While some of us are still recovering from our 46 hours of no sleep during THON 2017, Andrew Smith was officially named the executive director for THON 2018. We sat down with Smith for 10 questions about his plans for the upcoming year and his vision for what THON 2018 could bring.
Onward State: How did you first get involved in THON?
Andrew Smith: When I was deciding on where I wanted to go to school in February of my senior year of high school, my older brother, an alumnus from the class of 2010, sent me a link to the live stream of THON 2013. He told me that his only regret from his years here was that he was never involved with THON. I only watched for a few hours but I knew that in coming to Penn State, I wanted to be involved. I only vaguely understood its mission as an incoming freshman, but I was amazed at how incredible of an event it was and the staggering amount they raised at the conclusion of the weekend. I applied for a Committee as a freshman and was lucky enough to be chosen for a Rules & Regulations Committee! I knew right away that I found my place within Penn State and within THON, and since then have been involved with Rules & Regulations all four years.
OS: Why did you decide to apply to be executive director for THON 2018?
AS: I decided to apply to be Executive Director because I want to do everything in my power to give back to this incredible organization and to help it grow for years to come. For me, THON is an inspiration. I am continually inspired by the strength of every Four Diamonds Family, by the selflessness and commitment of my peers, and by the incredible feats we can achieve as an entire community. I’m continually amazed by this organization and its ability to impact the lives of everyone who is fortunate to come into contact with its mission. I wanted to do everything I can to help build up this organization so it can continue to impact the lives of children and families everywhere.
OS: Last year, you were the R&R Volunteer Safety Director for THON. What was that experience like, and how did it prepare you to take on the role of executive director?
AS: This past year was a tremendous learning experience for me. I got a deeper understanding of the THON Community and our fundraising model. In my position, I oversaw all alternative fundraisers, canvassing, and canning trips. That gave me the opportunity to work with THON Chairs and make impactful changes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our fundraising efforts. This year prepared me for the role of Executive Director because I’ve learned how to manage several projects while keeping a focus on the larger picture. I also got the opportunity to work and collaborate with several of THON’s different stakeholders.
OS: What is one thing most people would be surprised to hear is part of your job?
AS: One thing many people do not know about the role of Executive Director is that I have the opportunity to work closely with all of THON’s stakeholders, ranging from the entire student community, the Four Diamonds, and large individual and corporate donors. In all of these stakeholders, THON has an incredible support network, and working with our different groups of supporters is one of my favorite aspects of the position so far.
OS: What improvements or changes do you plan to focus on for THON 2018?
AS: I plan to focus very heavily on growth for THON in the next year. I have three main areas that I want to establish as priorities: growth of involvement and diversity here at Penn State, growth in fundraising in all areas of our model, and growth on a national landscape and continued engagement of our alumni base. While sustaining growth is always a major priority for the Executive Committee, I hope to bring a strong focus on efficiency in our efforts and improved utilization of data and statistics to further enhance all of our fundraising and engagement efforts.
OS: What role do you think THON plays in the Penn State community, and how do you plan to change or enhance that role?
AS: THON gives Penn State students the opportunity to become part of a mission greater than the individual. While every year, individual students experience their own achievements and accomplishments, that pales in comparison to what we are able to achieve as entire THON community. I want to continue to push that focus on collaboration and continually working together towards the same end goal of finding a cure for childhood cancer.
OS: How did it feel when you found out you were going to be THON’s next executive director?
AS: To be perfectly honest, I was speechless. Austin asked how I felt after he told me I was selected, and I couldn’t find a way to put what I was feeling into words. It took a while for everything to really sink in and start feeling real, but I know how incredibly fortunate I am to have this opportunity to be involved as a student for another year.
OS: Why do you THON?
AS: I THON for the day that we find a cure for childhood cancer. Every day, the children and families fighting cancer encounter new obstacles and challenges, yet despite it all they keep pushing forward. Their strength and ability to persevere no matter what is inspiring to me. After having been involved for so long, I also THON because of the incredible impact this organization has both on the families and all volunteers that support its mission.
OS: What are you most excited about for the THON 2018 season?
AS: I am most excited to see how the community comes together this next year. I cannot wait to see the innovative ways that organizations fundraise, I cannot wait to see Committees come together and bond for the next year, and I cannot wait to see everything we can accomplish as a whole, with everything culminating in THON Weekend 2018.
OS: Keeping with OS tradition, if you could be any type of dinosaur, which would you be and why?
AS: I think I’m going to stick with the ankylosaurus. They just look pretty cool.