Schreyer Scholar makes the cut for THON

February 25, 2015

There are more than 100,000 strands of hair on Jenny Dobson’s head and she parted with every last one last week when she shaved her head to support Penn State's THON 2015. Dobson, a Schreyer Honors Scholar, decided the effort would show solidarity for the cancer patients who have lost their hair through medical treatments and would help her reflect on the meaning of “internal beauty.”

THON, held at Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center on the University Park campus, is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world and brings together more than 15,000 volunteers across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The year-long fundraising effort, which culminates with a weekend-long dance marathon each February, raised more than $13 million this year and more than $100 million since its inception for the Four Diamonds Fund. Four Diamonds provides direct support to approximately 600 children with cancer and supports pediatric cancer research at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

Thursday night, a basement packed with THON special interest group, Apollo, cheered Dobson, the only female in the organization this year to agree to shaving her head, and last Apollo member to sit in the chair for this special cut. An upbeat soundtrack selected perfectly for the occasion had recent pop hit “Heroes” in the background as Dobson’s hair evolved from a pixie cut to crew cut and then “Noah-hawk,” in honor of one of the organization’s THON children. Apollo, an organization founded by Schreyer Scholars, finished in the top five among Penn State’s general interest groups with more than $157,000 to help fight pediatric cancer. Dobson’s “Bald is Beautiful” campaign raised $3,020 toward that total.

A few more passes of the clippers and Dobson was left with just a shadow of hair.  The junior from Oreland, Pennsylvania, shaved her head to the scalp before heading to THON Friday afternoon.

Her long brunette hair was first braided so the precious strands could make hairpieces for cancer patients, then Apollo teammates took turns with the clippers, trimming, trimming, trimming until they created Dobson’s “Noah-hawk.” Noah, who had undergone chemotherapy, radiation and a surgical procedure to remove one of his cancer-ravaged kidneys, sported his signature look Thursday night, and would occasionally pose for photos with her during the process.

Dobson’s initiative to participate in #BaldisBeautiful as part of THON 2015 is two-fold. In addition to the THON weekend, Penn State and its organizations, including Apollo, support the Four Diamonds Fund throughout the year with various activities and events on campus and at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.  Through these events with the “adopted” THON families, Dobson began to reflect on her beliefs on beauty. She also decided to shave her head for her grandmother, who has been fighting breast cancer for more than a decade and then raised money through donations.

“Part of my motivation is my grandmother’s battle with breast cancer. Her cancer has been part of my life and it’s amazing she is doing so well. I haven’t seen her with hair for 10 years now and she is beautiful to me. She was a source of inspiration for my actions.”

-- Jenny Dobson, junior in Eberly College of Science and Schreyer Honors Scholar

On Sunday, after 46 hours of nonstop dancing, the total amount raised was revealed with the contributions on behalf of thousands of donors, fundraising efforts and Dobson’s personal commitment, both in dollars and a lengthy reminder of the struggles cancer patients face.

This new “do” wasn’t just a whim for Dobson.

Visiting THON children and witnessing their carefree attitude with little concern about their hair or lack thereof, Dobson wanted to give herself a constant reminder that she not take anything for granted. A biology/neuroscience major who is working toward a minor in women’s studies, Dobson said that it’s easy for students, including herself, to get a clouded perspective when they get bogged down with schoolwork and stress. She’s committed to being active and present each day.

“We (Apollo) adopted a new family and their optimism, vibrancy and spirit through their battles (with cancer) really ignited my spirit about internal beauty,” Dobson said before her transformational haircut.

“In shaving my head, there is a recognition of the internal beauty within each of us. Being a (young) female, there is a lot of external pressure and I’m really interested in challenging the conventional idea of beauty and would like other people to reflect on what makes them feel beautiful and how they define beauty. This will help me further define what I think beauty is.”

As the last strands fell to the floor, Dobson smiled and ran her palm over her head. There wasn’t a mirror in the room, but there wasn’t any need for that kind of reflection.

“I feel beautiful.” 

  • Jenny Dobson with THON group, Apollo, teammates.

    Scholar Jenny Dobson poses with THON group, Apollo, teammates after shaving her head "For the Kids" before THON 2015.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Jenny Dobson with braids.

    Scholar Jenny Dobson holds her braided hair after shaving her head to show solidarity with #BaldisBeautiful for THON 2015.

    IMAGE: Penn State
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Last Updated February 26, 2015