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Penn State Love Stories: Two Different Campuses And A Leap Of Faith

We’ve seen a variety of Penn State couples who met after one of them transferred from a branch campus to University Park as an upperclassman. But for Rachel Sutherland and Wesley Ovens — two students who both stayed at their respective campuses — they defied the odds by even meeting in the first place.

Sutherland studied at Penn State’s University Park campus while Ovens spent his college career at Penn State Harrisburg. However, the students did share a common link — they both were heavily involved in a Christian student organization called InterVarsity at their respective campuses. Each year, the organization’s different chapters meet up for a week-long camp in New York, giving the members the chance to form bonds with students from other universities. Still, Sutherland and Ovens only crossed paths briefly.

“Wes and I were in the same group for activities that year, but I honestly barely talked to him,” Sutherland said. “I only remember thinking he had a British accent (it’s actually Australian) and that his friend was cute.”

It wasn’t until Ovens took the trip to University Park that the two students actually started to spend time around each other. Ovens would often come to State College with his friends from Harrisburg, and the group would meet up with Sutherland’s friends from InterVarsity. Over time, Sutherland herself started to hang out with her new friends more and more.

“After that first camp we didn’t really talk. We didn’t even become Facebook friends,” Sutherland said. “Over our time at Penn State, some of his pals from Harrisburg came up to University Park and I actually became closer with them.”

Despite their overlap of friends, however, Sutherland and Ovens still had yet to form a close bond with each other. Oven’s trips to University Park through the years were limited, and their interactions were even more brief. For this reason, Ovens and Sutherland definitely didn’t expect what happened next.

“It wasn’t until our senior year when we both attended a big winter conference that only happens every three years that we started really getting to know each other,” Sutherland said.

Finally, the students began to hang out with each other beyond just limited interactions through mutual friends. After years of the same pattern, they suddenly realized how much they actually had in common and formed a close bond. Soon enough, their friendship turned into a mutual crush — but by the time this realization came, it was simply too late in their college careers.

“Because we were so close to graduating we didn’t know if it could work out as I had a job lined up and he was still looking,” Sutherland said.

While Sutherland and Ovens were in the middle of deciding what to do about this sudden dilemma, their friends decided to take a spring break trip to Tennessee. It was during this trip that Sutherland really felt the weight of the missed opportunity.

“While hiking through the Smokey Mountains, I just broke down,” Sutherland said. “I told him I didn’t think dating would work and we shouldn’t even start dating.”

But the trip took a completely different turn when Sutherland suddenly fell ill after one of the hikes and had to go to the hospital. In that moment, she realized how much Ovens truly cared for her.

(Photo: Rachel Sutherland)

“Wes was one of my only guy friends willing to come with me and take care of me,” Sutherland said. “That was the night I knew that I had been very wrong, he was the one for me.”

After that fateful night, the pair decided to take a chance and start dating despite their different life circumstances. Ovens gradated from the Harrisburg campus with a degree in civil engineering, and Sutherland graduated with a finance degree. Luckily enough, Ovens just happened to receive job offers in exactly the right places — one came from Sutherland’s hometown and the other was in Philadelphia near her new job.

Ovens took the job in Philadelphia and the two have lived there ever since. Though it took a long time for the couple to get to where they are today, they couldn’t be happier with how everything worked out.

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About the Author

Claire Fountas

Claire Fountas is the student life editor for Onward State, as well as a junior pursuing a double major in journalism and psychology. She lives in a suburb of Chicago and strongly disagrees with anyone who hates the Cubs or the Blackhawks (so, pretty much anyone at Penn State). You can follow her @ClaireFountas or email her at [email protected]

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