CreateAthon@USC's First Experiment in Giving Back

  • Written by Alexandra Frazier

Karen L. Mallia, Associate Professor of Advertising at the University of South Carolina, is the mastermind behind CreateAthon@USC, an event that brings students, staff, and alumni together for 24 hours of inspired content creation and community goodwill. Here, she shares her experiences leading a team of spirited student leaders and adults towards pro-bono greatness:

On October 25, 2013, adrenaline coursed full tilt through the 74 bodies occupying the Carolina Coliseum. For 28 hours, our determined volunteers gave and gave until their last ounce of creativity and strength ran dry. We all gave up sleep and our precious free time to help six South Carolina nonprofits further their missions. We received nothing for our efforts except heartfelt thanks, a few free snacks and the good feeling that comes from doing good.

Students and staff participate in CreateAthon@USC's marathon creative blitz

On the other hand, Tutor Eau Claire, Edgefield County Theatre Company, Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, Federation of Families and Harvest Hope got plenty: posters, logos, brochures, websites, social media strategies, press releases, and more. What is the magic, the “secret sauce” of CreateAthon? How does it inspire such talent, such heroic commitment?

Whatever it is, it lured students, faculty, local professionals, and alumni into the CreateAthon fold. The first CreateAthon@USC™ drew far more student applications than we expected. My co-conspirator, Scott Farrand, and I never imagined we’d have to refuse volunteers. Many researchers and commentators have accused the Millennial generation of self-absorption. I didn’t see any of those Millennials in the Carolina Coliseum last October. I saw women and men from every generation throw themselves into work with their whole souls. Endure frustration. Negotiate conflict. Try, fail, and carry on. Overcome social anxiety to present work. Step in to write—even he who said he wasn’t “a writer.” I saw a man hear tragic personal news, process it, put it aside, and keep going until the last “t” was crossed. I saw folks pitch in wherever they were needed.

I saw 74 people surprise even themselves by what could be done in a hard day’s work. Scott and I knew the work would be good. But it was great. I saw first-hand evidence that humankind is fundamentally good and altruistic. I saw the creative process at its best during CreateAthon@USC.

Humanity is in fine shape.

To learn more about CreateAthon@USC, visit Or, watch this: