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The Zeta Tau Alpha Foundation introduced the Outstanding Alumna Award at the 1982 Convention in Atlanta to recognize ZTA alumnae who have become outstanding leaders in their chosen professions, demonstrated significant accomplishments and made notable contributions to society. Many of the past recipients have also served the Fraternity in their post-collegiate years, but that is not a requirement for the award. These outstanding women serve as role models for all members of Zeta Tau Alpha and their informative and inspiring speeches are highlights of our biennial Convention.

2016 Outstanding Alumna Award

Donna Leinwand Leger, Outstanding Alumna 2016

How in the world does the self-described “worst pledge ever” become Zeta Tau Alpha’s Outstanding Alumnae? By traveling the world to report breaking news with the ongoing support of her sisters.

Donna Leinwand Leger almost did not join a sorority; she withdrew from Formal Recruitment at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a freshman. “I asked myself, ‘How am I supposed to pick a sorority based on a tea party?’” Instead, she picked one based on friendships she made with Zetas on campus. “They were serious, smart, ambitious, nice and funny,” Donna said. She registered for Recruitment as a sophomore with the hope of of joining ZTA, pledged in 1986 and was initiated in 1987.

Donna soon found her dedication to journalism kept her from many Theta Tau Chapter activities. At The Daily Tar Heel, she advanced from reporter to state and national news editor to managing editor. “I missed meetings. I missed sisterhood events. I missed a lot,” Donna said. “Nearly every night, one of my sisters would bring me a Styrofoam box ‘late plate’ at the paper. ZTA was an anchor—the place where I learned the value of female friends.”

After graduation in 1989, Donna covered crime and poverty for the Miami Herald and found those valuable ZTA friends in the Greater Ft. Lauderdale, FL Alumnae Chapter. “That chapter was so vibrant and exciting,” she said. “We were very social, but we also wanted to find a serious service commitment.”

Donna connected the chapter with the social service personnel she had met while writing stories about older foster children in need of families. For many years, the chapter raised money to host Halloween parties so prospective foster and adoptive parents could interact with the children. “It was our signature event and it kept me from devoting my whole life to work,” she said.

Moving to Washington, D.C., in 1997, Donna worked for Knight Ridder and Gannett News Service before joining USA Today in 2000 as a breaking news reporter, traveling the world to cover terrorism, the war in Iraq, bombings, tsunamis, earthquakes and more than 20 hurricanes. She became USA Today’s breaking news editor in 2015.

Through it all, she has cherished her ZTA connections, including the Washington, D.C. Alumnae Chapter. “Women in D.C. struggle with the pressure to be successful,” Donna said. “I was a war correspondent—a super male-dominated field. I needed friends, to mentor and be mentored. Our chapter is a supportive environment where sisters want to help you succeed.”

Donna believes being a ZTA alumnae officer taught her to be comfortable speaking in public and meeting community leaders, which eventually led her on a path to the presidency of the National Press Club.

For 20 years, Donna’s career and dedication to ZTA have developed side-by-side. As a member of the Journalism and Women Symposium, she lives by their motto to help another woman every day. “And I learned that from Zeta Tau Alpha,” Donna said, “the very important notion that you look out for, help and serve other women every day.”

Click here to view the brochure of all past recipients of the Outstanding Alumna Award.

To nominate someone as ZTA's Outstanding Alumna, contact the ZTA Foundation in the fall of the odd-numbered years, using the contact information below. The ZTA Foundation Board of Directors and National Council select the worthy recipients.

Zeta Tau Alpha Foundation
3450 Founders Road
Indianapolis, IN 46268
317-872-0540

Email Nominations

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Zeta Tau Alpha International Office

3450 Founders Road, Indianapolis, IN 46268  |  PHONE: (317) 872-0540 |  FAX: (317) 876-3948  |  zetataualpha@zetataualpha.org

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