Sean Goheen (Host) 00:00:01
Greeting scholars and welcome to Following the Gong, a podcast of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State.
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Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our Scholar Alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar Alumni have gone on to shape the world after they rang the gone and graduated with honors and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Goheen, class of 2011, and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back.
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Sean 00:00:55 Diana Adams, class of 2013 is the executive director of the Brevard Hart Foundation, co-owner and community engagement coordinator of Rock Paper Simple, and a council member for the city of West Melbourne in Brevard County, Florida, which comes on the heels of a seven year career in elementary education in Florida, where she earned numerous awards, including Teachers of the Year for her school, and the Dr. Thone Trimble Elementary Social Studies Teacher of the Year award for the whole state of Florida. She earned a BSS in elementary education with honors from Penn State Berks in 2013, followed by a master's in educational leadership from the University of West Florida. And she's currently working on a doctorate in public administration from Valdosta State University. Diana joined the show and discusses many topics that can be helpful to scholars of all backgrounds. After sharing her experience coming to Penn State at a non-traditional age, staying at a Commonwealth campus and moving out of state for her first teaching job, Diana discusses making a career change in her twenties, working in non-profits, small businesses, and public administration. She also shares her thoughts on making the most of the thesis and scholar experiences overall and overcoming personal adversity. You can read Diana's full bio in a more detailed breakdown of the episode topics in the show notes on your podcast app. And with that, let's dive into our conversation with Diana following the gong.
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Sean 00:02:12 Diana, great to see you. Thank you so much for joining me here on following the Gong. It's been a long time for us. We go back a little ways, but good to catch up and I'm really excited for our scholars to hear your very interesting story here today. So going back in time to when we knew each other from Penn State, Burts, how did you actually decide on choosing Penn State and what drew you to the Honors College? Back in the day,
Diana 00:02:35 I've always been drawn to Penn State. I wanted a college that was close to home that offered that rigorous academic piece while also including those opportunities to just be involved in a, a broader community with a a more global perspective. Uh, I grew up in Pennsylvania, so I knew students who loved the community that was found at the university. And when I visited Penn State Berks, it had that large university opportunity with the same smaller campus feeling. The Honors College specifically was a decision that I made prior to even applying to Penn State, uh, because I had always pushed myself academically and I knew that was where I was gonna find more of my niche.
Sean 00:03:13 And if I remember correctly, you actually started college a little bit earlier than your typical student, is that right?
Diana 00:03:19 That is correct. I ended up, uh, starting some college classes as a middle school student, and then dual enrollment wasn't as much of a thing when I was in school. So, uh, I would go to school during the day and then come home and go to the local community college, uh, for night classes and earn some credits that way. And then I did that for, for a year or two and racked up some credits and was able to transfer those to Penn State very
Sean 00:03:43 Wise. I'm sure that saved you a little bit of money along the way. So, uh, good, good call there. Now, you could have majored in just about anything, but one of the programs that the Burs campus is particularly well known for is elementary education. So what drew you to major in that? Did you always wanna be a teacher? Tell us that story.
Diana 00:04:03 So I've always looked up to my mother. Uh, she was a teacher and my twin sister always wanted to be a teacher. So of course I decided at an early age to be anything but a teacher. Uh, however, as I learned just from community service opportunities, I was a camp counselor, I was involved in four H and the Girl Scouts, uh, enjoyed spending time with children of all ages. So when I was looking at Penn State, I was excited to see that they had different education programs. Uh, originally I had wanted to be a high school biology teacher, but since I was going to be the same age or slightly younger than some of the students I would be teaching upon graduation, my mentors at the time had expressed that I might wanna look at some elementary education instead. And that was a program that Berks had offered for the four years instead of doing two years at Berks and then transferring to University Park.
Diana 00:04:52 And I like the idea of being able to stay at, at one campus for the entire four years, although I think for me it was three, I don't really remember anymore, uh, because I transferred those credits in. But one thing in particular with the education program that Penn State does really well is that they place education students in classrooms to observe from day one. And I think that helps students to decide if teaching really is, uh, the right career for them. I was placed into a fourth grade classroom, which is ironically the same grade that my mother loved teaching the most. And then I just fell in love with those students. Uh, Penn State offers education majors the opportunity to not only observe, but as time goes on, they give you the opportunity to get more and more hands-on with the students each year prior to doing a full year of student teaching, which includes, you know, setting up a classroom at the beginning of the year to packing it away at the end. Um, and I had the unique opportunity as an education major. Um, my mentor teacher had actually gotten sick about halfway through that full year. So I was given some additional responsibilities that my professors had really supported and encouraged that I take. And I think that really helped give me an edge at interviews after graduation. So
Sean 00:06:04 You've already mentioned mentoring a lot, which is perfect for this conversation. Uh, and one of the things that really just jumped out at me is your mentors helped highlight a particular challenge that was unique to you in that you came to college a little bit early and you know, it's not terribly common, but in the event that there's any scholars listening who are in a similar situation, was there any other helpful advice just generally that you would give to a student who's maybe starting college just a little bit earlier than is the traditional 1819? I think
Diana 00:06:31 For me, it really helped to build relationships early with the professors that I had. Dr. David Bender and Dr. Sandy Feinstein were both amazing in just getting me connected with the community that's at Penn State Berks, but also acknowledging that I was a little bit younger than most students. So if I had questions, I knew where to go. There was definitely that support system for students who may not be your average student, but still wanted to be involved and have those rigorous academics and do all those things. Having them as resources was invaluable. And they were also great at helping me navigate, you know, things like the Honors college.
Sean 00:07:08 I think that's really helpful. Uh, even if you are coming in at a traditional age or maybe you're coming back to school as an adult learner, if you're a regular listener, you've heard Dr. Feinstein mentioned before, uh, and some other campus grads. So, you know, make sure you connect with your honors coordinator if you're at a campus, if you're here at University Park, come talk to us in the college. We're happy to help with, you know, the different things and point you in the right direction. Now, you mentioned you wanted to get involved on campus and obviously one of our core tenants in the mission here is civic engagement leadership. Can you talk about what you were involved with on campus, and more importantly, what did you learn through those experiences? So
Diana 00:07:42 I mentioned at the beginning that I wanted to be involved. So I was actually researching ways to get involved prior to even applying to Penn State. So I decided to jump in from day one. I particularly liked serving as part of the Student Government Association because you were able to make a difference in regards to the future of the Berks campus on a more local level. But you also had the opportunity to gather at University Park with other students from different satellite campuses to discuss policies, ideas that would affect the broader Penn State community, which I thought was really cool. Particularly I like being involved in, uh, the PEP program. It's a partnership program with local schools that allowed Penn State students to mentor and tutor students in local schools. And as an education major, that seemed like just the right thing to get plugged into.
Diana 00:08:29 Uh, let me think what else. We've got the Campus Activity Board, which I think was one of the areas where you and I had connected. That was just a great way to get involved, meet other students, but you also got to facilitate some of the really cool activities that were held on campus. And obviously there's San uh, just with the amazing work that they do with, with families and children. The honors club for me was really a neat opportunity because it allowed for those academic, but also recreational connections with other students. And that's where I feel like I made a lot of friends and connections that I still have today. All of those learning experiences really focused on the value of relationships and connections and being willing to grow outside of your comfort zone. I think that's one of the strongest things that the Honors College brings to the table for any student is just the opportunity if you're comfortable, to really push yourself and, and grow in those areas. And I really saw that in myself.
Sean 00:09:19 Absolutely. We wanna make sure that you are a well-rounded person coming out. So if you're listening to this and you're trying to find some ways to get involved, check out your campus's website here in the Honors College. We've got a variety of clubs in addition to the literally thousand plus here at University Park, and there's great options on any campus that you might find yourself at. Now, Diana, you talked about student teaching and that's something you typically do particularly in your last year, but also as a scholar in your last year, you're writing your honors thesis. So can you tell us about what it was like pretty much working full-time professionally as a student teacher and writing your thesis and also what you wrote about?
Diana 00:09:54 It requires a lot of good time management, I think, to, I think for anybody while working on their thesis. But I think especially for education majors that are student teaching and also doing that research and the writing, I think having a good advisory group, uh, that for me, that was my honors advisor and, and, uh, my thesis advisor, they were great to not only be encouragement, but also those areas of growth. Uh, there were times where I brought Dr. Bender, my, my, you know, draft and I would take it back and there would be red pen marked all over it. But those were areas of growth. And then, you know, hopefully eventually as you move through it, there's less and less red pen, which is, which is encouraging. Um, as an education major, I wanted my thesis to focus on something that I thought was both relevant to education at the time, while also being a topic that I could personally connect with.
Diana 00:10:43 I think that, you know, when a researcher is connected to their research topic, there's a deeper understanding that's communicated through their work while also hopefully being conscious not to let your bias or personal thoughts influence that work too much. Um, as I was already connected to the reading school district near the Berks campus, I just began talking with my mentor and other educators about trends that they saw in education where there could be gaps. And one of those was in the realm of special education and inclusion for students. Um, and as an individual myself with a disability, I found it really interesting that educators I spoke with had different opinions about how special education and inclusion has changed over time. So I began to wonder how those changes could have influenced students more from an educator perspective, not necessarily from the students themselves. I have, uh, cerebral palsy and I remember my time in elementary and middle school being different than my peers, but I found myself wondering how my teachers, you know, viewed the accommodations that came with that or if, if they had any impacts in terms of inclusion on their classrooms.
Diana 00:11:45 So with that in mind, my research focused on the perceptions of general and special education teachers on the inclusion of students with disabilities and special needs in elementary classrooms. I ended up creating surveys and had very interesting conversations with teachers of varying levels of experience. And I was unsurprised to find that both groups reported that the majority of school personnel were really supportive of inclusion. Uh, but they had different ideas of what those highest potential benefits were. So I found that the general education teachers in general expressed that students with disabilities benefited the most academically from inclusion, while the special education teachers felt, uh, they benefited more from the social aspect, particularly getting those opportunities to interact with their peers and, and build those skills and communication, which was really different. Um, not necessarily what I was expecting, but overall it was a fantastic opportunity to begin what would be the first major research project I had done. Up to that point, I had the opportunity to present at a research conference, which was a new experience for me as well. And it became a really valuable tool, uh, my thesis in terms of, uh, when I did interviews past graduation where I got to share my research analysis and just written communication skills with, uh, interviewers. And I think that became one of the best tools that students can bring with them to interviews.
Sean 00:13:11 Absolutely. I think the thesis, if there's a way to appropriately bring it up in the interview is a great piece in your toolkit that maybe a lot of the other applicants for a job might not have. So leverage that as you can. That's actually a perfect segue, Diana, because you ended up not in Pennsylvania teaching, but in Florida now, I'd love to hear both what drew you to Florida and also just generally advice for scholars who are looking for jobs outside of Pennsylvania. You know, you're in college here and there's one way of doing things and then you're looking elsewhere and there's different ways of doing things. We have 50 states and sometimes 50 different ways of doing things, sometimes different ways even within those states. What was that experience like?
Diana 00:13:51 I think the best resource for me as I considered moving out of state to start my career was the professors and the resources I had at Penn State to begin with. Uh, I had talked with my mentors and said, I'm thinking about moving to Florida. What do you know about the Florida education system? What are the things that, and then I did some research on what's the, you know, hot topics in Florida education at the time. So that way when I came to an interview, I was more prepared about what their perspective was going to be and then started thinking to myself, what are tools I bring to the table that a school might be interested in? So I think just taking the time to do that research, but also connect with people who just may know more than than you do because of their, you know, world experience and things like that. I ended up in Florida because I was raised by a single mom for most of my life. And so as I was in my last year of college, my mom married my stepdad and ended up moving to Florida. I like looking for new opportunities. So after graduation I wanted to be close to family while also kind of opening those doors for new adventures. And I thought, why not exchange your snow shovel for a beach chair? And let's go to Florida.
Sean 00:14:57 Now. If you've read Diana's bio, you the listener, you'll see that she's not currently a teacher. But I do wanna go back and talk about your time in the classroom. 'cause you did spend several years, you were lauded for your time in the classroom with some awards, I believe. If I saw your resume, your CV correctly, can you talk just generally for maybe students who are considering this or maybe just help others with some empathy around what it's like to be a elementary school teacher?
Diana 00:15:23 I was told in one of the first classes I had at Penn State, by a professor, teaching can be one of the best and hardest jobs that you have in your lifetime. And that stuck with me because after my experience in, in the fourth grade classroom and falling in love, I thought, how could this be anything except wonderful? Right? And I think that's what a lot of teachers, uh, go into teaching for is because they have just a heart for students and making a difference in their communities. And to me, I think that's one of my favorite things about teaching. Um, I love the opportunity to have that direct impact on that next generation and really foster their curiosity. Uh, I will have to tell you, serving in Florida as a teacher, I have been blessed to serve on teams with amazing teachers and supported by the best administration.
Diana 00:16:11 So my new and sometimes crazy ideas, uh, were often embraced by, by them and not only made a difference in my students' education, but really helped them grow personally. And to me, that was really exciting. I can't say that there were many things I didn't love about teaching and education because I, I really did enjoy it. But I think one of the things that sometimes teachers can struggle with is the idea that you pour everything that you have into your job on a daily basis. And sometimes by the time you leave work, you have nothing left. Uh, but in my mind that means that I gave my students and my colleagues everything I had as much as I had and, and just hoping that that was enough. I think the hardest part of teaching is that when students are getting ready to leave for the year and you realize this community you've built in your classroom has just been one of the best things that you could have built beyond just the academics, but really helping the students with building your confidence, learning about their strengths and the unique qualities they bring.
Diana 00:17:11 Hopefully the laughter that's shared. Uh, my students will tell you, I have a great sense of humor, but I also have a, you know, an elementary fifth grade sense of humor and they think it's hysterical. I don't, I don't know what to tell you, but it's really sad when that comes to an end. I can share that. I have cried on every last day of school that I've ever taught, and you're really proud of them for where they're going. But it is, it is really hard. And I think, you know, especially for new teachers that are starting off, if you haven't had that full year of experience that can sometimes be really emotionally and mentally hard, you know, going through that first year really making sure you've surrounded yourself with good mentors, fun colleagues who are willing to take the time to pour into you, all of that is really important.
Sean 00:17:51 That's something that you've mentioned numerous times as mentors. So you're listening to the right podcast. It's the whole, whole point of the show is to provide you some on-demand mentoring. And later on towards the end of our conversation, we'll find out how to connect with Diana if you know you're interested in teaching or the other things that you've gotten into, which is a perfect segue from myself for my next question. You're welcome. The listener. So eventually you decided that you wanted to change paths and honestly, look, your cv, I don't know how you sleep <laugh>, you're doing a lot. You have a nonprofit you're running, you have some kind of side hustle that you're for-profit marketing for, and you're also involved in civic life. So I want to take those just one at a time here and ask about how you got into those, what skills you've been able to pull from your teaching days, and what skills you've had to develop along the way you didn't have from being a teacher to tackle those. So let's first go with the non-for-profit, the Brevard Heart Foundation, if I have that correct.
Diana 00:18:55 Yep. So it's close. Uh, it's Brevard Hart Foundation. So Brevard is the county where I live in Florida. And I guess to be able to get there, I have to do a quick segue as to why I left teaching. Um, I was a teacher in Florida for seven years. I was, you know, you were correct. I was recognized with a bunch of awards, um, including elementary social studies teacher of the year for the entire state. So that was super exciting, but also really humbling. Um, I really enjoy government and civics and really inspiring that into my students. Uh, but I also knew that I always wanted to pursue a doctorate degree. And so when I was doing research, I decided to choose a doctorate degree in public administration so that I could continue in that public service if I ever chose to leave teaching. Um, at that last year, I ended up taking on a lot of additional leadership responsibilities.
Diana 00:19:47 I was mentoring a couple other teachers and teaching's one of those careers where you don't leave, leave things at work, uh, between a nine to five window, you've got lesson plans and emails and phone calls to parents and all those things. So I was also doing my coursework at the same time. Uh, my husband would like to see a little bit more of me and you know, I was trying to figure out how I was gonna balance everything. So I had decided that December to transition out from teaching and then Covid hit in March and I was the only teacher at our school who thought we'd be coming back after the week of spring break. Uh, we didn't, but it was a good segue out. And the goal was originally to be a full-time student that lasted about two weeks before I got bored. And the president of Brevard Hart Foundation reached out and said, we think you'd be a good fit. You bring a lot of energy, you're a hard worker. Would you be willing to take over this nonprofit? And it wasn't something
Sean 00:20:37 Just, uh, were you involved with them as a volunteer previously?
Diana 00:20:40 No, I was not, uh, the president knew of my community involvement. Uh, both my husband and I are on a lot of different boards and community service things in Brevard, so he knew of the different things I was involved in. And he also knows that I put 110% of everything I've got into whatever I'm doing, which was exciting. So they do healthcare initiatives in our community. And so I thought, well, I don't have experience in nonprofit, but I learn quickly and I, I bring a lot of energy. And so that was a really great opportunity. Um, I'm still in that role and it wasn't, you know, I'm kind of balancing between our scholarship program, healthcare initiatives, things like that. And that really brought in my experience with healthcare because I didn't have any knowledge about that field beyond, you know, sort of a, a basic level. And so with that happening the same time as Covid, it was really interesting to just see it all happen from also a healthcare sort of perspective. 'cause a lot of people on our board have that experience. Trying to remember if that answered all of that question, but I was trying to make sure I I segued there.
Sean 00:21:44 Yes, I think it did for the first part. And I'm curious because you also have this side hustle, uh, if you wanna call it that, uh, you do some kind of marketing as well. So how did you get into that and how did you go about developing the skills you needed for that role on top of serving as the ED for a nonprofit?
Diana 00:22:03 So I'll clarify that for you. 'cause the fact you call it a side hustle has me cracking up. Um, my husband actually started the marketing company rock paper simple years ago. I think it was eight years ago now, might be nine. So he has been really rocking and rolling with that. It's done some amazing things, not only in Brevard County, but we have clients around the United States. So when I transitioned out from teaching, I noticed that, you know, part of one of the pillars of Rock paper Simple is really focusing on community and making sure that we give back. And that's what I loved. So I thought why not help his leadership team and take some of that responsibility off of them so that they could focus on their roles and really drive those community initiatives forward while also co-owning Rock Paper Simple with him.
Diana 00:22:49 I do handle our community engagement. So I handle our nonprofit and small business grants. I look for opportunities in the community for us to be engaged and give back and really take over that piece. So that's been going really well. Um, it helps that he built such a great foundation for the company and such a good reputation among the nonprofits and giving back in Brevard. And I just wanna make sure that that continues. But that was just something I took over more, more so from a heart thing than looking for, for something else to add to my plate. Although now I've realized that the more I take onto my plate, I don't wanna give any of it up.
Sean 00:23:23 Well, and it's funny you say it's a heart thing because of your actual day job <laugh>, right? But I'm curious, so we haven't even gotten into your other involvement and you've touched on, you're working on a PhD, which clearly means you already have a master's under your belt that you got while teaching. So to segue here and, and trying to interlude work-life balance, how do you find any, with what I know our scholars, many of them are like you, they want to say yes to a lot of things. Sometimes you have to say no or you have to figure out how you prioritize things. What strategies do you use to not burn yourself out?
Diana 00:23:57 So I think you hit on the first one. Uh, being able to prioritize is important. I know for myself what's important in my life as much as I give back and serve and look for opportunities in my community, I also know the things that I need as a person. Uh, I'm really plugged in at my church. I love to sing with part of our worship team, uh, volunteer there. That to me is very fulfilling. Uh, so finding things that you find joy in I think is really important, especially for people like me that really like to be somewhat over committed, but also being willing to, I guess, get feedback from the friends and people you appreciate in your life who are willing to tell you, you know what, you've now reached max capacity. You might wanna, you know, dial it back a little bit. Or they're willing to reach out and just say, Hey, how are you doing?
Diana 00:24:45 But actually spend time to listen and say, you know, if you need to talk about something, I'm here. Sometimes that's really good. Also, being able to delegate, that's probably the skill I still need to work on the most, is trusting other people to take over when you need to step back. Uh, but we'll get there. Uh, but I think it's a skill to constantly have in the back of your mind realizing you don't need to do it all. Even though between you and I, I I do, I want to do it all. And also being willing to give yourself grace. I do try to do as much as possible and I enjoy that, and that's exciting for me. But also sometimes things don't go well and it doesn't go the way that you planned it or something happens and there's a high level of stress. So it, it won't all be perfect, but I figure if you approach it with this heart of continuing to serve and doing the best that you can, then when it doesn't go correct or not the way that you planned it doesn't mean it's not right, but not the way that you thought. Being able to say, this was everything I had. I did the best I could and we need to move forward. And sometimes just that grace is enough to, to lessen the stress and give yourself some peace.
Sean 00:25:51 I think that's really helpful advice. I think that's a phrase we've heard on this podcast before is grace and certainly one that I think we should all give to ourselves and others. Now you realize there's still more things that despite all of what we just talked about with work-life balance, that Diana, you're still involved in and somehow you ended up on your city council in addition to everything else you are doing. How did that happen? And, and I think more importantly for the scholars listening, how did you begin to prepare for that role? You know, I'm sure there's some students who are like, yeah, I wanna run for office someday, but a lot of times it's very something you fall into. So what skills do you use both, you know, the people and the technical? Give us some insight on that.
Diana 00:26:32 It's a lot. Um, I, if you had asked me even four or five years ago, if I would consider ever running for an office or being involved in politics, I probably would've said no strictly because sometimes I think politicians are crazy. Now that I'm involved, I can still tell you some politicians are crazy, but I was just getting more and more involved in things in my city. I took our Citizens Leadership Academy, I joined a bunch of different city advisory boards because they were things that I cared about. You know, our, our business advisory board, our parks and rec advisory board, I serve on our, our Field of Dreams, which is a park for, uh, people of all ages with different disabilities. And so those were things that just had my heart. And as I got more and more involved, I started attending council meetings.
Diana 00:27:19 Our council meetings, typically you don't have a large group of people show up unless something is going wrong. And then suddenly people come out of the woodwork. So it was relatively, you know, myself sometimes a couple other people and the council and I would listen to conversations they would have and I would follow up with them afterwards and call and ask, why did you make this decision? Why did you ask this question? Or why didn't you ask this question that I wrote? I kept a notebook of just different thoughts I had, how I would maybe vote on an issue, things like that. Uh, I didn't even realize the meetings originally were being recorded. So if you look at the early beginning videos of when I started attending council about a year ago, you could see my notebook. The general consensus in a lot of the answers I got was, well, this is just the way we've always done it in the city.
Diana 00:28:04 And I thought, well, that doesn't work for me. Status quo isn't, you know, it doesn't move things forward for a city. And as a younger person, when I'm looking at our city, get younger, but our representation is not, I thought there was a disconnect. So I started asking people, well, why aren't you running for council? Why aren't you doing this? And then I realized, well, why aren't you? So I thought about it. Um, I, like I said, I've been attending the council meetings, so I understood the process. I had met with all the department leadership to kind of understand their perspective of the city's future. And then I said, I think I can do this. And like I said, I'm a yes person. So I actually filed in January to run for city council, uh, this November for the general election. We don't have a primary in, in my city of West Melbourne.
Diana 00:28:50 Then an unexpected opportunity came up. Uh, one of our council members was moving out of state, which makes him ineligible to serve, and our council was allowed to appoint a vacancy for the remaining five month term. So myself and three other people applied people of all different backgrounds. One was actually a previous council member. It was a really good opportunity to share why do we wanna serve the city? What do we know about the city? What are we thinking about its future? And the council selected me to, to fill that vacant seat. So I am currently in the seat through November, but then have to win the general election to have a four year term. But the great thing in my opinion is you're able to step up and start making some of those changes and really get involved now that I, you know, wouldn't be an opportunity I would've had otherwise.
Diana 00:29:35 So it wouldn't necessarily be something that I thought I was going to do. But if you have, especially for those that are listening, if you have any interest in government or civics, start attending those local meetings, whether it's a commission or a city council, just understand and learn more because there were so many things that I thought I knew about our city and the way it was run that I didn't when I started getting involved and realizing there's so much more to learn. And I think as a scholar we get really excited with new opportunities to learn. So that's my, my piece of encouragement there.
Sean 00:30:08 So what's an unexpected thing that you've had to learn how to do in that role and how you went about learning how to do it? One of the
Diana 00:30:15 Skills that that's really beneficial for any represent representative is strong communication skills. And I think people think of communication as how do you speak, right? What do people hear when you speak? Um, and that is part of it, you know, identifying if a particular group or person needs to be called on the phone emailed what it's like to really make sure not only that piece, but also how are you communicating with your residents. I think that's one area our city can improve on. And I shared that during my interview with council that we can do better and I have some innovative ideas and want to move those forward so that our residents are really more informed about what's happening at the city level. In terms of that, I think, you know, communication does involve your job and the people that you serve, but also communication is how you listen.
Diana 00:31:09 Are you an active listener to what people are telling you? Are you not only taking in the information, but are you asking questions? Are you asking the right people the right questions? And some of that is a little nerve wracking, especially being the newest council member up there. I got some advice from people before I was even appointed that said, if you're appointed, you know, our advice is keep your mouth shut. Don't say anything because you've gotta survive a five month term before you're elected so you don't wanna mess up. And I thought, you know what? That's not who I am. It's not who I am as a person or as a leader. And I don't believe that's why you run or choose to be involved in something like, like politics and government. You're running to make a difference. And a difference doesn't happen if you're just sitting and letting it passively pass you by.
Diana 00:31:57 So if you watch videos of our recent council meetings, I asked questions, I gave my opinion, I tried to figure these things out because that's what I see as a responsibility. So I think part of it is learning to not be afraid, even if you're the youngest person or you don't have, you know, the most experience, some of our council's been on for 13 years, I think it's 12 or 13. We don't have term limits in our city, uh, which is both good and bad. 'cause you do need to balance, you know, the council with some experienced people who, who know the ropes, but also you need that fresh perspective. So I think that's what I bring to our city and our council, and I'm hoping to see that continue. I would love to see my story and my involvement inspire other people to get involved, especially younger people. I think sometimes we think we have to wait, you know, wait for more experience, wait till you get older, get involved now. There's no better time to make a difference than now.
Sean 00:32:49 And again, one of our mission tenets is creating opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. It sounds like you created a great one for yourself, Diana. And as you were talking about communication, I, I thought of, I don't know who to attribute this quote to, I'm sorry, but there's a great, and I paraphrase it, but the, the biggest issue in communication is often the illusion that it has in fact occurred. So I think you made some great points about both speaking and listening. Now, when I read the news around here, a lot of the articles on state college.com, this is not sponsored, are about a lot of building development projects in the different townships and boroughs in the immediate university park vicinity. How do you go about understanding some of the complex engineering and finance that can go into million dollar park projects or road improvements or dealing with unnamed companies that might want to build a warehouse in, in your, in your location? How, how did you go about learning on the, on the fly to understand those issues? So I
Diana 00:33:45 Don't think all of it was learning on the fly. I did, like I mentioned, my doctorate is going to be in public administration and a large portion of that coursework focuses on public policy, public budgeting, things like that. So in, in my coursework, I already had some experience in that. Uh, but of course, coursework only gets you so far, and then you've gotta get that real world experience. And I think it goes back to not being afraid to ask questions. And it also helps that you're, you've already been involved that I was attending council meetings. So I think you learn a lot first by watching and then asking questions. You know, I saw how council dealt with developer questions, I knew the staff members that were presenting on those projects so that I could follow up because whether you're on a, on a leadership role or a council, you're still a resident of that area and you can still call your city and ask those questions.
Diana 00:34:37 So I think that was a really big piece of learning. And then I think the second part, especially just jumping right in and knowing that I had a council meeting to sit in two weeks later, and I, here was the agenda packet and come prepared, I went through with a highlighter and a pen, and I think the packet was a hundred pages long, something like that. And it includes developer plans, it includes a, a breakdown of, of staff, uh, knowledge and points about the topic. And I think city staff is one of the best resources we have. They have so much combined experience that you can ask them questions. Yeah, I can read something and say, I don't understand this. What would, you know, how could I better learn about this topic? So they were really useful to me to help me plug that in. Um, and then part of it is just learning, learning through the process. No one comes to a development meeting and just says, here's a picture of our development, what can we do about it? You know, do you like this project or not? There's always some sort of presentation. And then usually developers or people that are invested in the project will attend those meetings. So you can ask additional questions. Can you tell I'm a question person?
Sean 00:35:41 Absolutely. And speaking of questions, I want to pivot to the back third of our conversation. You're still very early in your career. You've got a bright future ahead and curious to see long-term how, you know, your election goes, um, for, for this role and all the other great things down the line for you and your business and your nonprofit. But to this point, what would you say is your biggest success?
Diana 00:36:03 Oh my goodness. The basic success that's so hard. I think for me, looking at all of the common themes that I have in public service, I wouldn't say that there's one particular thing where I feel that was your biggest success. Because I feel like, especially being young, I just turned 29. I have hopefully lord willing many years ahead to continue making that difference. And I have hopes that my biggest success is yet to come. But I think if I'm looking at what I've been able to accomplish so far, I consider my biggest success making a difference in the lives of others. Whether that's people in the nonprofit that I've served or the nonprofits I've volunteered with, or even the current city council position or what we've been able to do through the business. That impact is biggest success that I think I can have.
Sean 00:36:52 Well, you may still be on, but I think that's a very grounded and wise approach to success. Now, of course, I have to ask the flip side of this, Diana, what would you say is your biggest transformational learning moment so far in what you took from that experience?
Diana 00:37:05 I think that transformational moment for me was probably while I was getting my scuba certification. Actually, I shared a little bit earlier, but as an individual with, uh, a disability, I have cerebral palsy. I didn't think that I would ever be able to, uh, learn to scuba dive. But I ended up applying for an international grant and I was selected as one of the recipients, which was a really great opportunity. The class was a week long and the first half of the class was more bookwork, and then the second half was entirely skills focused in the water. My disability makes scuba diving particularly challenging because my legs just don't have the strength needed to carry the, the significant weight from some of the scuba gear. But I worked with the instructors to accommodate my disability while still fulfilling those requests of, of the certification, right, what you're required to do.
Diana 00:37:59 So I remember coming home in tears for the first few days, unable to walk and just thinking, there's no way I can do this. I won't survive a whole week, week of this class. But I didn't want to allow myself the opportunity to give up. I knew that I'd be really disappointed in myself. Um, so I ultimately was successful, but I learned that you've gotta be willing to acknowledge when things are difficult and just be able to, like I said before, give yourself some grace when you're struggling. I really saw a transformation in myself at that point, not only physically, you know, being able to put on the scuba gear in the water, which isn't, you know, required of most people 'cause you can put it on beforehand and, and things like that. I actually had, uh, accommodative gloves where I could use them to swim because my legs just aren't strong enough to move me through the water that way with, with all the gear.
Diana 00:38:49 But I, I saw that change physically, but I also felt it more mentally where you finished. And that feeling of being done was just absolute elation. Not only do I not have to continue doing this on a daily basis, but also you achieved something that to a lot of people, it wasn't possible. My doctors years ago and even now would probably tell you it's not safe. I shouldn't do it. And I just had this desire and I wanted to go for it. And being able to say I succeeded and I succeeded on my own, it was really a big deal to me with a physical challenge like this. So I really saw that, that change in myself. And now when I come across harder things, I think, well, that was hard physically and mentally, so you can do this next thing that might be physically, mentally, or both, you know, challenging you in that way.
Sean 00:39:40 That is an awesome story, and thank you for sharing about that. Diana, you've, we've talked a lot about mentorship in, in our conversation. How do you approach working as a mentee and approaching your mentors, but also serving as a mentor? What advice do you have for students as they particular are upper division students who maybe can take newer students under their wing or as they, you know, start to move into their careers and, and start serving as mentors themselves? As
Diana 00:40:06 In terms of advice? If you have the desire to mentor other people or you see the opportunity, don't be afraid to take it. I think sometimes we give ourselves excuses why we can't take someone under our wing, why we don't have time, why we don't have the resources, when in reality we can prioritize whatever we choose to accomplish. And I think there are so many people who have made such a transformational difference in our world today, who may not have gotten there without the mentorship and encouragement of good people who understand, you know, the field or what they were trying to accomplish. And sometimes there are barriers in place for people that you don't even realize until you help them move those barriers outta the way. So I think being, being willing to look at your schedule and say, where can I help one person?
Diana 00:40:55 Where can I help two people? And look at the, the circles of influence that are around you. That's where I have found some of my best mentors, whether they were at Penn State, whether they were at in my teaching jobs, whether they were just friends that I connected through in the community because we shared this desire for community and public service looking and, and being conscious about those spheres of influence. They're gonna bring you such great connections. And then part of it is just being willing to share out into those spheres. I'm looking for someone to help. Where can you help me plug in? Where can I find those people? Penn State's a great opportunity for that because you not only have, you know, if you're at a satellite campus, you have everyone there, but you do have the greater network of Penn State. Whether you went to the same campus or whether you're connecting virtually, there are some amazing people willing to pour into you.
Diana 00:41:47 Uh, Dr. Jessica Shocker was not an education major, you know, professor, she was someone that I ended up taking a social studies class with, which ended up being one of the best classes I took at Penn State. And I remember being so inspired by her. She was one of my younger professors. She had a doctorate, which I knew I wanted. And I really feel like she sparked that love of social studies in me that allowed me to not only make a difference for my students, but lead me to the path that I'm on today. And if she didn't take the time to invest in me, you know, that could've turned out differently. I don't know. And you can attribute that to different people because we never know the total amount of impact that someone makes on our life. But also, you know, taking the time to reach out and say thank you. If you've been mentored by someone, let them know. If you appreciate the difference they made in your life, let them know. 'cause I think people appreciate hearing that and it gives them some encouragement and it pours back into their life that they can turn around and continue making a difference in someone else first.
Sean 00:42:44 That is really helpful advice. And second, I feel like we're on a golf course because you repeatedly keep teeing me up perfectly here. Diana <laugh>. I wanted to ask, uh, something I give all of my guests a chance as well. Are there any other professors or friends from your days as a scholar that you wanted to give a shout out and some thanks to?
Diana 00:43:01 Oh my goodness there. I mean, I would think of all the people that I, I was in honors classes with that asked questions and made you think about things a different way. Uh, but the three professors I did mention throughout this interview, uh, Dr. David Bender, who unfortunately is no longer with us, uh, Dr. Sandy Feinstein, uh, Dr. Jessica shocker, I mean, all three of them made such an impact in my life. I still keep in touch with, with the two of them today. And I, I love getting updates sent to them on what I'm doing, but also receiving those emails and communications of just being encouraging and uplifting. Uh, Dr. Feinstein was actually, I think the first person I ever met at Penn State Burkes. And it was because of the honors program and I knew I wanted to get involved. And so she, she saw me and she answered my questions and she told me years later, she said, I knew that you were going to get involved from day one and just continue blazing forward. And that's what I've continued to do through, through her mentorship and, and that of others.
Sean 00:44:00 Oh, Sandy, she is, she is a wonderful person. And I will echo your comments as I've done with previous guests who've mentioned her, uh, on, on the podcast here. And for those of you who are at U Park, again, come, come make those connections with us here in Atherton and Simmons. If you're at another Commonwealth campus, go make sure you're building a strong relationship with your honors coordinator at, at the campus that you call home. You've had a lot of great advice for scholars today, Diana. Is there anything else that you wanted to share with them that just maybe didn't come up in our conversation?
Diana 00:44:30 It may have come through as sort of a common theme, but I see Schreyer students as people wanting to make that difference in whatever field they go into. And I think just being able to encourage you to try new things and push yourself out of your comfort zone. There are so many things in my life that I'm not sure if I'd be the person I am in doing the things I am today if I wasn't willing to take those steps. And sometimes they're little steps and you can take them on your own and other times you have to be pushed a little bit by other people that are around you and go a little further outside that comfort zone. But I think that's where the most amount of growth happens. So I encourage you to do that while also taking good care of yourself. Give yourself grace, be aware of your, your mental and physical abilities and just take time for yourself. I think all of that is really important to stay well balanced.
Sean 00:45:20 I agree with all of that. Now, if somebody wanted to pick your brain further, keep this conversation going, whether they're interested in being a teacher in public service, in nonprofits, in for-profit, small business ownership, all the things that you're doing. We didn't even touch on all the other things you just volunteer with. Or maybe they want to just learn about scuba diving. How can scholars get in touch with you? So I
Diana 00:45:41 Would love to connect with scholars. Um, I love Penn State. I love the scholar program. So anyone that wants to reach out is more than welcome to do so. Um, I'm on Facebook, I'm on LinkedIn. I have a campaign website currently. Uh, it's diana for council.com. So all of those channels are great ways to reach me. And the best email is probably going to be, uh, my work email. It's gonna be Diana Diaa n [email protected]
Sean 00:46:10 Awesome. I encourage you to reach out. And finally, as is tradition here on the show, Diana, if you were a flavor of Burkee Creamery ice cream, which would you be? And I know you've probably prepared an answer with a really strong rationale as a scholar alumna, why would you be that flavor?
Diana 00:46:27 Man, you set, set this high bar of expectations for ice cream. And I will share with you, I have two thoughts on it. Uh, my favorite, my favorite flavor is the arboretum breeze. So I had to share that first of all, because that's just what you know came to my soul. But for your deeper response as to why I think it's a really good balance of just different flavors that mesh really well together. But you know, then you've got your raspberry swirl and it kind of comes out nowhere with the rest of these flavors. And I think that's just sort of what I considered the spice of life of always that new twist, that new thing you didn't see coming. And I feel like that's such a strong theme in my life, is just trying that new thing, going for that next twist and seeing what comes next. And that's what I see in, uh, in Arboretum Breeze.
Sean 00:47:18 That's great. I think you're the first person to pick that one. So we'll chalk up a new tally mark on the list of flavors that have been picked here. Great answer. And I set the high bar because you said earlier you read through a hundred page agenda for your first council meeting and highlighted everything. So I figured you probably had a pretty good prepared, uh, rationale for your ice cream flavor. Diana, thank you so much for joining us here on Following The Gong. I appreciate our conversation on just so many different things you heard how to get in touch with her. I encourage you to do so. Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.
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Sean 00:48:00 Thank you Scholars for listening and learning with us today. We hope you will take something with you that will contribute to how you shape the world. This show proudly supports the Schreyer Honors College Emergency Fund, benefiting Scholars experiencing unexpected financial hardship. You can make a difference at raise.psu.edu/schreyer. Please be sure to hit the relevant subscribe, like, or follow button on whichever platform you are engaging with us on today. You can follow the College on Instagram and LinkedIn to stay up to date on news, events, and deadlines. If you have questions about the show or are a Scholar Alum who'd like to join us as a guest here on Following the Gong, please connect with me at [email protected]
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