STEP Leadership Reflection

Name: Japera Benson

Type of Project: Leadership

My project entailed self-empowering young girls to help build their self-esteem and self-awareness through media literacy. I did this though activities, Q&A discussions and lecture materials.

This experience helped me better understand myself and the biases that I have against myself and other females based on the social constructs of society. I met a lot of girls that, upon meeting me, shocked me with their views of themselves. I had some girls that needed to be pushed to find one thing that they liked about themselves while others thought they were the most beautiful person. I learned that every girl goes through a different experience and a lot of the contributing factors of our self-esteem is not only from boys or men, but from women, often those that we call friends. It has helped me analyze the relationships that I have in my life and how they have affected my self-esteem in ways that I was not aware of. I learned that as young women, once given the tools they are capable of analyzing their life and social constructs and what it means to them.

During my step program, there were various points that were influential to my transformation and understanding of self. I took upon a leadership role, that allowed me to give back and to understand those different and similar to me. In one exercise that we did, we discussed media literacy and looking the views that are placed among women with the sexualization of women and the lack of women of color viewed as beautiful but instead as objects. During this time the girls were able to relate the imagery to what they see in their everyday lives through magazines, TV, music videos, etc. They were able to connect the way that the videos were perceived and how it could affect their everyday life in the way that boys (and girls) may treat them.

When doing, our reflections activity the young women had to write the things the things they didn’t like about themselves, physically, emotionally, or mentally. Once the girls wrote these things, we then smashed the mirrors symbolizing our end to seeing the negatives in ourselves. We then wrote down a minimum of 5 things that we liked about ourselves. Some girls came up with 10, most came up with 5, but there was one girl who struggled to come up with anything and this broke my heart and reinforced that I need to go into education to be able to build personal relationships with people, so that I can help them see the good within themselves.

In one of our last exercises, I asked the girls to get in groups and to put together a creative expression showing what they had learned. Some did skits, some danced, some did artwork, some did poetry. It was amazing to see them understand and can retain the content and to translate it into a form of expression. It just showed me that I can lead and create change through education and this had helped me define my career goals and who I want to be as a citizen and a contributor to society.

It has helped me affirm that I want to go into education to continue to uplift girls (and boys) that need an advocate and someone to empower them and let them know that they are loved and appreciated. I want to continue to this work in educating girls and boys within the school system as this will help me uplift them and encourage them to continue learning as it will affect their self-esteem and give them the necessary tools to be successful in life.

Colorado Leadership Training Program, Summer 2017

With help from STEP funds, I was able to spend a summer in Colorado as part of a leadership training program with my church. I worked at the YMCA’s Snow Mountain Ranch as a full-time food service employee, while meeting multiple times each week growing in community with other Christians and learning what it means to be a leader in the church.

This whole experience really altered my own perception of myself, specifically in my ability to make important decisions on short notice and be independent and capable enough to carry out that decision and get everything prepared in order to do so. I definitely came out of it with a greater sense of independence and confidence in taking on “adult” responsibilities, such as planning and organizing trips, working full time, and leaving the comfort of my friends and family in order to gain valuable life experiences. My outlook on the world also shifted a bit. I had previously thought of the idea of traveling and living anywhere other than where I was born and felt comfortable as near impossible. It was not so much about a lack of opportunity, but rather a lack of confidence in stepping out of my comfort zone and leaving where it felt familiar. After the experience, after living and working across the country for a whole summer, I see the world almost as a smaller place. I see those opportunities to travel as more realistic and attainable.
step7One of the first transformational aspects of this experience happened before I even left Ohio. I was actually on a wait list for the program, and I got the call that a spot was available for me only three days before I was supposed to be at the YMCA in Colorado. All the carpools were already full, so I had to act fast and figure out how to get myself out there. I stayed up into the morning that night researching flights and shuttles. I had been on a plane once before in high school, but it was all pre-planned and I only had to show up; It required no work on my part. This time, though, I was completely responsible for figuring everything out. My parents let me handle the situation on my own. At the time it was very stressful, but looking back now it was a great learning experience not only in how to go about buying plane tickets (which I had never done before) but also simply in taking on such large responsibilities on such short notice. Had this all been planned months before, I would have certainly had my parents take care of organizing flights and shuttles. Because it was all last minute, though, I had to rely on myself to make it happen. Knowing that I got myself to Colorado in three days-time makes me much more confident in knowing that when I set my sights on something, I can accomplish it.

This was also my first time working a full-time job. Each week I worked at least forty hours, some weeks more than that. My previous job experience had me working 25 hours per week at the most. This was a new experience that I jumped into without any real transition period. At first, the shifts seemed to go slowly and it seemed as if all my time was going into work. After a few weeks, though, the workload seemed more manageable as it become more normal. I gained great life experience in managing my time between full time employment, church responsibilities, activities with friends, and everything in between. I learned how to be intentional with my time, as each hour of free time became a valuable opportunity to get together with friends or get other work done. It has helped to prepare me for a career after college, where I know work will take a large portion of my time.

step3I specifically worked at the restaurant on the YMCA’s property. It was called BuckBoard Grill. The staff was special because we were quite small so we could really get to know each other. At least half of that staff was also international. I had coworkers from Thailand, China, Turkey, and Colombia. I have been exposed to international students at Ohio State, but this experience was certainly the most I had interacted with them. Seeing them almost every day and working together really drew us close to each other. I consider many of them to be good friends. If I am being completely honest, I was always somewhat apprehensive about trying to connect with international students on campus because I did not know how tostep4 start that conversation. I even had this misguided idea that we wouldn’t have anything in common. My experience in Colorado greatly diminished those thoughts, as I came to the understanding that international students are just like me, just from another country. That sounds cliché, but it is very true. It was one of the greatest aspects of the summer, getting to befriend people from around the world, sharing our similar interests as well as our different cultural practices. We truly were a community. Also seeing them working full time across the world from their homes was very encouraging. I have always wanted to travel abroad for an extended period of time, but I never considered it a realistic option. All the international workers there, though, were proof that it is very possible to do so. I am most definitely going to look into those sorts of opportunities and consider them as real possibilities.

My summer in Colorado only lasted a few months, but it will greatly impact my future. I plan to attend PA school, and am now looking into schools in Colorado. I fell in love with the state and hope to return soon. I saw that I was able to leave home and live across the country for a whole summer, so I am confident on my ability to strive at a school across the country. I have also dreamed about doing some sort of healthcare opportunity in a different country, and the international students I met this year really inspired me to never count that out as an option. It really opened my eyes to the fact that traveling and gaining experience in a different country can be a reality if I put in the work. Overall, the experience has changed something inside me. I no longer view opportunities as unrealistic or too big to achieve. My experience made me realize that whatever goals or dreams or hopes I have for my future, I can accomplish them with the right mindset and dedication. That is something that will stick with me not only in my future career, but in everything I do.

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STEP Leadership: The National Conference on Student Leadership (NCSL)

The Project

For my STEP signature project I traveled to Denver, Colorado and attended the National Conference on Student Leadership (NCSL). This conference is designed for student leaders to grow in their leadership skills, share our experiences with hundreds of students from across the Unites States and the world, and to help prepare us for our careers after college. The NCSL conference featured numerous keynote sessions, breakout workshops, and tons of time for networking. This conference had a uniquely dynamic educational program, which committed itself to the personal and professional growth of the student leaders in attendance.

NCSL!

National Conference on Student Leadership!

The Transformation

Going into this conference, I had no idea what to expect and wanted to keep an open mind about the entire trip. This experience had a lot of “new” aspects to it that I had never encountered before. This trip was the first time I had flown on an airplane by myself, the first time I had attended a professional conference, and the farthest West I have ever traveled before in the United States. My view of what traveling and embracing new experiences has to offer me, has been positively shifted to new light. This conference not only enhanced my leadership skills and abilities, but it taught me that I need to push myself outside my comfort zone more often. The unknown is a scary thing, but sometimes the best experiences are the ones that aren’t planned or known. The NCSL was one of those experiences for me.

The Experience 

My flight left out of Cincinnati, OH for Denver, CO at 5:45 AM on March 31, 2016. Due to the time change, I landed in Denver around 7:00 AM that morning. My flight’s descent into Denver International Airport could not have been more picturesque and beautiful. The morning fog was beginning to clear, the pink rays of the rising sun were illuminating the sky, and the Rocky Mountains were looming in the distance. As previously stated, this was the furthest West in the United States I had ever traveled. When I got off the airplane and was picked up by my hotels shuttle, I was absolutely speechless on my ride into downtown Denver. The Rocky Mountains were unlike anything I had ever seen before in my life. This car ride into the city is one that will stick with me for the rest of my life. Seeing those immense mountains opened my eyes to the untapped magnificence of this world that I was missing out on. Travel will become a larger priority in my life because of this natural encounter.

Flight into Denver International Airport

Flight into Denver International Airport

Landing in Denver

Landing in Denver

Another experience that impacted my transformation, was getting to listen to James T. Robilotta as a keynote speaker, and then during his breakout workshop as well. Going into this conference, I knew that I wanted to come out of it a better leader and mentor. This year, I am serving as the President of The Ohio State University Men’s Glee Club. I am the primary leader, outside of the conductor, for 80 collegiate singers and I oversee the development and roles of four different Vice-Presidents. I knew I was going to need to be a role model, mentor, and leader to all of these guys and I wanted my time at NCSL to assist me in that process. Hearing the humorous testimonial that James presented enlightened me to a new perspective that my leadership style could undertake. James is the author of a book entitled “Leading Imperfectly,” which focuses on the value of authenticity that can be found in leadership. As an executive board, we all read this book together and discussed the importance of understanding that we could, and would not be perfect leaders in our roles this year. Utilizing the resources that James provided have effectively created a dynamic team focused environment that will continue to set my executive board up for success throughout the school year.

The man himself, James T. Robilotta!

The man himself, James T. Robilotta!

Finally, the relationships that I built during this three day conference made a significant impact on my transformation. I was the only Ohio State student who attended the NCSL, which I will not lie, definitely surprised me. As all Ohio State students know, we are EVERYWHERE and can never go anywhere without running into a fellow Buckeye! However, on this trip, that was not the case this time, which honestly turned out to be a good thing. During the conference, I had the privilege of meeting students from all across the country, and specifically met a group of student leaders from Baylor University who “adopted” me for the weekend! They were extremely welcoming and opened my eyes to another University and student organization that I would have never gotten to learn about if I hadn’t met them at this conference. Getting to hear their perspectives on different leadership styles was truly eye opening and reminded me again of the importance of not being tied to the outcome of situations.

Baylor University friends!

Baylor University friends!

The Significance

The transformation and development that I experienced at the National Conference on Student Leadership is one that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. This trip was one of the more “adult” things that I have ever done, outside of going to college at one of the biggest public schools in the country, and I wouldn’t want to change it for anything. In terms of my professional goals, I not only wanted to hone in on my leadership skills for my executive position with the Men’s Glee Club, I also wanted to develop my skills for my Store Management Internship that I had with Macy’s this summer. This position allowed me to gain hands on experience on the front line of the business this summer, and allowed me to manage a team of sales associates on the selling floor. Following graduation, I will be going into the Store Management Executive Development Program with Macy’s, where I will be continuing to learn the role of a sales manager in the retail business. The leadership knowledge that I gained from the NCSL will be applicable for my professional career with Macy’s, and beyond. These skills are very versatile and are applicable on a personal level and a professional level. I look forward to continuing to apply what I learned at this conference to my life for many years to come.

TEDSummit 2016

The Project

This summer I attended TEDSummit to fulfill my STEP Signature Project in the Leadership Category. TEDSummit is a conference put on by the non-profit TED which strives to bring together the best and brightest minds to one place. Through an integration of talks, interactive sessions, outdoor activities, and opportunities to network, this week long conference made me rethink the ways I viewed leadership and knowledge and how I apply that to my life.

TEDSummit-2

The Transformation

The conference brought together people from all over the world with the mission of sharing new ideas. Though a series of workshops and lecture sessions I was able to meet incredible people with backgrounds and viewpoints incredibly different from mine. These people had amazing stories and advice and were able to share their knowledge with me.

My view of the world changed because I realized the power of knowledge in our society. More importantly, I left with the confidence that no one should have the right to hold knowledge over me. In every aspect of our life, we should become informed consumers. From asking tough questions about the products and services we buy to investigating truth when it comes to politics and science, it is our right to know what we are buying into and the implications of those decisions.

The Experience

My experience as a college student paled in comparison to other people at the conference. I met people who started their own successful business or non-profits or made it their mission to improve the world in some measurable way. Going into the conference, I was very much still figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. After talking with people that had been in my shoes before I realized that it okay to still be figuring out my life and that my life trajectory will take many interesting turns along the way. The one thing that must remain constant is a passion for helping others and a passion for understanding problems from all perspectives.

While the conference was an incredible experience, I found the conversations during break times to be even more interesting. I would ask others how they began their careers or became interested in their passions. They would recount stories of influential role models in their life or incidents and events that eventually led them to be invested in their passion. Over dinner one night I met a social worker who became passionate about HIV education and prevention after one of her close friends was diagnosed. I met another individual who invested his life in studying nuclear energy and how to make nuclear energy a safe alternative energy source which could power our world. Even though each and every person had an entirely different story, they all still developed their passion and were able to act on it at some point in their life.

One common denominator in all of these people is that they valued knowledge and sought it out when they were uncovering their passions. They weren’t afraid to ask for help or advice from peers and mentors, who ended up becoming their greatest champions. When they exhausted their personal resources, they took a risk and reached out to other people who were experts in their respective field. Even though those experts were not obliged to help, in most cases they gave insights or a framework for how to proceed.

I have stayed in touch with many people from the conference which has reinforced my experience. I see the growth of their passions which has made me more willing to pursue mine. Even further, I have begun to develop a network of individuals who support me no matter what. I can ask them for their advice and their knowledge without fear of rejection. The community the TED has created is really unmatched from any other group I have seen. No matter if I had deep conversations with a person from TEDSummit or not, I know they would be willing to assist me because I am a part of their TED Family.

The Significance

This experience mattered a lot for me. It broke down the barrier in my mind that prevented me from asking for advice or for information. In fact, I realized that no one should have the power of information over me. Even though I am a student, I am still a human being. By asking for knowledge or information I should be treated with the same respect that they would treat anyone else. At the end of the day, it doesn’t hurt to ask. The worst thing that can happen is that the other person says “No” and you will have learned a lesson for the next time. I think this is the most significant discovery I made through my experience at TEDSummit.

TEDSummit-1

Activism & Organizing: Strengthening Individuals, Building Movements

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Processed with Snapseed.

Processed with Snapseed.

For my STEP Signature Project I was able to learn and network with diverse activist groups on and off campus here in Columbus, Ohio. During my transformational experience this past summer, I got the opportunity to learn from environmental and social justice related organizations such as Next Gen Climate , Rainforest Action Network (RAN), and Ohio Student Association (OSA), while keeping in touch and organizing with other known social justice related groups such as United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS).

I learned many things this past summer. In regards to my already existing involvement with USAS, I was able to be part of trainings that not only taught me about our own members, but also about myself. In many of the trainings one of the objectives was to go back to our roots and reflect on past experiences that have made us who we are and have brought us into organizing  and activism. I was able to understand that I’ve had a very privileged life and have not really experienced real life struggles as others. However, I realized the importance of intersectionality and how my own self has been oppressed due to some aspects of my social identity. All in all, I made the realization that my purpose in activism and organizing is to not only utilize my privilege in order to support those that have been silenced and oppressed, but also bring some diversity of thought into such political and social sphere.

This past summer, I was able to be part of trainings, meetings, and actions that contributed to my understanding about different issues and how I, as an individual, can push for some change in this world. My relationships with these organizations have enabled me to believe in the power of political education and mobilizing people to create a more conscious and just world.

In the beginnings of my summer, I was part of a building- a-movement training hosted by Kevin O’Donnell from OSA. This For-Liberation-and-Movement-Escalation (FLAME) Training really helped us, USAS’s members, understand the basis of building a movement. With our current campaign against OSU selling our public assets to a for-profit corporation,  it was wonderful strategizing and grasping the essential elements to develop a movement. From learning on how to transform neutral people to active supporters and show they have a stake on important issues to discovering our individual meanings and purposes of being part of a movement, I learn how much power the people have in order to further agendas that support equality and justice.

In the other hand, meetings and actions with RAN helped me understand diverse environmental and social issues I was not aware before. Over the summer and this fall semester, I had the opportunity of learning about RAN and their current national campaign, #OutOfFashion. RAN is an environmental justice organization that is currently holding a national campaign against companies that are complacent of environmental and human rights violations. One those companies that has been targeted here in Ohio and across the nation is Abercrombie & Fitch. A&F has been completely irresponsible by mistreating both rainforests in Indonesia and human rights of indigenous people. Through RAN, I joined other activists and helped organize protests at A&F headquarters, shopping malls, and A&F sponsored events. We were able get media attention, talk with the general public, and use our resources to educate people about these issues that are both barely known and extremely important.

Also, I was able to learn a bit about Next Gen Climate. This organization pushes for ecological and sustainable practices through political education and activism. However, they have been focusing on the current presidential elections, encouraging people to register to vote. Even though being politically present is important, I was not able to learn about their main sustainability purpose this past summer.

Cultivating these relationships have made my experience one that’s valuable due to the people I’ve met in the process, the issues I’ve learned about, and the progress I’ve seen about myself. I was able to reflect on the goals I wish to reach with activism both in the  short and long term. I was able to learn more about what it takes to organize and the power that we, the people, hold in political spheres. Finally, activism has introduced me to diverse  people and organizations that have opened many doors and see myself organizing with in the near future.

STEP Leadership : National Society of Black Engineers National Conference

Name: Jasmine Jones

My Project.

The main purpose of partaking in this project was to grow and develop as a leader by pursuing professional and leadership skills, and putting them into action at the National Conference of the National Society of Black Engineers.

Transforming Myself

Thanks to this opportunity that I was afforded from the STEP program I’ve come to understand that I can grow from and past the barriers in my life. One of my goals in attending the conference was to gain experience and insight on how to be an effective leader. That includes learning about my leading style, how does that affect the members of my group, and how I can grow myself into a better person for myself as well as my peers. Though I have always been very determined I tend to be quite timid in unknown territory, which brings forth my slight speech impediment and anxiety. The problem wasn’t so much about my speech itself, but rather that I let fear get in the way of my goals.

Now I know that nothing, internal or external, can stop me from achieving my goals personally and as a leader to better serve my community. I’m not saying that the fear is completely gone or that worry is no more, but what matters is that from this experience I’ve gained the knowledge and tools to not let it stop me. Because of that I’ve gained an enhancement in my leadership style that cannot be taught.

How did this project do that?

The national conference gave my various opportunities that encouraged the change I saw. A first would be networking with companies in various scales.  We’ve all been to the Engineering Expo held in our Ohio Union but that is quite a formal setting. At National conference I got a chance to do large scale networking, in addition to a medium setting where each company had invited a group of maybe 30 students to speak with in a business casual setting. After that there were casual medium sized settings that were actually quite casual, which was then followed by semi-formal one- on –ones. This experience taught me how to loosen up. In this vast ever changing world, there is no way to predict everything that could ever happen and every outcome. From this I learned flexibility and how to match my environment with ease.

Another situation could include the Telecommunications meeting session which housed the telecommunications chairs, such as myself, from all of the chapters nationwide. There we expressed our successes and our down falls, problems, trials, and solutions. From that I experience I learned that as a leader you might fail sometimes. Actually that all good leaders do fail sometimes, but Its about being able to admit it, analyze it, and grow with grace.

Also at conference there were various workshops dedicated to networking in leadership. I learned about other leadership styles and how collaboration with other leaders isn’t a show of weakness, but a signal of strength. Different people bring different experiences which can really shape and change the way that you view the world. A good leader knows what would be beneficial to add to the group. These are just a few of the instances that really let me experience and practice new leadership techniques and have personal growth.

Why does it matter?

Gaining this leadership experience is so important because with the life path I want to follow, it is necessary for everyday life. As an engineer and as a member of an organization I often work in groups. Sometimes I need to follow someone else’s plan, and other times I need to be the trail blazer and set out what is the plan for the group. I’ve always had the determination and organization to do so but was never really capable of relaying it to my peers in a way that it is accepted, that is open to suggestion, and that is understandable. It now gives me immense pleasure to be able to say that I can effectively lead the way I’ve always wanted to.

HOW Design Live Conference, 2016

This past May I took a trip to the HOW Design Live Conference located in Atlanta Georgia. The HOW conference is a week long conference filled with presentations, workshops, speakers, and networking among creatives.

Before heading to the conference I was stuck in a mentality where I always thought I would be doing the things I wanted in the future just by happenstance and without taking actual steps to getting there right now. When I got to the conference I heard so many successful designers speak about their life before success and how hard they worked to get to where they wanted to be. This was truly inspiring and motivating to me because I do have big dreams in terms of my career. During and after the conference my mindset shifted from just waiting for things to happen to actually working on projects that I thought would push me towards success.

Specific events that occurred that made my mindset shift so drastically were three different keynote speakers that I heard while at the conference. First, I heard Aaron Draplin speak about his road to freelance design. It was all about making connections with cool people in the industry and letting them know how good his work was. Eventually they were funneling work to him personally and he was able to make freelance design a career. I don’t think I could ever work in an office behind a desk for the rest of my life and had been thinking about freelance, but Aaron’s talk gave me a much better understanding of what I would need to do to make that happen.

Second, I heard a talk from Lynn Carol, founder of Creative Reaction Lab. She lives  in St. Louis, Missouri and is most popular for using her design as a reaction to the shooting in Ferguson. I also have a deep interest in social justice and using design for good and she was such a great example for how that could be done. Lynn made me realize that I can combine my two interests into one!

Finally, I saw founder of Design Army, Pum Lefeber, speak about her work on magazine design. Looking at her work was absolutely amazing. She design directs and photographs a lot of her own photoshoots which sounded like so much fun. I also have always wanted to work on a magazine, but it is kind of a dying art so I never really pursued it. However, Pum made me realize that this project could be something I do on the side. Not everything I do needs to be for professional development.

I left this conference so much more inspired than I had felt in forever. When you’re constantly going to school and work sometimes you can lose a bit of your creativity and just feel totally bogged down, which I absolutely did. But being among so many creatives with tons of ideas helped get my creative juices flowing again! The transformation that I felt from this conference is important because it helped me to start realizing my professional goals. This conference made me more proactive in my life instead of waiting around for things to happen.

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2015 Net Impact Conference

My STEP Signature Project was traveling to Seattle in November to see the Net Impact Conference. This was a unique leadership experience tying my interest in business with my interest in social impact. The experience showed me how leaders in the social impact sector function and I was able to bring back a piece of the experience to Ohio State through a conference I helped run.

Alleviating Poverty Through Entrepreneurship (APTE) was one of my most passionate involvements during my first two years. One conception I had was that the social sector and business sectors were worlds that operated separately from one another. The fact that the Gates Foundation put together this event showed me how my career path could be molded into my ideal as someone interested in social impact. Hearing the speakers and chatting with professionals who had leveraged their corporate experience into the social sector showed me a career path I had not previously understood.

Two experiences that stood out to me were hearing a speaker from Tennessee who started a buy-one, give-one shoe distribution model to the developing world and speaking with a former Morgan Stanley employee working on a water distribution model.

Doing good work around the world is idealized in media and the classroom. It is something I was always interested in but I was not sure the path to take. Hearing Buddy, the speaker from Tennessee, showed me there was no “right” way to find a role in the social impact space. Transferrable skills such as communication, attention to detail, and work ethic were shown as the bare necessities of being successful. Hearing about his dealing with the Haitian government and cooperating with NGOs around the world really accentuated just how complicated many world issues are. To eventually solve these issues, I need to keep in touch with those making differences and find where I fit in.

One role model I met at the event was Nicholas. He had worked at Morgan Stanley in banking but left after 4 years to pursue an MBA. During his MBA pursuit, he entered social impact and began developing a business plan for energy access in the developing world. His logical thinking from the investment banking world helped him add a unique element to the business plan team. This was relevant to me since my interest is in investment banking. Many had told me it was a path irreconcilable with a world outside finance. Seeing how many transferrable skills came from banking to fields outside finance really inspired me to consider exit opportunities and graduate school options.

Understanding the role of people like myself in making the world a better place was an incredible leadership building experience. I was able to bring the speaker from Tennessee to Ohio State to speak to over 1,000 students on campus. Additionally, Nicholas has stayed as a connection and he became a consultant for the UN. This summer in New York, I hope to meet with him and see what exit opportunities are available for business school graduates. This experience overall helped me link my passion to my long term career path.

STEP Leadership- Society of Women Engineers Conference

Step Leadership- Megan Rodewald

What did I do?

I attended the Society of Women Engineers conference in Nashville, Tennessee in October, 2015. During the conference I went to sessions on leadership, sustainability, technology, and many more. I also went to the career fair that had almost 300 companies from across the country.

How did the experience influence me?

Listening to such successful women, I was reminded that, though outnumbered, women can certainly become leaders in the engineering field. Less than 15% of the people in my mechanical engineering classes are women, and sometimes it is easy to think that since it’s a male dominated profession that women aren’t as important. Spending the long weekend surrounded by approximately eight thousand women was a great way to be inspired by not only students like myself who are in the same position, but by the women who have been in engineers for a couple decades. Overall, the conference reminded me that I can make a difference in the engineering field!

An assumption of mine changed due to this conference; I have more opportunities to make a difference as a mechanical engineer than I originally thought. So far in my college career, my experience with mechanical engineering careers has been a narrow one; I have worked in two manufacturing facilities and I didn’t think I was really contributing anything useful to the world. At the conference I listened to many mechanical engineers who have helped not only their companies become successful but also improve the world in terms of sustainability, diversity, and innovation. The conference broadened my view of possible career options.

What led to my transformations in thought?

The very first session I attended was one of the most informational and influential. A woman named Julie led the session called “Building Yourself as a Leader”. She has been very successful at EcoLab, and shared some of her experience and wisdom with us. She emphasized the fact that we need to be confident and be able to ask for what we want. She is now in a director position at EcoLab, and emphasized that a leadership title means nothing without continuously proving that you deserve it. Another point she highlighted was that leadership is amplified through the success of your team. Throughout her career, Julie has mainly worked with men but that did not affect her at all; because of her confidence and work ethic she was treated as an equal. I would definitely like to hold a leadership role in the future, and Julie’s pointers made me more confident that I will be able to do that.

The career fair helped me realize that there are many opportunities for mechanical engineers outside of a manufacturing setting. Over the past two years I had begun to worry that I would be stuck with a career that I disliked. I talked to at least twenty different companies at the career fair, inquiring about internship positions but also how they use mechanical engineers. Two fields in particular that I learned more about by talking to company representatives included research & development and product design. It was also reaffirmed for me that mechanical engineers are very versatile, and can fill many different types of positions. Talking to different companies made me more confident that I will in fact find a job that I will be able to enjoy.

This conference is the largest of its kind, and people from all over the world attend it. I was able to talk to student engineers from London and Spain and also from many universities across the United States. Since it was such a diverse group of people, it made me step back and look at the community as a whole; we are all engineers wanting to make the world a better place. At Ohio State it is easy to forget about the world outside of Ohio State, but the conference put things in perspective. This conference introduced me to a diverse group of women all working towards the same goal.

Why is this transformation significant?

First of all, my interactions at the career fair encouraged me to apply to a lot of different types of companies that do something I haven’t tried yet, such as research & development or product design. Since the conference I have had four interviews with companies that interested me, and two weeks ago I accepted a summer position with a product design company called Design Central. I am very excited about this new opportunity, and I credit this conference to getting me interested in the product design side of mechanical engineering.

Another way the transformation has been important to me involves my choices for some of my senior classes. I decided to enroll in a capstone project that designs assistive devices for the medical field, which is something I don’t have experience with but am interested in trying. A lot of the women that spoke at the conference attributed some of the successes to being outgoing and trying new things, which influenced me to take the capstone that could introduce me to new parts of mechanical engineering.

In conclusion, I was introduced to an enormous network of women in engineering! I learned about opportunities that I can pursue in the field and also learned about how to be a good leader in general. Attending the conference has definitely impacted me and made me more confident as a woman in engineering.

Career fair day!

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Career Fair Day

High Sierra Backpacking Expedition

This past summer I embarked on a 26 day leadership expedition run through the OSU Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC) in conjunction with STEP itself. We flew out to Fresno, Ca on June 23, spent a few days driving through Yosemite and Sequoia national park, and then spent the remainder of the trip backpacking through the majestic High Sierra wilderness.

This expedition was far and away the most extraordinary experience of my life. At first I was very nervous about disconnecting with society for an entire month. Part of this was due to the fact that the leaders, whether they wanted to or not, gave the impression that it would be very challenging and potentially dangerous. Also, I did not know anyone else going on the trip beforehand and I am somewhat of a quiet guy. I spent the first few days before we actually got in the back-country constantly thinking about all the things that could go wrong. I was also sort of distressed that I would not be able to talk to my parents or any of my friends back home. However, after the first few days in the back-country, all of the worries were quickly pushed aside by the sense of freedom and awe that the wilderness brought. The mountains, the forests, the streams, everything was just absolutely incredible and so different from urban society, or even the natural scenery here in Ohio. I felt completely liberated from the stresses of everyday life, and had hours to just think and take in the spectacular scenery. I had time to reflect deeply about myself and the world we all live in, which led to a much greater understanding of both.

This experience definitely improved my leadership skills and boosted my self-confidence as well. Each person took their turn leading the group through the back-country. We all were basically given full authority of the group for one day and could lead however we wanted. This real-world experience was extremely valuable and allowed me to understand in what aspects I already excelled as a leader and what needed improvement. Each time someone else led, it was our responsibility to evaluate them and tell them what we thought they did well and what we thought they could work on. By the end, we had a long list of good and bad things that you could do as leader of the day. Finally, I think this trip gave me a much greater appreciation for nature and the simple things in life. We were essentially completely free from technology, something that is so commonplace in our current society that many of us fear to let go of it. Our main form of entertainment was simply talking to one another and marveling the beauty of nature.

I think most of these transformations really just came about naturally as the trip progressed. Since there is only so much you can talk about with other people, we each spent a fair amount of time in silence. Whether this was as we were hiking single file behind one another on the trail, or during one of several designated quiet sessions, we all had plenty of time to ourselves to just think and reflect on the scenery, our own lives, or whatever else our mind wandered to. It helped too that once your leadership day was over, there was really very little to worry about, which allowed your mind to meander freely and not become anxious. It was helpful too that everything was so well planned out by the leaders, so we never had to worry that much about where our next meal was coming from or what to do if we got injured in some kind of way. Somewhere along the way it just comes to you that everyone should take a trip like this, to get away from society and just experience the freedom and clairvoyance that such nature brings. You recognize how crucial it is that we preserve such raw beauty so that future generations can experience it too. You eventually realize how simply you can live and how in a lot of ways this actually makes life better than what we are all used to.

The people involved in the trip also played a large role in my transformations. Without feedback from the others, I would have no idea how good of a leader I was and how I could improve. The leaders were especially key as they organized everything and came up with several different leadership theories for us to discuss to better improve our skills. Theoretically, none of my transformations would have happened without the leaders since the trip itself would not have happened. I think just having other people there that I had never met before forced me to be a little more talkative and outgoing too.

Lastly, I think that STEP itself was crucial to my transformations since I would not have known about this trip at all in the first place if not for those weekly meetings.  At the beginning of STEP, before one of the leaders on this trip came to one of our meetings and spoke about it, I was pretty much dead-set on using my STEP funds to study abroad in Rome. I was a classics major at the time, so going to Rome would have been an extremely valuable experience seeing as most of what I was studying was related in some way to ancient Roman society. However, when Tyler (the head trip leader) came to our STEP meeting on leadership day and played the “hype” video from the previous year’s trip, I started to reconsider my initial decision. It was very appealing as well that this trip was exactly $2000, and after attending a few pre-trip meetings, I was finally convinced that it was right for me.

I learned numerous things about leadership that I had not known before. These will definitely help me in just about every aspect of my life moving forward as pretty much every career requires some sort of leadership. This trip was very challenging both physically and personally, and the self-confidence I gained from overcoming all the obstacles will definitely give me a positive attitude toward future challenges. Although leadership was the main focus of this trip, this did not mean that everything was constantly a one-man-show. The leader would often ask the rest of the group if any tough decisions had to be made, and everyone contributed whenever a task, such as cooking dinner needed to be completed. Team-working capabilities are very important in many careers, and this trip actually inspired me somewhat to change my major to environmental engineering, which is a field that heavily relies on good teamwork. As an environmental engineer, I will be able to play a part in preserving incredible natural areas like the High Sierra.

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Mt. Whitney