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THON Director Thursday: Meet Executive Director Austin Sommerer

Name: Austin Sommerer

Major: Marketing

Past THON Experience:

THON 2014 Public Relations Committee Member, THON 2015 Entertainment Captain, THON 2016 Entertainment Director

Name an interesting, weird, or quirky fact about yourself:

I have recently been devastated by two of my favorite things here at Penn State. Rotelli’s Chicken Parm Subs have gone away, and my favorite hair cutter at SuperCuts has moved. This has been a really tough time for me and both will be very missed.

What made you want to apply for the Executive Director position for THON 2017?

I absolutely loved being on the Executive Committee last year. Not only did I love the opportunity I had to make a difference in the lives of these children and families, but I was also given the opportunity to make a difference in an organization that I care a lot about. When THON Weekend 2016 came and went, I knew I wasn’t done, and there was so much more I wanted to do for this community before my time was up. To this day, it doesn’t quite seem real, but I am still as excited for the position as I was back in March when I assumed the role.

What are your responsibilities as the Executive Director?

I often tell people that my job is to connect the dots. While overseeing all 16 Committees, I work to ensure that everyone is working together and communicating with each other when need be. In an organization of THON’s size, it is often difficult to make sure things are run efficiently, but our cohesiveness is something we all take a lot of pride in. I also have the opportunity to manage relationships with donors, key stakeholders, and University Administrators, which is one of my favorite parts of the job. These are the people who have had a vested interest in our organization since the beginning, and I am consistently humbled by their generosity and experience. Sitting on the Four Diamonds Advisory Board is also a special role of the Executive Director position, which allows me to communicate and leave a lasting impact on our sole beneficiary, as well as align our long term missions.

What do you want to implement in your position this year that’s unique and differs from years past?

With the number of changes that have taken place in the THON Community over the past several years, it has been my mission to get back to basics. Are we communicating information well? Are resources available when volunteers are looking for them? Are the decisions made today going to be sustainable 5 years from now? Are we stewarding donors well to ensure that they will continue to give in the future? While focusing on these baseline tasks, I am also ensuring that we are constantly evaluating our fundraising techniques, as long as the engagement techniques of our volunteers, donors, and stakeholders, to ensure that we are growing sustainably into the future.

What makes the executive committee so cool, fun, and/or important?

Being a member of the Executive Committee is so special due to the bonds you create with each other. Day in and day out, we each operate in our own spheres but all with a common goal in mind. We push ourselves to wits end, often having to fight for things we believe in, but even on the days where we are feeling down, we have each other to help support us through this journey. We are able to join hands in doing something so meaningful with our year, and that is something I will never forget.

What are the overall goals you hope to reach for THON 2017?

If nothing else, I hope to inspire the Executive Committee to pour their heart and souls into their positions. Personally, I don’t know if I will ever have the opportunity to make as meaningful of an impact on anything as I do in my role with THON, and it’s something I think about everyday. If I can help them stay focused, accomplish their goals, and inspire their own Committees, all while being able to enjoy such a special experience, I think I will have done my job.

Why do you THON?

There are several reasons why I THON. Being exposed to childhood cancer at an early age, it has always been a cause I cared a lot about. Nothing saddens me more than to hear a story of struggle and heartbreak surrounding a child who is ill, but I know THON has this incredible ability to provide hope and share joy with lives that can sometimes feel so dark. I THON for that one single moment that a mother can see her child smile after weeks of treatment and fighting, knowing that the illness is taken out of their minds, even if only for that single moment.

After four years of involvement, I also THON because of my love for this organization. Not because I participate, but I truly believe there is nothing like THON that exists in our world, where there is such a strong community of people with such big hearts and motivation to do the impossible. Every day, I am floored by the amount of compassion and hard work that is poured into our mission from every corner of the organization. I THON today to leave an impact on an organization that has impacted me so greatly, all while knowing that THON will be able to change thousands of lives for years and years to come.

What’s your favorite THON memory?

When I was a sophomore, I was on a canning trip outside of Pittsburgh on a dark and rainy day. After a few hours, my canning trip decided to take a break and grab lunch at the cafe I was canning in front of. While discussing how wet and tired we were after this long morning, an older gentlemen came and sat down at our table. “Hello,” he said awkwardly. Confused, we greeted him, to which he expressed he wanted to buy our lunch.

Of course we tried to decline, but we saw that he was starting to cry. His wife had joined him at this point, also in tears, and put her hand on his shoulder. They went on to explain that their nephew battled childhood cancer, and that he himself was a cancer survivor as well, and he has been searching for the opportunity to give back to students of THON to thank them for how much of an impact they have had on his life. At this point, everyone at the table, and surrounding table, were brought to tears, and it was a beautiful moment where everyone realized the depth of what we were actually participating in.

Per Onward State tradition, if you could be any dinosaur, which one would you be and why?

I tried to come up with something cool for this, but I have nothing. I looked up “swimming dinosaurs” and have spent the last 5 minutes reading about the “seal of the Triassic period” called a nothosaurus. They seem pretty cool.

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa was the managing editor of Onward State from 2017-2019. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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