students to hold jobs outside of the classroom; a little extra spending money is nice. But Erin Riley does it to fully and independently support herself. She also works at local and student newspapers on the side. Plus, she’s got a heavy course load that demands her astute attention. However, the rigors of school and work don’t detract Erin from her mission: Make the Indiana University SPJ chapter one of the best in the nation.
This year, her efforts as chapter president paid off. The chapter was recently named Campus Chapter of the Year. That’s quite an accomplishmenton any stage, but considering the history of the chapter, it’s downright remarkable.
Three years ago, SPJ was nearly a forgotten institution on IU’s campus, which is odd considering the history of the School of Journalism (WWII journalist Ernie Pyle is all but a venerated saint there). But the story of the chapter’s rise to prominence doesn’t start and end with Riley.Rather, the chapter largely owes its resurgence to the late Dave Adams, the university’s former director of student media. Adams was affectionately known as “Dadams,” a recognition of the caring way he interacted with students. Several years ago, Adams made it his goal to restart the chapter, which had faded into obscurity.
Adams died in a freak downing accident in June 2007. Before his passing, though, Adams did one thing that proved extremely fortuitous: he recruited Erin Riley to join the chapter.
After Adams’ death, members voted to rename the chapter in his honor. Shortly after that, Riley assumed the position of VP for Membership, and thus began the chapter’s ascent from burgeoning to abounding.
The chapter set an ambitions goal: Recruit 50 new members each semester, with the goal being 100 in one year’s time. Their recruiting was aggressive,and they targeted students from across the journalism spectrum. While competing groups such as PRSSA operated in a niche, SPJ saw the need to branch out from a reliance on print to seek members in broadcast and online media. And their recruitment started young, too, before some people were even technically in college.
“I met Erin in the summer before my freshman
year at IU during an introduction for future
students interested in journalism,” said Elvia Malagon, now an SPJ member and staff writer at the Indiana Daily Student. “Erin right away explained the benefits of SPJ membership and got me hooked.”
As someone who has worked closely with Riley,
Malagon knows how hard Riley has worked to make the chapter successful.
“Erin’s commitment to SPJ is very strong,” she said. “We interned at the same newspaper this past summer and even during our breaks she would be doing SPJ work. That’s when I really saw first hand how hard she worked for SPJ.”
Riley’s commitment led her to participate in the Ted Scripps Leadership Institute program in June. She was also elected to the SPJ national board in September during the convention in Atlanta.
Alberto Morales, from whom Riley assumed the chapter’s presidency, reflected a similar sentiment.“At one time Erin had two editor positions and an off campus job and was a student with a full class load. But she still made SPJ a priority,” he said.
For Riley, putting so much into SPJ is a no-brainer, on par with college education or contributing to a 401(k).
“I think it’s really important to invest in your future,” said Riley. “You can learn things with this organization and have experiences that provide that investment, just like taking out a loan or starting a retirement account. SPJ is that investment.”