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Meet the THON 2014 Directors: Ryan Patrick, Executive Director

With THON season in full swing, I conducted a series of interviews with each member of the THON 2014 Executive Committee in order to better connect the Penn State community with the leaders of the largest student run philanthropy in the world. First up is Executive Director Ryan Patrick.

Ryan Patrick, Executive Director

Current Year: 5th Year Senior

Major(s)/Minor(s): Mechanical Engineering

Fun Fact: I have lived in Kansas and Georgia.

OS: What made you decide to apply to be the Executive Director for THON 2014?

RP: I think it kind of sounds cliche, but after THON weekend I stepped back from it and looked back from the year and then thought, is my time really over? I really thought I had ideas and wanted to try to implement them and at least give myself the chance to apply. If not, then I could always tell people about the ideas, but I wanted to be the person that could take THON to the next level and do more for the families and have an experience that will only come my way once. I can already tell you I don’t think I’ll ever have an experience like I’m having now. I always want to do things for others, and I couldn’t think of anything better than this.

OS: What kind of responsibilities have you had as Executive Director so far over the summer and during these first few weeks of the school year?

RP: My position is weird in a good way, because I have my hands in everything a little bit. I’m almost like an advisor to the Executive Committee in the fact that I have my entire experience from last year and I’m really there to guide each of them to understanding what they want to do and how I can best help them.

I have meetings and boring things like that, but what I love the most is the fact that I’m the support system for each one of them. I’m there whenever they need me to talk and give my advice, because I’ve been through this, and I’m there to help them along and give them the best experience possible. And to lead the meetings every Sunday.

OS: You have two new advisors this year. How has the transition process with that been?

RP: I think it was different, and unexpected, but it’s great. In terms of a transition, you always worry if everything will get relayed over and if we’ll almost skip a beat, but it was flawless. I think it was great because at the core, Barry, Jen, and Darcy are all such good people and they all just want THON to succeed. That shows every day, and that’s all I could ask for in an advisor. I just want people who really want THON to succeed and who want to help in any way possible, and that’s what they both do.

OS: What are your overall goals and visions for THON this year? What are you looking to change and improve to make THON the best it can be?

RP: Back when I applied, I had three basic pillars. I want THON to become more nationally renowned, I want to focus on safe and effective fundraising, and I want THON to continue to be something for anyone who wants to be involved to have that chance. Those are my big overarching pillars, and then there are smaller things that fall under that.

Those are the three main things, though. To make sure that volunteers are safe when they’re fundraising, as well as making sure that they’re being efficient and effective. And obviously, THON for everybody. As we grow, we don’t want it to become this thing where people don’t feel like they can get involved, so I really want to focus on creating more opportunities.

The last thing is becoming more nationally renowned. I think we made great strides with that last year, but I just want to continue that and I don’t want to lose any momentum. I don’t want to say it’s about breaking out of the bubble, because I think that’s one of the cool things about THON. It’s this family, and once you’re in, you feel like part of the family. So I think it’s about bringing people into the family, and bringing them into the bubble.

OS: Last year THON raised $12.37 million. What strategies are you and the rest of the executive committee looking to implement to raise even more money next year. Or is that not a big concern to you?

RP: To be honest, I think that every year we say it’s not really a concern, because if you look back in the past couple of years, the one thing we do consistently every year as an Executive Committee is serve as a resource and a support system for every single volunteer. THON chairs, especially, but also any volunteer that is out there fundraising. We are here as a resource, and we want to help them be as effective and efficient as possible.

I would say that’s the strategy year after year, because the volunteers are the workhorses of THON, and we need to help them be as effective as possible. That’s how I see our role, and it’s worked every year as we continue to grow and learn more about how to best support each other.

OS: What advice would you give to students who are new to THON but looking to get involved?

RP: I would tell them to explore. There are so many avenues and different ways to get involved with THON. There are committees, but then there are also organizations, and I think that both are equally important and they play vitally important roles in making the entire machine of THON work. Each aspect is so different. You could have one committee that’s completely different than another, but then there’s also an organization that’s completely different from a committee and another organization.

My advice would be to take chances and try and to really find your niche. That’s what’s great about THON, and Penn State. It’s so big, but there are little pieces where you feel like it’s a family, and you feel like it’s a small school, and I think there’s even that within THON. So I think it’s important to find what you want your experience to be like, because there are so many ways to get involved with THON and you just need to put yourself out there and find your experience.

OS: What moment or moments are you most looking forward to in the upcoming THON year?

RP: I’m obviously excited for the big things, but I’m the type of person who really likes the smaller, not as well known things. Family Carnival is the coolest experience because it’s just pure and at its heart for the kids. Personally, what I’m really looking forward to is something that I did last year and the year before. During THON, I go to the top of the bowl, all the way to the back and across from the stage, and I just stand there for a couple of minutes. Obviously I’m running around, but I always take time to do that, and anyone can walk up there and do that. It’s amazing. You just look at all the people and the energy and it’s the perfect vantage point for it. I always look forward to that during THON weekend because it’s a little moment where you step back and think about what an amazing event this is. It can be kind of an emotional moment, and I always look forward to that on top of all of the other amazing things that will happen this year.

OS: Why do you THON?

RP: I didn’t really know about pediatric cancer until I got to Penn State. I’m actually a Type One Diabetic, and when I was diagnosed, and when anyone is diagnosed with any sort of disease, there’s that moment of uncertainty about what your future will be like. It’s really scary, and I would never say that cancer and diabetes are the same, but that feeling of what is tomorrow going to be like and how is my life going to change affects not only the child, but also the parents. I really connect not only with how a child would feel when they get a diagnosis and have to fight through it every day, but also the parents. So when I see a parent smiling because their child is enjoying himself, that’s always a really important moment with me. I THON because I connect to that fear of the future, and I luckily had some people when I was diagnosed who were there to brighten the next day, and it wasn’t something to be afraid of. And that’s what I see THON as. I see THON as the organization and the people that are, to take it from 2012, brightening every journey. It’s a dark future, but we come in and we take the next day and say that it’s not going to be that bad because you have thousands of people to support you.

OS: Finally, if you could be any dinosaur, which would you be and why?

RP: I would be a T-Rex, but miniature. So not as intimidating and scary, but still kind of cool.

About the Author

Anna Ungar

Penn State Class of 2015 Visual Communications major, Onward State photographer, THON 2014 Public Relations Captain, Camp Kesem of Penn State Marketing & PR Coordinator, anglophile, lover of chocolate milk, bows, cats, The Office, photography, Morgan Freeman, and british accents. Orders a side of pickles with everything.

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