Five Liberal Arts students serve as THON 2019 directors

Jessica Lawson
February 14, 2019

Penn State Dance Marathon, known as THON, is an annual student-run philanthropic effort that raises money for the Four Diamonds organization. The year-long effort culminates in a 46-hour, no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon. Four Diamonds ensures that families fighting pediatric cancer at the Hershey Medical Center never see a bill and that their children receive the care and attention they need. This incredible event would not be possible without the hard work of thousands of volunteers. Those volunteers are led by the Executive Board, and five of this year’s 17 directors are students in the College of the Liberal Arts.

Here are their stories.

Emily Purnell

A Paterno Fellow and Schreyer Honors Scholar, Emily Purnell is a senior majoring in Spanish and accounting. She also minors in international business.

Emily Purnell
IMAGE: Brianna Barker

Growing up with two Penn State alumni as parents, Purnell attended THON viewing parties throughout her childhood with other alumni in her neighborhood. She joined the Finance committee during her first year at Penn State and then became both a communications committee member and the family relations chair for the Schreyer Student Council THON Organization her sophomore year.

Her positions then developed into being a Communications committee captain and Primary THON chair for Schreyer Student Council her junior year. Throughout these roles, Purnell has had the opportunity to “see the diversity of the volunteers, coming from all over the place to come together for the same cause.”

Purnell said that without THON, she “never would have met some of these amazing people.”

For this year’s THON, Purnell is the communications director and is responsible for three different roles within communications. First are the educational materials, which Purnell is responsible for creating and distributing. She is also responsible for outreach and recruiting volunteers. In her third role, Purnell acts as the primary liaison to all other organizations that fundraise for THON, such as Greek Life student organizations, student groups, sports teams, and more.

Throughout all of her experiences with THON, Purnell’s favorite memory was when her organization went to visit their THON family for Halloween and joined them for a Penn State football viewing party. Each time Penn State scored, they celebrated by passing around a can of whipped cream. The child’s grandfather, who had a vested interest in social media, posted multiple videos to Facebook Live. Purnell recalls the positive energy of the room and describes the day as what felt like hanging out with old friends.

Purnell will spend another semester at Penn State to complete the Masters of Accounting program and will graduate in December of this year. She plans to stay involved with THON by maintaining alumni status and helping out however she can.

To everyone at THON, and especially to dancers, Purnell gave a simple piece of advice for the big weekend. “Make a playlist for yourself,” she said. “Have headphones and zone out from everyone else for some time to yourself.”

Olivia “Lulu” Hamm

Olivia “Lulu” Hamm is a senior studying philosophy with a justice law and values specialty. She is also minoring in history and health and development family studies.

Olivia “Lulu” Hamm THON headshot

Lulu Hamm is the 2019 Alumni Engagement Director.

IMAGE: Brianna Barker

Hamm graduated from a small high school in rural Pennsylvania and wasn’t familiar with THON upon arriving at Penn State. She got involved through the dancer relations committee, following an older friend’s advice. Immediately, Hamm said she felt “connected with the cause” and “saw how much a group of students was doing and actually helping people.”

Hamm described THON as a Penn State with values to which she easily connects. She progressed to alumni engagement captain her sophomore year, and to dancer relations captain her junior year. Hamm is also active with THON through the Lion Ambassadors Student Organization for THON.

For THON 2019, Hamm serves as the alumni engagement director. Her roles include educating Penn State alumni about THON and its mission.

In her four years with THON, Hamm’s favorite memory happened during her sophomore year. One of her duties was to give behind-the-scenes tours to captains’ and directors’ parents, alumni groups, donors and Penn State faculty.

“The tour schedule got messed up, and I ended up picking up a random tour. They were quiet at first, but then I took them on the floor and learned about why they were here. That group ended up being a Four Diamonds family whose child had passed away around 11 years before that,” said Hamm. “It was their first time being back to THON since losing their child, and it was so powerful to see them come back.”

Hamm will graduate this May and plans to attend law school. Her specific interests in public policy and nonprofit law were inspired by THON.

To everyone attending THON, Hamm says to “keep a water bottle in your hand 24/7!” She said that getting dehydrated is easy, which in turn increases the discomfort already present from extended standing. She also advised visiting the upper bowl and taking in the view from there, as it is inspirational to take a moment to remove yourself and allow yourself to see the bigger picture of THON, along with everyone and everything that works together to make it happen.

Tim Seydel

Tim Seydel is a senior from Philadelphia studying criminology with a focus on business and policy making.

Tim Seydel THON head shot

Tim Seydel is the 2019 Dancer Relations Director.

IMAGE: Brianna Barker

Seydel’s older sister is responsible for his involvement with THON through her recommendation to apply for a committee. He joined the dancer relations committee his first year and has remained with the committee, crediting the decision with loving his first-year captain.

“It is about the kids and the families,” he said. Seydel has continued with THON due to the resonation of THON’s message: solidarity with children battling something so difficult. He has also made his closest friends through THON and says the relationships he made have created another reason to come back each year.

For this year’s THON, Seydel is serving as the dancer relations director. Therefore, he oversees all 20 of the dancer relations captains. Seydel also works with the College of Nursing, EMS, and Athletic Training to ensure that the dancers’ needs are met. Another perk of the job is the ability to help coordinate and then execute the Line Dance.

Seydel remembers his experience as mail call captain last year. “Letters come during a difficult time for the dancers,” he explained. He and his co-captain got to distribute mail to the dancers and witnessed them open it. “You could see the impact the mail had on them: smiles and tears. A sense of pride in what they had accomplished,” said Seydel.

Seydel graduates in May. He plans to return to Ocean City, Maryland, to work with their police department for his second consecutive summer. This job has taught him that change happens from the inside, similar to some of THON’s values. He is then considering applying to work with federal agencies.

To the dancers this year, Seydel said that his “biggest tip is to remember why you are doing it. Remember why you are there and why you got involved in the first place. There are moments that define your experience. If that reason is good, you will be able to push through the entire weekend.”

Madeleine “Maddy” Hughes

Madeleine “Maddy” Hughes is completing her final year of the integrated master’s program for comparative literature and has already received her bachelor of the arts in global and international studies.

Maddy Hughes THON headshot

Maddy Hughes is the 2019 Public Relations Director.

IMAGE: Brianna Barker

Hughes’ involvement in THON stems from her high school days, when senior year of high school, she got involved with her student government, which was tasked with creating a new event for the school’s students. They decided to organize a Mini-THON, influenced by Hughes’ older sister, a then-student at Penn State, talking about and attending THON herself. As soon as Hughes arrived at Penn State, she joined multiple THON organizations and the dancer relations committee. She also became a public relations captain.

For Hughes, her list of reasons to THON each year grows and changes, and she finds herself constantly able to come up with more reasons to continue her involvement.

“THON gave me a home at Penn State with my best friends, and it feels purposeful and like what we are doing has an impact,” Hughes said. “I am so lucky to feel like I am making a difference in the world.”

This year, Hughes will be serving as the public relations director. In her role, Hughes is responsible for leading 24 public relations captains and overseeing more than 80 committee members. She describes her team as being “the voice of THON,” responsible for creating stories, pictures, and videos of the work being done in order to spread THON’s message. With the Public Relations team’s work, the mission of THON is able to be spread beyond State College.

Participating in more than four years of THON-related activities, Hughes has made powerful memories. One that stands out to her vividly occurred during her first time at as a captain at THON. She and her friends had created the recap video that played throughout the Bryce Jordan Center. Hughes said that “seeing the impact the video had was indescribable. It conveys what THON weekend is.”

She thinks of herself as so lucky to be surrounded by the people that she is, and to have had the opportunities that she has had. Hughes has also always enjoyed the talent show held each THON weekend. “Everyone wants to be a rock star, and the talent show lets people be that,” Hughes said.

Upon finishing her master’s program, Hughes wants to participate in an education abroad teaching program, preferably in Spain.

Hughes’ advice for anyone going to THON this year is to “take it in! It goes by so fast, and people get so caught up. It’s a celebration of all the hard work of the year. Make sure to take a minute and look around and see all the people you’re helping!”

Katie Solomon

Katie Solomon is a junior studying criminology with a sociology minor.

Katie Solomon headshot

Katie Solomon is the 2019 Development Director.

IMAGE: Brianna Barker

Solomon initially experienced THON when her older sister danced as a representative for Penn State Law in 2014. Solomon, not yet a student at Penn State, came to support her sister and experienced the magic of THON.

“From the moment I stepped into the BJC that year, I had to be a part of this,” she said.

Prior to joining THON’s Executive Board, Solomon was a member of the Springfield organization, a dancer relations committee member and a development captain. For every THON she has experienced, she has gained more inspiration to continue the fight against childhood cancer.

This year, Solomon is the development director. In this role, she is responsible for fostering communications and relationships with THON’s large donor base, as well as inspiring others to take part in the mission. All of the THONvelopes and corporate packets sent out for THON are coordinated through the development committee. In addition to these duties, Solomon and her team also serve as liaisons to student organizations, manage THON nation, guide THON Weekend tours, and help with donor stewarding and benefitting. They work closely with alumni engagement to spread THON’s mission across the country.

Since getting involved with THON, Solomon has had multiple memories that stand out. One of her favorites though, was not during THON weekend.

She went on a tour of Hershey Medical Center last fall. “One of the first things we got to see was a young boy ringing the ‘end of treatment’ bell and filling shadow boxes with glitter that spelled out the word ‘inspire.’”

They then met and interacted with more Four Diamonds families, as well as staff of the hospital.

“The experience grounded me in our mission and efforts in a way that I will never forget,” she said.

After graduating next spring, Solomon plans to attend law school.

For anyone planning to go to THON this year, Solomon says to keep busy and to use tennis balls to rub your feet, though she advises waiting a few hours into THON before using them.

Overall, THON Weekend is an unforgettable experience for any member of the Penn State community. With the hard work of the Executive Board, along with all the other diligent volunteers, this year will be another amazing THON Weekend.

THON Weekend begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15. It will continue for 46 hours, concluding at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 17. Visit thon.org to learn more.

  • Olivia “Lulu” Hamm THON headshot

    Lulu Hamm is the 2019 Alumni Engagement Director.

    IMAGE: Brianna Barker
  • Tim Seydel THON head shot

    Tim Seydel is the 2019 Dancer Relations Director.

    IMAGE: Brianna Barker
  • Maddy Hughes THON headshot

    Maddy Hughes is the 2019 Public Relations Director.

    IMAGE: Brianna Barker
  • Katie Solomon headshot

    Katie Solomon is the 2019 Development Director.

    IMAGE: Brianna Barker
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Last Updated February 14, 2019