Note to readers: Students O'Brian Martin and Amanda Leckner will speak with President Tim Sands as part of his State of the University address on Jan. 18.

For many, the years spent in college are a time to unearth passions and interests. But for first-year student O’Brian Martin, not only has he discovered what he is most passionate about, but he also has used his passion to create good, all during his first year at Virginia Tech.

Martin, who is majoring in hospitality and tourism management and entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology management, is a representative of the Undergraduate Student Senate (USS), serving as the vice president for equity and inclusion. In this role, Martin works with other members of the senate and university faculty to facilitate matters pertaining to the diversity and accessibility of Virginia Tech and its campus.

He describes USS as a way for him to advocate for other students on their behalf, and Martin said he has become very passionate about assuring every student feels like they belong on Virginia Tech’s campus.

“I know how it feels when you don’t feel like you belong, and I know what it’s like to feel minimalized,” he said. “It’s a really dangerous and dehumanizing feeling, but I feel like we are transitioning to move away from that.”

Martin is also the chairman of the USS Equity and Inclusion Committee, which supports organizations on campus to improve equity practices and to advocate for marginalized groups.

While his passion for diversity and inclusion is entrenched in his college experience, Martin points back to an experience in high school that became the impetus for his involvement on campus today.

DECA, an organization that prepares students for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality, and management, is where Martin first realized his gift for business and his passion for diversity.

As a high school student, he became a member of DECA as a way to get involved and learn more about a field of work that was of interest to him. What he never expected, however, was making history as the first Black man to lead the organization, landing the role of the international executive president for the high school division.

“I think that was definitely a huge milestone not only for me, but also for the organization as well,” Martin said. “I knew I wasn’t a traditional president, but I think different is sometimes a good thing, and it taught me that leading isn’t really about you, but more about the organization and who you are leading.”

While he was proud of this achievement, he said DECA has been around for almost 80 years and having its first Black president in 2021 proved there were things that needed to change.

When Martin became president in April 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic had plummeted the organization’s membership rates. He found that the diversity of the organization was its top weakness, so he made it his mission to boost it the No. 1 priority.

After graduating high school, Martin took a gap year to continue serving as president, noting a noticeable spike in membership rates and new efforts to prioritize diversity through equity and inclusion task forces. While Martin ended his position last May , he sees a bright future ahead for DECA.

“I am hoping in this next presidential cycle, I will be seeing more minorities,” Martin said. “I may be the first, but I definitely don’t want to be the last.”

When he isn’t working on diversity and inclusion matters at Virginia Tech, Martin is also involved with the Innovate living-learning community, which allows business students to pursue innovative projects. This community has supported Martin in better advancing his business, Phantom Field Attractions, which he created after noticing the lack of exciting haunted house attractions in his hometown of Orange, Virginia.

After graduation, he sees himself working for the Secret Service, or hopefully, in politics.

“I believe the clear path to driving your vision for success is by getting more involved in this sacred campus,” Marin said. “There are so many different resources on campus and getting involved means you are doing the most important thing you could ever do and that’s doing something you are passionate about.”

Written by Cyna Mirzai, a senior and an intern for Virginia Tech Communications and Marketing


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