IST students lead technological advances for Homecoming and THON

Two of the most time-honored traditions at Penn State are Homecoming and the IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, or THON. Nicki Yankoski and Chris Kessler, College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) students, have taken on leadership roles in Homecoming and THON, respectively, giving those traditions a 21st-century tweak  through the Internet and new technologies.

Yankoski, a senior majoring in IST with a minor in Security and Risk Analysis (SRA), was the technology director of “Penn State Homecoming 2012: The Glory Echoes On,” held Sept. 29 to Oct. 6.  Kessler, a senior IST/SRA major, is the overall technology chairperson for THON 2013, which will take place Feb. 15-17 at the Bryce Jordan Center at the University Park campus. The 46-hour dance marathon is the culmination of a year-long effort to raise funds and awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer.

Yankoski, was one of 17 Homecoming directors. As technology director, she was responsible  for website and database management, while supporting her co-directors’ technology needs. The Penn State Homecoming Online Organizational Database (HOOD) is used to organize and coordinate all Homecoming data between the Homecoming Executive Committee and all organizations involved in Homecoming.

“HOOD needed to be rethought and reorganized to become more aligned with our needs,” she said.

Homecoming is a year-long competition that involves the State College community, student organizations, and Greek life. In past years, people who wanted to participate in Homecoming activities had to fill out paperwork. Now, all of the registration is completed and stored in HOOD. For the second time this year, students and alumni were invited to enter their tailgates into the annual Homecoming Alumni and Student Tailgate Competition before the Northwestern game on Oct. 6. The categories included Best Food, Most Pride and Spirit, and Best Overall Tailgate. Students were able to register for the Tailgate Competition on HOOD, and other participating organizations who registered on the database competed for “spirit points.”

“We planned for the unexpected from past experiences,” Yankoski said. “I am extremely proud of the executive committee and all they’ve accomplished.”

Yankoski, who hails from Pittsburgh, Pa., said that her classes at IST gave her experience in teamwork and communications management, which she was able to transfer to her role as homecoming technology director.

Yankoski graduates in December and will serve as IST’s student marshall for the fall 2012 commencement ceremony. She plans to remain in State College for the spring semester to continue her service to the college and volunteer in THON. In June, she will begin a full-time position at PNC Financial Services headquartered in Pittsburgh.

As THON 2013’s Overall Technology Chairperson, Kessler leads 20 captains who are responsible for maintaining and improving all technical components of THON. This includes, but is not limited to,, the THON Information Network (THINK), the THON App, and the PASS System for THON weekend.

The PASS System allows friends and families to visit their dancers on the floor. It also allows for entertainment acts, fitness instructors, and members of the press to meet and interact with the dancers. For THON 2013, Kessler said, the Technology and Rules & Regulations Committees have been rewriting the system and introducing new features. Other changes to the PASS system include a three-hour time limit on organization passes, 15-person lists per pass, and a traditional physical queue system. In addition, the texting system will no longer be utilized, making way for an innovative integration with the THON App and MobilePASS that allows organizations to easily view pass usage.

THINK is the key to how THON manages all data and requests. THON chairs access THINK for various tasks, including submitting alternative fundraisers and corporate contacts, registering canning trips, and managing financial and membership information.

The website has also undergone changes in both its user interface and content, Kessler said.

“We tried to make it a website that’s user-friendly and can easily transition from year to year,” he said. “I think we’ve been successful and it has more of a professional look to it, which we’re very proud of.”

Kessler, who is originally from Johnstown, Pa., says that he became involved with THON because he was looking for leadership opportunities. He was a Finance Committee member during his sophomore year, then a communications captain as a junior. His dedication to THON, he said, stems from his belief that the organization will help find a cure for cancer.

“It’s such a great cause that’s really intensely devoted to one thing,” he said. “It’s a testament to the student body and to the university community as a whole.”

Kessler echoed Yankoski’s statement that the IST curriculum prepares students to take on leadership roles and effectively manage groups.

“IST very actively promotes leadership in all of its classes through group projects and I believe that has instilled a certain amount of passion for leadership in me,” he said.

“Also, the diverse technical background that IST has provided allows me to be an effective part of a variety of conversations.”

Kessler will put the skills and knowledge he gained at IST to further use when he starts work at GE Capital in their Information Technology Leadership Program in July.

This story is featured in the latest edition of iConnect, the magazine of the College of Information Sciences and Technology. You can read the entire issue online at:

Last Updated April 27, 2013