One interaction was all Ann Novack needed for inspiration.
Novack — better know by her Instagram page @Ann2Go — has driven a wide variety people, from one of Justin Timberlake’s backup singers to well-known Penn State athletes, during her time as an Uber driver.
But what her account is really about, Novack said, is empowering women and making sure they feel safe. She said the Ann2Go idea started with an interaction between her and a mother.
“I had a mom get in the car who was really upset because her daughter had suffered sexual assault while she was in an Uber in North Carolina,” Novack said. “She came back here and kind of was suffering, I guess you could call it PTSD, where she didn't want to get into an Uber car if there was a man driving.”
Novack said she gave her phone number to the mom and asked her to “please tell her to call me because I don't want her to feel like she can't go anywhere without trusting somebody.”
Beyond that story, Novack said she interacts with many young women who have expressed not feeling safe in Ubers. Some women will check the license plate, and then apologize once they get in the car.
Novack encourages women to follow her Instagram and message her if they ever feel unsafe and need a ride.
“For me, it is about empowering women to make sure they realize what you're doing, it's really amazing,” she said. “It might seem like you're just going through the motions right now, but what you're doing is just really amazing.”
One of Novack’s regular riders is Sonia Tiwari, a graduate student at Penn State who Novack drives to work every day, along with taking Tiwari’s son to school.
“I shared with Ann how as a PhD student and mom, I was overwhelmed in the mornings to get the snacks [and] lunch packed, and getting my son ready for school,” Tiwari said over email. “To help me manage my mornings, Ann created a reward system for my son (as a motivation for him to get ready on time).”
If Tiwari’s son is on time five days in a row, Novack teaches him a new word every day and will reward him with his favorite pizza — cheese with black olives — on Friday.
“As an international PhD student living away from family and mostly working on independent research projects — life can be lonely. Riding with Ann has definitely been a family-like social interaction for us,” Tiwari said.
Novack said these connections mean so much to her because her two daughters are in the Naval Academy, so she doesn’t get to see them too often. When Novack’s daughters left for school, she said her husband joked about having to find a new hobby.
Her husband, Steve Treglia, began driving for Uber after their daughters left, but Novack wasn’t convinced at first. Instead, she decided to enjoy the fall. But eventually, her husband was able to convince Novack to sign up for Uber, too.
“He would come home and he'd say, ‘Ann you've got to do this — you would love it. You get to talk to all these kids from all over the world,’” Novack said. “It's really just fun and it's a great job because you can turn it on and off whenever you want.”
Now, after driving for years, Novack said she has fun driving, specifically because of the spontaneity.
“She was really impressed with the students and their success stories,” Tregalia said. “And she saw this as an opportunity to promote not only Penn State, but also a lot of the female students here on campus.”
She’s driven people to Ithaca, New York; Newark, New Jersey; and Pennsylvania cities and towns like Pittsburgh and West Chester. Novack explained that she can’t see where someone is going before she picks them up — but this just adds to the fun.
“This is just kind of helps me feel like a mom because my kids aren't here,” she said. “Some of the kids asked me for advice.”
Novack said she’s made dentist and restaurant recommendations, along with helping students with resumes. Really, she said, she just wants students to be able to recognize their value and potential.
“That's really rewarding for me,” she said, “because so many students… they think they're just a student, and they don't understand their skills.”
Even just the conversations with students are rewarding for Novack.
“Everybody has a story, and I love listening to them. Because God knows they have to listen to mine,” Novack said with a laugh.
Part of what sets Novack apart from other drivers are things like her guest book, a binder she keeps full of maps so students can mark where they’re from and write messages to Novack.
“I said to my husband… ‘You know… when we were growing up at school they could pull a map down? I wish there was a way where I could just pull a map down and have people just put a mark where they're from,’” she said.
Novack has had her current maps for almost a year now, and they’re so full she said she needs to get new ones. She has a map of Pennsylvania, the United States and other countries.
“She does things that maybe other drivers don't do in terms of like making sure that the riders feel welcome,” Tregalia said.
Inside her book are signatures and messages in all different kinds of handwriting and languages, some sending birthday wishes and others writing Novack’s name in Arabic.
“I wish I would have thought of it whenever I started because, while I did think of it,” Novack said, “I just didn't know how to do it.”
In addition to having riders sign the guest book, Novack also hands out cards with positive affirmations written on them.
The idea for the cards came from a positive role model that Novack’s husband had years ago, who taught him a lot about fostering good relationships with others. The cards aim to teach others that they are a “person of influence.”
One of the affirmations reads, “I make people develop a vision for what they can become, achieve, and have.” Another says, “I make people feel appreciated.”
Novack said she does these things because she wants to make students — especially female students — feel important and admired.
“You hear a lot of bad stuff about Penn State,” Novack said. “I just want in a small way for people to feel like somebody appreciates them for what they're doing. And it means so much to me to meet these kids.”