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Wake Forest Students Take Imaginative Role in Supporting Cancer Research and Treatment | The Delightful Spirit Behind a Gift That Could Save Lives

Wake Forest Students Take Imaginative Role in Supporting Cancer Research and Treatment


“We’re excited to create an occasion for the community to gather together and fight this disease that has touched each of us in some way,” says Lucas Swenson, a junior from Kentucky who is one of hundreds of Wake Forest University students committed to raising funds for research and treatment at the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

Swenson is 2013–14 co-chair of the Wake ‘N Shake Dance Marathon, an annual 12-hour event that supports the Brian Piccolo Cancer Fund Drive, a student initiative that has energized the Wake Forest campus for more than 30 years.

The 2013 event raised more than $146,000 and drew 1,300 participants. Says Swenson, “We’re all proud of the amount of money that we have raised each year, but we are also amazed by the participation and the energy generated by the iconic Brian Piccolo fundraising events.”

Piccolo: The Man Who Inspired It All
Students established the Piccolo Fund Drive in 1980 in memory of the alumnus, who starred as a running back for Wake Forest and played for four years with the National Football League’s Chicago Bears.

Piccolo’s professional career was cut short by cancer. He died at age 26 from embryonal cell carcinoma, an aggressive form of germ cell testicular cancer.

Piccolo was known for his courage and inspiring personality. His professional and personal achievements were and continue to be a powerful source of inspiration for Wake Forest students. Johnny Dawkins, a 1980 Wake Forest alumnus and now a leader in the health insurance field, spearheaded the establishment of the Piccolo Fund Drive “in memory of an outstanding football player and an incredible human being.”

From $3,500 to More Than $1 Million
During the inaugural year of the Piccolo Fund Drive, the students brought in $3,500. Every year since has shown increases in both community involvement and monies raised. In 2009, students surpassed the $1 million mark for total fund contributions and were awarded the Outstanding Youth/College Achievement Award by the N.C. Triad Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

The Piccolo Fund Drive is the main charitable initiative of the year on the Wake Forest campus. It is entirely student produced and coordinated, and involves the broader campus community as well as the Winston-Salem community at large.

All proceeds from the students’ efforts go toward cancer treatment and research at the Comprehensive Cancer Center. Each year, in addition to coordinating the fundraisers, Piccolo Fund Drive students tour the Cancer Center to become familiar with the scope of clinical and research expertise.

Many students also volunteer in research labs or with outreach programs. The Brian Piccolo Student Volunteer Program was established at Wake Forest to provide undergraduates with an opportunity to serve in the Cancer Center as volunteers.

Pro Humanitate in Action


LEFT: Michael Ford, associate dean of campus life (second from right), with Wake Forest students Emily Burniston, Lucas Swenson and Laura Trollinger, 2013 Wake ‘N Shake co-chairs.

RIGHT: John D. McConnell, MD, CEO of Wake Forest Baptist (far left), and (from right) Wake Forest University President Nathan Hatch, Laura Hearn and Cathy Pace, who are vice chair and chair, respectively, of the Medical Center’s Cancer Advisory Group, accept a donation from Wake Forest students.

The Piccolo Fund Drive is one of a few efforts that join the undergraduate college community with the medical school community in a common humanitarian enterprise, putting into action the Wake Forest motto, Pro Humanitate.

Students take justifiable pride in their successes in fundraising and their contributions to the work of Wake Forest Baptist. They know that research can make a difference. Because of advancements in medical research and treatment, today there is an 80 percent success rate for curing the type of cancer that struck Piccolo.

The overall Piccolo Fund Drive features a series of fun and creative events after which Wake Forest students present their final Piccolo contribution during an ACC men’s basketball game. In addition to the Wake ‘N Shake Dance Marathon, other events have included:

  • Hit the Bricks for Brian
  • Chi Omega’s Silent Auction
  • Theta Chi’s Birdies for Brian
  • Phi Mu’s Pajamas for Piccolo
  • Alpha Phi Omega’s Pennies for Piccolo
  • Pump Up for Piccolo, a strength event featuring Pi Kappa Alpha and the Wake Forest football team



© 2014 Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center | Office of Development and Alumni Affairs | P.O. Box 571021 | Winston-Salem, NC 27157-1021 | All Rights Reserved.

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