THON spirit stays strong with engineering alumna

February 17, 2009

There are certain things every Penn Stater holds close to their heart: JoePa, the Lion, Creamery ice cream and THON.

The annual Dance Marathon, which raises money for children with cancer through the Four Diamonds Fund, is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. Many students count THON as the highlight of their undergraduate years. And many refuse to give up the tradition after leaving Happy Valley.

Melanie Harris, a 2002 graduate with a degree in industrial engineering, is one such alumna.

Harris got a taste of THON freshman year while taking pictures for the yearbook, La Vie.

"I was just amazed that it was run by a group of college students and there were that many people involved. It had a huge impact on me," she remembers.

In the years that followed, Harris danced in THON, served as a THON chair and captain, and was elected the first ever THON chair for Engineering Leadership Development Unlimited, a student engineering group.

After graduation, Harris joined the Dance Marathon Alumni Interest Group (DMAIG), a University-sponsored organization that keeps graduates connected with THON.

Eager to bring some of the THON spirit to western Pennsylvania, Harris hosted a series of happy hours in Pittsburgh over the last several years.

Fueled by the success of past events, Harris undertook a bigger project for 2009. The first ever Blue White Ball was held Jan. 31 at Heinz Field. According to Harris, the ball was a "great success."

"We will be donating $10,000 from the Pittsburgh events this year to THON," she said. "I think we have started a new tradition."

The THON spirit radiates well beyond the Pittsburgh area. Alumni chapters all over the country have been working with DMAIG to plan events and organize fundraisers. Penn State graduates in Atlanta have been hosting "Diamonds Over Georgia" for three years. Alumni in the Philadelphia area have had great success with the Liberty Ball. Now in its fourth year, the Ball raised more than $30,000 in the first three years.

Alumni chapters from Boston to Chicago host THON Days/Nights Out and THON fundraisers.

Not wanting to be left out of the excitement, many regional Pennsylvania high schools, including Manheim Central, Palmyra, Mechanicsburg and Conewago Valley raise money through "mini-thons."

Harris marvels at the amount of money Penn State students and alumni raise every year for THON and how the event has grown since it began in 1977. She is hopeful that the money raised for the 2009 event, scheduled for Feb. 20-22 at the Bryce Jordan Center, will top last year's figure of $6,615,318.04.

Harris says her attachment to THON has strengthened over the years.

"It was one of the most rewarding things I did while I was at Penn State. I spent so much time helping other people, but I feel like I got more out of it. After working in the corporate world for a while, I think I have a greater appreciation for THON. I don't think I've done anything that meaningful in industry," she explains.

Since 1977 THON has raised more than $52 million for the Four Diamonds Fund. To join DMAIG and stay connected with THON, visit Membership is free.


(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009