Disney Backstage Magic

My STEP signature project consisted of a behind the scenes exclusive trip to Anaheim, California at Disneyland, Walt Disney Imagineering, and Walt Disney Studios. Over the course of four days, me and two other friends stayed on the resort at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. We were able to go backstage and experience many parts of Disney that are generally unseen by the public with private tours from adventure guides, cast members, and even a couple Imagineers.

Part of the reason I drew to engineering was from my love for Disney and my experiences with Disney at Walt Disney World on several trips as a child. I was always very fascinated about the rides and attractions themselves and what went on behind the scenes. I loved the rides where I could learn new things, especially about science. While there, my parents would tell me about the people who helped design the parks, rides, and every little detail about Disney World and that they were called “Imagineers.” Ever since that point, that job has always been a dream profession of mine. I have been to Disney several times throughout my life and every time my family goes on vacation there, the trip feels magical and each trip is more unique than the last. This feeling is something that only Disney can create consistently and everyone working there does a fantastic job to help create a magical experience. I would love to be a part of causing that experience and happiness for many families to come in the future.

Being able to see and experience Disney from a new perspective changed the way I view everything they do. I was able to first experience the parks and attractions there, and then I was able to go backstage and see where all of the magic I just experienced comes to life. As an engineer, I love to learn about how things work and take things apart to see all the moving parts. These experiences allowed me to do just that. Disney, as a company, is often very secretive when it comes to their attractions and theme parks, making sure to hide the very things I was able to see from the general public. In several of our tours, we were not allowed to photograph certain areas, the most restrictive being the Walt Disney Imagineering building tour (my favorite unfortunately) Below is a picture of my friend, Joe, and I in front of the aforementioned building. I now am familiar with Disney as a company and how many of its parts work, such as Disney Studios, Imagineering, and many of the rides and attractions at Disneyland. I have gained a new appreciation for Disney and re-sparked my love for it as a whole. Hopefully, this new understanding will benefit me in my ultimate goal of one day becoming and imagineer.

Our first stop on our tour was a day at Walt Disney Studios. This lot is completely closed to the general public and other tours besides our own, Adventures by Disney. This was very cool to see since everyone else there besides our tour group worked at Disney. This tour definitely focused on the history of Disney and Walt Disney himself. We were able to see their corporate headquarters were many important decisions are made. We were able to see lots of older and cooler Disney entertainment props and items that are no longer in the parks or have been retired in the Vault. This was particularly neat because I remembered some of the animatronics and props from when I was a kid. Finally, we finished our tour getting lunch on campus at the same place Walt would eat at up until his death. It was surreal to sit and eat surrounded by Disney employees going about their day and eating lunch too.

Next, we made a visit to Walt Disney Imagineering. This was my favorite visit and part of the trip because we got to see what goes on behind the closed doors of Imagineering and what Imagineers do every day. We were introduced to two imagineers who would give us a tour around campus and being able to meet them and talk with them about my goals was awesome. Inside, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures but were able to see a scale model of a section of the new Star Wars Land that will be opening in Disneyland in June. Getting to see how detailed the model was and how many hours were put in on just a model and not even the real thing was eye-opening. We were then showed a room of many clay models, busts of presidents, and several small statues. It was very cool to hear the background of many of these creations. After this, we went listened to a sound sample of a ride at another Disneyland in their sound mixing studio with surround sound. Finally, we were able to take a tour of Disneyland and ride the initial proposal of the Cars ride in a room with augmented reality. This was fascinating to see since the room would shift to the perspective of whoever was wearing a hat with a sensor on it.

On the last day, we visited both Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure parks and were able to get backstage access to several rides and attractions there. We saw the inner workings of rides such as Indiana Jones Adventure, Radiator Springs Racers, and Soarin’. We got the chance to speak with those crew members who work on each of these rides and their ride vehicles. I learned so much about what all goes on behind each ride. After seeing the behind the scenes of the attractions, we then got the chance to ride them and see everything we had just learned and talk about come to life.

Being able to see the history of all the decisions and what went into the Disney that it is today was fascinating. Seeing the behind the scenes gave me a new appreciation for the hard work that goes into making the parks and the company running well. I also gained a ton of knowledge about how the attractions, parks, and company works as a whole. I learned about all the different types of jobs and imagineers and what it takes to make just one ride work well.

Seeing the ridiculous effort that Disney puts out to create the best experience for their fans and park goers definitely inspires me and encourages me to be passionate about the work that Imagineers do for Disney. Disney is able to make money but also be incredibly meticulous about their level of service, holding themselves to the highest standard and making sure to not disappoint their fans. This inspires me to be driven and passionate about whatever I will be doing in life. Speaking with each of the imagineers was also quite inspiring to hear where they came from and how they got involved. Hopefully one day I will get the chance to share my story with others in the same way as them.

I seriously appreciate STEP for providing me with this life-changing opportunity! Both STEP and Disney were able to make one of my dreams come true. Thank you!

Behind the Magic: My Disneyland Adventure

1. My STEP Signature Project consisted of a trip to Disneyland in Anaheim California. Me and two close friends structured our experience around a trip called the “Southern California Short Escape” through Disney’s travel company, Adventures by Disney.

The trip was a 5 day, 4-night experience that gave us and our tour group the opportunity to learn about how Disney creates that magic that is their parks and films. We had the opportunity to tour the parks themselves behind the scenes, several popular attractions, as well as Walt Disney Studios and Walt Disney Imagineering in Burbank. These incredibly exclusive backstage opportunities also gave me the opportunity to meet several Disney professionals, including Imagineers and Disney Parks professionals. I was able to gain incredibly valuable advice and insight into what led them down their path and had the unique opportunity to learn about how Disney operates its studios and parks. As an Operations Management major, this was a truly eye-opening project.

2. I think the most transformative component of my experience was the day that I toured Walt Disney Studios and Walt Disney Imagineering. What was so transformative about this tour was the conversations I had with some of our guides. To provide a bit of background, being a professional for Walt Disney in some way or another (but especially Walt Disney Imagineering) is a longtime personal dream of mine. Before the experience, I had a good amount of doubt that i could turn a business degree into a job with Disney Imagineering. What I quickly learned, however, is that Imagineering is not a company that only hires those with engineering degrees. Our guide for the Imagineering portion, Jonathan, explained that there are over 100 job titles in Imagineering, many of which include titles like “Artistic Director,” “Project Manager,” “Constraint Management Analyst,” and of course, “Operations Manager.” It became clear to me that the career path I am headed down is absolutely compatible with my dream of a career with Disney, and this realization is something I would not have had if it weren’t for the unique opportunity this trip gave me — to talk face to face with real Imagineers and soak in their stories and advice.

3. I already touched on one of the main interactions I had that led to the transformation I described in the previous paragraph, but this was one of many. Another powerful interaction I had during my experience was in the cafeteria at Walt Disney Studios (where Disney’s global corporate headquarters is as well as where they make their films and TV shows).

Our tour group was eating lunch on a Wednesday morning in the middle of the work week, so we were surrounded by busy Disney professionals. A gentleman noticed my Browns jersey (the OBJ trade had been completed the previous evening so I was celebrating) and used the recent OBJ trade news to start a conversation with me. He asked where I was from, and the usual banter, but he then was kind enough to share his own story with me. He began his career as a janitor at Walt Disney Studios but honed his talents in art to over his 24-year career at Walt Disney Studios become a creative art director. His story inspired me to have more confidence in myself and my background to fulfill my dream.

The other impactful interactions I had applies to literally every single Disney employee I encountered. Every single one was fiercely passionate about their career. Their passion was contagious and ignited a newfound passion to continue in pursuit of my dream within me. It was a privilege to hear how each employee, even our tour guides, had their own stories and backgrounds that fueled their passion. It helped me realize that passion and drive come from within, and my drive to one day join their team has never been stronger.

4. This transformation is valuable to me because it comes at a critical point in my academic and early professional career. I have finally committed myself to a major here at Ohio State after a difficult and turbulent first two years, and I occasionally become filled with self-doubt and regret. The “What if?” question seemed to compulsively appear in my head. For the numerous reasons outlined in this post, I finally have a newfound confidence that through my experiences as a student here at Ohio State, I can, through my own drive and passion, open doors to fulfilling my dream of joining the team at the Walt Disney Company.

I want to sincerely thank STEP for making this experience and dream a reality for me!


Please enjoy some of the amazing photos I captured! Also, if you are interested in more detail about my experience, please head over to u.osu.edu/michaelmaxwellsstepproject the site where I created daily updates during the experience itself. There you will also find a link to a YouTube video vlog that I created about my experience.

Me (right), Joe (Center, and Ben (Left) in Disneyland on our first day.


We made sure to represent the Bucks at this historic street-sign at Walt Disney Studios

The front facade of Disney’s Corporate Headquarters. The building is symbolically supported by the Seven Dwarves because Snow White is the film that raised enough funding for Disney to become what it is today.

The front entrance to Imagineering (the only place we were allowed to photograph at Imagineering).

The three of us standing inside Walt Disney’s private apartment in Disneyland park.

On Thursday, we said goodbye to our amazing tour guides Michael and Lori.

We closed out our adventure with the World of Color water and light show


Utah Canyon Exploration

Name: Allyson Marth
Type of Project: STEP Creative and Artistic Endeavor
  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

During my Ohio State spring break, I participated in a hiking, camping, rock climbing adventure in Nevada, southern Utah, and Arizona. During our time there we slept in 30-degree weather and prepared almost every meal on our own. We explored a variety of places, from hikes at Zion National Park to climbing at St. George, Utah to hot springs in northern Arizona.

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

One day prior to the trip, I remember screaming “WHO SIGNED ME UP FOR THIS TRIP?” To be completely honest, I was panicking a bit. I had signed myself up… but, I was starting to regret it. The thoughts that were running through my brain included as follows: I have never camped. Not even once. I will not be sleeping in a bed or showering for 9 nights! What! Who does that? AND, on top of all of this… I chose to do this adventure will 9 complete strangers! Why?

Then we left. And I loved it. Seriously, by the grace of God, I loved it. Camping was not just sleeping on the ground in cold temperatures… instead, it was an experience of close bonding with peers. Hiking was not just exhausting, but recess as the mountains were playgrounds for adults. During the incline I had never felt so weak, yet the resilience I experienced at the peak was unbeatable. Rock climbing was not as daunting as I thought, but instead was a time of teamwork building with the belayer and myself. The view from the top of a rock wall was humbling as I had never felt so small, observing the world around me.

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

There were so many key aspects of my experience with STEP that changed me. One relationship was my friendship with a girl named Marissa. Marissa is spunky and wild. She is so unashamed about who she is and freely embraces her identity. Marissa was eager to ask me questions about my faith in Jesus Christ and was open about her personal Jewish upbringing. She even taught me Hebrew! The reality is that when you go to a new place, share a tent with, and breathe in God’s creation with other people there is no way to not grow close! It is crazy how open you can be with a person that was a stranger a week ago. Since then, I have been put out of my comfort zone by going to a sorority variety show in support of Marissa and our friendship continues on!

Another interaction that led to transformation for myself was all the vocabulary I learned over that week away. I made sure to keep track through a word bank during my time in Utah. I learned the difference because sport and ‘trad’ climbing! ‘Trad’ stands for traditional. I learned about the specifics of climbing on a rock wall and the necessities of quick draws, alpine draws, nuts, hexes, and cams. I learned about different mountains and the differences between multi-pitch or single pitch climbs. I was made aware of climbing techniques such as smearing. And I was taught about the variety of terrain, from 1stclass (flat horizontal) to 5thclass (straight vertical).

Additionally, I learned more about Jesus over that adventure. I find myself often asking questions out of curiosity. Also, I think my outgoing, goofy personality can make me come off as unintelligent at times. While, I seriously was a major fan of each member of the trip, I think at times I was seen by them as lacking wisdom. This made me think of scripture from 1 Corinthians 1:26-31… “for consider your calling, brothers; not many of you were wise, according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world… so that no human beings might boast in the presence of God. And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, as it is written “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” I might not be seen as wise to the world, but I am chosen by God. I am fully accepted and loved by God in Jesus. This is not due to my own works or my own knowledge, but this is due to God’s abundant love. This trip helped me believe that a bit more! And I get to boast in God!

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

This transformation is significant to me. I think this trip helped remind me of what matters in life. While there is definitely a time to work hard and give your all, I think there is a time for rest too. Rest can be getting away from screen time and giving yourself a break. That is what happened over spring break with STEP. I also realized how fun it is to adventure with friends and see natural wonders. And I am hopeful and expectant for my next trip! This helps my come to sense with what my personal goals actually are. I now have a goal of seeing every one of the 59 national parks of the United States.


Experiential Learning for Design Education in Los Angeles, California – Ben Mosher

1. For my STEP project I visited Los Angeles, California to attend a Visual Interface Design Workshop, a Design Sprints Seminar, A UCLA graduate student Design Media exhibition, and three of the most profound Art & Design museums in the country, MOCA LA, The Broad and the A+D Architecture & Design Museum. This experience was a comprehensive educational journey aimed at bringing transformative depth to my experiential knowledge and creative skill-set as an Industrial Design student.

2. Much of what transformed in me deals with the way I accept and process advice, feedback and knowledge. I have found that after many semesters in the same Major, within the same school, with the same people, it can become easy to operate on the assumption that certain people’s feedback is more important than others, I know better than certain people, or that I know what works in a familiar environment. With familiarity comes comfort, and sometimes too much consistency that can lead to halted progression or growth. It is necessary to remove yourself from what is familiar, in order to reset and reassess how you approach problems, assignments, goals and learning.

Stepping outside of one’s zone of familiarity can be shocking and ultimately enlightening, as new viewpoints and perspectives not previously considered can become assets to your own knowledge base and personal viewpoint moving forward. I learned, and transformed in a sense, by experiencing a new city and culture vastly different than the one I all home, and learned that I have a lot to learn. Attending these workshops, seminars and exhibitions put me in the position to hear from, learn from, and get feedback from a variety of accomplished and unfamiliar figures in the Design community, an experience that opened my eyes to the value of seeking guidance and learning in a variety of places, from a variety of people with various skill sets, concentrations and backgrounds. This was transformative in that, it shaped how I will evaluate and process learning experiences and seek out opportunities going forward.

3. The first specific occurrence that contributed to this transformation happened during the Visual Design workshop I attended on March 9th. I remember that it was towards the end of the session, when we were put into collaborative groups to work with Adobe XD software to Design a brand language overview sheet for Hawaiian Airlines. I was unsure of my classmates backgrounds, assuming they were all college students. During the collaborative discussion, I was critiqued on something by another person in my group, and took their advice into consideration, reevaluating my work, ultimately for the better.

I was more accepting and welcoming of critique by a peer in this circumstance than I feel I would have been in class, because I was in another state, attending an unfamiliar event. Following the end of the class, I spoke with this person who I had assumed was another student, but was actually a working professional in the UX design field. This was an enlightening moment for me because I realized that being accepting of critique, and listening to what a colleague has to say is vitally important to learning, especially in this case, because had I dismissed this critique as simple feedback from someone I assumed to be another college student, I would have missed out on what was actually very valuable insight from a working professional.

This experience made me realize that in the future, I need to be open and accepting to advice and feedback from everyone, as you never know what type of skills or experience they have that gives them more knowledge base than you. It was transformative in that I recognize now, and reevaluated the idea of critique and feedback from peers as a valuable element of the learning process. This is an experience that I will remember and apply the learned knowledge to all aspects of life moving forward.

Another learning experience I had that resulted in transformation of outlook on learning and relationships occurred as I interacted with various students within the UCLA Design Media program. I got the chance to talk to a few students and get an idea of what their perspectives are as students similar to myself in an entirely different environment. This was an overarching lesson in the value of connection on commonalities between peers in order to establish enriching and potentially beneficial work relationships. It became clear that networking with other students and figures in my field is a valuable opportunity for growth and professional development.

4. This change is significant and valuable to my life because it will shape how I go about interacting with others within a learning capacity, school environment or professional sphere. The idea of constant and perpetual learning and adaptation is an important value that I feel I may have lost sight of to some degree as a student who may become comfortable with the idea of just wanting to finish school, get their degree and move out into the real world. I feel this experience opened my eyes to the immense scope of opportunity for learning and experiential knowledge development that can come from travel, attending academic or professional events, and interaction with peers in one’s field. There is always more to be learned, and knowledge must be sought out in all parts of the world, and from all types of people. This experience has been entirely transformational in that it sparked the drive to continually seek out learning opportunities, and value the insight and knowledge that people can offer through collaboration and interaction. I will take this with me to all other aspects of life, both personally and professionally as I work to become an Industrial Designer, operating in a highly collaborative field in a dynamic work environment where continued learning, external feedback and idea development are of the essence.

The Dollhouse: Our Community

Name: Abigail Wagner

Type of Project: Creative and Artistic Endeavor

1. My project was to produce a full print, intersectional feminist art and culture magazine. The magazine showcases works from artists and writers who belong to marginalized groups in hopes to give a platform and create space in printed media for all people. I collected art and writing submissions, designed magazine pages, and planned a release event.

2. Using the funding I received as a springboard, I was able to support artists in our community who I would have otherwise only dreamed of working with. I developed a real sense of pride in my project, and saw that pride reflected in the women who contributed and the people who now own and support the magazine. I feel a deeper sense of agency in the Columbus arts community, and it feels good to have a real product to help me navigate through it. Meeting and getting connected with people through the context of the magazine has helped me be seen through the lens of what I most care about- expression and social justice.

Secondly, I became much more aware of how important cultural competency is. My project aimed to showcase the work of gender variant people and women of color, but I am a cisgender, white woman. I had to be careful that my submission choices were based on celebrating important, relevant art, and not tokenizing any of the artists for their identities- chosen or prescribed. Also, when I held the event, I had to be sure that it was a space where all people could feel welcome. I realized that many arts spaces in Columbus (and elsewhere), whether they be galleries, venues, or publications, are fundamentally not inclusive of important people within the community. Seeing the ways that other spaces could do better in terms of cultural competency has made me reflect on how the magazine will serve all people in the community going forward.

3. When I first moved to Columbus, meeting people who I connected with was challenging as OSU is such a large campus. I used the local art and music scenes to find people who I saw myself reflected in, though it took time. Women who made art and music helped me feel capable of doing the same, and made me feel a sense of place here in Columbus. Eventually, I started noticing that there was a sheer lack of women and people of color in these spaces, or those people who were involved took secondary roles (i.e. audience members instead of makers). I made a point to seek out and draw in other women and people of color who I thought may not otherwise feel welcomed. I eventually saw the people take ownership of those spaces, and take up more active roles. For example, my roommate attended the magazine’s release party and bought a piece of art from one of the vendors. She was amazed at the community event I was able to create, and was inspired by the support that people gave to artists. A month later, she planned her own community event that showcased art, music and poetry by all women of color. It was an amazing success, and I was so grateful to have another woman doing the same work I was doing in her own way.

Another thing that pleasantly surprised me was other people’s willingness to hop on board with my mission to help make the magazine a success. I went into this project with no knowledge of how to use InDesign, and every time I met someone who knew the software I was offered help. I was so moved by other people’s unsolicited generosity and willingness to support the magazine with their various talents and resources. It made me open myself up to other local projects, and encouraged me to reach out and be generous to others. My circle of creative and activist peers has expanded tremendously since the beginning of this project, and I am grateful.

The release event itself was such an incredible part of this project. I am not myself a writer, but some friends helped me get in contact with a few poets in the area who were interested in doing a reading. All I could hope for was that the crowd at the event would be respectful and attentive. When the lat poet took to the stage and recited their poems, everyone in the room was engaged, humming affirmations, laughing along, and giving the writer all of the respect they deserved. It was everything that I knew a poetry recitation should be and I was proud that it happened int he Dollhouse’s name. Also, my friend sold her first ever painting at the event. It was sold to my roommate, and the painting hangs in my house as a reminder. Another friend brought enough paintings to fill a whole table, and they sold every one of them. That event, I feel, wrapped up in one night what this project meant to me; support, recognition, visibility, and community.

4. This transformation was key in me recognizing my agency as a change maker and as an activist. I realized that cultivating a strong sense of community is extremely important to me, which makes me feel that I should consider entering macro-level social work. I also realized that activism comes in many shapes and sizes. The kinds of cultural messages that resonate with me involve art, music and creativity. Through this project, I realized that I should not deny these things power in my life, but use them as a tool. I now feel that I can harness these interests to create and support the changes I want to see. I also realized that true inclusion involves a lot more than shallow representation. It is not only inviting people to ride along but encouraging them to take the reigns. It is acknowledging that the space I now have with this magazine is worth celebrating, but can only go so far in terms of social justice. I am now connected to a group of change makers in Columbus and I am excited to continue learning and growing.

Adrianne Farwell STEP Creative Endeavor Reflection

My STEP signature project was a creative endeavors project. It included buying a camera, taking a variety of photography classes, and capturing the special moments of my parents’ thirtieth wedding anniversary.

I have always viewed myself as someone who catches on quickly and easily learns new things, but photography was a real challenge for me. Learning to use my camera was the easy part, but learning to have the eye of a photographer and capture true moments was a very challenging task for me to grasp. It is something I have grown a lot in with my mentor’s help, but will always continue to struggle and grow with. Throughout this project I have learned to rely on others. It sounds simple enough, but for a woman raised as independently as I was, it is no easy feat. I can almost always rely on myself to figure things out, but with photography I desperately needed help and sought advice from my instructors. This experience has taught me a lot about myself and how I interact with and view the world.

The first true relationship formed during my project was with my mentor, Braddley Adams. Braddley is a professional photographer that teaches a series of classes to beginner and more advanced photographers to help others learn to use their cameras. He always says that the camera is just a machine; one is not really better than another, it all depends on how you use them. I never knew how involved photography was until I met Braddley and started taking his classes. Each photo I see has a whole new meaning to me now, as I truly understand what the photographer had to do to capture each shot. Braddley helped me to understand that photography is an art that anyone can learn, but few will learn to master it.

Another significant figure in my project was Matt Cangelosi. He is world renowned photographer that teaches beginner and advanced photography courses on the side. The main lesson I learned from Matt’s lessons was how to change my perspective. As humans, we hurry through life and our eyes block out most of what we see. Our brains cannot possibly process all the information we would grasp if our eyes did not do this. But when we truly stop and look, we see amazing things. You can zoom in closely and see every detail on a flower petal, or look up towards the sky and see what the branches and leaves look like from below. Through Matt, I learned to look at the world differently and take in the scenery around me instead of passing by.

As I prepared myself to take pictures of my parents’ anniversary event, I began to feel anxious about my ability to capture each precious moment at the party. Photography was a much more difficult art to master than I had anticipated. I knew I needed to practice, so I did. Braddley was generous enough to provide exercises to practice between classes and offered a free outing to take pictures alongside him as he guided us in the moments we were capturing and how we did it. Without the extra preparation he provided, I would not have been able to capture the moments I did at my parents’ vow renewal with the fast paced and frequently changing environment.

Overall, I learned to truly dedicate myself to a new hobby in order to fully learn it. I learned that not every new task in life will be easy, but that does not make it impossible. I learned that if I want to succeed, I must put in the time and effort to master it. I learned that I need to rely on others who have more knowledge to be able to grow. In all, I learned what it takes to be a more efficacious person.

This change is significant in every part of my life. I have always been an independent person and never asked others for help. Through this journey of learning photography I now understand that I might not need others, but I can greatly benefit from their knowledge. This is really important as I will soon transition into professional life and will be working with several different people daily. One person alone cannot achieve much, but together everyone is more successful. I am very grateful for the opportunity I have been given through STEP to be able to gain a skill I can carry with me throughout my life, and all the valuable lessons I learned during it this process.

Exploring the Everglades

My STEP signature project involved taking a trip to Everglades National Park in Florida and practicing my photography skills on the beautiful wildlife there. I was there for seven days, and each day, I had a different activity planned that involved trying something new or scary, learning new things, or practicing various types of photography in different settings.

This trip was an amazing experience for me in so many ways. First and foremost, I went to do photography, and oh, did I. Every day in the Everglades, every place I went, I was thinking about photography–how could I get the perfect shot, where would be the best place for me to sit on the tour, how could I avoid getting wet, etc. I always had a camera with me of some sort, whether it be my professional camera, a GoPro, or even on occasion my phone. I bought my professional camera last summer, and was able to practice with it then while I was in Seattle for my internship. However, this trip to the Everglades was a whole new ballgame. I had done a couple hikes in Washington, so I was able to do some nature photography there, but I had never practiced with wildlife. And let me tell you, trying to get pictures of animals that were often constantly in motion, sometimes competing for space with other tourists, was a learning experience. Despite the difficulty I faced, I was pleasantly surprised by my pictures, and ultimately really happy with how they turned out. That being said, I took a lot of photos. I learned the patience it takes, not only to capture the pictures themselves, but to filter through hundreds of photos and footage and pick out the best shots to put in my photo essay. Another “lesson learned” was that the small lens I had didn’t work well with capturing wildlife, as the zoom was pretty much next to none. It was hard to get close enough to the animals to get decent shots, so in the future, I’ll invest in a bigger lens.

Aside from just photography, though, I learned a lot about myself. I was able to plan and coordinate the entire trip by myself, and learn how to handle things if they didn’t follow my plans exactly. I also tried some things that were scary for me, like a 15-mile bike ride. Before the trip, I hadn’t ridden a bike in 2 years and have avoided them at all costs because I don’t trust myself or my coordination. As such, I was terrified. However, the bike ride actually ended up being great, despite difficult because I was (am) out of shape. We made it to the halfway point and I got some great pictures on the observation tower, didn’t crash, and only almost took a nosedive into the gator-infested march once. I had several opportunities like this to test myself, and I think I’m actually a pretty capable human being and I can do scary things and communicate with people and make things happen that need to happen. For that, if nothing else, the trip was worth it.

One of the major things I learned on the trip was how to roll with the punches when things don’t go as you expect–there were two key experiences that contributed to this. The first was the day that we wanted to go fishing. I had tried to look up fishing gear rental places, and the results were sparse. Still, there was a place outside of the south entrance that looked promising. When we arrived, we thought we had made a mistake. Instead of a bait shop, we ended up at a fruit stand and farm with the charming title “Robert is Here.” We got out and explored, and it actually ended up being such a hidden gem of a place, with a petting zoo-like farm in the back, a sign on the front announcing the owner’s new adoption after one thousand days of waiting, and hundreds of fresh fruits and homemade spreads. We got a smoothie and discovered the tiny kayak and fishing gear rental stand right beside Robert is Here–closed. We called and they suggested just buying stuff from Walmart, so that’s exactly what we did. Going in blind and not having much experience with fishing, figuring out not only what to buy but also how to put it together once we got to the lake was a challenge. We got to the lake much later than intended because of all the delays, not to mention missing the initial turn to get to the lake, and I only caught one small fish despite all the setup, but it actually ended up being a great day. Robert is Here was such a wholesome and happy place that kind of just made my day–how could I be mad about anything after that? Pine Glades Lake was a beautiful place, and since we got there so late, we got to watch the sunset on the water. And even though I only caught one fish, it was so exciting when I did that I didn’t even mind.

The second hiccup of the trip was a less exciting experience. Our flight home was supposed to leave at 6:00am on Saturday. We woke up at 4:00am to finish packing, left for the airport around 4:45, and got to the airport around 5:00am, which is what we had intended. However, we didn’t take into account that we had a rental car with us, and the rental car center was poorly marked so we had to drive around for a while to figure out where to return the car, not to mention a ten minute walk back to the terminal. We checked in our bag at 5:30am, where we were told “you’re way too late.” We got put on standby for the 7:00am flight, and once we didn’t get on that, got moved to standby for the 8:00am flight, and once we didn’t get on that… you can see where this is going. After we didn’t get on the 8:00am, we decided to call the Delta help hotline to see if we had any other options. Keep in mind, I was already well enough emotional by this point, so when she initially told us that they couldn’t do anything to help, I was distraught. However, she stayed on the phone and continued to look up options for us, and eventually found a flight leaving on Sunday, somehow getting us this flight for free. We decided to go with that option, and I had some Marriott rewards points saved up from my summer internship, so I was able to get a hotel with that. Despite an extremely stressful morning and a lot of frustration with myself for not getting there earlier, it probably ended up being the best solution we could have found. After that, I kind of just had to take a deep breath and remember that no matter how much planning you do, sometimes, things just happen. It all ended up working out in the end, and I’m ultimately glad I got experience dealing with that kind of situation.

Aside from the mishaps, there were also so many amazing people we met and things we saw that made the experience transformational for me. In general, I wanted to avoid things that were too touristy–the airboat ride was probably the most touristy thing we did, and it was also my least favorite. It was quite hard to get pictures since the boat moved fast most of the time, and was mainly just so tourists could get glimpses of gators. The other tours we did, however, were extremely well done. The dolphin and birding photo boat tour ended up being a small, quiet boat designed for us to get good pictures and not disturb the wildlife. While out on the water, we saw a tourist boat that was speeding through the waves trying to get the dolphins to ride the wake. Our guide disapproved of this strongly, and we were instead able to observe the dolphins contributing to their ecosystem, feeding, playing together, etc. It was an incredible experience and I’m so grateful to our guide for teaching us about the wildlife and the beauty of the Everglades. Also, we inadvertently ended up as part of a tour group at the Nike Missile Base on the south side of the Everglades. The guide for that tour was fascinating, telling us about so much history of the base during the Cuban Missile Crisis and pointing out details we wouldn’t have seen before. One quote he said that stuck with me: “You go somewhere like the Grand Canyon, and it shouts at you. But you come to the Everglades–it whispers to you. And the more you learn about it, the louder it will be.” It was very powerful and really allowed me to have a deeper appreciation for and understanding of the Everglades and everything it stands for.

In the end, I’m so, so happy with how the trip turned out. I learned so much that I can apply to my own life. Namely, I was able to practice my photography skills on the wildlife and nature of the Everglades, and I hope to continue this art in my everyday life to eventually become a lifelong hobby. I actually created a photo essay of my trip, selecting the best pictures I got, writing about them, and putting them all together in a way that mimics what you might see in National Geographic (but longer and with more pictures). I am also currently working with my professional mentor to edit the photos, so I’m excited to be getting some experience with that. I’d like to do this kind of thing throughout my life and come up with other creative ways to capture the world around me, such as through video. But aside from what I went to the Everglades to do, I hope that I can have a new appreciation for nature, noticing the small things, listening for “the whispers”. Being in the Everglades really taught me the value of animal life and conservation, and I would be pleased if I could see that translate into how I interact with nature everyday. Ultimately, I wanted a trip that would free me from computer science and the kinds of responsibilities that come with school, and focus on something completely different. I get so wrapped up in school that sometimes, it’s all I think about and have time for, and this trip was such a breath of fresh air, teaching me that there is so much more to the world, I shouldn’t take everything so seriously. I am so grateful I got the opportunity to explore a different interest of mine and learn skills that I can use throughout my entire life.

All of my best pictures are included in the photo essay, but here are a few of my favorites:

Link to my field journal, detailing what every day looked like for me

Link to my photo essay (still in the process of editing the pictures)

South by Southwest

For my STEP signature project, I spent about a week in Austin, Texas attending the annual South by Southwest festival. I went to music industry panels and networking events in the afternoons, and saw the latest up and coming bands at night. This trip provided me with tons of insight for my future career path, as well as amazing spring break memories.


South by Southwest helped me learn so much just in the course of 4 days. I had never really experienced a professional event like that, especially not one combined with a music festival. Seeing all of these people come together in one place to talk about hundreds of different topics made me feel more positive about my future in this career and in the world in general. It was amazing hearing powerful women talk about what can be done to empower themselves and others, amazing hearing about the new technologies that could disrupt the industry in favor of the creators. Nobody was speaking from a place of pessimism – it really felt like there was plenty of opportunity for things to change with the right actions.

Something I really took away from the experience about myself was my confidence and ease of communicating with others. Everyone I spoke to, from music industry professionals to other college students to Lyft drivers, was insanely friendly. Usually you associate this friendliness with the location, but people we spoke to were from all around the world. Although I know a lot of information about the music industry and finance, I’ve never really had it put to the test before. At the UberEats venue on Friday night, I randomly started up a conversation with a venture capitalist from San Diego about the use of blockchain technology in music. He clearly knew more about the subject than I did, partly because it’s his job, but we still had a total exchange of ideas and it wasn’t a competition. This and other interactions made me feel like I was worthy to be in that space, having those conversations. It was an incredible first experience in “the real world”, a world that I’m excited to be truly apart of after graduation.


To add onto more examples of the interactions and experiences I’m discussing, I’ll explain some of the key events that took place during my time at South by Southwest.

The first panel I attended was a keynote conversation between Bozoma Saint John and supermodel Ashley Graham. Saint John has been the chief marketing officer for companies like Pepsi, Apple, and Uber, and she now works for Endeavor. Graham interviewed her about her experiences in the workplace, especially with the perspective of being a woman of color. The main idea I took away from both of them was to feel worthy of being in any position you may find yourself in. In the same vein, they also discussed bringing all of your experiences and emotions to the table, so that you can contribute with all of yourself and not just the pieces that are “work appropriate”. Another female led keynote discussion was with Shirley Manson of Garbage and Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES. They talked about their involvement as women in the music business, and a quote that particularly stuck with me came from Manson: “I can take any man that comes my way.” Both of these discussions were eye-opening, but even as the speakers admitted, there’s only so much you can say before you go out there and get stuff done.

Shirley Manson and Lauren Mayberry.

In retrospect, I wish I had done more mentor sessions, but I only got a chance to meet with one person. This was a 15 minute conversation at the Austin Convention Center, where badge holders could speak with a professional in their line of work to learn more from them. My mentor session was with a financial planner from Merrill Lynch who specializes in working with musicians and artists. She told me about the different ways you can take a financial/accounting degree into the music world, and we also discussed personal finance. Although finance plays some role in virtually any job in the music industry, I had never had the opportunity to speak with someone who is employed directly in that line of work. She encouraged me to get any financial certifications possible, such as a CPA, because it would give me an advantage to show that I have more expertise. I felt intimidated on my way out, but her point of view really opened up my eyes about the career possibilities I could have after graduation.

Most of the smaller panels I attended gave me more knowledge about subjects I had vague understanding of. One of these panels was about using blockchain in music, and the panelists discussed both the benefits but also the complications that could arise from using it. I also went to a panel from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Country Music Hall of Fame about what both locations are doing to digitize and preserve historical music artifacts. I’m familiar with this topic more broadly, because my mom is a librarian who specializes in old and rare books. This panel discussed the protection of not only paper materials, but audio and video recordings. They also stressed the importance of providing access and making sure people know to donate their materials instead of throwing them away. My favorite lecture of the whole week was from songwriter Ross Golan, who talked about “song math”. He talked us through music history and how songs came to be what we know them as now. Golan also threw in tips and tricks on what to do with things like melodies, rhythm, and lyrics to make songs more interesting to listen to. Even though I’m not sure if I’ll need to use that information, it was a really fun and informative lecture.

I clearly attended tons of panels and lectures, but what took up half of my time was concerts. Granted, that time was typically from 7pm to 2am the next morning! I’ve been to over 100 concerts in the past decade – it’s typically the most exciting times of my life. South by Southwest provided me with an amazing sneak peek of what’s to come in music. I saw stripped down performances from tons of artists at the NPR Tiny Desk Showcase, DJs like Questlove and Virgil Abloh, and a moshing rap show from Rico Nasty. The biggest highlight was the Ticketmaster showcase at Stubb’s BBQ, with some of my favorite new acts. Lizzo headlined and preached about personal confidence and body positivity, while I was front row having the time of my life.

Lizzo at the Ticketmaster showcase.

South by Southwest really changed my life in a significant way. I had originally planned this trip thinking I would graduate in May, but when I switched my major to accounting, my graduation date pushed back to December. So although I didn’t use the trip to find a full time job or network more intensely, I think I got a great glimpse into the future of the music business and how to position myself within it. It was a way to test myself: to see how I could interact with real professional adults, and to see where I could succeed in the near future. After speaking to many people and expanding my expertise in multiple different areas, I think I passed that test.

Although South by Southwest is over, I can still pull from my experience this past March by getting out to networking events and reaching out online to people that I met. I am already considering taking a trip back to Austin for next year’s event! Regardless of the practical applications, I feel like I am now better positioned for life after graduation simply because of the confidence and understanding I now have because of attending South by Southwest.


I also kept a blog on Medium during my time in Austin.

Imagineering the Magic

Joe Gruber.160

Artistic & Creative Endeavor

For my STEP Signature Project, I took an exclusive backstage tour of many aspects of the Walt Disney Company. I flew out to Los Angeles and spent four days at the Grand California Hotel in Disneyland with an Adventures by Disney tour group. The highlights of this trip included private tours of the Walt Disney Studios, Disney Imagineering, and backstage access to various Disneyland attractions.

Disney has always been a passion of mine. I went into engineering because of Disney Imagineers. I grew up in constant awe and amazement at what the Imagineers created in Walt Disney World. I always knew that was where I wanted to be full time. This trip is one of the only ways people get a chance to see where the Imagineers work. Disney likes to keep their secrets, so they do not host public tours or even photos of where and what the Imagineers are working on. To have this opportunity to see how the Imagineering campus as well as the corporate headquarters of all of the Disney Company was incredibly transformative and eye opening.

Many people argue that seeing Disney behind the scenes ruins the magic. I disagree… I believe after seeing the hard work and engineering marvels that go on backstage that the true magic is in the engineering of it all. It takes a huge multidisciplinary team to take on every project that Disney parks is working on all over the world, and at any moment Disney could be working on dozens of very different and major projects. Moreover, the standard the Disney holds their Imagineers to in on a different level. They refuse to cut corners or miss any small detail. I knew a lot about Imagineering before I went on this trip, but to be able to visit their campus and talk to Imagineers was as a priceless experience that is helping motivate me to work hard to achieve my ultimate goal.

The first part of this tour was a tour of the Walt Disney Studios. This studio is a closed lot, so it is not open to public tours and Adventures by Disney is the only group allowed inside the gates. This was an incredible tour as it contained so much Disney history. Walt Disney himself aided in the construction of the Studios as well as worked on many of his original classics in there. We also got a chance to see the corporate headquarters where all the business decisions for the Walt Disney Company are made. We also were able to tour some of the Disney Archives and see some of the classic Disney Park memorabilia that the early Imagineers worked on. This was a very cool part of the trip because I was able to see some of the animatronics and props from when I was a kid that are no longer in the parks. We finished this tour with a lunch at the Studios Commissary which strangely was one of the coolest parts of this tour for me. As I sat amid dozens of Disney employees all eating the same lunch in a place where Walt himself would eat up until his death, I felt moved and inspired to make sure that it wasn’t my last lunch there.

Next, the coolest part of the whole tour for me was the guided tour of Walt Disney Imagineering. As we pulled into the campus, I could hardly contain my excitement. It was a dream come true for me to be pulling next to building 1401 in Burbank. As we got off the bus we met the two Imagineers who would be showing us around their campus. We were told repeatedly not to take our phones out at all the whole time we were there because they did not want any pictures being taken to preserve the magic as they said. Only our guides were allowed to take photos of us in approved locations. I geeked out a little there knowing that I would get to see things that Disney did not want anyone else seeing.

The first thing we saw on this tour was the actual scale model of the new Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge coming to Disneyland in June. I’ve seen pictures of this model from press releases, but I was shocked at how massive it was in person. The detail in the Styrofoam model was unreal to me. Also, they said they worked on this model for a year(!) They also displayed some of the new animatronics that would be in this land and describes some of the engineering advancements to them. I had the opportunity to talk to the Imagineers about this project and I learned so much about the typical project timelines for their major and minor projects. Next we got to go in to their modeling room where they made clay models for the animatronics and statues in attractions.  One of the walls of the room was full of busts of every US presidents head that were used in the modeling for the Hall of Presidents in Walt Disney World, which was breathtaking to see. This room had busts of just about every animatronic from every attraction I could think of, from Dick Van Dyke, to JFK, to pirates from Pirates of the Caribbean! This room was a definite highlight for me. We went on to see a few other rooms including where they mix the sounds of on attractions where the took us on a virtual ride through of an attraction in Tokyo Disneyland with awesome surround sound (which the Disney company actually invented). Like all things at Disney, this tour ended with a visit to the Imagineering gift shop which provided me with some great souvenirs.

On the final day of our tour, we were taken backstage on many attractions to see how they do maintance on the ride vehicles and how they monitor any problems on the attractions. This was very interested as I was able to see the engineering of these complex vehicles up close and personal. The first attraction we saw was Indiana Jones Adventure. The ride vehicle for this attraction as designed completely by Imagineers and is very unique. The vehicle looks like a massive jeep with hydraulic pumps that allow the top of the vehicle to move in all directions to simulate rough terrain. Next, we went backstage of Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land. The operator of this attraction showed us how they monitor for problems throughout the day and how they can fix any problem that occurs on the track or a vehicle without having to shut the whole attraction down. This was very interesting to me as it showed how much Disney cared about guests’ experience when in the park and how they are always trying to fix any encountered problems as quickly as possible. We also got a backstage view of Soarin’ in Disney California Adventure and a private tour of Walt Disney’s apartment above the fire station in Disneyland.

Being able to take a walk back in Walt’s shoes as well as see what current Imagineers are working on was a truly life changing experience. It gave me, an already massive fan of the parks, a whole new level of appreciation and respect for all that the company does. It really is a company unlike any other. Yes, their ultimate goal like most businesses is to make money; however, they really do value their guests and want to constantly push boundaries and provide new experiences. Walt Disney said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” I am passionate about the work that Imagineers do and am going to keep working my hardest to make my dream a reality.

Our Imagineering tour guide told us that he is the creative lead on a new attraction in Tokyo Disneyland. This is the first time he led a project and he said even though it is not the fastest or coolest attraction Disney has to offer, it means so much to him to see something he was passionate about become a reality in the Disney parks. This was very moving to me, because that has always been my dream. I want to see a project through from it just being an idea in my head to the grand opening in a Disney Park. I felt the pride and passion my tour guide felt and I am making it my mission to have the same feeling for myself one day. Thank you to STEP for allowing me to live out one of my dreams and giving me more motivation to pursue my dreams and one day become an Imagineer.

Lost & Found Exhibition

Name: Lost & Found Exhibition
Type of Project: Artistic and Creative Endeavor

My STEP Signature Project is an artistic Exhibition featuring artworks from different ethnic groups raising the awareness of cultural diversity and individual diversity. There are in total of more than 20 artists’ artwork involved in the exhibition.

According to my researches of the overall theme of the exhibition, my initial understanding of diversity can be narrow down to the statement as following: We can’t decide what other people think of us, but we can adjust our own thoughts about who we are and where we are and what we are through different lenses. All of the artists have their own definition of “diversity” and through all of the artwork, you will see how they define “diversity”. I have a lot of friends who know exactly who they are and where they are in terms of long -term goals. But if you are not that kind of person, it’s okay. Because as Henry David Thoreau once said, “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves”.

I still believe my statement deeply in my heart and I feel so grateful that I am able to influence so many people whether it is people who I know of or  people I have never met before to actually take 20 minutes to do nothing but concentrate on artists’ representation of diversity and left thoughtful notes on the interactive board of the exhibition. I knew there are people who hold different opinions than I do. By holding this exhibition, I am able to hear from different ethnic groups where I could have not heard from my own friend circle.

The experience of holding this exhibition not only opened up my overall perception of diversity but also trained my professional skills as an arts management student. I was constantly having conversations with operation teams of OHIO Union. We started to meet about 3 or 5 times before the event start.  There are of course many difficulties and limitations to hold an exhibition in Ohio Union. Luckily, with the help of Ohio Union, I was able to overcome and adjust all of them   Additionally, I am impressed about how supportive and efficient the operation teams are about the implementations of all the installations and decorations.

Additionally, I also called help from the organization I founded three years ago named Chinese Photography & Image Organization. People from the organization are really supportive and dedicated, even sacrificed a lot of their own personal time to help set up and run the operation terms with me. Through this exhibition, I am able to see the power of teamwork.

For the mentality wise, I am able to open up my mind and see topics from others’ lenses. For my professional path stance, I am able to curate an exhibition start from zero! The success of this exhibition helps me knew a lot of artists from OSU as well as the entire Columbus area. This exhibit is not only a project on the resume but also my confidence and basic before I do something even more exciting!

And here is the video of the exhibition: https://v.qq.com/x/page/n0844hy78hf.html