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THON Director Thursday: Meet THON 2021 Executive Director Katie Solomon

Name: Katie Solomon

Major: Criminology and Sociology

Past THON Experience
THON 2017 – Dancer Relations Committee Member
THON 2018 – Donor & Alumni Relations: Development Captain
THON 2019 – Donor & Alumni Relations: Development Director
THON 2020 – Donor & Alumni Relations: Development Director

Name an interesting, weird, or quirky fact about yourself:
I collect vinyl records and love attending concerts or music festivals (hopefully again soon).

What made you want to apply for the Executive Director position for THON 2021?

When the last few total cards went up at the end of THON Weekend 2020 — as photo evidence will long tell — there was nothing but tears and a sense of weakness that overcame me because we were “done.” A full year’s worth of hard work had culminated in a flawless weekend of celebration for all involved, yet I quickly felt the sense that nothing was actually finished after all.

While THON Weekend may be a monumental event that concludes each respective THON year, childhood cancer keeps going. It never stops. I applied to be the Executive Director to do everything I could to continue to push our efforts until the day that we dance in celebration of a cure. Serving in this role for the last year has been the experience of a lifetime and I am so thankful that I took the leap.

What are your responsibilities as the Executive Director?

My primary responsibility is to oversee the 16 members of the executive committee and be a resource to the entire THON community. I help to facilitate all THON meetings and events while working on growth-driven projects and communicating with key stakeholders. I act as the primary liaison between THON and Penn State Administration, Student Affairs, University Development, and our sole beneficiary, Four Diamonds. I am also privileged to have seats on the Four Diamonds Advisory and Dance Marathon Alumni Interest Group Boards.

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

I came into this role in March 2020 with many goals and expectations that quickly shifted as COVID-19 continued to develop. A lot of my focus this year has been doing anything and everything to ensure we are able to provide the same emotional and financial support for our families. We were able to safely adapt a lot of our efforts to take place fully virtually or
in a hybrid setting, which is not something I ever imagined would define the year when I applied. There have been challenges to tackle, nonetheless, as I know some of our efforts this year will only provide more opportunities for engagement in the future.

Despite this, one focus I wanted to put into everything we do is creating a culture of appreciation. It takes a lot of people to make THON happen from thousands of students to university and professional contacts. This remains especially true for THON 2021. I believe it is so important that everyone knows how appreciated they are and hope to see our stewardship efforts continue to expand.

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

The executive committee is comprised of sixteen directors that represent each committee within THON from finance to family relations. They have their own features, and I would highly recommend looking back to learn more about them and the work they do. But ultimately, these individuals are the backbone of this organization. It is a privilege to work with this group of students who pour their hearts and souls into everything they do. Plus, working with sixteen committees means I get to do something different every day which always keeps my job interesting.

Our committee theme this year is “Empower Through Unity,” which perfectly encapsulates the people that make up the THON 2021 Executive Committee. We have faced unimaginable circumstances this year but no matter what, found the courage to empower one another by coming together and recognizing that nothing can be done alone. I am so proud of the executive committee and thankful to call them some of my lifelong best friends.

Why do you THON?

When I was a sophomore, I visited Penn State Children’s Hospital for the first time. This is where the families that THON supports are treated and much of the research we fund is conducted.

While there with a co-captain, the first thing we saw was a patient and their family ring the bell to signify the end of treatment — a hopeful milestone in any cancer journey. We then spent the afternoon in the outpatient clinic with a family whose daughter at the time was still in active treatment. While she was waiting to go for a procedure, I remember vividly pretending to be getting a checkup as she was our “doctor for the day”. At that time, she was in control of a situation that could otherwise be considered choiceless. That day really put into perspective the different moments of both success and challenge for families fighting childhood cancer.

It has been three years since I first went to the hospital and in that time, I have seen the same girl from the outpatient clinic finish treatment, ring the bell, and sing her heart out on the THON Weekend stage. This is why I THON. For these little, beautiful moments in between the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Cancer is an ugly disease and there’s no sugarcoating it. Even though THON brings magic and hope to everyone it reaches, it will never be enough until there is a cure.

What’s your favorite THON memory?

This is not a favorite memory per se, but one of the moments that stands out most from this past year — and my entire experience honestly – was the day we announced that THON Weekend would be virtual. We were full of anxiety hitting the send on that email, not knowing in the slightest what was yet to come. However, we received immediately an overwhelming amount of love. People I did not even know were writing to say that they
believed in our mission enough to know that a different year would not change their support.

I always knew that THON is so much more than a weekend, but this was the first time I truly felt that. I knew from this day forward that nothing can stop this incredible community from fighting, not even a pandemic.

Per Onward State tradition, if you could be any dinosaur, which one would you be and why?
Rex from “Toy Story” (this has been my answer every year and I am sticking with it 😊).

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About the Author

Mackenzie Cullen

Mackenzie is a junior majoring in English and is one of Onward State's associate editors. She is from Minersville, PA, and is always trying to explain exactly where that is. Send all compliments to [email protected] or @MackenzieC__ on Twitter.

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