Scholars DC

When I received an informational email about a new program open to sophomore Scholars students that would allow them to explore their career interests in our nation’s capital, I knew that this would be what I used my STEP funds for.

About 20 of my peers and I spent the first two weeks of May 2014 in DC on a professional exploration and leadership trip. The first week consisted of group meetings (9-12 people), while the second week consisted of individual or small group meetings (1-4 people).

Our first full day in DC was spent participating in an “Amazing Race”-style scavenger hunt around DC to familiarize ourselves with the metro system and layout of the city. The rest of the day was free time and my group visited the National Archives and the White House.

Our second day in DC began with an early morning and the start of our large group visits. Each day, two large groups visited 3-4 locations and/or met with a variety of professionals. My group’s first day consisted of visits to the Federal Communications Commission, Department of State, and National Public Radio (NPR). At the FCC we met with Bob Cannon, senior counsel in Internet law, and Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC. At the Department of State, we were able to sit in on a press briefing and then have a private meeting with Marie Harf, one of the spokespeople at the Department of State. Our third and final visit of the day was a trip to NPR. We were taken on a tour of the building, sat in on a live radio show, and sat down with White House Correspondent Tamara Keith.

Our next day’s visits were to Senator Portman’s constituent breakfast; a tour of the Capitol building; a quick meeting with Representative Stivers; a meeting with Bradley Saull, an employee for the House Committee on Homeland Security, and the Washington Post.

Our next day of group visits included time with Voice of America, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, and a meeting with Representative Beatty.  The visit with Voice of America was one of my favorites as we sat down with the Chief of the Khmer (Cambodia) Division, Chris Decherd; Digital Media Coordinator/Reporter (also in Khmer), Sophat Soeung; Executive Producer of the South and Central Asia Division, Susan Shand; and Public Affairs Director, Letitia King. The conversations we had with them were absolutely fantastic. We learned about Sophat’s experience growing up in Cambodia and becoming a journalist in the US, Chris’s tenure as a journalist in Cambodia for a number of years, and Susan’s life as an international correspondent for CBS before beginning her own freelance business that worked with foreign press offices. We also discussed the challenges that VOA faces in getting news to non-press-friendly countries. VOA uses TV, radio, and internet to spread their content, however certain countries, North Korea for example, can only have access to radio. We were told that journalists and their families have been targeted by governments and regimes to discourage a VOA presence. This behavior led to the reduction of VOA’s content in Russia- they can no longer have TV programs there. After our talk, we were able to take a tour of the studio; they have programs 24/7 and one of the live broadcasts we saw was meant for Afghanistan.

Our final day of group visits my favorite, as we went to Ohio State’s Government Affairs office, the Supreme Court of the United States, and a met with former Texas Representative Henry Banilla. At the Supreme Court, we were given a lecture about the history of the Court in the courtroom, which was incredible. To actually sit in the courtroom where they hear cases was awe-inspiring. After the lecture, we met with two of Justice Alito’s law clerks- Paul and Maureen. Since their job is one I would like to have someday, I was excited to meet with them. We started with a behind-the-scenes tour of the courthouse and saw the brown-bag lunch room where the Justice’s eat together, the law library, basketball court and gym, and function rooms. The building is absolutely gorgeous, with outdoor courtyards in the interior, sheltered from public view. There is a running joke at the courthouse about the basketball court being the “highest court in the land” because it is directly above the courtroom.

After free time over the weekend, which I used to visit the Newseum and the European Union embassies, I began the second week feeling prepared to go on the individual meetings. I met with variety of professionals, including several private attorneys, attorneys who work for the US Department of Justice (DOJ), a judicial clerk at the US Court of Appeals, an admissions counselor from American University’s Washington College of Law, and someone who works for the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. I especially loved meeting with the DOJ attorneys because working at the DOJ would be a dream job for me. I also really enjoyed meeting with the admissions counselor as I plan to attend law school someday.

Though there were times when I felt stressed, frustrated, and very overtired on the trip, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. It was worth the months of uncertainty about who I would get to talk to and what we would talk about. As a rather introverted individual, meeting with that many people and having to be “on” all the time was draining, but I worked through it and learned a lot about myself in the process.

I feel like this trip had a definite impact on my career path, even if it did not clear up my vision of my future like I thought it would. This trip has definitely shown me that government is the sector I want to work in. The work is interesting, variable, important, and it’s all in DC. I have also definitely decided on going to law school. However, there are several areas that this trip made more muddled for me.

I had hoped to narrow my focus and concentrate on one area in law, but I am interested in too many things. My meeting with the person from the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology piqued my interest in policy and I’m surprised I never thought of it before. Being in DC for two weeks has also made me rethink my decision to take time off before law school. I kind of want to just go straight in and get going with my career. But then sometimes I think I should still work for a couple years beforehand. I just don’t want to go straight through and regret not traveling or exploring my options more later on in life. I guess the question is, would I regret not going to law school straight out of undergrad? Would I regret not taking time off? These are the crossroads in my life and whichever path I choose will impact my career.

Second Year Outdoor Leadership Experience

What?

I went on the Second Year Outdoor Leadership Experience with the Outdoor Adventure Center. We backpacked for two weeks through Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and the John Muir Trail. For the first 8 days on the trail, each participant had the chance to be leader of the day. This consisted of deciding the route, how many miles we would hike that day, when we would fill up on water, when we would stop for lunch, how often we would take breaks, etc. Each leader of the day also had a leadership topic and an outdoor specific skill that we taught to the group. Then at the end of the day, we would reflect around the campfire and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the leader of the day.

Once leader of the day was over, we had to work together as a group of leaders to decided how the day would go. It was very interesting to watch the dynamic change in the group. Some people had more dominant personalities when it came to stepping up at leaders, while others didn’t mind being “participants” and just doing what the group wanted to do.

So What?

This trip ended up being a trip of a lifetime. Something that I will never forget, and for many reasons. It was nice to get away from “real life” and all the responsibilities that came with it; to put our electronics away, and just soak up nature in its rawest form. This trip was not only one of the most beautiful trips of my life, but by far the most intense experience of my life. Mentally, physically, and emotionally, this trip broke everyone down and taught us all something about ourselves that we never expected. This trip made me realize that backpacking, being in nature, and having that time to reflect is the best way to revitalize and cleanse your soul (I know, its cheesy, but true).

I have always felt uncomfortable being a leader, and I came to realize on this trip that it was because I hated the attention that comes with leadership. There is always going to be someone who doesn’t agree with what you’re doing, so no matter what, you’ll be ridiculed. I didn’t really notice this until it came up as a discussion topic one night. I told the group that I would rather sit back and let someone else be the leader and would only step up if no one else did. It surprised me when another participant told me that she thought I did a great job as a leader, especially leading by example. Hearing someone tell me that they noticed my hard work, or the fact that I went the extra mile helped changed my opinion of what a leader is. I think this trip taught me that leadership is not a cookie cutter discipline. There is no right or wrong. There are so many different ways to lead, and one leadership practice for one person might not be the most beneficial practice for the next.

The trip also taught me a lot about myself. I don’t share my feeling with many people, but being able to open up to this group helped me come to terms with a lot of what was going on in my head (I’m not crazy. I swear lol). It made me more confident in who I am as a person, who I want to be, and made me feel like I was enough (although I have to remind myself that now and again).

Now What?

I don’t think that this trip changed how I am as a leader, but it made me more aware of my leadership. I never noticed that I lead by example, but I find that I ask myself more often whether I should step up and take on a more prominent leadership role, or whether it is best suited for someone else.

I think that this experience has helped me grow, and change as a person. I feel that it has made me realize what is important in life, and what I should learn to let go of. I also learned that standing up for what I believe in is never something I should be criticized or ridiculed for. This is all important because no matter where we go in life, we will all be in some sort of leadership role. We need to be able to realize what’s important, what’s best for the group, and what’s worth standing up for.

 

General Sherman - Worlds Largest Tree!
General Sherman – Worlds Largest Tree!
Panther Gap - Beautiful View
Panther Gap – Beautiful View

 

JMT suspension bridge
JMT suspension bridge
John Muir Trail - aka heaven on earth
John Muir Trail – aka heaven on earth
Rae Lakes
Rae Lakes

 

Scholars DC

When trying to choose an endeavor to use as my STEP experience, I knew that I wanted to create an experience that would benefit me both personally, and professionally. The Scholars DC program fell into my lap, fully formed and perfect for my leadership experience through STEP. Through the DC program I would be given a chance to travel to Washington DC and meet professionals working in various industries in DC and make the kind of connections that could benefit me in my future career. Once accepted to the Scholars DC program, I participated in a semester long class as well as a two week trip to Washington DC. The class took place once a week during the spring semester leading up to the trip, and was a great way to get to know the people in the group and the expectations of the trip. During class time we discussed our interests in DC and were given the names of people working in these fields that we could reach out to to set up a meeting. In addition we researched other people we were interested in and reached out to make further networking connections in DC. When we arrived in DC our first week was full of group meetings scheduled for us by our trip leader Kevin. The second week we were free to meet with professionals whom we had contacted as well as to explore DC and all it had to offer.

My trip to DC was definitely a career changing experience for me. Before embarking on my DC trip, I was unsure as to where I wanted to head with my life, other than a slight inclination toward public service. After spending my two weeks in DC meeting all kinds of interesting and influential people, I had a very solid idea of what I wanted to pursue. I am now very excited to get involved in public service and government in my future, and I hope to eventually find myself in an influential position where I can affect real change in the lives of others.

After meeting with a woman who worked in the Public Policy department of the Girl Scouts, I know that my dream job would be to work as a lobbyist for a woman’s empowerment organization such as the Girl Scouts. I am now so excited to pursue these goals and have already made a significant start with my internship in the State House. Thanks to the connections I made while in DC I am excited about seeking a summer internship in Washington. If I hadn’t participated in this Scholars DC program, made possible for me by the STEP program, I certainly would not be headed so assuredly in the direction that I am today.

 

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Scholars DC

My STEP experience was Scholars DC, a one semester, one credit hour course that culminated in a two week trip to our nation’s capital.  We studied a new topic each week of the semester, which ranged from meeting with the former editor of the Columbus Dispatch and Colleen Marshall, a local news anchor, to talk about the media, to a guest professor from the College of Architecture who taught us about the history of city planning in Washington, D.C.   The trip to DC was by far the best part of the experience though.

 

Our group in front of the US Capitol

Buckeye pride at the U.S. Capitol

 

The first week, we were divided into groups and attended visits that were coordinated by the instructor of the class and creator of the program.  While we had the opportunity to visit Congress to speak with two Senators from Ohio, tour the Pentagon, and explore the FBI Academy at Quantico, among other things, the most memorable part of this week was definitely the day when we visited agencies within the Intelligence Branch.  Although hours were spent packed into a van traveling in rush hour traffic from our hotel, located directly across the street from the Pentagon, to the agencies we were visiting, it was well worth it.  From meeting the man who helped capture Osama Bin Laden at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to speaking Russian with a Director at the National Security Administration (NSA), it was truly a once in a lifetime experience.  I learned new things about myself that day, discovered qualities I wasn’t aware I possessed, and began to think differently about my intended career path and my future in general.

 

Visiting the U.S. Pentagon

Visiting the U.S. Pentagon

 

Going into the second week, I was not sure it was possible for the trip to get any better, but I was wrong.  I had twelve individual meetings that week, as we were supposed to take it upon ourselves to meet with leaders in our chosen fields.  Probably the most terrifying thing I had to do in preparation for my individual meetings was dial a number for the White House.  I did not understand the meaning of “outside of my comfort zone” until the White House operator picked up the phone and I actually had to speak.  It was entirely worth the risk though, as I was able to meet with the Senior White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, Lynn Rosenthal.  Being directed to a room labeled “Office of the Vice President” for a meeting is something that I’ll never forget.  I remember one of her employees meeting me, as she was rushing back from Capitol Hill to see me.  I will be eternally grateful to Lynn for taking an hour and a half out of her clearly very busy day to squeeze in a meeting with me, a nervous college student from Ohio, just so she could answer my questions, encourage me to pursue my goals, and provide advice about college and my life beyond.  I walked out of that meeting on cloud nine, realizing I was in the White House Complex, twenty feet from the West Wing, and I’ve had a newfound motivation ever since.

Lynn Rosenthal and I

Lynn Rosenthal and I

While I found it hard to believe that subsequent experiences and meetings on the trip would live up to that particular appointment, I was not disappointed by any of my other commitments.  I had a series of meetings with officials at the State Department and that was another truly transformative experience for me.  I had the privilege of meeting with another individual who had served as a White House Advisor, this time on Nuclear Regulations.  He serves at the State Department as the Chairman of the New START committee and was able to provide so much insight about our Nuclear Treaties with Russia.  I was a Russian minor at the time, and I was fascinated by the entire department.  We were even able to visit a room where they have a Russian translator, among other employees, twenty four hours a day to aide in our communications with Russia.  While at the State Department, I was also able to talk about a fascination of mine, Bioterrorism, with a Colonel who runs a committee.  He gave me some new book recommendations to add to my reading list and told us a lot of funny stories, one in particular about a pen and John Kerry that was absolutely hilarious.  I went on from that department to meet with a woman who works in Central Asian relations.  She was particularly invested in helping us learn about all of the opportunities we could explore if we would like to work for the government, including fellowships I had never heard of and other programs I would not have discovered on my own.

 

Overall, the entire two week experience was eye-opening for me.  I did not want to leave when it was time to pack up, board the bus, and head back to Ohio.  While I learned how to navigate Chinatown, where the DC tourists never go, and how to use the Metro, the impact of this trip in my life was much more profound.  I’ve never met with so many individuals who were impressed by me, my skill set, and the potential they believe I possess to do great things with my life.  I left DC with a newfound sense of confidence and so much support and encouragement.

 

Before the trip, I was constantly playing it safe.  I was convinced that I would go to Law School and become a Lawyer, most likely never leaving Ohio.  Upon returning from DC, I had an entirely different mindset.  I was encouraged to pursue what I was passionate about, not what I thought would be comfortable or easier.  I started to breakout of the small little box I’d previously inhabited, becoming the Vice President of the Russian Club here at Ohio State and applying for a National Fellowship with the help of the Fellowship Office.  I switched my degree plan from a History major with a Russian minor to a double major in History and Russian, and I have not looked back since.  I may be a little uncertain about what the future holds, or even if I’ll be able to graduate on time, but I have the confidence now to pursue goals I never would’ve dreamed of before the trip to DC.  I hope to finish my degree at Ohio State and apply for fellowships to further my career goals or Russian language skills.  It is my intent to receive the Fulbright Scholarship, which entails a year of living in Russia and teaching English to college students, or the Presidential Management Fellowship, which would allow me to work for the U.S. Government in a variety of positions for three years in DC.  My ultimate goal is to continue my Russian education, move to Washington, D.C., and pursue a career of public service, and that is all thanks to my experience in Scholars DC.

 

 

STEP OAC High Sierras Leadership

By: Alissa Finke

STEP LeadershipExperience: OAC High Sierras Backpackig

What?

Wow. Where to start. Before this experience began I had to start exercising and getting use to being on my feet for 8+ hours a day. I started to prepare myself and my body to endure the long days of hiking that were soon coming. I also had to attend pre-trip meetings, gather my equipment, and work out travel arrangements.

We flew out of Columbus and into LAX and headed straight to Sequoia National Park. We picked up supplies and began to organize everything in preparation for our expedition. We were all given leadership methods and outdoor survival tasks to know and be able to teach the group throughout the program. We prepared our lessons with one another, learned about safety, and what to expect while we explored the front country of Sequoia National Park and adjusted our bodies to the high elevation. We also started journaling every night about our thoughts, what we learned, and general feelings so that we could reflect latter on.

We set off on the trail. We carried 5 days worth of food on us. My pack was bout 35 pounds (very heavy for me). Each day we hiked 7-13 miles (averaged ~9 miles). There were 6 other students with two OAC leaders, and I making our total 9. We had to learn to work together right from the start. It is hard to explain backpacking to someone. It something you have to experience for your own, but everyday we pushed our selves to our physical and mental limits. We witnessed unimaginable beauty and created meaningful bonds to both our group members and to nature. We were each responsible for the whole group. We became one cohesive force, but not without facing a few challenges along the way. We had to deal with group dynamics, conflicts, personal injuries or fears. We had to problem-solve on the spot everyday in a new situation and new location.

Each participant had the chance to be leader of the day. This title meant that you were in charge completely. The OAC leaders became participants and you, as leader of the day, decided where and how far we were hiking, when to take food and water breaks, what we were going to eat, who was in charge of what responsibilities. The group had to adjust to different leaders and leadership styles each day and learn to make it work. We followed the leader no matter what, even if they lead us astray, we would have to just figure it out. This might not sound as bad considering we were just walking from point A to B, but there was so much more to it. You had to be the one to motivate your team, make sure the group was healthy and each individual was in good shape. You had to make the big desertions about rout changes and what to do when water sources are dry. When you are leader of the day, you also have to give your lesson on a particular leadership style and outdoor skill. Everyone takes notes and we have a detailed discussion about it. Generally, this happened during mealtime. At the very end of the night, when we have set up camp and have made dinner, we all sit around the fire and have reflection. This covered the entire day and anyone could speak, but specifically we evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of the leader of the day. This included constructive criticism and discussion.

We totaled about 129 miles on our trip and reached a max elevation of 12,000 feet. The pictures speak for themselves. We each had individual goals and group goals, which I am happy to say most if not all were met, there were tears of pain and much laughter. But most importantly we had an experience that made all the difference in each participant. We each walked away with something different, but this program gave us all the confidence to go back to the “real world” and step up as leaders of our generation in our own ways.


So What?

My persona belief is that our education system is inherently wrong in it’s ideals, goals, and basic structure. Yes education is one of the most valuable things in the world and I know I am lucky to have access to such prestigious higher education when others have nothing. I am thankful for all the educators who have helped me along the way. My point being, we are told there is only one way to succeed, one way to be happy and if you jump through the hoops and red tape of the US educational system everything will work out just fine. This means that our students conform; they think mistakes are bad, and to be wrong is to be unintelligent. Therefore we do not create beyond what our system approves of, we design our life to fit into this “perfect” box. Our higher educational system is supposed to be sending out the best and brightest young leaders into the world, but instead we have leaders who just know how to follow directions, and do what has always been done. This leads to lower qualities fulfillment, grid lock in congress, and country that isn’t moving forward as quickly as it has the potential to.

In order to have leaders that can shape the word into a better place, we need individuals with passion and creativity, who are not afraid to break the rules. Going out into the wilderness, away from everything our society distracts us from, is one of the best ways to develop our youth into freethinking and amiable leaders. When you are quite and still you can take off any mask you may be wearing, shed off any barriers you may have up and just think. This allows you to look deep inside yourself to answer questions you may not know you had or inspire ideas that would not have otherwise appeared. The nature of backpacking into the remote and beautiful areas provides this opportunity and more. Not only do you get away from technology and a busy life style, you are reminded of the power and importance of the natural world. It puts your life in perspective. Now, this trip was a trip of a lifetime, but in order to have the balance and self-understanding I am speaking of, one must venture out into nature and be still and quite as much as possible. This STEP leadership experience has given each of us that exactly and introduced a new way of thinking about life.

On a more personal note. Have learned that I am enough. It sounds simple, but it has made a significant difference in how I view myself. As a leader I have grown. I no longer wait to be asked to step-up, instead I am not afraid to give my opinions and be a leader in situations big and small. I went into this program with an open mind and no tangible expectations aside from being able to have an adventure. After the trip I am confident that I chose the program that was best for me. The OAC High Sierras has given me the strong foundation I needed to continue growing in all aspects of my life, from leadership, relationships, and personal ambitions.


Now What?

Before the program I had been a student manager for the OSU dinning services and was interning at an arboretum that summer. I had already had some experience being a leader, but after the trip my employers said that I seemed to me more confident and less doubtful. Although I still struggle with confidence from time to time, I have certainly improved In my ability to speak up and stand up in my daily life. I successfully completed my internship after my trip, leaving with good recommendations and was given a raise at my job at OSU.

STEP gave me an opportunity for self-edification with results that will follow me into my future. I know that happiness one of the most important thinks in my life, and now I have balance between academics and my personal life, which has lead to better grades and better relationships. Moving forward I know my experiences and what I have learned will help in all aspects of my life. I know how to have confidence in interviews, which will help me land a job. I am also more confident in my outdoor skills, which is a critical part of the life style I am trying to lead.

Now, I have memories and experiences that I can look back on to inspire me to keep moving forward.

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Scholars DC

My leadership experience was to visit Washington, D.C. for two weeks to attend meetings with multiple entities that were of interest to me. The first week consisted of trips to government agencies, like the FBI Academy, CIA, NSA, and Voice of America/Broadcasting Board of Governors. During these visits,we met with leaders of each organization and learned a little more about their jobs–usually more than is shared with the typical public. The second week, I was able to meet with leaders in my career field of interest. I met with event planners from multiple organizations: the Vice President of Operations of the USO, the Deputy Director of Events of the Smithsonian, and the Director of Events of the Office of the President of Georgetown University.

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I absolutely loved this trip. As a business student, I was weary of traveling to a city that was known mainly for its politics, afraid that I wouldn’t find anything for me there. After meeting with my individual appointments, I realized this wasn’t true, and that there are plenty of opportunities for non-politicos in Washington. Outside of career opportunities, D.C. is also a great place to explore, with all of the museums, universities, and even shops that you can visit in your downtime. After this experience, I’m excited to visit D.C. again, and would be more confident in myself to find my way around and to meet with other leaders in my career field.

Because of this trip, I was able to intern with Senator Rob Portman, and it has opened my eyes to other opportunities in event planning (and how it relates to my other fields of interest). In addition to this, I’ve added another specialization to my major so that I am better equipped for event planning. After traveling to Washington, D.C., I am more committed to becoming an event planner, and hope to one day return to Washington to do so.

To find out more about my trip, visit my blog.

 

 

 

Adventures in DC

Utilizing the STEP funds, I was able to participate in a program through the Honors & Scholars center here at The Ohio State University, entitled Scholars DC.  The program required an application, and ultimately 20 second year scholars students were selected.  The overall experience had two aspects; a spring semester seminar during which we discussed the history of Washington, DC, leadership roles in DC, characteristics of leaders, how to conduct yourself during an informational interview, and other related topics; and a two week spring semester trip to Washington, DC.  The STEP money paid for the trip in full and gave me a bit of extra money for food and additional activities.

The excursion in Washington was also broken up into two sections, the first week consisting of group meetings and behind the scenes tours, leaving the second week open for individual itineraries, namely informational interviews with various leaders in fields pertaining to our interests. There was also sporadic free time throughout the entire trip which I filled with visits to various museums including the Natural History Museum, the National Air and Space Museum, the Museum of American History, the Newseum (which is dedicated to all sorts of news), and the National Museum of Crime and Punishment.

I was able to attend two classes while at the Museum of Crime and Punishment. One was a Decomposition Lab that consisted of a lecture explaining the different types and phases of decomposition and what forensic technicians look for to determine time and manner/cause of death as well as an actually laboratory exercise in which we identified the type of bug and did calculations to determine the time frame of death. The second class that I attended was Exploring Forensics and consisted of everything from how to lift fingerprints to how detectives track suspects. Through the two classes, I learned a general overview of nearly every aspect of forensics, which was a great opportunity for the hands on experience as well as to see what actually happens rather than what is shown on TV.

During the first week, I attended a variety of group meetings and tours, with about nine other scholars, which were truly extremely unique experiences.  I was able to tour the National Security Agency where we were able to listen to presentations from two individuals about their responsibilities and equipment that they use.  We toured the Central Intelligence Agency and were privileged enough to hear from an agent that was involved in the capture and subsequent killing of Osama Bin Laden.  My group also spent some time exploring the Federal Bureau of Investigation Training Academy at Quantico, Virginia. There we toured the facilities, watched some shooting practice, and visited Hogan’s Alley, the fake “town” which the Bureau uses for its training exercises.    We also spent an afternoon touring the Secret Service Headquarters and then traveling to the Drug Enforcement Administration to hear a presentation.  We also had a behind the scenes tour of the Pentagon during which we had the opportunity to sit in a conference room and have a conversation with one of the highest ranking generals in the entire US Armed Forces.

In addition to those tours, we also had numerous discussions with individuals with varying degrees of leadership authority in DC. On the steps of the Capitol Building, we met with Delaware Senator Tom Carper who allowed each of us to ask a question, and whom gave me his business card to further discuss my questions on college tuition rates and the government’s involvement in the process of paying for higher education. We also met with the staff people of multiple other senators.   The Bipartisan Policy Center was also gracious enough to host a discussion with us detailing what they do, what they plan to do, and their views on current political situations and issues. Rich Cordray, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, also took time out of his busy schedule to meet with us and discuss the many facets that the CFPB deals with.

Perhaps my favorite visit, which was actually an optional after our normal hours visit, was to the DC offices of Sidley Austin LLP.  This prestigious law firm has offices in major cities around the world, including Hong Kong, London, Brussels, Sydney, Singapore, New York, Chicago, and many more.  A small group of about 7 of us scholars were able to sit at a giant conference table and have a question and answer session with one of the partners there. He even told numerous anecdotes about certain Supreme Court Justices and other well-known people that shall remain nameless in this paper. It was extremely eye opening to actually hear from a lawyer at a private firm and understand the reality of their daily responsibilities and such. This visit helped me to confirm that law school is indeed the best direction for me.

With my varied interests and pseudo indecision regarding my post graduations plans, I set up a myriad of informational interviews with professionals in the different fields.  My interests culminate around the fields of criminology and law, psychology, and higher education.  With this, I was able to converse with individuals in various leadership positions regarding their daily responsibilities and the path that got them to their current position.

My first visit was with Lori Beyer at Community Connections, the largest non-profit mental health clinic in DC. When I first arrived at Community Connections, I had to wait for Lori in the waiting room with all of the patients. A lot of these people have substance abuse problems in addition to severe mental illness, and a good portion of them are homeless or living in extreme poverty, simply put, the waiting room was an experience in itself. During the meeting, which took place in Lori’s office, we discussed her background, my background and interests, the history of Community Connections, and she shared stories about patients that stood out or things of that nature. We also spoke a bit about internship opportunities that Community Connections offers, since Lori is the internship coordinator. However, the internships are only for graduate students, so there is still a few years until that would be a possibility. It amazed me the energy that every staff member put in there, the compassion and care that they showed for their “consumers” as Lori called them. There was even a situation while I was there in which some meal cards were stolen from one of the counselor’s offices. That was a much different experience than the previous week of group visits.

After Community Connections, I went to the John A. Wilson Building to meet with the Deputy Mayor for Education, Abigail Smith. I was impressed with how involved she is in the community. I assumed that her job would be more paperwork and behind the scenes, however, she holds meetings open to all community members almost weekly to keep them updated on what she is doing and to get their feedback and ideas. We also spoke about what issues are most prevalent in the school systems, the largest being unequal access and truancy. It didn’t surprise me that the same issues are prevalent almost everywhere when it comes to school systems. We discussed how even in the private schools there is a level of inequality, just like public schools. Deputy Mayor Smith said she would ideally love to eliminate the inequality and give every child the same education, but that is just not possible. Any sort of change to the ways in which school systems have always operated would take years, and while she is working on things to help, there are other issues and she can’t spend as much time as she would like combatting inequality. In regards to the truancy issue, we took a look at some of the reasoning that students in different districts were giving, and the line was very evident between the classes. There were children that were simply not going just because they didn’t want to and there were students that couldn’t go because they had to work or take care of younger siblings. Even education brings out the two very different sides of DC which I was able to see.

The next meeting that I had was a lunch at Panera Bread in Tenleytown with Nathan Slusher, the Director of Academic and Career Advising at the School of International Service at American University. This meeting was more about the logistics of the job, because I am a Peer Career Advisor for the College of Arts and Sciences, so it is one of the many career possibilities for me. We did start with his background, he got both his bachelors and masters degrees at OSU, and then had a few jobs before being tenured at George Washington in their advising department, but went to American when the higher position became available. As Director of Academic and Career Advising, Nathan spends a good portion of his time answering emails, doing paperwork, or meeting with advisors and departments in order to make sure everyone is on the same page. We discussed that since his promotion he does not get as much interaction with students as he would like, but that goes with the job. Nathan was extremely helpful in regards to giving advice about resumes builders and even job expectations. He explained that he was a history major and thought he would be a high school teacher, but plans change with opportunities. We did talk a bit about admissions to schools such as American and George Washington versus OSU, and how he did not see much of a difference in quality of education or resources. Finances are a major part of the college selection process and we did talk about graduate school and what investments were worth making. All in all, it was a really helpful, informative lunch hour.

While in DC I also got to fulfill a psychology student’s dream of visiting Saint Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital. I spoke with Emily Monahan, who had just officially accepted her position as the Director of Community Outreach. We sat down in the Cafeteria at the hospital and spoke about the background and the patients, as well as why she chose the mental health field. Like many of my other visits, she said that it was more of an opportunity that she took than a plan that she had. Given that I am on the service committee of the Leadership Council for the Humanities Scholars and have an interest in service, the main focus of our conversation was the community outreach and volunteer involvement that Saint Elizabeths has. They have many programs to keep in touch with the surrounding community, such as movie nights and art nights that are hosted at the Hospital. Emily also told me that volunteers range in all ages and there are many that are regulars and some people that only come once and do jobs from reading to patients to passing out food or flyers or showing people around the museum that the Hospital has filled with artifacts from both the history of the hospital and psychology in general. We also discussed the most prevalent disorders at the Hospital and how the majority of the patients come to be there. It was a nice mix of both the volunteer and the medicine side of Saint Elizabeths.

On Thursday, my day was spent with two other scholars at the Fairfax County Sheriff’s department meeting with a few different individuals. First of all, Andrea Ceisler, the Public Information Officer, met with us and walked with us throughout all of the tours that we did. The day started in her office with a bit about herself and what she does, as well as a little history and trivia about FairFax County. Interestingly enough, similar to the other professionals that I met with, Andrea had a few jobs and took more opportunities than having an actual set plan. Currently, she is in charge of public relations such as the website, flyers, contacts, and other things of that nature. Andrea was amazing in setting up the tours of the courthouse and jail and for setting us up with a few other people along the way.

Our tour guide for the courthouse and jail was Lt. Steve Elbert, who was extremely friendly and helpful. During the tour of the courthouse we were able to sit in on a few hearings from traffic court and a couple of drug possession cases. Lt. Elbert was great about giving us information about the courthouse, I was surprised to hear that even during the week, the line for the courthouse is usually extremely long and out of the door. The jail is very interesting in the fact that it has numerous types of supervision all in one jailhouse, which is a bit uncommon. They house both males and females, predominately males, and they hold some overflow from the state prison, but can only do that for so long before the inmate must be transferred. Lt. Elbert was also very good about answering our questions during the tour, even when I asked him if anyone had ever tried to escape from the jail. Interestingly, a few years ago when they were having renovations done, some men did try to escape but each was caught.

As a psychology student who also has an interest in criminology, my personal favorite part of the visit to FairFax County was speaking to Dr. Lou Rosato, the department head for the mental health staff. He was kind enough to show us the ward where patients are kept during intensive treatments and explain to us about the different types of treatments they provide and the different types of illnesses that they work with. There are actually quite a few inmates that have a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, and there are even more that have co-morbid substance abuse disorders. While Dr. Rosato said that the jail does not do competency exams on site anymore, they do care for around 300 inmates at any given time, which is impressive. We did discuss the fact that they can’t have any true treatment regiments because of the limited amount of time that inmates are at the jail, however Dr. Rosato and his staff do try to keep tabs and to refer the patients to mental health professionals when they are released. The mental health field operating in a jail is definitely interesting and fast paced.

All in all, the trip got me excited for any of my fields of interest.  In some ways, the trip made my post-graduation plans even more varied, but at the same time, it did help me to narrow down my top choice, law school.  However, a consistent theme from all of the professionals that I spoke with was to take the opportunities that come your way because sometimes even the best of plans do not work out.  This is advice that I am going to keep in the back of my mind when confronting all of the anxieties of entrance exams and applications next year.  Along with being the driving force in my decision process, my time in DC also provided me with a strong network of contacts in my areas of interest that would be available to answer questions, provide advice, or general help that I may need in the future. I could not be happier with the results of the program because the experiences I had during the Scholars DC trip helped to foster a new career path for me, and provided me with invaluable resources to pursue it.

Scholars DC

What?

I used my STEP funds to go on a program called Scholars DC. This program was a two week trip to Washington DC, where for the first week we met with various different agencies as groups. The second week consisted of going on individual meetings with various different professionals in the fields that we were interested in. For the first week I went to the State Department. While there I got to witness the daily briefing. I also got to meet with Marie Harf, a spokesperson at the State Department. I also visited Senator Portman’s office and attended one of his coffees with constituents. We briefly got to meet with him and introduce ourselves. I also had a meeting with Senator Sherrod Brown. We got to speak with one of his staffers and then had a brief discussion with the Senator himself. I also got a tour of the Capitol, and even got to ride in the underground car thing. It was great. I also went on a tour of the Supreme Court. We were showed around by two of the law clerks, who informed us of just how hard of a position law clerk is to get. I believe the chances are about as good as the chances of getting struck by lightning, at least according to one of the law clerks. I also got a tour of NPR and the Washington Post. It was interesting to meet with various different journalists and editors. I also got to meet with the Tom Wheeler, who is the Chairman of the FCC. We also visited the DEA, and they provided a very interesting and informative presentation. I visited the Secret Service Headquarters and was almost denied entry because I was not on the list, thanks Kevin, and I couldn’t remember my social security number. Luckily, everything worked out in the end and it was a very interesting tour. I also talked with one of the people who worked at the House Committee on Homeland Security. Another meeting was with the Ohio State Government Affairs office, which was interesting to get to see some of the more political side of Ohio State. Then there was a meeting with former Representative Henry Bonilla, who discussed the current political climate and also his time as a lobbyist. My last meeting of the first week was with Widmeyer Communications, which is a PR firm.

The second week I met with John Wingard. We went out for coffee and he showed us around the George Mason Law School. During this visit he talked mainly about his time as an attorney for the U.S. government, and how things have changed. He also talked about the temptations of Washington DC, and he told us a delightful story about how his brother or brother-in-law got arrested for stealing money from the law firm he worked for. Mr. Wingard was very fun to talk with and answered any question we had. He really went into detail about the things he loved about working for the federal government and how he has discovered a new passion for trees during his retirement. The meeting was very informational, although he did almost kill me when he was driving us to the coffee shop.

The next meeting I had was with Jennifer Hallman. She took us out to lunch and talked about her time as a lawyer working with various agencies like the IRS and the TSA. We talked about her journey into becoming the person she is today, and how she got to be where she is now. We also talked about the struggles of balancing work and social life. She talked to us about anything we wanted to know, and was completely open and honest. This was one of my favorite visits that I had for the week. She was just great.

I had another meeting with Meghan Gannon. She is a scheduler for a Texas congressman, and she gave us a lot of good advice. We met her at her office and discussed how she got the position of scheduler, what a scheduler does and she answered any question we had. It was nice to meet with her because she was a very recent graduate of Ohio State, so she could tell us more about what job hunting looks like now in Washington DC. She was very informative and we had a nice talk.

Another meeting I had was with Jenni Scheaffer, a staffer for John McCain. We met her in her office. She talked about her non-traditional path to the career she has now. We also talked about what she does as a staffer and how she got the job. She also gave advice on what classes to take in school to help prepare. She also gave advice on some of the better study abroad experiences.

The next meeting I had was with Shannon Rogers who works in the Nuclear Regulator Commission. We met at her office and talked about various different types of law, criminal vs. civil. She also talked about what she does at the NRC and how she got to where she is. We also met with one of her bosses, and he gave us a lot of advice, especially how it is ok to not know what you’re planning on doing. Shannon Rogers also talked about more non-traditional types of law, and how most lawyers never go to court. She told us of her experience doing more investigative work, and she told us how she made grown men cry.

The last person I met with was Jeanne Mallett.  She took us out to lunch, and we discussed a ton of different things. We talked about some of her experiences, and how she now writes a blog about being a DC pedestrian and how she wants to get bicycles off the sidewalks. She told
us of some of her new hobbies, and different ways that she has saved her money over the years. She was really great and nice. She was more than willing to answer any question we had for her. Also, when my roommate Lindsey completely ruined her white shirt, Jeanne stepped up and saved the day by getting her water and towel to clean up.

So What?

My time in Washington DC really made me question what I wanted to do. It really let me see other opportunities and choices that I was not even aware existed. I kind of always had an idea that I wanted to work on Capitol Hill and be a staffer for some Congressman or woman, or a Senator, but my experience in Washington DC really made me see other interests I had, like in foreign policy and more communications type of positions. Meeting with various different people in various different fields of work was very informative and helped to expand my worldview. It also made me see things differently in terms of my future, and what I will be able to do with my degree in political science. My time in Washington DC also gave me a tremendous amount of suggestions for what minor I might want to pursue. I also learned a lot more about law and law school. Many of the people I met gave great advice on what you can accomplish with a law degree and the benefits and downsides of going to law school straight away or taking a break. It also made me explore other studies of law that I never considered.

 

Now What?

After my two weeks in Washington DC the future looks brighter than ever. I now have many other options to look at. Academically, my time in Washington DC has even influenced some of the classes I am currently and will be taking. I got a lot of recommendations from former political science Buckeyes. My experience has also made me look at law schools I never would have thought about. It has also broadened my horizons on my time schedule for school. Before I was strictly set on going to law school straight out of undergrad, but now I have been debating with the idea of taking a year off. I have also looked into going to Washington DC again, and maybe taking an internship there. What this experience has taught me is that Washington DC is for me. I loved the city, and am definitely interested in going back. My STEP experience has provided me with various ideas and interests that I never fully realized. Now I just have to narrow down the things I want to do.

 

Scholars DC

In an effort to explore opportunities after I graduate, I used my STEP grant toward a program called Scholars DC. This program met once a week in spring semester to prepare for our two week visit to DC in May. During the first week in DC, we separated into a few groups to visit two or three places each day. The second week was spent meeting with professionals individually to talk about opportunities and career paths.

During the first week, my group visited the FBI training academy where we learned the process fo FBI training and we got to visit Hogan’s Valley and the shooting range to see some training in action. Then we met with Senator Tom Carper who is an Ohio State Alumni. Senator Carper allowed for us to speak with him about major issues that we are passionate about so that he may spend is time focusing on some of them. We also visited the DuPont Company to talk to the Chief Sustainability Officer about her career path and the company’s goals.

On the second day, we visited the BiPartisan Policy Center, Consumer Financial Protection Agency, and the Pentagon. At the first two places, we learned about what they do and how they try to get the general population active in their causes. At the Pentagon, we received the public tour and got to speak to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army who spoke about his role in the Pentagon as well as what it felt like to be in the Pentagon on 9/11.

On Thursday, we met with Senator Sherrod Brown, who listened to our political concerns and ideas. We then visited the DEA Headquarters where we listened to a special agent talk about his career path and what he’s done while working for the DEA. Then we visited the Secret Service Headquarters where we learned how to apply to be an agent and the process. During this visit I was pulled out of the group to have an individual meeting with a forensic scientist in the Secret Service lab. She gave me a lot of information about internships, what they look for in employee applicants, and in general how to become a forensic scientist.

On the last day of group visits, we visited the CIA and NSA headquarters. At the CIA, we got a tour of Langley and then sat down with four employees who gave us a general idea of what they do and how they got to where they are. We also spoke with someone who was fairly involved in the Bin Laden takedown and gave us a play-by-play of the hours leading up to it and the aftermath. The NSA gave us a general tour of the building and a slight overview of their work. Very suspicious.

During the second week, I conducted my individual visits, a couple of which involved one or two other students. I visited the DEA again to speak with a forensic chemist about the DEA labs and what their work involves. She was very informational about the hiring process and qualifications. I also visited the head of the Forensic Science department at George Washington University who gave me a tour of the labs, a general idea of what the program is all about, and some tips on paying for graduate school. I had dinner with a DNA analyst who works in the private sector. It was beneficial to see the difference between working in the private and public sectors. I visited the Fairfax County Jail and got to tour the prison. Finally, I met with a woman who is a DNA analyst at the Consolidated Forensic Laboratory who gave me a tour of the lab and information about what she does and how she got to where she is.

This trip was overall very beneficial. Despite having no interest in politics, I enjoyed meeting with the Senators and the political companies, hearing what they do and how they do it. The rest of the visits were much more related to my goal of becoming a forensic scientist. The visits really opened my eyes to the possibilities for careers because before this trip I really only thought I could work for police departments or the FBI. Now I have an incredible interest in working for the DEA and hopefully getting an internship there next summer. In addition, I found the graduate school visit to be extremely helpful in my search for graduate programs to continue on after I graduate in 2016.

In the future, this program will have helped me gain so much insight on the opportunities that are out there for me. I have already learned so much about interview processes, potential applicant qualifications, and general employee atmospheres of each of the places I visited. I have definitely expanded my interests for employment in my area of study and have already begun the process of applying to internships for next summer at these places I visit through the people I have met. In addition, the trip helped me begin my search for graduate school and taught me what I need to keep an eye out for when I visit. All in all, I am grateful to have had this opportunity to develop myself as a professional, make connections for future careers, and begin my journey to decide a career path!