UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When senior Kelly Winegar first started thinking about nursing schools, Penn State was “not even on my radar,” she said. THON changed that.
“My senior year at Freedom High School (in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania) was the first year they did a Mini-THON,” she explained. She served on the leadership team for the inaugural event, which raised more than $23,000 for the Four Diamonds fund. It also inspired Winegar to become involved with THON — the IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon — on a larger level.
“Having the opportunity to work with Four Diamonds families and Penn State students who were involved with THON convinced me that I wanted to be part of this amazing philanthropy at University Park,” she said.
Winegar knew at a young age that she wanted to be a nurse. When she was just five years old, her grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer, and Winegar immediately became involved with her treatment and care.
“I envied the nurses who took care of her. Because of them, I knew I wanted to be a nurse one day,” she said. Her grandmother passed away when she was in fifth grade. She still has her school yearbook from that year, where she had written, “When I grow up I want to be a nurse.”
Her high school THON experience intensified her passion. First-year Penn State students are exhorted during Welcome Week to “Be a Part from the Start,” and Winegar arrived determined to do just that. She attended the open house for Penn State's chapter of the Student Nurses' Association of Pennsylvania (SNAP) and knew right away that it was what she wanted to do.
“SNAP was perfect for me,” she said. She participated in almost every SNAP event during her freshman year. At the end of the year she was awarded a certificate for having “most SNAP points” (for involvement and participation).
Winegar kept her commitment to THON as well, serving on the Rules and Regulations committee her first year. By sophomore year, she was so immersed in SNAP that she decided to run for the organization’s office of THON Overall Chair, which has the responsibility for overseeing the work of four other THON chairs. She was elected and led the chapter in raising more than $160,000 — one of the highest fundraising years SNAP has ever had.
Winegar spent her junior year at the Hershey campus, where she served as president of the SNAP chapter and did community service at the Medical Center. Upon returning to University Park her senior year, she was elected SNAP chapter president there.
Although the increasing demands of senior year have left her very busy, Winegar still finds time to participate in all THON-related events. Along with two other SNAP members, she was chosen to represent the organization as a dancer in THON 2017. “I’m very excited to dance!” she said.
THON also played a big part in helping Winegar solidify her career plans. “Because of the kids, I’ve always wanted to do pediatrics,” she said. She is currently doing her capstone at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia and also has an externship at Hershey Medical Center, where she has had the opportunity to work in many different units — most memorably the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.
“I loved it there so much that I hope to pursue a position in a PICU and eventually move into pediatric oncology,” she said.
For now, Winegar is embracing the experiences of her final Penn State year and appreciating the opportunities she has enjoyed here.
“There is so much at Penn State, and it’s hard not to be a part of it,” she said. “But for me, THON trumps everything. It’s the reason why I decided to come to Penn State, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision.”