Leadership Training in Winter Park, CO

My STEP project was participating in H2O’s Leadership Training (LT) program in Colorado during the summer of 2018. Students from H2O, an on-campus church here at Ohio State, joined students from about 5 other campus churches at LT. As a part of the project, I worked 40 hours a week for the YMCA of the Rockies, and LT activities happened during off days and evenings.

The biggest change I saw in myself over the course of the summer was an increased understanding of my need to not rely on myself, and instead to seek and accept help from God, friends, and family. As our leaders forecasted at the beginning of the summer, a lot happened at LT, and if I had tried to deal with it all myself it would have been overwhelming. I hope to take this mindset back to campus with me as I start the fall semester.

As mentioned, a lot of difficult things arose over the course over the summer. Some things, such as disagreements with my fiancé or discontentment with team activities, required that I seek to resolve conflict with those parties, and in many scenarios I didn’t know how to approach the resolution. However, after seeking counsel from nearby leaders and peers, I was able to successfully navigate those situations. Other things, such as career path decisions, I previously would have been tempted just to examine by myself, and would have felt very stressed and overwhelmed. However, after making an effort to seek input from others and pray for guidance, I’ve felt much more at peace with my status.

While I have always understood that it isn’t wise to just rely on myself, my perceived success in school and other areas has meant that it has been difficult to put that into practice. I always shied away from the vulnerability required to ask for help, even though there have been plenty of times I needed it. Additionally, sometimes I felt like it would be a sign of weakness to ask for help. This led to a lot of loneliness and anxiety, especially during the first few years of college. However, one of the guest speakers at LT taught on this subject early in the summer, and with his encouragement I was able to develop better habits over the rest of the program.

As I return to school in the fall, I hope to use these new habits to recenter my life and to have a healthier lifestyle. Campus is always a source of busyness, stress, and unexpected developments, and I hope that by seeking input and guidance from God and those close to me, I will be able to deal with those things more effectively than I have in the past.

In addition to helping my general state of mind, this personal growth will help me make better decisions, having considered advice from many sources. For example, this summer, the career path decision I mentioned earlier was whether or not I should pursue a PhD, as my research professor had recently suggested the possibility to me. While I haven’t made a decision yet, talking to those around me and praying about it allows me to see more pros and cons to the offer, instead of being limited to my own viewpoint.

STEP Research Endeavor: Investigating the Inflammatory Response to Traumatic Brain Injury

Undergraduate Research Endeavor
Julia Dziabis

My STEP project consisted of 3 months of full-time summer research in Dr. Jonathan Godbout’s Lab assisting with the traumatic brain injury project (TBI). This summer concluded with travel to an international meeting to present my research in Toronto, Canada.

While completing my STEP Signature Project, I learned a lot about myself and the world of professional science. As it was my third full-time summer working on the TBI project, I was able to complete a lot of work independently from idea conception all the way to preparing figures for research publications. Having a hand in every step of this long, stressful process because of the time I was able to dedicate day in and day out without distraction gave me a new and more realistic perspective on the scientific process. At the end of the summer, I was able to present my work at an international conference, and there I was able to learn even more about the greater world of academic research, as well as the importance of networking for the purpose of progress and collaboration. By the end of the summer, I felt transformed into a more competent and experienced scientist, with a better grasp on the research process and the greater scientific community associated with the field of neurotrauma.

This third summer in Dr. Godbout’s Lab supported by STEP taught me a lot about the failures and frustrations associated with scientific investigation, and also the sheer amount of work that goes into the preparation of a paper for publication. Being allowed significantly more independence in designing and executing experiments also meant being far more emotionally invested in the outcomes, especially being the person who analyzes the data and is first to interpret the results. This summer has made me far more comfortable with disappointments and lack of progress in a research setting; sometimes you spend weeks on something, pouring time into it every single day, and at the end all you get out of it is a slew of negative data. It can be hard to justify all that time and effort seemingly wasted, but I learned that negative results are still results. They still tell us things about science that are important, even if it the thing they tell you is that your hypothesis is wrong. For example, this summer in particular, the project I intended on completing during my STEP project was not the project I ended up working on due to negative results. Despite my excitement for that project, I was able to adapt to the idea of a new project quickly, which still allowed me to make significant progress despite a late start.

I also learned more than I anticipated about the importance of networking, something I always associated with fields other than science and previously assumed would be irrelevant to me. Preparing for and attending an international research symposium made me realize just how important it is even to just introduce yourself to another person. Because I am applying to many of the programs that were represented at the conference, I was thankful I did research in advance to identify potential research mentors and become familiar with their projects so that when I was able to find and speak to them over the course of the week, I knew who they were and why they were important and was able to make a good initial impression. This was the first time I ever had to “network,” and I learned a lot about how who you know has an impact on your science and success.

Despite these excellent experience detailed above, I think the greatest catalyst for my transformation this summer was my graduate student mentor. Her unwavering trust in me and my abilities had a massive impact on the way I feel about not just science, but myself. Even three years back, when I knew practically nothing, she was never hesitant to pull me away from more “classic” undergraduate duties, like dish washing, sit me down at a lab bench, and trust me to work on experiments I thought were far too important for my unexperienced hands. She has always been an advocate for me and is the primary reason that I not only was able to attend an international conference, but the reason I believed I belonged there. Without her faith in me and willingness to correct my mistakes as I learned everything hands-on, I would not be the scientist or person I am today. I cannot imagine who I would be without her mentorship and support, I truly believe I have her to thank for all of my successes as an undergraduate student researcher.

This transformation is significant and valuable to me because of how it relates to my personal and professional goals. Independence and willingness to work hard despite failure and adversity are qualities that I think would be valuable in a graduate school candidate and I believe this summer of research allowed me to be able refine and build those attributes. Additionally, the connections I was able to make at the research conference are ones that may still be in place even 20+ years from now; many researchers were talking to me about their own first conferences almost 20 years prior and how many of the connections they made back them were important to their science and career progress. Overall, this opportunity has been an instrumental and transformative part of my undergraduate career, and I feel very grateful to have been supported by the STEP Program.

Australia / New Zealand Adventure Leadership Experience

My STEP Signature experience was a remarkable, life-changing leadership opportunity over 21 days in Australia and New Zealand, which developed my curious and adventurous nature by providing individual and leadership growth. I spent this time learning about various leadership styles, leading adventures, and embracing the Pacific through a variety of unique activities including kayaking, hiking, skydiving, exploring, bungee jumping, white water rafting, horseback riding, mountain biking, and more.

During this adventure, a major transformation took place in me. When my parents dropped me off at the Outdoor Adventure Center on Friday, May 11th, I was very anxious. I didn’t know anyone in my group and I had no idea what was in store for me. I started the adventure very timidly, not knowing what to expect. When we boarded the plane the next morning, and traveled first to Dallas then halfway around the world to Australia, I was nervous and very quiet. By the end of the adventure, I realized how much I had grown on this experience, and felt much more outgoing. I had 21 new best friends that I had completely bonded with.

I have always been adventurous, but this trip tested my limits with new experiences and challenges every day. I never thought I’d eat a bug or bungee jump or hike 230+ stories up the ascent, but I learned that I’m braver and stronger than I realized. When the hikes got very challenging, I leaned on the encouragement from my new friends and pushed through, because I knew that we were all in it together. On the free days, I chose the most dangerous, daring, and thrilling options.

Much of my personal growth came from the many adventurous activities that were included in this experience. As soon as we arrived in Australia, we began our immersion into the Pacific culture. Each day, it seemed that the outings became more and more exciting. We started with snorkeling and scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, followed by white-water rafting, skydiving, interacting with crocodiles, kangaroos, and koala bears in an animal sanctuary, and stand-up paddleboarding. The most challenging day was fairly early in the trip when we hiked the Grand Canyon of Australia. This really stretched the limits of my physical and mental capacity, first trekking to the bottom, then climbing all the way back to the top. Many of us thought we couldn’t make it, but we persevered, which was really rewarding.

Throughout these experiences I had the opportunity to really get to know each of the 21 other students. With each new adventure, I was grouped with different people, giving me the opportunity to really appreciate our diversity. This was truly a life-changing experience since we were trying new things and stretching our limits, giving us the ability to really bond with one another. Being without internet for three weeks allowed me to become more focused, both on myself and on others, and to make deep connections without the many distractions that technology can provide.

After about 10 days in Australia, we flew to New Zealand where I had the opportunity to practice my team leadership skills as Leader of the Day for a river cruise. The leadership portion of this experience was well organized, giving each person on the trip the opportunity to practice, receive feedback, and develop their own personal leadership style. Prior to the trip, we were each tasked with researching 2 different leadership styles. By sharing what we had read about our assigned styles, we were able to quickly learn and understand many diverse approaches to leadership.

Most of our adventures in New Zealand included hiking, and gave us the opportunity not only to continue to stretch ourselves physically but also mentally as we took in the remarkable, unique landscape. In between hikes, we went horseback riding, bungee jumping, kayaking, mountain biking, and flew by helicopter to the Franz Josef Glacier. We also had an opportunity to observe kiwi birds in their natural habitat and feed eels. This outdoor adventure was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. My natural curiosity and quest for adventure was fulfilled over and over again.

Coming out of my shell and stretching my physical and mental limits are extremely significant for my life and career. The leadership skills that I learned, and the opportunity to experience physical challenges day after day have really prepared me for my senior year at Ohio State, during which I will participate in an investigative internship. In my career in criminology, my expanded curiosity, sense of adventure, and life experiences will be critical to my success. The opportunity to interact with a very diverse group of peers in such a variety of situations has really expanded my perspective and curiosity. Not only has this adventure enhanced my college experience, but it has been truly transformative, causing a marked change in my personality, confidence, and abilities. I am so very thankful for this STEP experience and especially for my new friends.

My STEP Signature Project was through the Outdoor Adventure Center at OSU and took 21 students, accompanied by 2 leaders, across the world to New Zealand and Australia. These beautiful destinations offered the 23 of us the most magnificent views and experiences, as well as the ability to step outside of our comfort zones as us strangers became like family in just three and a half short weeks.

This trip opened my eyes to more than I could have ever imagined. Going on a journey across the world with 22 strangers really forced me to put myself out there. I’m not usually in situations where I don’t know anyone around me- and although intimidating at first, I quickly found myself growing to be extremely comfortable with every single one of my travel companions. This trip was meant to teach us about leadership by assigning two new people to be leaders of the day each morning and by also pairing us up with another partner to research and present a leadership theory to the rest of the group. Through these experiences of not only being a leader but learning about various leadership styles, I felt that I really found out much more about the way that I lead as well as the way that my peers lead. It was really transformational to have the ability to lead a group of college students on our daily adventures through these amazing countries that none of us knew anything about. It required a great amount of collaborative skills, communication skills and organization skills in order to be an effective leader with your partner who you barely knew and to lead the group on a safe and fun-filled day. Through this leadership experience, I have learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to leadership- not even only from just being a leader myself, but from seeing and learning about how my friends led our group.
During my time abroad, I really found that I was the happiest version of myself. Our leaders Tyler and Morgan highly recommended that we didn’t use our phones while we were away, which at first really made me nervous. Although I will admit to using it here and there to check in with a few people back at home and let them know that I was alive, I found that without all of the social media and all of the involvement in the busy-ness of everyone else’s lives, I was truly able to focus on myself and my own happiness for one of the first times. Looking back, I can’t even think of a single time on my trip where I wasn’t happy or wasn’t enjoying myself. I truly think this was due to the removal of myself from society back at home. I have found upon my return to the States that I am a much more easygoing person and things that once bothered me, don’t anymore. I have finally realized, more than ever before, what it means to live in the current moment with the people around you and to not live for the people who see you on social media.

I owe absolutely everything good that came out of this trip to the people I was with. Every single person in my group truly impacted my experience and transformation that I had in Australia and New Zealand, making every single second of my time there as enjoyable as possible. I learned so much about each and every single one of my group-mates and formed the most incredible bonds that I know will last a lifetime. We have only been home for a month and already two reunions have happened. The fact that we got so close after only three and a half weeks and almost all of us being complete strangers is so incredible. I feel so lucky to have been a part of a group of people that were able to mesh so well together despite being 23 completely different individuals.
The adventures we experienced every single day allowed me to have a seriously enhanced appreciation for the world around me. I have never seen such beautiful places in my entire life, and I know that I will make it back to these places one day and experience it all over again. Being on long hikes, car rides, boat rides and everything in between made me talk to new people every single day and experience all that we were experiencing with a different person each time. This made the days and the views even better by having someone else’s perspective and feelings right there with me.
One of the most amazing things that brought us so close together were not necessarily the amazing activities that we did during the day, but our times together at night. A handful of times, we would have discussions at our evening meetings where everyone would share a little something about themselves; their aspirations, their fears, their dreams, their scars. Hearing people open up and talk about things that were really personal to them was truly amazing to see and made me realize how every single person has things that they are going through that are not necessarily visible from the surface. Personally, I have never opened up this much to a group of people that I barely knew, but the fact that I felt comfortable enough to do so made me realize how incredible the relationship we all had was, and how day by day, these countries were changing all of us in the best of ways.

This transformation truly will impact me for the rest of my life. I think that I have grown up a lot on this trip- I’ve learned how to live in the moment, how to socialize and form relationships with people who are completely different than me, how to appreciate all of the beautiful things this world has to offer, how to put my phone down, how to be a leader at all times and most of all, how to stop worrying about things out of my control and to just be myself.
These skills will be extremely beneficial to me in my life as I graduate college this year and take on the “real world” where I will constantly be working in teams with all different kinds of people and trying to be a leader whenever I can. Remembering and reflecting on this trip constantly will remind me to continue to work hard so I can afford to do more amazing things like this, hopefully with some of the same people. This whole experience was such a once in a lifetime experience and I truly miss it every single day and will be forever thankful I was selected to take part in it. I plan on traveling a lot more in the future, pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and taking risks by partaking in things that scare me.

OAC Australia and New Zealand Leadership Expedition

For my STEP Signature Project, I participated on the Outdoor Adventure Center’s Australia and New Zealand Leadership Expedition. Throughout this three-week long endeavor, we traveled throughout several destinations in both countries where we participated in a variety of activities ranging from snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef to sea kayaking on Lake Wanaka of New Zealand. The leadership element of this trip came not only in the mental and physical challenge inherent in this adventure, but also through our frequent discussion of leadership theories and expectation to be a “leader of the day” for a portion of the trip.

My personal expectations for myself were challenged through this experience in terms of my understanding of effective leadership and ability to push myself beyond my comfort zone. As mentioned above, each day our trip had “leaders of the day” or LODs that directed the days’ activities and made important decisions about the itinerary. After the day had concluded, we got feedback from the leaders from the OAC. I was selected to do this on two of the days of our trip and these were great learning experiences for me. I was able to gain confidence in my leadership skills through this experience and I was able to augment and practice the skills I had developed prior. I was also able to apply the leaders’ feedback from the first day so I could improve myself and the group on the following day. In addition to this, I learned the personal rewards of stepping out of my comfort zone in my perceived physical limits. This came in the form of new activities like challenging hikes, kayaking, and mountain biking, all of which I had no prior experience with. While skeptical before participating in these activities, my ability to try something new and succeed (to a degree) was pleasantly surprising to me and gave me a sense of newfound confidence in my abilities.

My view of the world and diversity has changed ever since this experience as well. Through the cultural immersion on this trip, I was able to find many differences and similarities between our culture and theirs. In addition to this, I was able to meet so many different people from so many different walks of life; this was not only limited to the natives of Australia and New Zealand but also includes other tourists from places like Germany and the UK who surprisingly shared many similarities with me and my peers on the trip. Through the variety of different activities we participated on, I was able to meet individuals who took a passion of theirs like rafting, skydiving, or kayaking and made a career out of it; this is something that I found to be very admirable and, therefore, encouraged me to follow my passions as well. There is so much we can learn from the laid-back, friendly lifestyle that Australians live or the sense of adventure that seemed to be inherent in most everyone I met in Queenstown, New Zealand. Meeting people with these different lifestyles and views of the world was truly eye opening and gave me a hunger to move outside of my comfort zone in truly getting to know people of different backgrounds and cultures than my own.

While our geographical location was truly breathtaking in most every way possible, I found that it was the people I shared these views with who made the experience truly memorable and transformative. As mentioned above, I embarked on this journey with twenty-one other Ohio State students and two leaders from the OAC, all of whom I did not know before embarking on this trip. While we had the opportunity to mingle and get to know each other during the pre-trip meetings, I was still extremely skeptical and uneasy about traveling with a group of practical strangers for 3 weeks. While I encountered my fair share of physical challenges in this experience, overcoming my anxiety and fear of denial so as to get to know 21 strangers was by far the most challenging mental aspect for me. I was urged to step out of my comfort zone from day one and I haven’t left since then! Although it initially seemed like a daunting and exhausting task, my group members made it easy to push myself in this way; they truly were and continue to be some of the most fun-loving, humorous, friendly, and accepting people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I have no doubt that stepping out of my comfort zone in this way allowed me to meet some life long friends. This encounter with getting to know a group of strangers also taught me a lot about diversity. I learned that, even when I don’t have a lot in common with someone (whether it be major, hobbies, likes/dislikes), that they can still prove to be a person well worth getting to know. There were several people in my group that I initially misperceived and judged to be incompatible with me and this initial judgement could not have been more incorrect.

As I spoke about earlier, my experience also brought me a greater understanding of the world and different paths people may take in it. I was able to learn these lessons about geographic and occupational diversity mostly through interactions with the natives of both countries. While on our adventures in Australia, I had the opportunity to speak with and learn from several of our guides in each respective activity. Some of these people included my skydiving tandem (no better way to get to know someone than to jump out of a plane with them), our whitewater rafting guide, and our surfing instructors in Sydney. While each of these people came with their own life stories, I was able to find one thing in common with all of them: they all embraced their passions and followed them despite obstacles in their paths. Every single one of these guides were so passionate about their work and it showed through their love for the job. While maybe not as monetarily rewarding or characteristic of what we are conditioned to see as “successful,” they were so rich in life and happiness that it was impossible not to idolize and envy them. This opened my eyes and showed me that, despite my previous belief that money and power were the best indicators of success in life, that the opportunity to wake up every day and follow your passions should be the end goal for all of us. Meeting these people challenged my previous beliefs in the world and helped me to focus more on holistic health and happiness.

While my interactions with my group members and the natives challenged me mentally, this experience brought physical challenge as well. This physical challenge transformed me by giving me confidence in my ability to address the unknown, although seemingly impossible at times. A lot of these physical challenges were mentally taxing in nature; while skydiving and bungee jumping took a great amount of physical skill (mostly from my instructors and tandem), pushing myself far beyond my threshold of comfort made them far more mental for me than physical. I was surprised by the mental strength it took on my behalf to “pull the trigger” for these activities; while challenging and transformative in this regard, it left me with the feeling that I could do quite anything after conquering those challenges. These were some of many instances where I was assured of my mental strength and capability to conquer the unknown. Additionally, I was physically challenged through the array of new activities we participated on during this adventure. While extremely fun and exciting, every day proved to be another physical challenge to overcome and another mountain to climb (sometimes literally). Whether it be through physically exerting hikes in and out of the Australian Grand Canyon, kayaking, or scuba diving, I was constantly learning new skills and pushing myself to use these to become proficient in the respective activity. Again, the fact that I was able to learn these new physical skills both safely and successfully assured me of the rewards of trying new things and expanding my horizons. Perhaps the most challenging of these activities was the afore mentioned hike in and out of the Australian Grand Canyon. While the hike down into the canyon was leisurely and full of beautiful views, the real challenge came when we started to make our ascension. After ascending stairs for nearly an hour, I was physically and mentally exhausted. It came to the point where every single step up was an accomplishment. I found that, even though physically exhausting, this hike was more of a mental game than anything; I found my strength to finish the hike through talking to myself and assuring myself of my ability to conquer what seemed impossible at the time. While challenging (and somewhat traumatizing) at the time, the feeling at the top of the canyon was more than worth the climb. I left that experience feeling as though I could take on any challenge, no matter how apparently impossible it may seem.

This experience has guided and will continue to guide my thoughts and actions regarding my view of the world and my place in it. This experience has taught me to give new relationships a chance, even when they don’t seem to be likely; this accepting and open attitude has helped me gain 21 new friends and will hopefully improve my relationships moving forward. I plan to keep an open attitude and stray away from premature judgement as I am pushed to form new relationships. I think my view of diversity has been completely flipped upside down from these encounters; I now see it not as something to simply be tolerant of, but instead a redeeming attribute that can only help me to become a little more understanding of the world and the choices people make. I know this understanding and appreciation for diversity will be key in my future career in medicine; this was one takeaway I expected and wrote about in my STEP proposal, but I definitely underestimated the effect it would have on my day to day life. In meeting and interacting with the guides I mentioned above, I have been inspired to listen to my passions more and focus on what will truly define happiness in my future. This experience has challenged my view of what I want in life and showed me there are different ways to be “successful” depending on the person you ask. This is a wake-up call I may have needed at this point in my life; all of my decisions up to this point as far as my future career have been dictated by my faulty view of success.  While I am very passionate about a career in medicine and helping others, this experience may attract me to a field or specialty of medicine that may not be the most financially rewarding, but lets me wake up every day knowing that I am doing what I love and am passionate about. This experience has allowed me to cut my previous associations between success and money. Finally, as discussed above, the physical challenges inherent in this trip assured to me that I am resilient and capable enough to step out of my comfort zone and succeed at activities and interactions that may be foreign to me. This newfound confidence is something I will take with me going forward so as to make the most out of every opportunity I’m given. This confidence in myself will not only pertain to my ability to take on new physical challenges; I will use it in personal interactions, explorations in my career, and as a call to bravery to take on situations that may be initially uncomfortable to me. Overall, this experience has challenged my view of the world and the role I play in it. Its forced me to reevaluate some initial biases and inclinations that I have developed in my life thus far. Its allowed me to embrace every opportunity with confidence and an attitude for adventure. I could not be more grateful for thenSTEP program in helping me to be transformed in these ways.

Australia/New Zealand Leadership Adventure


My STEP signature project consisted of 21 days in New Zealand and Australia. We kayaked, snorkeled, whitewater rafted, surfed, and hiked through the most beautiful places. We cruised through the fiords in New Zealand, visited the Franz Josef Glacier, saw the Sydney Opera House, and walked famous Australian beaches.  Throughout the trip our team discussed various leadership theories. In addition to this we each had 2 days where we were designated leaders of the day and were put in charge of making decisions for the group as well as making sure the group knew what was going on at all times.

I learned a lot about myself and how I like to lead. I am a quiet person, but this trip showed me that I can still be a leader and have my peers respect and listen to me even though I am not the loudest person in the room. I learned about the fact that leadership looks different to different people. I became more comfortable speaking in front of the group of 23 and made my voice heard when I had an opinion or suggestion on what could make the day better for the group. I have always valued leadership experience and this trip was a great way to gain more experience with a group of individuals who I had gotten to know quite well.

In addition to teaching me about being a leader, this trip changed my view of the world. Prior to this trip I had only been out of the country once. I was nervous to be going so far away from home, but I found myself amazed by the beauty of these two amazing countries. The culture in these countries was not strikingly different than that of the US but the landscapes were the most amazing views I have ever seen. This really made me gain a new respect for the environment and definitely made me value sustainability more.

Being able to lead a group of people that I trusted and who I knew well really helped me open up and be heard. The first time I was leader, toward the beginning of the tip, I didn’t want to say much because I was still nervous about what these people would think about me but after spending more time with them I was able to be louder on my second day as leader. The positive feedback I received about my leadership showed me that I am a decent leader and I think that the next time I lead a group of people I will know that it is okay to speak up and be heard because I now know how to lead in a better, more productive way. The next time I am in a situation where I am placed as the leader, I will be quicker to believe in myself and my decisions.

Seeing a glacier for the first time and hearing stories of how much larger it used to be, being in a totally remote place and not being able to hear the birds that once inhabited the area were two events that made me realize that we need to change if we want to preserve the beauty that we have on this planet. Since being back I have thought a lot about recycling and reducing the waste that I make, and I think the little changes I have begun to make will stick with me for a while and that will provide some benefit.

Every aspect of this trip changed me in some way, it is hard to pinpoint specific examples because even minor details of the day impacted how I see the world and how I believe others see me. It was amazing to see the sights of these countries, but it was also amazing to get to know a small group of people who were strangers before the trip. This helped me be more open with people which is a change I believe I needed to make. I was nervous to be on the other side of the world with people that I did not know but that added so much to the trip.

I have always had a desire to see the world, but I never thought it would impact my views on sustainability the way it did. In addition, I have always like to be around people but generally get nervous meeting new people. I was worried that my anxiety around meeting new people would hinder my enjoyment of the countries, but it did not. I was also concerned that I would struggle as a leader, but, in my opinion, my leadership improved as a result of this trip. All three of these things are impacting my life and will continue to do so forever. I am happy that this trip changed me in three totally separate ways. I think that getting out of my shell and learning how to be a better leader are things that will help me in my life in general but also in my future career. I think that seeing the world and gaining a deeper appreciation for it will impact my future learning as I hope to learn more about what we can be doing to help our planet as well as impacting how I live my life on a day to day basis.



2018 Summer Leadership: Aus/NZ

Alexandria Alpy



My project was a 20-day Leadership abroad in Australia and New Zealand. The project consisted of daily excursions that were both physically and mentally challenging in addition to having rotating student-leaders.


This project was personally challenging because on the second day abroad I twisted my ankle while hiking with the group, thereby impeding my physical ability to participate in a lot of the activities throughout this trip. Additionally, this trip was mentally challenging by being away from home for so long in addition to being unable to contact anyone and having to interact with a total group of strangers. There were very few moments that anyone had personal time, which was a blessing in disguise in retrospect but a challenge during the trip. Initially, we were forced to be with 21 strangers, but by the end of the trip everyone gained 21 mates.


After I twisted my ankle I needed personal time to physically and mentally recover. I was so upset because I thought that the rest of the trip would be a struggle, since most of the activities were intense hiking excursions. The people in charge of the trip did not seem to understand the amount of pain I was in and berated me for being unable to walk to meet up for dinner the night I rolled my ankle. Because of this event I thought I was going to be alone for the rest of the trip, but the other students on the trip stepped up and all offered a helping hand and verbal support to me despite not fully knowing one another. I went into this trip thinking that a lot of our interactions were going to be superficial because we most likely will not run into one another after these next 20 days but I was quickly mistaken. Twisting my ankle catalyzed the realization that there are people that will truly care for one another and continue to care despite having one bad day.


Furthermore, I was nervous about living with 14 other girls because I have never had a good roommate experience. I was nervous that I could not get along with other girls, especially for so long, but I was happily surprised that a handful of girls had similar thoughts and characteristics as myself. For example, I personally prefer to go to bed early in order to be able to wake up the next morning to be physically energized for the day’s activities. I assumed I would be alone at night because many people liked to go out after dinner to socialize but some girls shared my preference to stay in. Sharing these moments made me realize that I make choices every day about how I choose to socialize. Though I have never enjoyed being out late at night or drinking alcohol, people generally seem to quickly assume that I prefer to be alone but the reality is that I prefer to socialize in a different context. I never felt isolated on this trip and I always felt supported.


What changed is how I think of socializing with others. I think I have had trouble in the past finding my place at Ohio State because I was trying to find friends in the wrong places. Most undergraduates at Ohio State are heavily involved in Greek life or drinking-to-have-a-good-time and I always thought that if I don’t share that same interest then I will have a difficult time finding myself at University. Through this trip, I realized that there is nothing wrong with how I prefer to connect with people and I’m not the only person at Ohio State that cringes at binge-drinking and going out to the bar scene on weekends. I used to feel hopeless about connecting with people because I believed that I was meant to be alone, despite the importance of connecting with one another in life. This trip showed me that connecting with people is an active process not a flawless and charismatic characteristic. During our trip, the student leaders of the day would always ask the group individually how we are holding up throughout the day, communicate information effectively with the group and between one another, and prioritize group morale. We ended every night with ‘shout outs,’ complimenting people on something they did today even if we had a rough day, which ultimately generated a really good environment within our group.  Professionally, I aim to be a Principal Investigator leading a neuro immuno endocrinology lab. To be a good P.I. one needs to be able to effectively and efficiently communicate with his/her team in order to achieve the common goal of rapidly publishing accurate information. I hope to not only apply the leadership strategies of communication and connection to all relationships in my life, but also apply these strategies to my future professional career.


STEP Reflection- Leadership

Name: Maddie Ricard


Type of Project: Leadership


  1. My STEP Signature Project consisted of attending a week-long conference in Boston called Leadershape in which I learned about my personal leadership abilities, strengths and weaknesses, as well as how to better interact with those around me and listen to their opinions. A large component of this week was learning how to lead with intergrity and how to become the type of leader and person you strive to be. We also focused on having each person finding their vision for the type of life they want to lead and how to make it happen.


  1. I think that a lot changed in the way I think about myself and the world while completing my project. First of all, I noted after Day 1, that after hearing the stories of other members of my small group, that everyone has their own challenges and histories that you would never know about they told you. This was a big reminder to me to not be quick to judge someone for being annoying or different and that everyone has their own story, so it is important to be patient and respectful to everyone I encounter. I also noticed how I have different styles of leadership in different settings and that sometimes it is just as important for me to sit back and listen as it is to take charge and speak up.

My desire to become a physician increased while I reflected on my passions and desires at Leadershape. I realized that I was passionate about helping those that are disadvantaged and being of service to people by providing them with proper healthcare. I became more confident in my career path and more motivated to participate in activities that would get me to medical school, as well as ones that would help me as a future physician.


  1. The key aspects of my experiences occurred during small group time, personal reflection time, as well as during one-on-one conversations with other Leadershape attendees. During small group time, we would have discussions, often with conflicting points of view, so it was interesting for me to take a step back and really think about how I wanted to present myself and my ideas. I noticed over the course of the week that I was able to gauge the feel of the group and speak up when I could contribute and not talk simply for the sake of talking. I realized that sometimes I may be timid about my sharing my thoughts, especially if they may be unpopular with some, but my ideas are important and even helpful so are worth bringing up.

During personal reflection time, I noticed how being quiet and pensive was helpful to me for making decisions. I enjoy writing down my thoughts and for having time to assess my strengths and my goals. This reflection time taught me about what kind of person and leader I wanted to be in my classes, organizations, and daily life. I took note of difficulties I was facing, my hopes for my future, and concrete ways to get there. I believe this type of reflection has helped me tremendously since attending Leadershape to try to focus in on achieving my goals and keeping my priorities straight. I have become much more thoughtful and decisive about the extra activities I have added to my schedule since the conference such as doing clinical research and working at an Autism Learning Center in order to best prepare myself for getting into medical school.

The last evening of the conference, we met with our small groups and had a conversation with each member including constructive criticism and general comments about talking and growing together for a week. I was affirmed by many of my small group members in my ability to add meaningful points to discussions, something I was focusing on that week, and that I try to continue to uphold in all group settings. A few group members even mentioned that they thought I should speak up more, so I realized that sometimes I need to be courageous in speaking up when necessary. As I had discussed my desires to become a doctor as my ultimate vision with my group members throughout the week, it was very moving for me when some of them told me they thought I would make a great doctor. This was one of the first times I had received the support and affirmation from people I had just met about becoming a doctor and still means a lot and is inspiring to me.

Although my passion project is not supported by STEP funds, I still chose to stay in Columbus the summer after my junior year in order to continue with my research and volunteering, as well as start a job at an Autism Learning Center. While I am currently in the midst of completing this aspect of my project, Ihave been inspired by my time at Leadershape in order to take part in all of these tasks. By working for the Autism Learning Center, I am getting one-on-one experience working with autistic children and building the types of relationships that I will one day build with my patients. I will also apply some of my leadership skills in deciding the best way to lead the students through relationship building, not by being controlling. By continuing with the research that I started after attending Leadershape, I am able to not only best prepare myself for the clinical aspects of being a doctor, but also take more leadership roles within the lab by staying over the summer and obtaining more responsibilities and duties.


  1. As I have mentioned throughout this reflection, I have gained many personal insights about myself and leadership style that applies to my job, activities, and ultimately, journey to becoming a physician because of my project. The skills I learned and reflected on at the conference have been useful and make me a better member of the groups I am in and will one day help to influence the way I work with colleagues and talk to patients. I decided that for my passion project I wanted to participate in activities that would best prepare me for getting into medical school, which is why staying in Columbus this summer to take on leadership roles in my research and work with students with autism would be the most transformative and meaningful experiences. I am grateful for the self-reflection, realizations of leadership styles, motivation for achieving my goal of medicine, and opportunities to achieve my dreams that I have received from this project and how they will all help me on my way to becoming a doctor.








Australia/New Zealand STEP Leadership Project Reflection

Shane Riddle

Leadership Project


  1. This project consisted of a 21 day, once in a lifetime adventuring trip across Australia and New Zealand during which each participant had to perform a leadership role at least every other day. These varied from leading and navigating the hikes to cooking meals for the group and everything in between. The activities included lots of hiking, sky diving, surfing, kayaking, bungee jumping, jet boating, swimming in the great barrier reef, and exploring the cities.


  1. My understanding of myself changed the most. The physical and situational environments I was in were very new to me and forced me to grow as a person. For as long as I can remember I have never been in such a carefree position. It was sensationally liberating and my mental health improved drastically. I came back a much more positive and thoughtful person probably because I was able to take some time and introspect for once. I learned how to let go a little bit and not feel the burning need to micromanage, an improvement to my leadership abilities which is what the STEP side of this project was all about. And I learned that it’s beneficial to take a break from the hyperconnected society we have built around the internet in favor of making real connections with people.


My view of the world also changed quite a bit. I had only recently become interested in travelling and was hoping this trip would be able to confirm whether I actually enjoyed it or not. It’s funny because it not only reinforced that suspicion but it instilled a burning desire to explore the world more. All I can think about since I got back is where I should go next. All the activities we did there, the people we met, the sights we saw, all of it was invigorating and I just want to experience it again and again.


  1. A lot of this growth came about through the activities and interactions I had with my fellow project participants. We were without internet for 3 weeks which meant I had no easy escape from socializing. This forced me to get to know these new people I was travelling with which helped me evaluate and improve the way I interact with others. That was especially cool because I came into the trip not knowing a single person but I left having made a connection with every single one of them, something I didn’t think would happen in such a short period of time. I’m very grateful for this since it was really the people that made this trip so spectacular. We also had random reflection moments where we would take 10 minutes alone on a hike or the beach or something to think about what we were doing there and how we were using this trip to become better people.

On the leadership side of things, we were given assignments every other day that ranged from preparing the meals, to leading hikes and activities. At the end of the day we were given an evaluation of how we did. It was interesting to see the improvements that were made to our leadership skills over such a short time. The feedback was immensely helpful and the fact that we got to do multiple rounds meant we could focus on getting better and then see if we had succeeded. It was a unique experience because we got to learn by performing rather than just watching or listening. And since we were trading off roles, the days we had off we had no responsibilities and could enjoy being on such an amazing trip without any kind of stress or deadline looming over our heads. It was a much needed break from the real world and gave me a better attitude for approaching life.


Regarding the change in my view of the world, it was definitely the result of all the cool stuff we saw/ did and the people we interacted with. We swam in the great barrier reef, hiked through rainforests and canyons and over mountains, kayaked in mountain ringed lakes, explored cities and did some extreme sports (skydiving, bungee jumping, jet boating, etc.). It was incredible to have so many new experiences and to see such pristine wilderness that some other countries have preserved so much better than ours has. My appreciation for Australia and New Zealand has increased ten-fold and that desire to see more is what has brought about my elevated interest in travel. It was really cool that there was nothing but encouragement from the people I met too. No one said anything like, “oh that looks scary, you shouldn’t do it,” they all said, “that looks exciting, you should go for it!” This is exactly why I found the courage to do so many cool things I thought I’d never do and it is something I will be forever grateful for.


  1. These changes I have undergone are all very important to me. As a student and soon to be graduate, I have learned new techniques for leadership that will be applicable in my studies and future career. As an individual I have learned how to be more positive and encouraging, as well as how to best interact with others. This has already been a tremendous help as I can see my relationships with people here improving every day since I got back. In terms of future plans, this trip has opened my eyes to so many possibilities. I actually made a list of things on the trip that I want to do over the next few years and even came up with some life goals, but that list is nowhere near complete and I look forward to adding to it. I have discovered a passion for something outside of my career and that is fantastic because I now have a much better idea of who I am. I can much better define myself in terms of something other than what I do/ will do for a living and a few hobbies. It feels good.