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Penn State THON leadership has heavy Smeal influence

February 17, 2017

Sommerer on deck
Senior marketing major Austin Sommerer, has served as the executive director of THON for the past year. He will enjoy the fruits of his labor this weekend.
Each February, the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon packs the Bryce Jordan Center with dancers, swells the hearts of onlookers and raises millions of dollars for the fight against pediatric cancer. This year’s edition of THON will be heavily influenced by a common link to the Smeal College of Business.

Most people don’t see the behind-the-scenes work of thousands of student volunteers that allows the 46 hours of continuous dancing to run smoothly. That work is coordinated by the 17-member THON Executive Committee. Eight of those members are Smeal students. 

“I think the biggest thing is our holistic background. THON, at its core, is an organization that operates very similarly to a major business,” said THON Executive Director Austin Sommerer, a senior marketing major. 

Sommerer is joined on the executive committee by seven other Smeal students who head up nearly half of the THON committees: 

Sydney Boutcher: Finance Major, Master of Accounting student
Finance Committee 

Alanna Figurelli: Marketing Major
Dancer Relations Committee

Jon George: Finance Major
Communications Committee 

Rick Melli: Finance Major
Alumni Engagement Committee 

Tommy Radziminski: Finance Major
Development Committee 

Samantha Sherlock: Risk Management Major
Public Relations Committee 

Andrew Smith: Master of Accounting student
Volunteer Safety Committee 

Sommerer has followed in the footsteps of Katie Mailey, a Smeal graduate who served as executive director last year. He said the proliferation of Smeal students on the executive committee is purely happenstance.

“It happened completely organically. I interviewed each of the several applicants for each of the positions. By no means were their majors ever taken into consideration,” Sommerer said. 

“I considered past THON involvement, vision for the committees they were applying for, their ability to lead and communicate.” 

Sommerer did admit, however, that Smeal instills the kinds of knowledge and skills needed to help run what amounts to a mid-sized company. 

“It’s that wide range of background before you even dive into your major. I came in intending to be a management major, which quickly changed. I have somewhat of a background in finance, accounting, marketing, management, management information systems,” he said. 

“All of these areas that I may not have realized otherwise I have an interest in. That has allowed me to have a more well-rounded image in how an organization or a business should be run, how to make strategic decisions, how to be thinking about your customers.” 

For Sommerer, and for all of the volunteers, this weekend is the payoff for a year’s worth of work. In another month, a new executive director and executive committee will be off and running toward THON 2018. 

Sommerer said all of the work has been worth it and has given him a unique set of experiences to carry into his professional life.

“I don’t know if in the rest of my life I’ll be able to have an impact on a community like I do right now. Not only the community of volunteers in the Thon community but being able to assist in the planning of an event the size of THON,” he said. 

“THON allows for so much hope to be brought to these children and their families. That is ultimately what it’s all about.”

Media Contact

Andy Elder
Public Relations Specialist