UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Diana Weidner, a Penn State senior studying communication arts and sciences, has not been on campus very long, yet her impact is already being felt through her business, Connect Unplugged.
Connect Unplugged is an organization that plans and executes leadership retreats around the country with a focus on detaching from technology and instead concentrating on face-to-face interaction to create authentic connections.
Prior to transferring to Penn State for her third year, Weidner attended West Virginia University for her first year and Lock Haven University for her second year. While at Lock Haven, Weidner wanted to start an organization that was all inclusive.
“Not for a sport or a technical skill, with absolutely no prerequisites really,” Weidner said. “It was just, come on this trip and connect with new people. I had to gather 20-30 kids, find an adviser, and meet the GPA requirement, and a few more things to get the club started. I held my first trip during the Easter weekend of 2017.”
Twenty-three students from Lock Haven attended the initial retreat, which was held at Krislund Camp and Conference Center in Madisonburg. Throughout the weekend-long event, students had the opportunity to hear from guest speakers about relevant topics such as alcohol awareness and sexual assault, participate in team-building activities, and build leadership skills.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, leading Weidner to plan another retreat, this time with 40 students in attendance. They went to the same center, and word began to spread about the retreats. Soon, a student that had transferred from Lock Haven to the University of Arizona reached out to Weidner.
“Rachel Dunlap had gone on the first retreat before she transferred, and she told the University of Arizona about the trip. Then, in the fall of 2018, Dunlap reached out about organizing a trip through Connect Unplugged,” Weidner said. “I flew out to Arizona for the trip and did a retreat with students and a university adviser. I hope to do more trips around the country but need to secure more funding first.”
After transferring to Penn State, Weidner says it was an easy decision to plan another retreat. She held the first State College trip this past spring with 25 students to the Krislund Center and has more planned for the current school year. She plans to expand her business to other college campuses and hopes to design personalized retreats that meet organizations’ needs and goals.
Weidner explains that her liberal arts foundation has been crucial to the success of her business.
“Our style of communication has drastically changed throughout the years, but our need for it hasn't,” Weidner said. “What was once face-to-face is now too often screen-to-screen, and I think a great deal of separation happens when we put a screen between us. Social media these days has become a form of communication — we feel that there is less of a need to communicate with each other directly and more of a need to communicate our opinions to everyone indirectly. My education through the College of the Liberal Arts has taught me how to recognize these forms of communication, to analyze them, and to know that I play a role in creating an environment with more effective, face-to-face communication. It’s crucial that we learn to unplug and connect with each other more often.”
Learn more about Connect Unplugged at https://connectunplugged.com/.