At this time last year, student organizers for Rider University’s first Relay For Life could not have predicted the turnout and support they would receive during the two-day event in March. More than 600 University and local community members came together, to honor cancer survivors and their caregivers. Altogether, Rider’s Relay For Life – one of the American Cancer Society’s signature awareness and fundraising events – generated $56,000, more than doubling its goal of $25,000.

Recently, Rider’s Relay For Life was recognized as the “Top Performing College Event in All of New Jersey” by the American Cancer Society (ACS). Student organizers Megan Ptaszenski, a senior Journalism major, and Heather Fischler, a senior Elementary Education and Psychology dual major, received the award on behalf of Rider at the Eastern Division Relay For Life Leadership Conference in November. The Eastern Division, based in Lawrenceville, includes colleges and universities from all of New Jersey and New York, including New York University and Ithaca University.

“I was in complete shock. I was so proud. Just to be named with those two Relays was a great honor. Being that it was our first Relay, it definitely summed up the whole experience for me,” Ptaszenski said. “We made an impact. People from all over New Jersey and New York saw that. I really felt like we were leaders.”

In fact, shortly after the success of the relay on the Lawrenceville campus, Ptaszenski took on a greater leadership role herself when she applied to become a member of the National Collegiate Leadership Summit. Ptaszenski said Christine Sagge ’06, director of Special Events for the ACS’s Eastern Division, encouraged her and the Relay’s other student organizers to apply.

As a summit leader, Ptaszenski attended the National Collegiate Summit conference in Texas this summer. There, she helped organize the regional conference in November and was one of 12 students selected to serve as a breakout facilitator, a role that saw Ptaszenski and a student from Monmouth University lead a session about successful recruitment techniques. In all, about 30 students from colleges and universities from all over New Jersey and New York participated in the breakout session.

Ptaszenski, who attended the same national conference last summer, said it was rewarding to help others with the same questions she had prior to Rider’s Relay For Life.

“I not only used information from the breakout packet, but I shared my own experiences and tactics that I had used in different situations,” she said. “Our strategies and tactics actually worked and we were able to pull off a successful Relay.”

Rider will hold its second annual Relay For Life, with a Hollywood theme, this spring from 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 27, through 8 a.m. on March 28 in the Student Recreation Center. This year, Ptaszenski is in charge of team recruitment.

“Our job is to attract people to Relay and maintain retention from last year. Because of the economy, a lot of people are struggling. It’s hard to get college kids involved because sometimes it’s hard for people to come up with the money and ask other people for donations. We try to entice them with rewards,” she said. “We also try to tie the event to a personal aspect. For example, recruitment topics include, ‘Why Relay?’ and ‘How is cancer affecting you or your family?’”

Since 1985, Relay for Life has spread to more 4,700 communities in the United States and has become a worldwide movement, taking place in nine countries. The American Cancer Society is dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by saving lives, diminishing suffering and preventing cancer through research, education, advocacy and service.

For more information about Rider’s upcoming Relay For Life, please visit www.relayforlife.org/rideruniversity or contact Megan Ptaszenski at [email protected] to create a team for your group or organization.