EMS students reflect on THON journey and leadership behind the scenes

Friends and EMS THON members pose with one of the Four Diamonds families at the THON Family Carnival held at the IM Building. Left to right are: Shannon Stellato (energy engineering), Cole Ensminger (public relations), Steven Langballe (petroleum and natural gas engineering), Peter Scalia (energy business and finance and economics) and Daniel Cooley (materials science and engineering). Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When five students met at a first-year student orientation, they did not know their friendships would build through college and positively impact their community. Dan Cooley, Cole Ensminger, Steven Langballe, Peter Scalia and Shannon Stellato began their journey as members of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Student Council Benefiting THON (EMS THON) and emerged as leaders to support fundraising to fight cancer.

“We all met as participants of TOTEMS [Total Orientation to Earth and Mineral Sciences] our freshman year. This initially created a friendship, later strengthened through our involvement with EMS student council and EMS THON,” says Langballe.

Outside of EMS THON, each holds a position as captain for the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon.

Stellato, a senior energy engineering major, serves as the Donor and Alumni Relations director of EMS THON and a captain for the Rules and Regulations Committee that focuses on alternative fundraising.

“It’s a very different experience being both a board member and a THON committee member,” said Stellato. “I keep our members, THON families, alumni and EMS faculty and staff connected throughout the year while helping out with our fundraising efforts.”

Scalia, a junior energy business and finance and economics double major, considers being a part of both EMS and THON a unique experience. He serves as the fundraising outreach chair for EMS THON and a supply/logistics captain for the THON event.

“So many people within EMS participate in THON as we try to win the fight against childhood cancer,” said Scalia.

Behind the scenes

THON is the world’s largest student-run philanthropy initiative. Before the mega-event in the Bryce Jordan Center takes place, bringing thousands of students, alumni and families come together to dance for a cure for cancer, students spend hundreds of hours of planning to make this event successful.

Many aspects of the THON event don’t directly involve dancing on the stage or interacting with the children.

Cooley, a junior materials science and engineering major, serves as a special events captain and led the THON 5K race held at the Bryce Jordan Center in October 2017. He began working last summer, collaborating with other captains to prepare for the race.

Langballe, a junior petroleum and natural gas engineering major, serves as a construction captain for the operations committee, known as OPPerations, involved in setting up and keeping the event neat and clean. With his position, any THON captain can request that his committee builds something for the THON weekend, family carnival, or the THON 5K.

Ensminger, a junior public relations major, continued to remain a part of the EMS THON family even after switching out of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Now, he serves as a Dancer Relations captain for THON. He hosts the children and their families involved with EMS THON at an annual barbeque at his house. He is also involved in some of the key changes that THON weekend will see this year.

“We have new sensory boxes that are used for dancers to walk on to differentiate the pressure points on their feet throughout the weekend. We also have recycling bins in Dancer Storage which are brand new as well. These are adding to the big initiative within THON this year to become a zero-waste organization,” says Ensminger.

Providing more than financial support

Through their ongoing advocacy for THON, the students have built long-lasting relationships with other students, especially incoming first-year students.

“I have a committee of 37 amazing human beings. A lot of them are freshmen, and throughout this year we have grown as a family,” says Ensminger.

Looking back at THON, they remember the moments that kept them going. Scalia sees the children fighting cancer as a source of inspiration.

“If these little kids can go through chemotherapy and be a ray of sunshine, then I can keep standing and working hard to help them beat this disease,” says Scalia.

Cooley remembers the movie-star themed THON 5K race that gave the children a chance to walk down the red carpet and have a fun-filled experience.

“For me, THON isn’t just a financial support system but also an emotional support system for the children and their families. Cancer cannot shatter hope or stop anyone from discovering tomorrow's wonders,” says Cooley.

About THON and how to get involved

THON is a student-run philanthropy committed to enhancing the lives of children and families impacted by childhood cancer. Its mission is to provide emotional and financial support, spread awareness, and ensure funding for critical research — all in pursuit of a cure. THON has raised more than $136 million to support Four Diamonds at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

Anyone interested in getting involved in the EMS benefiting THON team can visit for more information.

Last Updated June 14, 2021