Empowering — one word that Diana Weidner would use to describe her Penn State experience.
“My story is just like any college student that has a dream — I just decided to take a step forward one day,” Diana says. “Then, I took a few more — each one further from my comfort zone — until there wasn’t really a comfort zone anymore. I spent countless nights in my dorm thinking about the kind of world I wanted to live in and the kinds of communities I wish existed around me.”
Diana is a senior at University Park’s campus majoring in communication arts and sciences. Before coming to Happy Valley, she attended Lock Haven University: a small school located in north-central Pennsylvania. What initially drew her into Penn State was THON and the sense of community that it fosters in its students, faculty and alumni.
“I am extremely passionate about human connection and power in numbers, and THON really emulated that for me” Diana says. “It’s just truly inspiring what can happen when people come together, and I have to say that dancing in THON 2020 is one of my favorite Penn State memories that I will cherish forever.”
However, while she was still at Lock Haven, she started a club — its sole purpose being to bring people together to get to know one other outside the realm of technology.
“I wanted my program to bring strangers together and show them that they aren’t really strangers, and to give people a safe space where they could be inwardly honest with one another and get to know each other from the inside out,” Diana says. “I’ve always noticed how we typically practice getting to know others through the outside-in, and I think that creates a lot of room for false assumptions, judgement and confusion, and I wanted to break that norm.”
Enter: Connect Unplugged.
“Connect Unplugged is a small business that I originally started as a club 3 years ago at Lock Haven,” Diana says. “It is a business that hosts weekend-long camping retreats, formal dances, picnics, meetings and other events that help people form deep connections with new people. All events are focused on leaving phones behind, connecting face to face and forming meaningful bonds.”
Diana says that her inspiration for this idea came from when she realized how people are so consumed with technology, and that a need to separate from it was necessary. Human connection is essential, especially for young adults, and Diana figured she could be the one to break that barrier between a face and a phone.
She also came to the realization that her idea needed to expand beyond Lock Haven’s campus. While it was the perfect place, offering enough resources to bring her program to fruition, she needed a larger platform to really bring it to life. So, she decided to transfer to Penn State her junior year.
“I immediately dove into expanding Connect within the area,” Diana says. “I put out flyers, applications, hosted informational meetings, and really did anything I could to spread awareness until I eventually opened sign-ups for a weekend retreat. Sign-ups filled quickly and the feedback from the retreat was so great that [the program] has since expanded to multiple other areas.”
Since introducing Connect Unplugged to Happy Valley, it has reached the University of Arizona in Tucson. The success of the program literally reached from coast to coast.
“The success I’ve seen from it is honestly greater than I ever imagined” Diana says. “From these programs, I have witnessed countless new friendships, people fiercely supporting one another, inspired new career paths and even engagements of those who met through Connect Unplugged. I can’t express how life changing this journey of bringing people together has been and I am so grateful.”
Diana believes in the power of ideas and in bringing them to life at any means necessary.
“If you have an idea and it keeps you up at night, motivates you or just really excites you, you should chase that idea with a club because people will see you, they will be inspired by you and they might even follow you,” Diana says. “Just go for it!”