Industrial engineering student balances schoolwork and THON leadership

February 15, 2010

Catching up on homework, spending time with friends or relaxing are just a few of the ways that many Penn State students spend their Sunday afternoons. Unlike the average student, Caitlin Zankowski spends her Sundays working for the kids.

When Zankowski, an industrial engineering senior and THON's overall chairperson, was in high school in Pittsburgh, her sister introduced her to THON at Penn State. When she attended the weekend-long event for the first time, she knew that it was something special and that she wanted to be a part of the organization in any way that she could.

As soon as Zankowski began her first year at Penn State, her THON journey began as a member of the rules and regulations committee. The following years, she was appointed as a rules and regulations committee captain and eventually rules and regulations overall chair. Her responsibilities over the years on the committee included maintaining intercommunity relations, fund raising and upholding volunteer morale. She dedicated immeasurable hours of time and energy to being as involved with the event that captivated her when she was only in high school.

In March 2009, Zankowski got exactly what she had been working towards for nearly four years. After a series of applications and interviews, she was appointed the THON 2010 overall chairperson, which is the highest ranking student position.

"I enjoy being at a viewpoint where I get to see all the committees interact," she explained. "I get to be a part of student, University, family and community involvement."

Zankowski explained that helping children with cancer and being involved in THON is one of her greatest passions. However, as expected, the position of overall chairperson is no easy task.

She spends between 30 to 60 hours a week working on THON and is usually stationed in the THON office in 210 HUB-Robeson Center. She spends a majority of her work day answering e-mails and phone calls and helping volunteers. She also noted that the entire overall committee dedicates every Sunday to THON activities and events.

"It's important for me to just be available," said Zankowski. "I am there to support everyone involved with THON and offer them advice."

Zankowski and her committee of 14 chairpersons are indirectly responsible for about 15,000 THON volunteers.

Although the position of overall chairperson is practically a full-time job, Zankowski is able to maintain part-time student status and is extremely dedicated to her academics.

"I have good relationships with the industrial engineering faculty and my classmates," explained Zankowski. "Everyone understands my commitments to THON, and we always find a way to make things work."

Zankowski also revealed that she took more than the required amount of credits her freshman and sophomore years, in anticipation of her involvement with THON this academic year.

However, her dedication and commitment to THON doesn't come without some personal sacrifice, especially in the areas of sleeping, eating and down time, but Zankowski insists that she wouldn't change a thing.

"My social life isn't that of an average college student, but the people that I work with in THON have become more than my friends," she explained. "They have truly become my family."

One of the most rewarding parts of THON for Zankowski is seeing her fellow students actively making a difference in the lives of so many people. She believes that students have a more rewarding Penn State experience when they are involved in THON.

"THON is the greatest and most rewarding thing that I have ever done," Zankowski said.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated February 16, 2010