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As the nation grapples with the worst blood shortage in a decade, Penn State students donate and volunteer with a unifying goal of helping their fellow community members and making a positive impact on the world around them.

Many factors contribute to a blood donor’s decision to donate for the first time and to become a recurrent blood donor in the community.

For some students like Bowen Popkin, donating blood was an activity they were always drawn to participate in, but their motivation to continue donating only grew throughout the years.

On the first day he became eligible to donate, Popkin (freshman-immunology and infectious disease) said he started his blood donation journey at Boston Children’s Hospital because he knew the opportunity would allow him to “save countless lives.”

However, after he began donating, Popkin said he became motivated to continue donating because of personal events that transpired in his life.


During his junior year of high school, Popkin said his best friend took his own life, which made a tremendous impact on his life and donation experiences going forward.

“It became an important thing for me to continue donating because when I felt like there were a lot of things out of my control, [donating] was one thing that I could control and that helped with the stress,” Popkin said.

When Popkin was a high school senior, he said his mother received an ovarian cancer diagnosis that required her to undergo surgical removal. He said she needed a blood transfusion as a result of the surgery, which “was the first time in [his] family that [he] felt the impact of blood donors personally.”

Seeing the impact blood donations had for his own mother amid her cancer journey, Popkin said he became even more “motivated” to become a recurrent blood donor and advocate.

Later that same year, Popkin said his high school lab partner was diagnosed with pediatric brain cancer.

Popkin said seeing his friend’s cancer journey was another reason he continued donating blood and blood products because he knew blood donations are something many cancer patients need for their treatment regimens.

When Popkin donated blood at the Boston Children’s Hospital, he said the facility posts a list on the community message board every day of different procedures in need of blood that day.

Popkin said donors can see where their blood could go and the impact it could make by looking at the hospital’s board that lists procedures like advanced life support, treatment regimens, planned surgeries and the units of blood needed for each.

Due to the impact of blood donations on his own life, Popkin said he decided to hold an untraditional graduation celebration when he finished high school.

Rather than hosting a graduation party, Popkin said he organized a blood drive in which his local community showed up to donate approximately 30 units of blood.

“My connection with the blood donor center was something really memorable,” Popkin said. “I’m going to cherish [that relationship] for a long time.”

Popkin said he’s donated over 1 ½ gallons of blood thus far and received his 1 gallon pin during the graduation blood drive he hosted, which was an unforgettable experience all around.

“I think a little amount of discomfort [during donations] is worth it, especially if you’re going to save lives — truly save lives,” Popkin said.

Charlotte Norris, a donor recruitment intern for the American Red Cross, said she helps manage and organize the blood drives around Penn State to ensure they run smoothly and to create an open, calming environment for donors.

Since Penn State is a “main donation spot” within an hour radius, Norris (senior-human development and family studies) said the local blood drives draw in a wide range of people, especially members of the Penn State community who are always “so open and welcoming” to helping others.

Norris said many Penn State students involved in greek life have an extra incentive to donate and volunteer at the blood drives around campus because they receive service hours through their attendance.

“Donating can be a pretty scary process for some people, and having all these [Student Red Cross Club] volunteers around us makes a huge difference in the environment that we promote at our blood drives,” Norris said.

Norris said she started donating blood when she was eligible because her cousin had cancer, and she saw the blood requirements for people undergoing cancer treatments.

She said donating blood is an impactful experience because donors “can make such a huge difference in someone’s life,” and receiving a donation can be “life-changing” for people fighting chronic illnesses or who recently experienced a traumatic accident.

“I just knew the importance and how much of a difference my blood donation could make for [my cousin] and a couple of her peers [fighting cancer],” Norris said.

Norris said some donors participate as recurrent blood donors due to their experience with illnesses themselves or within their immediate circle — similar to her personal experience of seeing the impact of cancer treatments and blood donation necessities. Some people will register as a donor for a particular person diagnosed with stem cell illnesses and will donate blood whenever notified that the individual requires a sickle cell treatment, according to Norris.

Other students like Pavlo Pencak said they donate blood because of the critical need for their blood type.

Although the American Red Cross website notes that “all blood types are urgently needed,” the organization said there’s an especially critical need for platelets, O positive and O negative blood.

Pencak (sophomore-industrial engineering) said he has a universal blood type that can be used in emergency situations if patients’ blood types are unknown and they require an emergency blood transfusion to aid in traumatic bleeding or with major operations.

Blood donors with type O blood are prompted to consistently donate blood because their blood type is routinely in limited supply at the blood banks but is in high demand at medical facilities, according to the American Red Cross.

Being a member of the Penn State family, Pencak said “the community can do so much for you, but you can only do so much for it.”

Pencak said donating blood — especially amid the ongoing nationwide blood shortage — is a way for him to make a small impact on the community he’s a part of and make a tangible difference in the lives of others.

With regard to his donation experience, Pencak said the process of donating is “always a somewhat enjoyable time — besides getting stuck in the arm with a needle.”

However, he said the positives of being able to help others in his community outweigh any negatives entailed with the donation experience. For instance, Pencak said he “likes coming here and feasting afterward” upon the completion of his donation.

Other members of the Penn State community like Robert Weeden began donating blood due to the activity’s promotion and advocacy as being a positive service opportunity within greek life organizations.

Weeden (sophomore-supply chain management) said the blood drive he attended on Jan. 25 at the HUB-Robeson Center was his first experience with donating blood.

“I expected it to be a little [more] uncomfortable,” Weeden said. “But they definitely make [the experience] comfortable for you and take great care to do so.”

Now that he’s donated and better understands the process, Weeden said he’d “definitely” consider donating again because it’s an “easy process” and people need blood regardless of whether others donate.

With one blood donation in the bag, Weeden said other first-time blood donors should be aware that the process is painless and nothing to worry about.

Regarding the common fear of needles that many people experience, Weeden said people can avoid looking at the needle by simply looking at the ceiling.

Claire Jablonski, who served as SRCC treasurer for four years at Penn State, said she’s focused her efforts on volunteering, especially amid the current blood crisis, in order to make the donation process easier for her fellow students and first-time donors.

Since her mother is a traveling nurse, Jablonski (senior-math) said her mom motivated her — and her sister, fellow Penn State student Julia Jablonski — to help out in the community, especially with blood drives.

“Unfortunately, I was never able to really give blood, so that’s why I give my time instead by volunteering,” Claire said. “But my sister’s been an avid blood donor since she was able to.”

Claire said she began volunteering with the Red Cross in high school and continued her efforts in college, motivated by donors and the need for blood across the nation.

“Everyone has a different story [of] why they decide to give back, which is really incredible, and it has really kept me motivated to continue volunteering at blood drives and picking up larger leadership roles,” Claire said.

Claire said she enjoys being at the local blood drives at Penn State because “all of the students come together donating — they’re donating their time, and they’re donating their blood.”

Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, many people came in to donate, which Claire said was “truly incredible” because people were scared but still wanted to give back to the best of their ability.

With a similar backstory to her sister, Julia (junior-computer science) said she engages with the Red Cross because the process of both volunteering and donating blood is “a very, very easy thing” that can make a broader, more meaningful impact within the community.


While volunteering at her high school’s yearly blood drives, Julia said she decided to try donating herself because she was already there and helping.

Once she started donating, Julia said she found the experience to be so “positive” and fulfilling that she “just kept donating” whenever the opportunity arose.


“Donating blood is one of the easiest things you can do to help someone,” Julia said. “You just have to sit for like 15 minutes, and then you get to eat Cheez-Its once you’re done.”

Julia said her favorite part of the blood donation process is receiving an email that her blood has made it to a hospital or medical facility to help a patient in need.

Other students begin their blood donation journey through their involvement or exposure to SRCC at Penn State.

Chinaza Nwokolo, an OSC captain for the SRCC, said she’d heard about blood drives in high school but never took the steps to donate or get involved further in the process.

“I understood blood has come from somewhere, but I just didn’t realize that we — everyday people — donate the needed blood,” Nwokolo (freshman-science) said.

However, upon attending the fall Involvement Fair at Penn State, Nwokolo found interest in SRCC and decided to explore the organization further.

“I signed up to volunteer one time, and I fell in love,” Nwokolo said.

After volunteering at the blood drives and seeing “different donors who really want to help people out,” Nwokolo said she decided to donate for the first time last semester and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“Right now, in this room, we have volunteers, we have the phlebotomists [and] we have the donors,” Nwokolo said. “We have everyone here together with one common goal. And while we have different jobs — like the phlebotomists, their job is different than mine — we all have the same goal and are trying to help in our own way.”

Some individuals who are unable to donate blood due to unmet health requirements or other disqualifying factors instead volunteer with the American Red Cross at the local blood drives in order to have a hand in making positive donor experiences for community members.


Dana Kuo, a philanthropy chair with SRCC, said she began volunteering at blood drives after being deferred from donating due to low hemoglobin levels.

To ensure the safety of blood donors, the American Red Cross requires female donors to meet a minimum hemoglobin level of 12.5 g/DL

and male donors meet 13 g/DL.


Hemoglobin levels stand for the amount of protein in a donor’s blood that transports oxygen in the body to aid in tissue nourishment, according to the American Red Cross website.


Kuo (sophomore-biology) said she enjoys being able to help in the manner she does at blood drives because she meets other volunteers and donors who attend blood drives with the common purpose of helping others.


While volunteering, Kuo said she enjoys hearing people’s stories about why they donate. In fact, Kuo said she’s found her friend’s blood donation story to be motivational because although her friend finds discomfort in needles, she still donates because she has a universal blood type. “It’s inspiring to me that she doesn’t love to donate blood, but she does it because she knows it helps so much,” Kuo said.

Kuo said many students in the Penn State community demonstrate a “giving” spirit in regard to the blood donations and helping combat health crises, like childhood cancer.

“We as a Penn State community are very philanthropic — like just look at what we do for THON — and I feel like [those efforts] translate into blood drive participation because the blood donations can be so helpful for our THON children,” Kuo said.

Taylor Codispoti, president of SRCC, said she’s always had “a passion for community service and helping people,” which led her to find ways she could “give back” — like being involved in the blood donation process as both a donor and volunteer.

“My thought process is you never know when somebody you love will need blood,” Codispoti (junior-criminology and sociology) said. “You also never know if something’s going to happen to yourself, and you’re going to be the one who needs blood.”

Codispoti said she’s had many family members undergo serious surgeries — like open heart surgeries — that require significant amounts of blood to complete the procedure.

“One blood donation can save up to three lives — but at the same time, one person could go through 10 bags of blood during a major surgery,” Codispoti said. “If nobody donates blood, what are we going to do? What are they going to do in situations like that?”

Codispoti said she likes knowing that by taking an hour from her day to donate a pint of blood, she could potentially save three babies — or even her own classmates.

“Blood donations, and blood in general, has saved probably hundreds if not thousands of Penn State students’ lives,” Codispoti said. “I have friends who attend Penn State that have needed blood transfusions, which means by donating, we can help someone in our own community.”

In terms of securing leadership positions within her high school and college Red Cross clubs, Codispoti said she “wanted to help other people donate blood and make that process as easy and comfortable for everybody as possible.”

Although she consistently tries to donate, Codispoti said she’s run into issues with her iron and other American Red Cross donor requirements, which is another reason she enjoys being involved in running blood drives.

Comparing the current state of the blood supply to the past decade, Codispoti said the country is facing the “most critical need for blood” donations, which is in part due to the pandemic, which is causing less people to donate and also skyrocketing hospital needs.

Melissa Wolf, American Red Cross account manager for Penn State and a 2010 public relations graduate from the university, said blood donor turnout tends to lessen after the holiday season, which is impacting the current blood crisis as well.

Wolf said the winter weather conditions have also caused many blood drive cancellations and caused blood donors to simply cancel their donation appointments due to discomfort with road conditions.

Although blood donors are attending the local drives, Wolf said the American Red Cross is not “replenishing” the supply enough “to the level of demand that there is currently for blood.”

Wolf said many college students donate for the first time to fulfill community service requirements for other organizations they’re involved in, which can open the door for some to become lifelong donors.

“College students are impressionable, eager to learn and be molded,” Wolf said. “They’re like the catalysts to the next generation of blood donors — the next [group] of give-backers.”

In November 2021, a blood drive hosted by Alpha Kappa Psi was held in memory of Penn State student Neil Patel, who died from coronavirus complications, Wolf said.

During his coronavirus treatment process, Patel received blood transfusions, which inspired the blood drive in his memory, Wolf said.

By putting a face with the reason to donate, Wolf said many people better understood the significance of blood donations and how they can impact people they actually know.

With the prevalence of THON on campus, Wolf said blood donations are another, lesser-known way people can help cancer patients.

“A lot of people that are involved in THON don’t realize that cancer patients are actually one of the biggest users of blood,” Wolf said. “Depending on the cancer and situation, cancer patients may need blood transfusions as a part of their cancer-fighting treatments.”

Although Penn State has “one of the largest collegiate blood programs in the country,” Wolf said there’s room to grow and get more students involved in both blood donations and the volunteering process.

“The No.1 reason people give for not doing it is not being asked,” Wolf said. “And the No. 1 reason that they give for saying ‘no’ usually stems from a lack of education and awareness about why giving blood is so important.”

For instance, Wolf said many students don’t know that donating blood aids the circulatory system and burns calories — which makes the donation process good for both donors and the community.

“I just challenge people to try it once, and if it’s the worst thing that you’ve ever done — which nobody ever says — you know you wouldn’t do it again,” Wolf said. “But you should try it and see if it’s something that you can do a couple times a year for the sake of the world and the community.”

 American Red Cross Pairs with Penn State THON 2022 in Donor Initiative

University Park, PA - As the Fall 2021 semester came to a close, the American Red Cross announced the winners of each of the five categories in the Penn State THON 2022 initiative:  


Academic and Professional: The Student Nurses’ Association of Pennsylvania (SNAPS) 

Other: The Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC)

Panhel/IFC: Zeta Tau Alpha Fraternity

THON Special Interest: Atlas

Athletics: NCAA Women’s Softball


The initiative began in September as a way to bridge the student philanthropic efforts of Penn State THON with the American Red Cross to raise awareness and student participation in blood donation. THON is a 46 hour no sleeping, no sitting, dance marathon that takes place every February in The Bryce Jordan Center. Last year, THON looked a little different, taking place virtually, but still raising an impressive total of $10,638,078.62 for Four Diamonds at Penn State Children's Hospital.


This American Red Cross initiative pledged a $1,000 donation to sponsor the top donating organization of each of the five categories above in THON 2022. Penn state students are well aware of the importance of fundraising efforts to improve pediatric cancer research, but through blood donations they were able to learn the direct impact they could have on cancer patients actively receiving blood transfusion as treatment. 


The Penn State community has proved resilience in uncertain times, and through the American Red Cross and Penn State THON 2022 initiative, they have further demonstrated their dedication to philanthropy.

American Red Cross and Penn State Remember Life of Student Neil Patel

By Alyssa Amblod

University Park, Pa — Students as well as Penn State faculty gathered at the HUB on Tuesday, September 21 to donate blood to honor and remember the life of Penn State student Neil Patel who passed away in August of this year due to COVID-19 complications.

Penn State’s Alpha Kappa Psi sponsored the drive as Patel was a member of the club. Patel was a finance major who would have been entering his junior year of college. Patel was the 2019 Upper Merion Class President, a Penn State honors student, a talented musician, performer athlete, but above all, according to his friends, the greatest friend one could wish to have.


Patel endured four long months in the hospital during his fight with COVID-19, often needing hundreds of blood products at a constant rate throughout his stay. “Calming down, taking our time to rest, and to be human is what Patel’s story really showed me”, said Nick Marino, best friend of Patel.  Marino and Patel went to Upper Merion High School together before both attending Penn State.

While Patel needed a substantial amount of blood products throughout his stay at the hospital, his friends and family want to give back to the Red Cross and raise awareness to others about the need for blood in the US. “I've given blood and it takes less than an hour. The process might be a little uncomfortable with a pinch, but you don't realize how life changing it could be for somebody” said Rayhan Rahman, friend of Patel.

Neil has the whole community behind him,” added Marino. Patel now has a foundation in his name called NEILSTRONG Foundation which has raised impressive amounts of funding for various causes. In partnership with Love Works, the family raised $10,000 for a music therapy program to be launched in 2022.  Upper Merion MiniThon also raised   $1,512 in honor of Neil for Four Diamonds Pediatric Cancer. The KPVFC 9/11 run held this past September also honored Neil by securing an enduring scholarship for an Upper Merion Student, the first to be awarded next spring.  The NEILSTRONG Foundation will focus on supporting programs that support the arts, athletics and social causes, mentoring programs, as well as many more attributes to keep the “ripple” of Patel’s impactful life going strong.

Recently, NEILSTRONG has partnered with the American Red Cross and Penn State to create the NEILSTRONG Every Drop Counts movement to raise awareness about blood donation, especially with young adults. Every Drop Counts will be hosting another drive on November 16 to continue the ripple of Patel’s legacy and to get young people involved in aiding to the demand for blood.

NEILSTRONG will be having it’s second blood drive of the school year on November 16 located in Alumni Hall at the HUB 11:00 a.m.- 5:00 p.m.

To support and follow the ripple of Patel’s life, please visit the NEILSTRONG website at the website, upcoming events, #NEILSTRONG foundation projects, and donating information can be found.  You can also connect with the foundation by following on Instagram and Facebook @neilstrongfoundation


Completion of a RapidPass® online health history questionnaire is encouraged to help speed up the donation process. To get started, follow the instructions at or use the Blood Donor App. 


A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.


Penn State Junior Neil Patel


Close Friends of Neil Patel

Nick Marino & Rayhan Rahman


Friends and fellow students gather

in support of Patel at Red Cross blood drive


Art in honor of Neil Patel

by @skylerbrookeart on Instagram

2021 Penn State Summer Blood Donor Challenge Winners Announced

The College of HHD and Outreach and Online Education Presented with Trophies

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- This past summer marked the 3rd Annual Penn State Summer Blood Donor Challenge. This year’s winners and the College/Department that recruited the most donors were the College of Health and Human Development (HHD) and Outreach and Online Education (OOE).

Penn State Colleges and Departments hosted blood drives in the months of June and July and helped to recruit donors to donate. Despite several challenges with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on top of the usual donor decline experienced during the summer months, Penn State faculty, staff members, and students helped to collect 512 units of blood!

Those units saved over 1,500 lives of patients in need of blood!


And even while the COVID-19 pandemic caused chaos and uncertainty around the world, Penn State was the third most productive University in terms of blood collection.


In addition to most donors recruited, honors were given to the departments and colleges for the following categories: Most Power Red Donations, Most First-Time Donors, Most O- Donations, and Most O+ donations.

Those honorees include:

Most Power Reds – College of HHD

Most O- Units – University Libraries

Most O+ Units – College of HHD

Most First Time Donors – Smeal College of Business


Marc McCann, the HDFS Internship Director within the College of HHD, organized a blood drive as a way to contribute since he cannot donate himself.


“I decided to start a drive as a way to help them get across their goal,” McCann said.

“I love the cause, and this was a way for me to help out.”


McCann accepted the award on behalf of the College of HHD for most donors in a college and most O+ units donated.

Another member of the Penn State community that was essential in helping the Red Cross achieve these collection results was Dina Liberatore.

“I was really surprised when I found out we won,” Liberatore said. “I didn’t think we would win because of the size of our department.”


Despite the smaller size of the department she works in, Liberatore, an academic advisor for Penn State World Campus, was able to recruit the most donors on behalf of the Online Outreach and Education department at World Campus.

In total, 548 unique donors participated in the Challenge that resulted in 512 units collected.

Of the 548 donors, 67 of them were first-time donors.

As of September 27, the American Red Cross has issued an emergency blood and platelet shortage. With the increase of COVID-19 cases in August, blood donor turnout decreased by about 10%, leaving the national blood inventory the lowest it’s been at this time of year since 2015 with less than a day’s supply of certain blood types in recent weeks.


If you are interested in learning more about blood donation and to make an appointment,

go to and search zip code 16802.


Completion of a RapidPass® online health history questionnaire is encouraged to help speed up the donation process.

To get started, follow the instructions at or use the Blood Donor App.

A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in.

Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.

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Screen Shot 2021-10-19 at 3.10.53 PM.png

Trophy on display at Innovation Park

Summer 2021 Winner,

Marc McCann

By Sydney Gill

Penn State ROTC Honor Lives Lost on 9/11 Through Campus Blood Drive

By Sydney Gill and Alyssa Amblod

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Penn State ROTC Program sponsors a blood drive with the Red Cross every year in remembrance of 9/11, but this year it’s different.

This year will mark the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the twin towers at the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon, and the crash in Shanksville, PA that happened on September 11, 2001.


On Wednesday, September 8, 2021, over 129 people came together at the HUB in Alumni Hall to give blood in honor of the 2,996 people that lost their lives during this tragic event. Of the 129 unique donors who came to donate on September 8, 58 were first-time donors, with a total of 127 units collected.

The events of 9/11 consisted of two 767 Boeing planes crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Another flight crashed into the Pentagon in downtown Washington, D.C. Another plane leaving Newark, N.J. was hijacked and crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa.


After the attacks, Americans turned to the Red Cross to do their part in helping America pick up the pieces of 9/11. Through monetary donations of $1.1 billion and 1 million calls on the Blood Donation line, Americans contributed aid for 9/11 to the Red Cross to help those affected.

Wyatt Netting, an ROTC student, acknowledges the importance of a community coming together in times of need. 

“Especially after 9/11, we were very unified as a country,” Netting said. “Over the years we have drifted apart but I think it would be nice to come together again. Events like this help bring people together.”


Jai Ghude, another ROTC student, says that tragedies are never expected, and with blood and or platelets already being needed every 2 seconds in the U.S., it is important that we are prepared for them.


“It can happen to you,” Ghude said. “Donate blood and save your own life.”  

Upcoming blood drives will be located in the HUB in Alumni Hall from 11:00 a.m.- 5:00 p.m. on September 14, 15 and 16. To find more blood drives, visit and search the zip code 16802. To schedule your appointment, please visit and enter sponsor code: PSU. For more information about blood donation, please visit


Completion of a RapidPass® online health history questionnaire is encouraged to help speed up the donation process. To get started, follow the instructions at or use the Blood Donor App. A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.

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