University of St. Thomas Campus News
- Tommie Traditions: Up ’til Dawn
Celebrating its 10th year, the University of St. Thomas branch of Up ’til Dawn hosted its annual all-night fundraising event Nov. 14 and raised more than $46,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. That makes a total of more than $500,000 that St. Thomas students have raised over the years.
Up ’til Dawn is St. Jude’s student-led, nationwide philanthropic program. At St. Thomas, approximately 150 students gathered from midnight to dawn, participating in individual and team challenges and last-minute fundraising pushes in honor of the children and their families who seek cancer treatment at St. Jude. Located in Memphis, Tennessee, St. Jude’s mission is “to advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment.”
Of the $46,000 raised at St. Thomas, 80 percent goes directly to serving the children treated at St. Jude, who are never turned away because of a family’s inability to pay. With the money raised, St. Thomas covered five hours of physical therapy; seven chest X-rays; two days in the Intensive Care Unit; 10 days of chemotherapy; one week of oxygen; and five spinal taps for patients.
Reasons for participating in the event vary among St. Thomas students, from honoring a best friend fighting cancer to wanting to contribute to a cause they admire. Paige Pipal ’15, executive director of the student organization and an entrepreneurship major, explained why she participates: “For me, (Up ’til Dawn) means sacrificing a night of sleep in honor of families who are up all night worrying that their child may not survive or they might not be able to pay for (treatment). … It means really helping with what I can imagine would be one of the darkest times in a parent’s life.”
To participate in Up ’til Dawn, individuals must raise at least $100 before the event, although they can continue to raise funds afterward.
Led by coach Glenn Caruso’s love of St. Jude’s work and mission, the St. Thomas football team did its part to raise funds. Although they couldn’t attend the all-night event (something about a game the next day), players gathered after practice one evening to call and email friends and family for donations.
Some healthy competition ensued, Pipal recalled. Taunts such as “Well, I’m gonna raise more than you” flew across the room. In just 30 minutes, the team raised $2,000 and has since raised more than $12,000. “That was really cool to see,” Pipal said.
Pipal and 10 fellow students coordinated the Up ‘til Dawn event, working with Public Safety, Campus Life, STAR, a St. Jude representative and local businesses. Their roles took some Up ’til Dawn student leaders beyond the St. Paul city limits. Last summer, Pipal and another student attended the St. Jude Collegiate Leadership Seminar in Memphis. They toured the St. Jude campus; listened to organization leaders, including chief executive officer James Downing, M.D.; attended workshops on planning and executing the event; and, what was most memorable for Pipal, visited with St. Jude patients and their families.
“(Patient families) were honored to meet me, (as) I was supporting their child who I had never met. I was honored to meet them, (as) they had gone through this extraordinary thing and were still so humble,” Pipal said.
Yes, Up ’til Dawn is partly a social gathering. Students win fancy prizes and eat good food, all donated by local sponsors; however, the event is more than this. Whether a group decides to shave their heads in honor of patients or simply fights to stay awake as the first light of dawn appears, year after year, the Up ’til Dawn fundraising event cultivates solidarity and hope, uniting St. Thomas students with children fighting for their lives. Not a bad way to spend a Friday night.
- Marching to the Light of Their Own Drums
Joey Nesbitt ’12, a Broncos fan, admits that he wasn’t in a great mood by halftime during the last Super Bowl. That wouldn’t last long. (Not because the Broncos turned the game around; they didn’t.) Sharing the stage with Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers was DrumLite, which Nesbitt and Jeff Sevaldson ’11 invented.
The pair was together at Sevaldson’s place during the Super Bowl, which Sevaldson describes as “pretty surreal.”
“It didn’t dawn on me until like a week afterward, those lights that touched our hands were seen by so many people,” Sevaldson said.
DrumLite, started when both Sevaldson and Nesbitt were roommates at St. Thomas, is intended to bring focus to the drummer: an LED light is inserted into the drum, and comes in a range of different colors and effects.
Their clients include Lester Estelle from Kelly Clarkson and Pillar; Greg Garman from Selena Gomez; Steve Goold from Sara Bareilles and Owl City; Zac Hanson from Hanson; Mikey Martin from Shiny Toy Guns; and Mike McKee from Delta Rae. Amazon and dealers from Ontario to Florida carry their products.
They launched DrumLite after raising a mere $500 and quickly had to learn how to balance classes, exams and projects with the rigor of an up-and-coming business.
“We were limited on time and budget,” Sevaldson said. “It set us up good though. We weren’t spending on things we didn’t need. We just focused on the important things for the initial year really.”
Both also have adjusted to getting little sleep – all lessons that have aided them as their company continues to grow. (And as they both have full-time “day” jobs to occupy their schedules.)
Being featured in the Super Bowl has helped open doors to their company, particularly in the arena of brand awareness.
“We hadn’t been commercialized even though this technology had been around,” Nesbitt said. “A lot of people didn’t exactly know what we were doing. Then, instantly, millions of people could see what our company was about.”
DrumLite has a shop in St. Louis Park, and Nesbitt and Sevaldson now have three part-time people working for them.
One of their main undertakings is releasing a new controller, which will make it so that drums light up when they are hit. (A popular request, according to Nesbitt.) They’ve also been working on redoing the product line, which will involve upgrading the quality of their product to make it more “tour ready,” as Sevaldson said.
“We went through everything we didn’t like,” Nesbitt said. “We went back to the drawing board. We’re making it so you can gig with it seven days a week, throw it in a drum case and still be bulletproof all the time.”
A community of drummers
A huge part of their business is artist interaction. Their network, thanks to the Super Bowl and attending trade shows, has grown. Both Nesbitt and Sevaldson put emphasis on having a personal connection with their customers or potential customers. Nesbitt said having that kind of relationship is helpful, because they can help their musicians when they’re on tour if they need something for their drums or even just need to find a place to stay.
“Really, we’re centered on our artists,” Nesbitt said. “Our customers are really part of a family, a community, of drummers.”
They’ll also be able to continue to grow through that network by reaching out to popular artists with the hope of getting them to use their product.
In the mean time, they make sure to support customers who already used DrumLite. Nesbitt and Sevaldson frequently attend shows coming through the Minneapolis area that feature DrumLite. Nesbitt said, to him, it’s become the norm to see a drumset with their lights.
“The reverse is almost true now,” Nesbitt said. “If I don’t see the lights, I think it’s an opportunity, and we have to talk to this guy.”
For Sevaldson, he said that going to a show where DrumLite is being used is still a reminder of the impact they have on other people.
“As soon as I see the lights again in person – the stage goes dark, the drum lights pop on for the first song, and the crowd goes, ‘Ooh,’ – I’m like, oh yeah,” Sevaldson said.
Both admit they enjoy seeing their product on television, but seeing other people’s excitement is still a prime reward for them.
“The Super Bowl was pretty sweet,” Nesbitt said. “But I love getting a picture of a younger artist – a 12-year-old – in their laundry room with their drums on. Maybe their parents take the picture. They’re grinning ear to ear. I feel like I really helped that young drummer. They’re not dreading practice. They’re excited to turn the light on and rock out. We want to make drumming fun.”
Success in the form of a good partner and dedication
Although their business has grown and their lives have changed, Nesbitt said they still carry the workload “50/50.” Nesbitt, who graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, works on the operations side of things while Sevaldson, who majored in entrepreneurship and communication, focuses on sales.
They describe their strengths as complementary, an important factor to the success of the business.
“I’m good at reading his mind, we’ve known each for so many years,” Sevaldson said. “It’s challenging to work with someone whose strengths are your weaknesses. Joey is very linear and mathematical. He’s good at the engineering stuff and how to make the product better. I wouldn’t have a clue. I’m more of a creative thinker.”
Nesbitt also said that it’s important that they hold each other accountable.
“I don’t recommend starting a business with a partner who isn’t equally invested,” Nesbitt said.
That kind of dedication is a vital component to their business, and they offer up the same advice to anyone else who is looking to start up their own company: Go ahead and do it.
“People get hung up on, ‘I need investors, I need this, I need that,’” Sevaldson said. “People told us we would need five grand and we looked at each other and went, ‘Crap.’ You just need to get out there with the product.”
“The biggest hurdle is not starting,” Nesbitt said. “You start small and get feedback from your customers. You can always change things as you go on. If you never get started, you can’t.”