Portrait of Meg Gross

[dropcap]B[/dropcap]all State University’s Dance Marathon wouldn’t happen without the dedication and passion of students. And alums like 2014 grad Meg Gross, president and co-founder of BSUDM’s alumni association, continue to play a role. The graphic designer in Chicago recently talked about the university’s largest student-run philanthropic event, which this year raised more than $600,000 to benefit Riley Hospital for Children, as well as her broader Ball State experience.

When did you get involved with Dance Marathon?

I transferred to Ball State from Saint Mary’s at Notre Dame. I’d been involved there, and when I showed up at Ball State’s student activity fair, I was so overwhelmed by its size I looked for the first thing familiar to me. That was Dance Marathon. My first year participating in BSUDM was 2009. I was on the morale committee, and we raised $16,000. After that, I fell in love with the event. I was there during what a lot of us alums refer to as our “growth” years — when we got to see the total we raised jump to six figures.

Portrait of Meg GrossWhat was that like, being part of something growing at an unprecedented rate?

We alums still talk about it! I saw so many changes take place with BSUDM during my years at Ball State. When our fundraising total jumped from $16,000 to $39,000 [in 2011], we thought it was the most magnificent increase ever. It’s unbelievable to think a few short years later, students are raising more than half-a-million dollars for Riley kids. Those of us who were a part of Dance Marathon during that era forged bonds we never want to forget.

We’re hearing from more and more students that Dance Marathon is one of the student-centered reasons they’re excited to come to Ball State. Does this surprise you?

Not at all. Dance Marathon has become a movement — especially in the Midwest — and there are so many high schools that participate now, so you see students get introduced earlier and earlier. It’s exciting to think it’s one of the many great reasons why someone would want to come to Ball State.

What led you to want to help Ball State start an alumni association for Dance Marathon?

A close group of us from BSUDM were sitting together one afternoon, talking about how we wished there could have been someone to help mentor us through all the planning stages of the event. We thought it would be nice as an alumni group to give our services back in that way. That was the real motivating factor.

But it was also about you guys still wanting to give back, too?

Absolutely! One of our alumni had this idea for us to stage a fundraising gala as a way for BSUDM alumni to get back together and also raise money for BSUDM. Since we’re not in college anymore, it can be challenging for us to keep up the tradition of fundraising, but the gala has proven a great way for us to do it. Now it’s not only the Dance Marathon alums who come back but also people from Riley and current committee members for BSUDM. At last year’s event in Indianapolis, we had about 160 people attend and raised $7,500 for BSUDM. At this year’s gala in January, there were more than 220 people, and we raised $14,000. With so many of us spread across the United States, it’s become this reunion for a great cause we all look forward to attending.

How many alumni are involved with the alumni chapter of BSUDM?

Since we started the chapter in November 2013, we now have about 50 people who pay dues regularly (these help cover the annual gala’s cost) and an e-mail list of about 200 more alums, both of which are growing.

Has being a part of Dance Marathon made you want to pay philanthropy forward?

Definitely. I think as a college student, you’re this 18- or 20-year-old who has a ‘What can this do for me?’ attitude about volunteering. As if all you care about is how good it’s going to look on your resume. Dance Marathon shaped me into someone who could no longer be like that. Meeting those Riley kids and getting to know their families showed me the beauty of doing good for others. It changes your outlook — at least it changed mine. When I was job-searching, I was biased in where I looked for employment, in that there needed to be a citywide chapter of Dance Marathon for me to get involved in. The charities I care about most all give back to children’s hospitals because I’ve seen firsthand the impact their work has on these families.

Why should Ball State students want to get involved in Dance Marathon?

If you give it a chance, it can be a life-changing organization to be involved in. It teaches you how to be so selfless and so giving. It sounds cheesy, but you really see what you can do with a small group of people and how those efforts can change the world, even if it’s just for one night. It’s such a magical event; I wish every Ball State student got to be a part of it at least once.

Along with participating in BSUDM, what were some of your other favorite Ball State memories?

All the Homecoming festivities … Air Jam and the bed races, those were so much fun. And as an art student, just thinking about all those countless hours I spent in the studio and how special that time was. Looking back, it was the small things that made Ball State as amazing as it was.

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