Applying to a Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP)

Research was once intimidating to me, but that changed when I took a “Research Methods in Sociology” course the first semester of my sophomore year (Fall 2017). It was a very interesting class that introduced me to research and allowed me to learn more of about what that encompasses. I learned that there are two major subgroups of research: qualitative and quantitative. This ended up being one of my favorite classes ever taken at Ohio State.

I have blogged about my eight weeks at University of Iowa through the Big Ten Academic Alliance’s Summer Research Opportunities Program. I separated the blog posts into two parts: part I (June 2018) and part II (July 2018). This specific blog post will be dedicated to sharing my experiences of APPLYING to the program, and my experiences with rejections from several programs. I hope to help others in their academic journeys towards graduate school and professional school!

(The following information are my own insights. Feel free to follow the advice laid out, but I do not guarantee acceptances.)



Research comes with a multitude of rewards: enhanced reading and writing skills, stronger critical thinking, better evaluation of sources, patience, networking, enhanced analysis skills, and more! By participating in a SROP, I prepared myself tremendously for graduate school and my junior and senior years of college. Through the SROP at University of Iowa, I was able to conduct research for eight weeks, attend workshops on topics related to research and graduate school, write a strong personal statement and CV, study for the GRE, and present my findings at a conference.

I am speaking specifically about the Summer Research Opportunities Program through the Big Ten Academic Alliance.

Here are the steps that I took in applying to and being accepted into a SROP:

During my first year of college, I heard about SROP from a current graduate student in public health. He discussed how he participated in two SROPs and enjoyed both of the experiences, as it helped him strengthen his skills and build his knowledge of public health and biology. They helped inform him of his career goals and aspirations. I kept “SROP” in my mind, and wanted to develop more as a student and scholar before I applied for one.

1. Around October of 2017, which was my sophomore year, I attended a grad school event in the Union. (I like preparing myself early, and even though sophomores may not really concern themselves over graduate school, it was useful for me.) This was like a career fair, and events were scattered in different rooms of the Union. During the one session I attended, the presenters talked about SROP and provided some handouts on SROP and graduate school at OSU in general. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, take notes, and ask for handouts, which contain helpful info! In my personal network, almost nobody had completed a SROP. None of my peers had participated in one, but some staff in Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) had. Ask around on your social media networks too. Somebody may know somebody who did partake in a SROP.

2. During winter, I did more research on SROP on the Internet, and asked people questions to see what they knew about it. I asked around at my own college to see if faculty typically have the time to be mentors for SROP at Ohio State. Looking at the SROP website and exploring its pages, including viewing videos and testimonials from past participants and faculty mentors, was incredibly beneficial for me.

** View the Eligibility Requirements before even starting an application. **

3. I began a Google Document to keep track of the SROP requirements and deadlines. Sometimes transcripts and letters of recommendation are due at different times than the actual application. SROP has a Common App-like application to fill out, and then some schools that have a SROP require their own supplemental applications. In this document, I wrote down my username and password for the application.

4. During winter break, I began brainstorming my content for the essays. This entailed free-writing for me, and typing out whatever popped into my mind that I thought could be used for my essays. There is a PERSONAL STATEMENT and a STATEMENT OF RESEARCH INTERESTS. These are different essays, and you should take the opportunity to showcase different sides of yourself in these essays. Try not to repeat information in these essays. You also do not just want to list out your achievements like you are just writing out your resume or CV. You do want these essays to tell a story! It also should not read like a formal paper; it should still feel like it is your voice that is coming across to the reader. It can be hard to explain what to do and what not to do with your essay, but I hope that my advice makes sense, at least a little bit! Also, there is no magic formula for writing a stellar essay. This can be helpful for people in crafting personal statements. Keep these tips in mind! (This infographic is targeted to people who want to go to law school, but you get the idea.)

For my 250-word-limit personal statement, I tried to give the readers a glimpse of who I was, and how I was shaped into the scholar and resilient individual I am today. Additionally, I painted a picture of my background, because that is fundamental in my development. I wrote about why I was motivated to seek a research experience. I included how SROP can help me reach my goals. I also mentioned some experiences of mine, like participating in a college prep program from the sixth grade onwards, and earning 55 college credits during high school. This statement was short and sweet. I had a friend proofread this for errors. Never would I submit a piece of writing before a friend or two scan it over.

For my statement of research interests, which was also a 250-word-maximum, I mentioned my upbringing in the inner-city, and how the challenges/issues I witnessed and faced prompted me to study public health, sociology, and gender studies. With my range of academic interests, my studies would help me address multidimensional, or interdisciplinary, issues, especially health disparities, which I am most passionate about. Then I mentioned how a Research Methods class allowed me to get firsthand experience with research, and I wanted to do more research, which was why I intended to participate in a SROP! My last paragraph consisted of me saying that I wanted to immerse myself into research and what I hoped my future research will be.

** I would share my actual essays, but decided not to in order to avoid the potential for plagiarism. Do not plagiarize. Do not steal/appropriate ideas from others’ essays. Your writing has to be your own. **

5. When spring 2018 started, I made time to work on my essays on the weekends. I was unemployed, but still volunteered at least eight hours a week, and spent eight to ten hours a week for student organizations as well. Many hours of brainstorming, writing, and re-writing were spent. The easiest part was filling out the application with my demographic information. It is important to take breaks and revisit your writing the next day. Give yourself time and space to write. Writing in my dorm room was my preference.

** You may need to send official transcripts to the school and/or SROP. This will come out of your own pocket! **

6. I believe in January, early on in the application process, I asked for letters of recommendation from two sociology professors, since I developed relationships with those two people well. Ask professors/instructors well in advance, at least a month before a deadline. Be sure to ask if they can write a strong letter of recommendation. Do they feel like they know you well enough, whether personally and/or academically? Some things to provide these recommenders are your CV or resume, your application essays, information about the program, your LinkedIn profile, your personal blog, etc.

7. Throughout my process, I asked friends if they had time to read my essays. I did not ask the same friend to read different variations of the dozen or so essays I wrote. There were probably four individuals who read a few essays of mine. I did not use OSU’s Writing Center services, which would have probably helped me out and resulted in more acceptances. The SROP application was due February 10th for me, and some schools had later deadlines (but they also required the SROP application in addition to their own). Besides applying just for SROP, I applied for a few other opportunities as back-ups in case I was not admitted into any of the SROPs. For example, I applied for a cultural summer camp in China for fun and for a research position in Columbus over the summer.

8. Early March was when applications wrapped up for me, and I waited for positive responses in my Buckeyemail inbox. I heard a positive response from University of Iowa, and reached out personally to a potential faculty mentor in sociology, which is my specialization, not my major. Sometimes faculty are not conducting research in your major/desired field at the time, but you can still try to work with them in a different field if you have an interest in that as well! I remained determined and advocated for myself and my abilities. In late March, I was offered acceptance into University of Iowa’s SROP, and accepted that offer since they needed a definitive answer from me within that week. It was a shock to me to see a “Yes” from a program, since it is a competitive program and I doubted my chances of getting in.                                                                        Despite thinking that you probably won’t be accepted, you still have a chance if you apply! If you do not apply at all, you have a 0% chance. So take that chance! Believe in yourself.

9. After accepting a program’s offer of admission, you have to turn down other programs’ offers, if they come your way. It turned out that I was rejected from the other SROPs. Some emailed to inform me that I was rejected, while a few did not respond to me at all. For my SROP, I was expected to read emails sent to me carefully. There were more steps to take, like filling out forms and providing information to coordinate health insurance, direct deposit of my stipend, and to book my round-trip flight to and from the program. Some forms required my signature, so I printed out papers and signed them, and scanned them back. The program also asked about roommate requests, but I did not have any preferences, and let the program choose for me. I was required to complete research training modules to learn more about research procedures and ethics! Furthermore, I submitted a headshot to share with others; this headshot was later printed out and put on my dorm door when I got to campus. There are many tasks to complete, but it was actually fun for me to do these, and learn a bit about my peers in the program before I would eventually meet them!

** Respond to emails as soon as you can! Even if the email is just to inform you of what is happening, you can reply with “Received! Thank you for the updates!” 

In late May, I was emailed a syllabus for the summer research program. I printed this out because I like having a physical copy of it to refer to, and I put the dates/deadlines into my personal planner. After completing the requirements and maintaining communication with my program, I arrived in Iowa on June 4th. As always, I was courteous and respectful to everyone. Each participant had their own UIowa email to use. We submitted assignments via an online grading system similar to Ohio State’s Carmen. In this blog post, I provided many details for my readers; I hope that it is not too much! Overall, UI SROP was a wonderful experience and very transformative! If you are unsure of going to graduate school or even getting involved with research, but are willing to try it out, I suggest it. Remain open-minded about opportunities.

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If anyone has any questions, wants advice, or someone to talk with about the process, I can certainly make time to help a fellow Buckeye! I am potentially available to read statements as well. I do also suggest utilizing the wonderful Writing Center here on campus; students can do walk-ins, scheduled appointments, and even have their written work looked over virtually and then receive comments online. Send over your drafts to friends who can provide constructive criticism; they will be able to read the statements and determine if the writing reflects your true voice and your true self.

Good luck to all who will apply to a Summer Research Opportunities Program! 🙂


Se Levanta: The MUNDO Puerto Rico Experience

I had the pleasure and honor of being a part of the action team that planned the MUNDO Puerto Rico experience that took place from December 14th-20th, 2018. In August 2018, the people on our action team began holding weekly meetings in order to set the itinerary for our group, budget our activities, recruit and reach out to potential participants, plan the pre-travel meeting, and more. The hours we put in to helped make the experience a success.

MUNDO loves learning and exploring our world. We loved Puerto Rico.

It was an exciting and enlightening experience planning and participating in this alternative break trip. This was an opportunity to learn in-depth about the history of Puerto Rico, the island of enchantment. I learned more about the multicultural background and how people live today, firsthand. Beforehand, I had such a superficial, limited knowledge of Puerto Rico and its people. Actually, I had done some research when I applied to participate in the experience for the winter break 2017. Unfortunately, Hurricane Maria happened, and severely damaged buildings, infrastructure, and in general caused extreme distress to the island. Thankfully, the island is recovering and is showing how resilient it is. We are thankful that we have the chance to go visit Puerto Rico in 2018, and learn about a variety of topics, and stimulate the economy.

We shared this flyer that I made around social media to attract people to apply.

Twenty four (24) Ohio State students and four Ohio State staff mentors came along, so there was a total of 28 people in our group. Each of us provided unique perspectives and contributed to an engaging time while there. To become involved in this experience, people must apply and write an essay or two, and ideally participate in MUNDO already to receive preference/priority for the trip. We then look over the applications and we have had to make cuts or create waitlists for people. We also let participants know of the payments and their deadlines.

In late November, we had our Pre-Travel Meeting, which is mandatory and lets us all recognize the faces we’d see daily later on in December. We did an exercise that entailed us writing “What we know about Puerto Rico,” “What we want to know more about,” and “What did we learn from the presentation?/What barriers or challenges do we see ahead?”

I created this flyer to remind participants to attend our pre-travel meeting.

Friday, December 14th, 2018
After finals finished at Ohio State, early in the morning of Friday, December 14th, 2018, we had a bus pick up students from north campus, west campus, and south campus. We headed for the airport, and stopped in Chicago briefly before landing in Puerto Rico around 4:30 PM. Our group was picked up by a bus, and it took us about half an hour to get to our hotel.

On the ride there, I looked out the windows to observe what this new environment was; I saw gas for 67 cents for a liter, which is 1/4 of a gallon, if I am correct ($2.68 for a gallon). I also saw McDonald’s, Domino’s, and KFC. There were some abandoned buildings, some of which had graffiti sprawled on them. There was a rent-a-car facility which also apparently had buy one get one free margaritas. These observations were interesting.

We stayed in Old San Juan, which is such a beautiful area, with colorful buildings and friendly drivers who let us pedestrians cross the street. There’s also lively music around different plazas, and street carts selling fresh fruit, fried snacks, or frappes, smoothies, and other delicious and refreshing drinks.

Eleven of us went to dinner together at a restaurant called Mojito’s, which was a few minutes walk behind our hotel. This experience is substance-free, even for those who are of legal age to drink. We must abide by Ohio State University policy and take this precaution. At Mojito’s, many of us had grilled chicken breast with rice and beans and salad. Some had pulled pork or beef. A few of us had plantains, and the one of us had mofongo (they had had it before). My meal consisted of grilled chicken breast with creole sauce (which is similar to a tomato sauce) and rice and beans with some salad.

Mojitos had friendly service that accommodated us easily.

After a filling meal, we walked around the area a bit to see how to navigate the streets. I learned that there are not really street lights in Old San Juan, yet drivers still act peacefully and get around without much honking going on. They also let pedestrians cross when there are no marked crosswalks (there are some marked crosswalks, but most of the time, you just look left and right and see if there’s a car, you can motion with your hand a Thank You to let the driver let you pass first). I appreciated that. A group of us stopped at an area where there was a live band and people dancing in an alley-like area. I felt some rain pelt down on us, and two other friends and I headed to the hotel. On the way back, we tried pina coladas from a smoothie and frappe stand.

Puerto Rico is also in the middle of their holiday season, which I think that I heard began in late November/early December and will last until January 6th or so. Decorations like trees, wreaths, and holiday lighting were ubiquitous. One restaurant we went to had multiple Christmas trees, of various sizes in its building. Even though you usually associate the holiday of Christmas with snow and cold temperatures, over here, it was a warm, balmy 80 degrees. Wearing lightweight, breathable clothing is a must, as is wearing sturdy shoes for getting around everywhere. The slag and brick streets of Old San Juan are not very accessible for people who use wheelchairs or have trouble climbing hills and inclines. I heard that people are trying to ameliorate this and make it more friendly for people of different abilities and needs.

Saturday, December 15th, 2018 
I got up around 7:45 AM, or well, 8 AM, since I was still in bed as one of my roommates was getting ready in the bathroom. Three women share a suite, while two men share a room. Each advisor/staff gets their own room. Breakfast at the hotel opens at 6:30 AM, which is around the time the sun rises. I got changed into a dress and got down to the breakfast room around 8:30 AM, and the whole group had to be in the lobby at 8:45 AM to depart from the hotel for our food tour, brought to us by Spoon Food Tours. We headed out at 9 after we checked in with each other and Julius Mayo, a founder of MUNDO, taught us some Spanish phrases to know. “Buen provecho” means “have a good meal/enjoy your meal,” and is the Spanish equivalent of the French phrase “Bon appetit.”

Our group split into two smaller groups for the food tours, which also allowed us to learn of the history of Old San Juan, and anything else we wanted to know. Our specific tour took about three hours to complete; we had about five different stops for food of some kind, and this all ended up being a meal for me. I should have skipped my breakfast that day because I could not finish some of the samples provided to me. Our tour guide majored in food and culinary science for her undergraduate career in the United States, and has been back in Puerto Rico to do some food tours for people, and who knows what next. She was incredibly helpful and prepared to discuss histories and answer our questions. I learned some new and neat facts on the tour, including these:

  • The streets and buildings of Old San Juan are designed in a way so that one side of the street is always in shade, and the other side gets some sun.
  • Wheat is an Old World ingredient.
  • The plaza was dedicated to 500 years since Puerto Rico was ‘discovered by Columbus.’ The plaza had a pillar dedicated to the ingredient sofrito, which is commonly used throughout Puerto Rican cuisine. This pillar is made of black granite and replicas of bowls and pots that date back to the Tainos, the indigenous peoples of Puerto Rico. These bowls and pots were used to make stews a long time ago.
  • Casa Blanca is an attraction and museum to visit. The name literally translates to ‘white house’ and was where Ponce de Leon’s family stayed. Ponce de Leon was the first governor of the island, and he also founded Florida.

The first place my specific group of 14 people went to was Don Ruiz, a roastery, museum, and café all in one. The coffee is locally grown and comes from Yauco. They have some food, pastries, coffee of all kinds, and smoothies. We had mallorcas, which are sweet bread rolls dusted lightly in powdered sugar. Inside of ours was some ham and cheese. It was such a great bite-size treat, and paired with hot chocolate, was delicious. One person in our group had coffee, and she poured some brown sugar into it to sweeten it up. FUN FACT: The darker the sugar, the purer it is. Sugar has natural ingredients but when made white, its nutrients get stripped away.

We were in the Ballaja barracks, or Cuartel de Ballaja.

Don Ruiz is housed in a large building that has dance classes, museums, and galleries on the lower level, and offices on the upper level. (We saw cute children in ballerina outfits dancing around the vicinity). This building was used as a military facility; 1,000 soldiers and their families once lived here. Then this place was headquarters for the infantry. During WWII, it was transformed into a hospital. Now, it commemorates history and the arts.

According to our tour guide, Danny, the Corsicans brought coffee over to Puerto Rico after 1736. The Corsicans did not want to compete with the settled-in Spaniards for territory or get in conflict with them in any way, so they settled down in the mountains in the southwest.

Although Don Ruiz is not selling bags of their coffee anymore due to Hurricane Maria’s impacts on the coffee industry (and many other industries), you can still check them out:

At our other stops, we tried French toast with citrus and pineapple slices, pulled pork with rice and beans and some fruity drinks, and a traditional dish called mofongo, which includes plantains. We stopped at a farmer’s market, where vendors sold fresh produce, handmade soaps, some souvenirs, drinks, and more. I was surprised to see mung beans and bok choy, but the world is becoming more globalized, and foods from different places get traded and shared around. Danny recommended reading “Eating Puerto Rico: A History of Food, Culture, and Identity”

The final stop on our culinary tour was Señor Paleta. This is a tiny popsicle shop, with no room to sit in. You order what you want, turn around, and leave. The heat made the popsicles melt so quickly. I could not even finish mine, and was deterred from buying popsicles in Puerto Rico again. The small shop had many customers flowing in and out of the area, for some quick relief.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro also known as Fuerte San Felipe del Morro or Castillo del Morro, is a 16th-century citadel located in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The group had about an hour and a half of free time before we met up to tour El Morro. At 3:30 PM, a park ranger named Anthony guided a tour of El Morro; this tour lasted from 45 minutes to an hour. The tour group consisted of about 20-25 people. Over half of us were MUNDO experience participants, accompanied by a pair of women who were OSU alumni from decades ago, and also a few families with small children.

We went to different levels of the fortress. Our first stop was the chapel, where soldiers would come to sit on the pews and pray. Above the chapel entrance were symbols of a shield, a pillar/column, and a bull skull. This symbolism referred to protection and sacrifice. People etched these symbols also because many of the soldiers were illiterate, and could not read or write letters.

O-H-I-O in El Morro

Building El Morro began in 1540, and construction would take 248 years to complete. This fortress was to protect Puerto Rico from invaders, as Puerto Rico was considered to be a treasure. The massive green space on the fortress’s exterior is the battlefield where people fought. A major invasion where invaders were close to succeeding happened in 1625, when the Dutch wanted to try to take over.

I learned a lot about the fortress and why Puerto Rico was such a treasure; it was in a prime position in the Caribbean. The east trade winds would help incoming ships maneuver to the island. Plus, Puerto Rico was the gateway to the Americas, and to wealth and resources.

At the end of the tour, our guide Anthony asked us to think about what our treasure was, and what we will do to protect and preserve it, whether it be culture, language, family history, or whatever else. This was so powerful to me. He left such a good impression.

Sunday, December 16th, 2018 
I woke up around 8:15 AM, and got breakfast: an omelet and two thin slices of watermelon. Then two friends and I set out to explore Old San Juan and check out an artisan market.

I really liked the art museum the entire group visited in the afternoon: Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. This museum is devoted to the visual arts of Puerto Rico and has a permanent collection depicting art from the 17th century to the present. It also has local and international exhibits. We spent a few hours exploring the exhibits and the outdoor garden. The outdoor garden was my favorite part. I also enjoyed hearing some live performers practice their music on the museum’s ground floor.

The murals in the outdoor gardens captivated me most.

The evening was free for everyone to explore some more. A group of eight of us went to Pirilo Pizza Rustica for pizza and other food. After an hour wait to be seated, we climbed up some steep stairs to the second floor. I ordered a Hawaiian pizza, and two slices made me full. I saved the other two slices for a meal the next day.

Monday, December 17th, 2018
This was another busy day, one where we were outside for the majority of the day. Sunscreen and water were absolutely essential. Our group went on an all-day expedition: El Yunque Rainforest & Bioluminescent Bay Combo Tour. El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System!

At 10 AM, 24 students and one MUNDO advisor boarded one van, and the other three advisors went into another van, to go to the same destinations. The driver was our guide and he told us stories throughout this experience. He was steering with his left hand and holding his microphone with his right hand, which may seem precarious but he maintained good driving. He said that 90% of what Puerto Rico consumes is imported. Additionally, he explained that Old San Juan is separated from the larger island and connected by bridges as a strategy to provide a safe haven for Spanish ships.

Here are more facts and history that people should know:

  • 1898 marked the year of the Spanish-American War. The United States won over Spain and took over control of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory. It was the last colony of the New World.
  • The Tainos, the indigenous peoples of what is now Puerto Rico, were decimated by colonizers (not ‘conquerers’ or ‘civilizers’) and diseases that their immune systems could not defend against. Tainos were enslaved and forced to find gold in the rivers, where the mineral was plentiful. Now, the rivers do not have gold in them besides specks of glitter among the rocks in the riverbeds. The culture of the Tainos is alive today in Puerto Rican culture, though. Not all is lost.
  • Plantains come from Africa. Different foods come from different parts of the world, and make their way into Puerto Rican cuisine.
  • The indigenous population called their land Boriquen, and they were Boricua.

We visited the Yokahu Observation Tower, where we could see far away and above the tree tops.
We also stopped at La Coca Falls, Angelito Trail, and for a late lunch/early dinner, we ate at one of the 60 restaurants at Los Kioskos de Luquillo.

At 5 PM, we arrived at Laguna Grande Bioluminescent Bay, which is one of the bays that people can visit to see the bioluminescent creatures and their blue/white glow. As the sun was setting, we were given a demonstration/overview of how to kayak correctly and safely. We would proceed single-file-kayak through the mangrove forests to the bay, and then back to shore. This entire process would take about two hours. I really enjoyed kayaking, but I was nervous about doing so in the dark. My partner Briana and I hit the trees just a few times. Other pairs also ran into the trees. Once everyone emerged in the lagoon, our eyes slowly adjusted to the deep blue night sky and the twinkling stars that dotted it. I had never seen that many stars before. The company took out a large black tarp to cover people with, and once under the tarp, I swirled my hand in the water. While kayaking back to our start location, it felt faster and I saw some bats fly overhead.

I wore the wrong outfit for kayaking. My sides and entire bottom half were soaked, as were my shoes. Sandals would have been more appropriate.

Around 9 PM, we arrived, soggy and exhausted, at our hotel. I quickly went to sleep after such a tiring but terrific day.

Tuesday, December 18th, 2018
We had our service project in the morning from 9:30 AM to 11:00 AM at Banco de Alimentos, a food bank! MUNDO frequently volunteers at food banks for our service sites on our breaks. Long pants, t-shirts, and closed-toe shoes were required to participate. I had much fun while volunteering, even though I was tired. At first, I helped sort food to see if they were expired or not. If not, I put them onto the appropriate shelves. Later, the whole group participated in labeling cheese and putting them back into boxes. During the 10-15 minute break, I sat on some wooden boards, propped my left arm up on my knee, and closed my eyes. We went through hundreds of boxes of cheese. We made a lot of progress and helped the food bank tremendously.

We had the rest of the day free until 6 PM, when we’d have to meet up again as a giant group to walk over to our alumni dinner at Princesa Gastrobar. We were able to have dinner with six alumni. We were split among four tables, and this allowed for more intimate conversations. Two of the alumni who came out were actually high school best friends, who remained close to this day! When we left dinner, I could hear the sounds of the coquis, which are frogs. I never once saw this frog while on the island, but I definitely heard them throughout my experience. A small group of us went to Poet’s Passage to hear live spoken word

Our group enjoyed meeting with OSU alumni!

Wednesday, December 19th, 2018
We had our ‘free day’ today, which meant the group had nothing planned and each participant could go wherever they liked (within reason) and do the activities they wanted to (that were appropriate). I walked around to the Museum of the Americas, which I highly recommend! With a student discount, my price for admission was just $4.00. I spent an hour or two here, exploring the different exhibits. Some were dedicated to art, while others discussed African heritage, different cultures of the Americas, and colonization in Puerto Rico. Later, I visited Casa Blanca. This is a sprawling estate that I also recommend people see. I made it back to the hotel to try to nap, but decided to grab a light meal with friends before our afternoon activity.

In the late afternoon/evening, I embarked on a sunset boat tour with five other students. We were at sea for two hours, and saw along the coasts of Old San Juan.

From the boat, we could see the colorful cluster of buildings.

This sunset tour was another favorite aspect of my experience. It provided truly remarkable views and allowed me to relax.

I packed an OSU tank top and OSU shirt for my trip. As an OSU student, pack a few school merchandise for anywhere you go. We always ran into Buckeyes and Buckeye fans.

Thursday, December 20th, 2018
We had to leave Puerto Rico for Columbus today. In the morning, we took a group photo at the “I <3 PR” sign close to our hotel. Then around 1 PM, we made it to the airport to check our bags, which took an hour or so of waiting. Then we waited even longer for security. There were so many people at the San Juan Airport. I had never waited so long to go through security before. We had some delays and dilemmas, and stayed in the airport longer than we expected to. Nevertheless, we were happy to finally move along and get back to Columbus.

Friday, December 21st, 2018
At around 3 am, we made it to the Columbus airport, a few hours later than expected. One participant stayed behind in Puerto Rico to be with her family in Ponce. It was a great experience, and on the weekend, all participants would get the chance to fill out a survey to share their thoughts on the experience and offer suggestions for future trips to Puerto Rico.


I felt fortunate to visit Puerto Rico and see all that it had to offer. I learned more about the history of its colonization and the different influences from Spaniards, Africans, and Tainos that shaped the identity and cultures of Puerto Rico. Throughout the trip, I also made some public health observations:

  • The Walgreens under our hotel has a sign on their checkout counter that says that they check everyone for their ID when they buy alcohol, regardless of age!
    • This was interesting to me! I didn’t see anywhere else that did this, so I want to look further into this.
  • Sidewalks in Old San Juan are overwhelmingly not accessible for people with wheelchairs or other abilities. The up-hill trek can also be difficult for people. Some sidewalks and some streets cannot be visited altogether.
  • I saw advertisements on buildings for San Juan Health Center and Molina Healthcare. I made notes of what healthcare resources were available. At a bookstore, I also was tempted to buy a book on public health in Puerto Rico, but decided not to, so I could spend more on more filling meals.
  • We could easily find food trucks and food stands offering fried snacks, pizza, and popcorn. Even our food tour guide Danny said that people’s diets consisted of fried foods, starches and carbs, with little vegetables. This was reflected at many restaurants that I went to. Some restaurants did not offer a lot of vegetables; if there were, it was usually light-colored lettuce with some shavings of carrots and some pieces of tomatoes. People could still be at risk for malnutrition and lack some nutrients that they would get from vegetables.

Overall, I am very pleased with my experience, and proud of myself for playing a part in it coming to fruition. My experiences here have encouraged me to think about what I treasure and value: my cultures, my family heritages and histories, and the languages that my family members speak. Another thought that arose from my contemplation was that I hope people do not visit a place just because of its allure, its “exoticness,” or its tropical climate or warmer temperatures. People should also take the time to learn about the stories of the individuals who live in that place. How did that place get to where it is today? Were things always like this? It is important to make keen observations and to interact with the locals.

This appears to be a red hibiscus flower. There’s beauty everywhere, especially around Puerto Rico, which is also called the island of enchantment,

I want to thank my student organization, MUNDO, and the peers and staff for making this experience enlightening and enriching for me. We had plenty of conversations about our own lives and our perspectives. It was also inspiring to witness how Puerto Rico was recovering and thriving once more. I have a deeper and broader understanding of Puerto Rican history, culture, and society, especially around Old San Juan.  This trip also inspired me to think about being proud of your heritage and always remembering your roots.

The University of Iowa – Summer Research Opportunities Program – Part II

July 2018

When July came around, I was halfway completed with the Summer Research Opportunities Program at The University of Iowa; four weeks down, with four more to go! This second month, I finished as much research as I could do, and then the last week was spent wrapping up the program: presenting posters at the annual undergraduate summer research symposium and recognizing all the Scholars for our hard work and contributions. This half of the summer felt like it went by much quicker than the first half.

July 1st – That weekend, there was the Jazz Festival downtown, and fireworks were shooting off at night. Plenty of people flooded the streets of downtown Iowa City to enjoy the sizzling, fuzzy heat and hear some music. Some crowds were huddled all over the lawns on campus with their blankets on the grass. I did not go outside at night to watch the fireworks, but I could hear them from the dorm. A few Scholars did go to see the fireworks, even venturing into the neighborhood of Coralville to view the fireworks displays.

Photo credit:

July 2nd
At the “Grad School Admissions” panel, six graduate students shared their experiences and advice for us. These students were pursuing MFAs and Ph.Ds. in history, higher education & student affairs, and counseling psychology. They spoke on their transition from undergraduate to graduate school; some went straight through with their schooling whereas others had some time off for employment first. Some of these students were people of color, and I really appreciated seeing and hearing from POCs, because these were people like me who went on to graduate school.

Some tidbits of wisdom they mentioned during the panel included befriending your fellow graduate students because it is unfeasible and foolish to not do so, and to email professors and people for letters of recommendation immediately, even though it was summer and school had not started yet. One student said that one recommender should know you well personally, one recommender should vouch for your professional experiences, and one should be a “hard-hitter,” which is someone who is highly respected and esteemed in their field. There should also be a person available at the ready to write a back-up recommendation, in case one of the main three recommenders happens to not submit a letter on time, or at all. The panel was very informational. I made a note to myself to contact my recommenders right when school started in August; I wanted to meet with them in person to talk about our summers and then ask them if they would be willing to write me letters.

July 3rd
We had a GRE study session in the evening.

July 4th
SROP had a Holiday Picnic planned for us, but this was canceled, and we all just had the day off. It was eerily quiet downtown on the actual holiday, with barely any cars passing through the streets. A group of us played a few hours of Dungeons & Dragons and then walked downtown to see what was going on. About a dozen of us spent some time in a frozen yogurt shop, and we played a game called Headbands. Those who were over age 21 went to a bar to play billiards. It was a relaxing day.

Our D&D group within SROP used this Starter Set to play our campaign.

July 5th
Our Research Seminar revolved around “Conferences & Publications,” presented to us by a speaker who was very engaging and captivated everyone’s attention as he spoke about types of papers, journals, and authorship. This Chemistry professor was very passionate and stated that this was not a lecture but a discussion; he wanted us to speak during class. Despite it being the end of the day, he did not show any physical signs of fatigue.

I learned that there are three types of research papers:
1) a letter (for general audiences, and the most brief type of paper at two to three pages, including figures and references)
2) a full-length article
3) a review of many articles (this is more rare)
The speaker said that it is common for professors to publish two to ten times a year, depending on their discipline. He also vouched for the value of attending conferences, networking, and attending society meetings. He mentioned that growing a thick skin would be beneficial because “academia is critical of ideas.” What surprised me was that this professor read academic articles every day, including weekends and holidays to keep up with the literature! In addition, journals have impact factors, which are numerical factors for the prestige of the journals. Higher impact factors are better. He also talked about for-profit journals being predatory, as they charge researchers to publish, without thoroughly reviewing the submitted work. Open-access journals on the other hand provide public access to articles; for example, the NIH mandates that NIH-funded research be posted on PubMed, a year after its publication date, so that the public can read this year-old article.

July 6th
For our Speaker Series, a professor in the Sociology department whose research is primarily on social stratification and public policy! She discussed her research on implicit bias training in some schools in the Iowa City Community School District; her hope is that educators will recognize their own biases (every human being has bias, whether they know it or not) and ensure that their biases do not lead to disproportionate educational outcomes for different races of students.
Students and teachers filled out surveys as part of the professor’s research. Students were asked if they had mentors at school, and if they felt safe and supported, among other questions.
One result revealed that 19% of Black students enrolled in the school districts for 2016-2017, but 63% were suspended. This is an outrageous statistic, and indicates a disparity in disciplining students. Another finding was that white students had the highest rates of race-matched mentors, meaning they were the students who often had a mentor of the same race. Furthermore, LGBTQ-identifying students disclosed that they did not feel supported or understood by their teachers. Even 25% of all students surveyed reported that teachers do not recognize their hard work.

There are multiple areas to address in these schools, and diverse stakeholders must be involved when making decisions. Besides training teachers and staff (the implicit bias training in schools is contracted to last three years), a handful of schools are trying a restorative justice approach to discipline instead of suspending students. Also pertinent is recruiting and retaining diverse staff and students. Yet another suggestion raised by the researchers was to arrange school calendars so that testing would not occur on/near any religious holidays, not just Christian holidays like Christmas or Easter.


I support implicit bias training for school educators and staff; having grown up in the inner-city and attending public schools for my entire life, and often being the only Asian-American student in class, I witnessed bias and microaggressions from teachers who had little experience interacting with Asian/Asian-American people. For example, I have had teachers insist on knowing where my parents were born, and teachers who commented how my name did not suit me because it was “too American” for me. This lecture spoke to me, and I hope that teachers nationwide can be more educated and aware of their own biases and lack of knowledge and cultural sensitivity.

July 9th
Sunny gave a professional development presentation on “Professionalism on Social Media.” What we post on the Internet has a permanent presence, even if we delete our photos or statuses. We must be vigilant of what we say or share, because you never know who could screenshot something and send it off to other people. Sunny asked us what social media networks we use, from Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and LinkedIn, to some others. Most of us use a few social media networks! I use a wide array of social networks, and am very connected to the Internet. When I post, I keep in mind that I do have past teachers and older adults as friends or followers of my accounts, so I ask myself if things are appropriate for me to share.

Photo credit:

July 10th
Another GRE Study Session consisted of practicing vocabulary words and doing practice problems from our Kaplan books.

July 11th
The evening session If I Knew Then What I Know Now was a speed meeting with past SROP students who were in graduate school. The scholars were sitting at six tables, and we sat down the entire duration, while a graduate student circled around to each table every 10 minutes, and each of them had a specific topic to discuss with us.
One student, Maya, did SROP at University of Iowa some years ago, where she studied African-American mothers and stress. She talked about “building your cabinet” of people, or basically a support system.
Charles was pursuing a Ph.D. in higher education, and commented on “wearing multiple hats” and juggling various responsibilities. He aims to be a faculty member and administrator for student affairs. When he finished reading for the day, he would then focus on self-care and play basketball as his reward.
Nicole is in the process of achieving her MFA in Painting and Drawing, a three-year program. She talked about “department politics” and power structures.
Danielle was in her Ph.D. program for civil engineering, and was researching flood predictions. She commented on being a “Teaching Assistant (TA) versus Research Assistant (RA) versus Graduate Assistant (GA)”. TAs are popular for science disciplines while GAs are commonly found in the social sciences and liberal arts. She is an RA, and wants to do consulting after her program. She is also involved in graduate student government, so grad students can still be involved outside of the classroom! Danielle mentioned that she is the only woman in her classes, which is still a reality in STEM, but is slowly dissolving.
Lastly a student who I think was named Deron (De’Ron?) discussed “time management” in his MFA for printmaking program. He suggested we try to complete assignments one to two weeks before the given deadline, to allocate more time since procrastination is real. He was attracted to UIowa’s program because of the funding and stipends; also, the school’s printmaking program is third in the nation.
I was impressed by the diversity of graduate students and how they all came from various fields and states; a few went straight from undergraduate to graduate school, and it was interesting to hear all their perspectives.

July 12th
This Research Seminar was on Poster Construction Do’s and Don’ts. Scholars were given a guide for designing our research posters, which we would present at a conference just less than two weeks away. We also received several handouts showing different posters; we went through almost all of them and critiqued each poster. All posters should be concise, with minimal wording and carefully curated diagrams or photos.

Elements of a poster should include, but are not limited to:
Abstract – Why was this research necessary? What happened? What were the results? What are the implications for this research? This should be a short paragraph or two and should be easily understandable by anyone who reads this abstract.
– Introduction – What is the issue being addressed? What is the gap in the literature?
– Hypothesis – What do I predict will be the outcome(s) from the research?
– Methods – What methods did we use for the research? Was it qualitative or quantitative? This should be very specific and delineate how this research was conducted.
– Results – What were the results? Diagrams would be helpful here in visually representing the results.
– Conclusion – This section is a summary of what the results suggest and what future directions can be taken.

This is a sample research poster from my very own university! White space is necessary for a poster. There should be a balance between white space and the amount of text and images on a poster. It should overall look neat and have an organized structure.

There should be some models/diagrams/photos on the poster so that it is not entirely composed of text. People need to see visuals! Visuals can help draw people in and also aid people’s understanding of complex concepts. Some other elements could include Discussion and Literature Review. References are also another popular section. For my poster, I add in an Acknowledgements section, because I always want to give thanks to people who have helped me with my research. Furthermore, I have to thank Professor Welburn and Sean for allowing me to help them with their project and giving me guidance.

When presenting a poster, there are also some guidelines. Students should practice presenting the data in front of peers, before they present at a conference. Do their peers understand the information and can logically follow the points made on the poster? Students should prepare a two-minute version and five-minute version of their poster speech. They also should not simply read off the poster, but briefly explain the research and then give specifics if people ask. Another piece of advice was to be enthusiastic and lively about the research and the work accomplished. If people come up to you and see that you are energetic and excited, they would feel like you really care about the topic.

This lecture’s presenter also showed us sample letters of recommendation that he wrote for students he has worked with. He even handed out a copy of a student’s personal statement for a Ph.D. program. It was very insightful to read these papers and get the perspectives of a recommender.

July 13th
A Biochemistry professor spoke to us on the molecular mechanisms of epigenetics. She introduced herself and her educational background. She spent four years in undergrad, four years for her PhD, six years doing postdoctoral work, and five years ago, she established her own lab. Then she gave us a mini lecture on her work. She explained how she studies how epigenetic factors influence gene expression and how the environment (stress, nutrition, exercise, etc. impact a person’s epigenome).

Source: Learning about epigenetics reminded me of public health, and how environmental exposures and other facets of people’s lives impact their health, even the health of generations of offspring.

Although I took introductory biology and chemistry courses, I never had instruction on epigenetics, so this material was new to me. A fact I learned from the lecture was that there is evidence that genes from a famine in Denmark are affecting people today. The professor said that epigenetic marks are reversible and have substantial therapeutic potential. Her lab works to understand more about chromatin biology and human disease, and help develop therapeutics, which are used for people suffering from disease, pain, or injuries. The professor noted that when seeking funding for research projects, the funders need to be motivated and excited about your topic or your research. I will keep this advice in mind, not just for when I am applying for funding for my research, but for scholarships; I have to make readers excited for me and want to help me achieve my goals.

Scholars who had missed a session for various reasons were required to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity again. This was no issue for me; I appreciated the opportunity to get to help out at the warehouse area. We helped restock furniture, move furniture around, assemble some furniture and appliances (lamps and lighting fixtures in particular), measure door frames, sort recyclables, and unload a few truckloads of even more furniture. It was my first time going inside a Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and seeing the array of items that people donated and would be eventually reused. We even built a bunk bed. Furniture sold here is marked at affordable prices. For furnishing my own homes/apartments in the future, I now can add a Habitat for Humanity ReStore to the list of places to visit.

This is just one small area of the large warehouse of the Habitat for Humanity – Iowa Valley.

July 16th
Natalie conducted our session on self-assessments; it was called “Know Thyself.” This was important because we have to know who we are to write our personal statements and to express ourselves in interviews. She started with asking us if we can define ourselves in one sentence. Statements from scholars like “I am 21 years old,” “I am studying [insert subject/field],” were shot down. Natalie inquired, “What if education and everything else was taken away from you? Who are you then?” What were we besides students?
You can exist without your achievements.” This statement spoke volumes to me. I am more than my almost-perfect (3.966) GPA, my leadership activities, and my honors and awards. We must not define ourselves by a test score or other numbers or accolades. I define myself by values like “trustworthy,” “caring,” “kind,” and “inquisitive.”

Natalie gave us each a worksheet and a paper with a long list of values, from A-Z order. Using values from the list, we first listed five values that are the MOST important to us, then five values that were important to us, and finally five values that were the least important to us. Furthermore, Natalie wanted us to jot down why these values were important to us and how do we use these values or employ them in action.

My most important values are, in no particular order:
My life craves excitement and discovery. I want to travel the world and to different nook and crannies in America. I love adventure and learning about the world around me. So far, I have done some traveling, and that has kept me eager for more adventures.
I strive to be happy, and this has been a great area of struggle for me, with so many challenges I have encountered in life. Happiness is a universal feeling, but oftentimes I do not find myself in a happy state. To try to achieve this value, I spend time with loved ones, and they contribute positively to my mood. I also can make myself content when I am not with other people; blogging is a source of pride and happiness for me. Helping other people generally makes me happy.
What is life without friends? I have made many new friends in college and they have enriched my life. They have supported me and helped me get through school, and I have just had fun with them as we explored Columbus and hung around school. I make sure to see my friends at least once a week, and I often have a class with at least one of them!
My family have always been a part of my life, and they are there for me when I need them. My family has helped get me to where I am today. I make time to see my family a few times a semester. I return home for one to two weeks for winter break. Sometimes I am busy traveling to new places and forgo visiting Cleveland. Still, I call my mother once a week, mostly on the weekends, so I can hear her comforting voice.
Education is one of my lifelines, one of my necessities just like blood. I call myself a lifelong lover of learning; I will always be reading books and online articles to better myself and increase my knowledge of various topics. Many subjects catch my interest. I have a major and two minors because I want to be more well-rounded and educated. While traveling, I try to visit a few museums so I can deepen my understanding of art, history, and different cultures.

For my one-liner, which I did not share out loud with the class but silently wanted to, I wrote down,
I am someone who found her strength from her struggles.”

Photo Source:                                                                                       What defines you? Can you describe yourself succinctly in one sentence?

July 17th
We had our usual GRE Study Session, which we all attend after we eat dinner at Burge Hall.

July 18th
This day, I had a draft of my research poster ready and talked through the layout and content with my mentor, Professor Welburn. I sent her a PDF of my poster and she printed it; I would pick it up later in the office of the Sociology department.

For our session, we had Research Roundtable presentations. We printed out copies of our research abstracts to share with the Scholars at our table, and one faculty mentor/member from University of Iowa was present at each of the four tables around the room to hear us present our abstract and our research projects, and provide us with feedback. This was preparation for the conference next week, and it was also one of the most stressful sessions for me, since I do not like presenting in front of others. Nevertheless, I appreciated getting the chance to hear what my peers were doing and how some of them are really strong presenters and seem to not show any anxiety in front of audiences. Each table would select the scholar from that table who presented the most well, and to eventually stand in front of the entire room to present once more, and be judged. The four scholars presented and the four faculty members decided who was the best presenter. The scholar with the best oral presentation of their research that night was a fellow Buckeye, who I did not meet or know until we both began SROP together in the summer.

July 19th
Our scheduled session was cancelled, so Scholars had this day to work more on research.

July 20th
Our last Speaker Series session was presented by a professor in Astronomy and Physics. That night, we had a SROP Talent Show, where scholars had a space to show off their talents and skills. One scholar did a dance and later that night, a SROP-themed parody of an R&B song. Another scholar played his own musical piece on his flute; throughout SROP, when we walked down the hallways of our dorm floor, we would hear his whimsical flute-playing. Another scholar sang a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie,” and one scholar presented a slideshow of her artwork and she even completed a painting during SROP, and passed this around to the audience. I also volunteered for the talent show; when I submitted my name that I was participating, I only had in mind that I would perform a poem. After I elected to be a part of the show, I hurriedly began to brainstorm my poem. It was finished in two days, and then the few days before the show, I was revising the poem, only allowing two SROP scholars to read it and provide me with feedback. The talent show overall was very fun, and just like how multifaceted and unique each of us scholars are, our talents are different as well.

The Arts Building West building holds the Art Library. It is a tranquil place to study. The small pond sometimes will have ducks splashing around in it.

A link to my poem is found here:

On July 21st, Scholars took a GRE Post-test, from 10 am to 2 pm, to compare our scores from the beginning of summer. I was relieved to earn higher scores for both the quantitative and verbal sections. However, the test we took was the same as the diagnostic test, except I did have some unfamiliar sets of questions because I knew how to answer a few previous sets. I scored in the 80th or so percentiles for this test, an improvement from last time when I scored in the 44th and 70th-something percentiles. When taking practice tests, I did not write essays, but in hindsight, perhaps I should have spent the time to do so. We printed off our results for the SROP staff’s records.

July 23rd –
Graduate assistant Sunny presented a session on self-care and support. For this interactive session, Sunny strongly encouraged us to discuss with him about our perceptions of self-care and what questions we had about the topic. We defined what self-care means for us. One scholar said for her, it meant “treating yourself.” Others said that for their self-care, they needed “music,” “solitude,” “stopping and thinking,” and “hanging with friends.” We then did self-assessments, which I believe were related to stress.

During the session, I took some notes related to self-care:
Start a compliments file.” Sunny practices this activity, and I actually did this back in middle school when I would screenshot compliments that people gave me online. If someone posts something especially sweet and meaningful to me online, I still screenshot it and keep it on my phone in my Photos album.
Mini-meditation.” I do not currently practice meditation, but it can be something simple and not even time-intensive. It could be something I do right before bed, or when I wake up.
Unplug for an hour.” My world revolves around using technology and staying connected to my networks through my phone or laptop. I am almost always looking at a screen, if I am not sleeping or doing my personal hygiene routines. I even scroll on my phone as I eat though, so my everyday life activities seem to be consumed by my use of technology. However, by playing games with my friends, I am engrossed in the games and end up not using my phone. Unplugging can be a challenge, especially when I love social media and want to see/know what other people are up to. Unplugging is important and I hope to remember to engage in activities that do not involve me using technology.
Notice your breathing.” By noticing my breathing, and focusing on only that, I can calm myself down.
Walk around outside.” This is important and should be done daily. I am sure I can commit to this action and get my daily dose of fresh air.

Near the end of the session, we created our own Distress Tolerance Boxes, which are boxes containing items for self-care and stress-relief. Sunny brought some mini boxes that resembled rectangular take-out containers. He also had some rocks engraved with words like “Friendship” and “Love” and some Chinese finger trap toys. There was also some candy to stash in the boxes. We could decorate our boxes with construction paper and markers. While I liked the concept of the box, I knew I would not be able to bring a box with me in my luggage or in my backpack. I then came up with the idea to make the box into a care package to give to individuals suffering from homelessness; there were some we encountered in Iowa City, and I felt like presenting them with a small box containing goodies and toiletries would be very helpful for them and make their days.

Photo source:                                           A personal care robot from the Disney film Big Hero 6 wants to make sure his owner is taking care of himself. Likewise, he wants others to monitor their wellness, from physical to mental.

July 24th

Instead of GRE tutoring and preparation, all the Scholars were in one room and we learned about some handy and helpful websites to aid us for graduate and/or professional school.
These websites are: – career advice for PhDs, by PhDs – this requires money to join – my Individual Development Plan –  an account must be created to access materials –
The site provides the following:

  • Exercises to help you examine your skills, interests, and values
  • A list of 20 scientific career paths with a prediction of which ones best fit your skills and interests
  • A tool for setting strategic goals for the coming year, with optional reminders to keep you on track
  • Articles and resources to guide you through the process

Imagine PhD – – FREE career exploration and planning for the humanities and social sciences. An account must be created to access assessments and other resources – Helping graduate students and PhDs envision, prepare for, and excel in non-academic careers since 1999
They have a PhD career finder, discussion boards, job listing boards, local meet-ups and more.

Slack – – a chat app used by graduate students to collaborate and to chat, and is also utilized by teams/groups of people in workforce and business
This is FREE for small groups of people, for unlimited time. The other two plans cost money, monthly.

The GRE instructors we had for the summer informed us to go to conferences, to look at success stories, and to not let the competitiveness of a program deter us from applying! They also told us about academic Twitter; we could have a separate Twitter account for academic and professional purposes, to network with other people in our fields and disciplines and to share our achievements, aside from our personal and private accounts.

July 25th
We had a SROP Closing Luncheon, where Scholars and their faculty mentors and some graduate students had lunch together and mingled. Ms. Diana gave a speech and thanked everyone for being in the program. At the end of the lunch, I presented my poem!

After this luncheon, the summer undergraduate research conference (SURC) began; it was from 1 to 5 pm, and students were placed into one of two sessions, so they were not presenting for a full four hours, but only two hours. Still, I was extremely anxious and did not want to present. I often have a concern that my research is not good enough, that I did not get enough research done and could have done mucmore, and other worries. I had several people stop by my poster. One sociology student who was at University of Iowa came up to me to discuss my research. I even printed out 20 business cards to hand out to people.

I appreciate the poster having a glossy finish. It should be resistant to water and other damages. It is also text-heavy, which can deter people from approaching the poster. I just like providing ample information for people.

July 26th
This was a free day for many scholars, besides our awards ceremony that evening. Some scholars were busy printing their posters somewhere around campus. With two friends and my SROP roommate, we went to the medical side of University of Iowa’s campus and got food from food trucks. I tried some delicious gyros. Then we went to the mall to purchase a gift for Ms. Sproles: a Bath & Body Works candle, soap, and lotion, all wrapped up in pretty paper. I also went to some stores downtown for the last time. I really liked the White Rabbit boutique and the Blick Arts Materials, which was where I purchased my tube to hold my research poster. I also quickly toured the Natural History museum on campus; I had been meaning on going to the museum for all of summer, but on my very last day, I finally was able to venture in and look at the history of Iowa and the many taxidermied animals in its various exhibits.

At the beginning of summer, I saw a mere outline of this mural. On my last full day in Iowa City, I finally got to see the finished product.

In the evening, we had a Closing Session and Awards Ceremony. Earlier in the week, we all turned in completed sheets of “SROP Superlatives,” where we nominated scholars for various awards such as “Best Motivator,” “Best Trio,” “Most Likely to Achieve World Peace,” “The World Traveler,” and other fun awards. There were about a dozen superlatives in total. The SROP staff also gave out certificates of completion to everyone, and then gave additional awards to the scholars who did exceptionally well in the program. I received “Best Motivator,” and tied with another scholar for “Most Studious.” I also received the highest votes for “People’s Choice Award for Talent Show.” Outside of the visual arts building where the ceremony was held, a bunch of scholars took group photos, and we walked next door to the arts building to view an art showcase, with art from high school students who were also here in Iowa for some time during the summer. At night, a small handful of us went to a rooftop restaurant to see what Iowa City looked like from up above. While I was feeling sad that SROP was ending, I was still trying to make the most of my limited time and enjoy every moment with my friends.

I will miss my peers so much.

July 27th
This was Departure Day, a very bittersweet day, and the last time I would likely see all the Scholars in one place. In the early morning, three scholars from Puerto Rico began their journey home. The remainder of us were able to eat breakfast at Burge and gather in the lobby to check out of Burge Hall, where we waited to be picked up by Ms. Sproles, Natalie, and Sunny to be taken to the airport in Cedar Rapids.

We exchanged many hugs, said goodbyes/see you laters, and shed some tears. While we waited in the airport terminals, some of us played card games, while others listened to music. I was about to board my plane before I turned to see my closest friends from SROP yell out “Bye” and wave at me.

The Cedar Rapids airport is fairly small. The staff are all pleasant from the encounters I have had.


My summer was fruitful and full of learning, new experiences, and challenges. I am thankful for the myriad of opportunities to learn about a variety of fields, from biochemistry to physics to public policy, and to speak with some graduate students and faculty members. I also am grateful to have gotten to know some academically competitive, talented, and kind scholars from across America and Puerto Rico. Because of my eight-week experience, I am better prepared for my graduate studies, and have a strong CV and personal statement for my application to my program. I understand much more of what being in graduate school is like, what the process is for finding funding, and what it is like to be in academia. I really enjoyed getting to hear multiple perspectives each day of the program.

Also important, this was my first intensive experience conducting research, and contributing to a faculty member’s work. I engaged in qualitative research coding and analysis, which helped reinforce my desire to pursue qualitative methods. Although my research project was not explicitly public health, it related to public health because it involved studying experiences of a marginalized and vulnerable group: first-generation college students, with living, working, and attending school at The University of Iowa. I was able to read 15 interview transcripts and learned a considerable deal of these students’ backgrounds and some of their challenges, like substandard housing conditions (doors not locking, mold, and general uncleanliness), and 60% of them working two jobs to help make ends meet. These interviews were eye-opening and contributed to my understanding of how the quality and affordability of housing are especially influential in students’ health and wellbeing, and even their academic outcomes.

Besides the academic and professional growth, I also experienced personal growth, as I developed relationships with people. My interactions with friends and staff helped me become better aware of different cultures and backgrounds. My worldview has tremendously expanded because of my friends from California, Arizona, Texas, Illinois, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Washington, D.C., and Iowa. Even my fellow Ohio State scholar was someone who I had never interacted with before SROP, and I learned so much about him; he is in a different public health specialization than me, and he is also pre-med, so I was able to learn about the perspectives of a pre-med student and support him as he took his MCAT halfway through SROP. I highly suggest for undergraduates to get involved in research, including immersive and transformative experiences such as a Summer Research Opportunities Program.

Link to University of Iowa’s Summer Research Opportunities Program:

Please see an upcoming post on “Applying to SROP” for details on the months-long application process and how I prepared for SROP! Hopefully the post will aid in people getting accepted to a program. More resources will be listed in the post.

The University of Iowa – Summer Research Opportunities Program – Part I

The University of Iowa offers the opportunity for first-generation college students and/or students from disadvantaged backgrounds/students who are historically underrepresented to take part in their annual Summer Research Opportunities Program (called SROP). Through the eight weeks of SROP, not only do the Scholars prepare for graduate school through GRE workshops and informational sessions on various aspects of graduate school, but they also enhance their academic and personal skills through engaging in a research project with a faculty mentor whose interests align with theirs. The Scholars also partake in volunteering and social events that augment their experiences while in Iowa City, Iowa. Students are challenged daily and are expected to uphold values of professionalism and integrity. Scholars are also expected to show respect and open-mindedness as they meet with other students from across the country. There is a great deal of work required of the Scholars, but there are many benefits to be reaped. All the hard work I put in was worth it, and Summer 2018 turned out to be one of the best summers of my entire life!

The campus loomed large at first glance but I quickly learned how to navigate it. I learned how to use the buses! Source: the university’s admissions office

This blog post describes what I did in June.

DAY 1 – June 4th

After landing in the United States, I was back home in Cleveland for six hours before I had to depart for Cedar Rapids/Iowa City! During that short period, I did laundry and packed my suitcase as full as I could; I had to lean on it to zip it up. I appreciate my parents for going through this exhausting ordeal with me and taking me to the airport, the last time they’d see me again until eight weeks later. I flew from Cleveland to Atlanta to Cedar Rapids, arriving at my final destination at 11 am.

While most students came to campus on June 2 or June 3, I came on June 4th. I was the latest student and felt terrible for missing out on orientation and a welcome picnic. But I was thankful to be there! I checked into the residence hall, set my things down, and went right to lunch, as I was famished. I made a new friend immediately; at the elevator, she greeted me and talked with me. We had lunch together and also went with a few other students to the library, where we had a session at 1:30 pm.

A librarian introduced us to the University of Iowa library system. There’s seven libraries there on campus and planned to go to each of them. The librarian showed us how to find research databases and contact library staff members. This session was very helpful in orienting us and the resource guide she provided will be a resource for our research this summer.

Fun fact: For every pig in Iowa, there are two books at UI.

I frequent the Main Library; it has a café, plenty of desktop computers around the building, and study spaces. You can also reserve rooms!

Then one of the two Graduate Assistants, Natalie, talked about professionalism and respect with us. We were expected to check emails regularly; it is not polite to ignore messages and we should respond within 24-48 hours. Afterwards, the SROP Scholars visited the gym and got a tour. I liked the facility and was impressed by the tall rock wall; it’s the tallest in the country for a college. We could purchase monthly or summer-semester memberships. (I passed on this chance, as I was unsure of my availability with my time spent between research, exploring Iowa, and studying for the GRE. I know that exercise is a vital part of maintaining good physical health, but because I perceived that I would be too busy, I did not work out at all.)

Right after that, we took our photo IDs! They are called HawkIDs and we use them to swipe into buildings for access. It’s similar to the BUCKID I use at The Ohio State University. I really like how I look in my photo.

This card has several uses!

We had the rest of the night to ourselves. Back in my dorm, I unpacked and rested before eating dinner with my roommate and other scholars. Everyone was very friendly and open to conversation! In my room, I wrote down deadlines into my planner. SROP provided each of us with a poster-size calendar of the program that we can hang on a wall. I had no tape or staples or thumbtacks so I kept this on my desk. SROP also gave us brand new GRE prep books and some booklets on Iowa City and the University of Iowa. I love reading, so all of these materials were great, and they helped me navigate campus and learn about recommended restaurants and places to visit. Then I reviewed the SROP syllabus to familiarize myself with our program’s schedule and the assignments. Here was how our schedule generally went:

Mondays – Aspects of Graduate School sessions (We had presentations about CV’s and personal statements, graduate student panels, and more)
Tuesdays – GRE Study Sessions (We were divided into two groups: Verbal or Quantitative; we switched subjects halfway through the summer)
Wednesdays – Question and Answer (Q&A) Discovery sessions
Thursdays – Research Seminars
Fridays – Speaker Seminars

DAY 2 – June 5th

I got breakfast with friends and walked the quick seven minutes to Seashore Hall, which houses the Departments of Sociology and Psychology. I would start research the next day but I learned the route to my building beforehand so I would not get lost.  I walked around campus by myself and went into the campus bookstore to browse the books. I then went to the Main Library to sit down and work on emails (and this blog!).

SROP provided every scholar with a GRE Prep Plus book to aid us in our studies!

On Tuesday evenings, SROP Scholars attend GRE prep workshops. We were presented with the basics of the GRE and then took a practice set of Verbal and a practice set of Quantitative Reasoning. This activity frustrated me so much, because it was so much more difficult than the ACT and SAT; I excelled at the ACT back in high school, but the GRE’s challenge level surpassed the previous standardized tests that I took by a landslide. Nevertheless, I persisted and answered each question because guessing wrong does not lead to any penalties for my score. Feeling defeated, I went home to Burge. In my room, I conducted an online search for fun things to do in Iowa City and around campus; I compiled a bucket list of restaurants to check out and museums to visit.

Day 3 – June 6th
After breakfast, I met with Sean, the graduate student who is working on the project with my faculty mentor. My mentor is Sean’s advisor for his graduate studies in sociology. He introduced himself and explained how we would be coding for the majority of my research. I became acquainted with Dedoose, an accessible and extremely user-friendly computer app. I can use Dedoose on any laptop or desktop, so I can be anywhere to work on the research!

My faculty mentor is Jessica Welburn Paige, Assistant Professor of Sociology as well as African American Studies at The University of Iowa. Professor Welburn’s research revolves around studying race and ethnicity, social mobility, urban inequality, cultural sociology, and qualitative research methods. Here is more about her (retrieved from

Her work has focused on the experiences of African Americans in the post-Civil Rights era, including how they conceptualize their social mobility prospects and their strategies for navigating persistent racism and discrimination. She is currently working on a book tentatively titled Keep on Pushin’ that uses in-depth interviews and ethnographic observations to explore how working class and middle class African Americans in Detroit, MI navigate the city’s crumbling infrastructure. In addition, Professor Welburn is working on a book manuscript co-authored with Michèle Lamont, Joshua Guetzkow, Hanna Herzog, Nissim Mizrachi, Elisa Reis and Graziella Silva. The book draws upon over 400 qualitative interviews to compare the destigmatization strategies of blacks in the United States, blacks in Brazil, and several groups — Ethiopian Jews, Mizrahi Jews and Palestinian Citizens of Israel — in Israel.

She is a Summer Research Scholar at the Public Policy Center, and she is collaborating with another Scholar there on a project titled “Housing Inequality in Iowa City: Examining the Experiences of Community Members and University Students,” which I am helping with during my eight weeks here. The project is community-based and mixed methods and the principal investigators are Megan Gilster, Assistant Professor of Social Work
For this week, I am coding one student interview and understanding how to use Dedoose. The website provides plenty of video tutorials and written out explanations for me should I need support. Sean also provided me with a manila folder of packets of readings to help me gain background knowledge on housing insecurity, food insecurity, qualitative methods, coding, and reading scientific/academic journal articles.

A screenshot of a Dedoose home page (from

Our evening seminar entailed working on our LinkedIn profiles and ensuring that we are presenting ourselves as well as we can on this professional social platform. I changed my introduction and edited some profile sections. As I become older and continue developing my professional career, I check my LinkedIn more regularly and I receive emails when there’s notifications for me.

Day 4 – June 7th
On this day, I worked on coding the interview and reading some assigned papers. In my planner, tasks are color-coded: red means research (look at databases, begin literature review), blue means doing readings, purple means meetings with Sean and/or Professor Welburn, and orange means coding using Dedoose.  Another proactive action I did was that I created an email signature for my University of Iowa email, and I downloaded the Microsoft Outlook app on my phone to make sure I could read emails quickly.

The SROP seminar was one of my favorite seminars thus far; it was about intercultural sensitivity and our various identities. Because of this, I learned more about my peers, and it helped make me feel less nervous.

Day 5 – June 8th
On Fridays, I meet with Professor Welburn for up to 45 minutes before I dash to the seminar at 4 pm.
Our speaker, Dr. Darrel Wanzer-Serrano, presented his research on the Young Lords, a group of mostly Puerto Rican youth activists. Many of them were second-generation Americans, so they were born in America and had immigrant parents. This group was dedicated to raising awareness for injustices in their communities in New York. They worked for positive change in their community health, environmental, and political needs. Through rallies, speeches, political education, and messages on the radio and in newspapers, the Young Lords made academic and physical impacts; they once were able to mobilize 10,000 people. They were able to get lead and TB testing programs, the first door-to-door program in the country. They also got meals to people in need. However, in the 1970s, they changed their group’s name, which hurt them deeply. They also stopped doing community work and shut down their clinics.

After dinner, about half of the scholars met up to go to the Coral Ridge Mall. On Thursdays and Fridays, the bus to the mall is free for UI students; with our HawkIDs, we were able to take advantage of this opportunity! The ride was about 20-30 minutes. When we reached the mall, we split up. I tried Zombie burgers and side of fries and loved the taste of it; the sauce was some mixture of mayo and ketchup. On the bus ride to and from the mall, I was able to talk to my peers and learn more about them. One scholar’s parents both attended The Ohio State University (my home institution) for their master’s degrees! Late at night, I looked up resources to make a GRE study schedule for myself. My plan was to spend 1-2 hours each weekday doing GRE prep, and then 6-10 hours over the weekends.

On Saturday morning, we all took a GRE diagnostic test (a Pre-Test) to gauge where we all were for quantitative and verbal strengths. This was my first time taking the entire GRE exam, minus the essays at the beginning. When we were done, we printed our scores and handed them to the SROP staff. I do not remember what I did the rest of the day, or the rest of the weekend, but I believe I was in my room working on blog posts relating to my study abroad, and the lengthy PowerPoint slideshow for my study abroad travels. 


June 11th
I researched more about the GRE; I plan to take it in mid-August because I am applying to a Combined Bachelors and Masters program at my school and this requires me to take the GRE before my application is due on December 1. Taking the GRE before the school year begins seems optimal for me because my mind will mostly be occupied by the test; if I take the test later on when classes are in session, I would feel more stressed.

Our evening session was about choosing a graduate school. The first step in this process often involves developing a list of criteria and assigning weight to each criteria. Some criteria to keep in mind when looking at programs include regional/geographic location, professor-to-student ratio, costs, financial aid/assistance, support and resources, faculty mentors, program reputation, duration of program, and physical facilities.

For me, I preferred a graduate school program in the Midwest, close to home. Ohio is all that I have known, and although it’s suggested to venture out and get a change of scenery, I believe in blooming where I am planted, and continuing to develop relationships with the people I have met in Columbus. I knew that at Ohio State, I’d benefit from the robust financial aid and my strong support system.

June 12th
This day was spent doing readings and coding another interview. I had a meeting with Ms. Diana Sproles, the director of SROP.

I was placed in the Quantitative group for the first half of the GRE study sessions; this placement was commensurate with my low quantitative score on the diagnostic GRE exam (I was somewhere in the 40th percentile, and was not too disappointed, taking into account that my last math course was Calculus in the twelfth grade and it had been a few years.) This session was challenging and engaging; we began it with a 10 minute quiz, which I was not expecting. The instructors are very passionate and present; they ask students about our reasonings behind approaching a problem. I felt like I was really learning (well, relearning math concepts I had learned back in high school.) After the session, I worked on our math quiz; we get a math quiz each week to practice our knowledge.

June 13th
On Wednesday mornings, I meet with Sean in Seashore; we go over coding and we strive to achieve intercoder reliability. I also have the space to ask him questions about graduate school. After lunch, I met with Mr. Joseph Henry, who I call Joe. He is in charge of Recruitment and Outreach for SROP. He asked me questions about myself, my passions, and my academic interests, as well as what I hoped to gain from SROP.

After dinner, we attended a session on “Life as a Faculty Member” and met six faculty members from various disciplines.

June 14th
In the late afternoon, we had a presentation on Research Collaboration, from two graduate students. One was pursuing a degree in Political Science, specifically racial and ethnic politics, and the other was in Geography, studying hazards. The PoliSci student told us how during undergrad, she went to Mexico to conduct research, funded by the National Science Foundation. She studied conflict and peace management. While she was rejected the first time she applied for NSF, she applied again and was waitlisted before eventually being accepted. Everyone applying is heavily and highly qualified; your proposed project should meet what the funders are looking for. When it comes to collaboration, she suggested that we make sure we are accountable to ourselves, and that our collaborators are also accountable to you. She also said to not be afraid to ask for help and help others on social media.

The geography grad student explained how he studies the social vulnerability to natural hazards. He taught us some types of collaboration, in his words:
1) Vertical – you are given a job and you fill the part
2) Horizontal – the collaborating sides have similar interests, and work together but still in their own silos
3) Integrative/interdisciplinary – this is the hardest collaboration

After the session, everyone in SROP, including the staff, took a group photo! Pictured are Ms. Sproles, Joe, and Sunny. Natalie is not pictured. People also had professional headshots taken.

June 15th
After breakfast, I conducted an informational interview with a faculty member here so I could learn more about public health and her own experiences. It was a great conversation! Then I had lunch at Bluebird Diner with my faculty mentor, Professor Welburn. We discussed the research project we were working on and also Iowa City and life in general.

I worked more on an assignment on my laptop before I went to the Speaker Series session that afternoon. The session was about “Attention: The Mind’s Bouncer”, presented by a professor in the Psychological and Brain Sciences. I learned new terms like “target templates,” which guide our attention to things relevant to the item we are searching for; if we were locating some ketchup, our eyes would look for things that are red, in a bottle-shape, and relatively big. There is visual, manual, and cognitive attention. The speaker gave us some tips for the GRE and school. When reading a book or writing, preview it, and think about what the writing is about. Then summarize it. Next, evaluate it; is this writing true, in whole or in part? Sometimes I will read something and then by the time I have finished with the excerpt or the chapter, I fail to recall what I read.

The weekend was very fun. On Saturday, my friends and I went to Iowa City’s Pride Festival! I was pleasantly surprised that the festival was the 48th celebration of LGBTQ+ people in the community. With my friends, I witnessed the parade procession that began at noon. People on parade floats and bikers and walkers waved to the onlookers and passed out items such as condoms, health and beauty products from P&G companies, and candy. This day had blistering heat. In close-to-100-degree weather, my friends and I constantly quenched our thirst with water.

That night, I turned in my assignment: Introduction to your Discipline. This paper briefly covered when and how public health became a recognized profession; career options in public health; best schools and companies for public health professionals; current issues and new developments; major journals and publications; and how I see myself in the future in this discipline.


June 18th
I read more interviews as part of my research during the day. Our session was about searching for internal and external funding for graduate school. I took notes on some funding opportunities that could pertain to me; one in particular was the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, for which first-generation and second-generation Americans are eligible. Later, I discovered I could not apply because I am pursuing a combined/joint degree.

When I think about graduate school, I am very concerned about how I will fully fund my education. In addition to being a full-time student, how would I cover living expenses? Financial aid stays on my mind as a potential barrier for me in completing my Master degree. Nevertheless, I will be proactive and persistent, and apply for both small and big funding, and look into both internal and external sources.
Helpful Hint: The 1-year-rule: The deadline for scholarships and fellowships is usually a year BEFORE you need the funding

June 19th
I attended my GRE Quantitative Reasoning session. The session starts with a 10 minute quiz and then we review the answers. The instructors ask the scholars to explain how we arrived at a solution. It was always challenging but I was able to reinforce mathematical concepts and learn how to think smart, and not to think hard.

June 20th
The evening session was about “Integrating Scholarship & Service,” presented by a graduate student in Education. Service during college should be done consistently, and not in spurts of activity, but one or a few activities that are sustained for years at a time. The presenter also mentioned how service trips could be problematic because the impact could be temporary, and possibly even detrimental to communities. This prompted me to consider how my alternative break trips were impacting the communities we visited, and if we were doing more harm than good.

June 21st
After eating dinner together, the Scholars were transported by Ms. Diana, Sunny, and Natalie to Sycamore Mall Cinema to watch movies! This counted as a mandatory group social outing; we could choose to watch Incredibles II or Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. While SROP provided transportation to and from the movies, we each had to pay for our own tickets. Thankfully, Thursdays are discount days for students. We paid $6.00 admission and popcorn was free for us! What a deal! This mandatory movie night soothed my soul as I was waiting for 14 years between the first Incredible movie and its sequel. I was immensely impressed by the film and the Pixar short, Bao, that preceded it. We had a conversation during the car ride back to our dorm about Bao and culture.

June 22nd
Our presenter for the day was a professor in the Civil & Environmental Engineering department. His presentation “Water Quality and Public Health” began with a photo of John Snow, the father of epidemiology. He talked about public health and how his work in engineering would help improve public health in Iowa City. I was happy that we had a speaker mention the field I’m pursuing! I learned that the University of Iowa uses the Iowa river for their drinking water. There is a water treatment plant on campus that tests and treats the water. One of my fellow Scholars is the mentee for this professor, and she talked with animosity when she told us how she would actually go down to the river and collect samples for the lab! We regulate and treat water for a few purposes: for human and ecological health, for aesthetic purposes (cloudy water can still be clean, but people may not drink because of perceived impurities), and for economic purposes (acidic, corrosive water erodes pipes and the costs add up). This was another lecture that I really enjoyed. Furthermore, I already knew some of the information presented. I still took two pages of notes because there was a wealth of information that I did not know beforehand.

After dinner, I put on a long-sleeve shirt because I was going to visit a pet store. Two friends and I took a Lyft to PetLand at Sycamore Mall, just a couple miles away, for some pet therapy. Interacting with animals is soothing to many people. I love seeing fluffy animals who are just as excited to see you as you are to see them! I loved the bunnies and puppies the best. All the kittens had been bought, but there were still plenty of pets to be played with and sent off to good homes: ferrets, parakeets, guinea pigs, rats, reptiles, and fish. My friends and I spent an hour or so here. My favorite dog we spent time with was a Shiba inu puppy who was female. We looked up a Japanese name for her, and found that Haru seemed fitting. Haru means spring, and to me, it fits the puppy because when I think of spring, I think of flowers blooming and happiness in general. Spring means new beginnings, and this puppy was just starting her life. It was such a pleasant experience and I was relieved to get away from campus and to see animals. This excursion contributed to my self-care.

On Saturday, after a day of doing homework, with an hour-long nap in between, my friends and I went to Iowa City’s Downtown Block Party. This second annual block party involved many constituents. There were a plethora of games, including giant Jenga, Four Square, mini golf, and sand volleyball. We spent an hour outside exploring what the party had to offer; we returned to the dorm dining hall for dinner before we explored more of the party. Many of the Scholars attended the party. I enjoyed playing Four Square; it was my first time playing this game. We went to the public library to sign up for the Mario Kart tournament; there were many youth signed up to play the game, so after almost an hour of waiting, most of my friend group left the library. One or two stayed behind to actually play the game. After reuniting with some friends at Blaze Pizza, we walked around downtown some more. However, the streets were getting more crowded and the night was getting darker. We went back to Burge. That night, we had our usual Hallway Hours, where we hang out in the hallway and chat about anything. It is nice to unwind at the end of a long day by discussing life matters with your friends.

Iowa City is actually quite pretty.

On Sunday, I took a full practice GRE test using the Kaplan website. The downside of this was that I was in a coffee shop and music played nonstop. This was not an ideal environment in which to take a test. While I improved by seven points in quantitative reasoning, I dropped around twenty points in verbal, which was an extreme shock to me. Verbal should have come easily to me. After eating lunch, I reviewed my answers and looked at the explanations for the problems that I got wrong. I learned what I did incorrectly and how to correctly approach problems. After dinner, my friends and I played Betrayal at the House on the Hill, my new favorite board game. We played in one of the lounges on the floor. We went through two rounds of the game before we returned to our respective rooms to sleep and recharge for another eventful week.


June 25th
I spent most of the day working on my research and reviewing the interviews that I already had coded After lunch, I continued my review of past interviews in order to find themes and analyze the findings. Research is a continuous process and even if I code an interview, revisions often occur. The seminar for the day was about curriculum vitaes (CVs) and crafting statements of purpose, presented by a Ph.D. student in the Communications department. This session was very helpful for me as I learned how to write effective CVs and statements.

Some helpful advice this grad student gave was to reach out to potential faculty that I would want to work with, and email them to get to know them and ask if they are taking on new advisees for the year I plan to enter grad school. I should communicate with this faculty member multiple times to determine if the relationship as advisor and advisee would be compatible. Additionally, the CV tips were the most helpful because I had never made a CV prior to SROP.

Some CV tips:

– No bullet points. Those are for resumes.
– CVs and personal statements should match in terms of content, fonts used, etc.
– CVs should include headings like name & contact details; education; experiences; extracurricular activities; awards and honors; conference presentations, etc. 
– CVs get longer and longer throughout a person’s undergraduate, graduate, and professional careers.
– Keep them black and white, unless in the graphic design field.

After the session, one of the graduate assistants Natalie returned our “Introduction to Your Discipline” assignments to us. She commented that I had a “Nice Paper!”

After dinner, my friends and I visited the Van Allen observatory, which is on top of the physics and astronomy building.

We watched the sunset from six stories high. 

We also played the haunted house board game again, and I appreciated getting to bond some more with my friends.

June 26th
I had no scheduled meetings but continued reviewing interview transcripts. I also viewed additional data from the college students; this data consisted of questionnaire answers, and it provided me with a better understanding of the subjects. Some questions pertained to health, such as exposure to radon in the home, and safety. My research question would most likely relate to health and housing; I still only had a vague idea of my topic and research question. I came up with a research question for the time being, and would refine this question through my research. That evening, the Scholars attended our GRE sessions, and I went to my last Quantitative session. The next time we meet, I would attend my Verbal session for tutoring.

June 27th
Our session was solely on personal statements, and was presented by the Writing Center. Our personal statement should not be our whole life story condensed onto one to two pages, but it should reflect a couple parts of our lives that we want to highlight. To jumpstart our brainstorming, we were asked to describe ourselves using adjectives, and I think I chose “Persistent.” The Writing Center presenter showed us some samples of introductory paragraphs, and we voted which statements were the most compelling and intriguing. There is no one correct writing style; each person writes differently, so naturally we disagreed on which statement made us want to read more. These statements also gave me some insight into how to start my own statement, whether through a shocking one-liner or through immersing the reader into a scenario from the past.

Some tips I took away from this session:
– Use simple and elegant prose.
– Do not make sentence structures complicated.
– Read your writing out loud to catch more mistakes or clunky sentences.
– Read many examples of statements, but be sure to not plagiarize!
– Avoid generic statements such as “I just want to help people.”
– Do not use “I believe” or “I think.” These just take up more space and are not necessary.

June 28th
The Scholars learned about ethics and research integrity, from a staff member from the Human Subjects Office. Even though we all did CITI training online before we even arrived on campus, we refreshed our memories of how to be ethical researchers.

June 29th
At this session, we had a professor speak on the Art of Black Students for the first half, and a professor discuss her work with marginalized students in education for the latter half. The first professor asked which scholars attended schools with African-American studies or Black studies programs? Only about six of the 24 of us had African-American studies programs at our institutions, whereas none of us had something called Black studies. I was unsure of the distinction between the two. This professor’s dissertation had been on defining Black studies; programs dedicated to this area of study began in 1968. During class, we read a poem called “For My People” by Margaret Walker; the poem was one piece of a book she wrote for a Master’s thesis. She was the first African-American woman to earn her MFA in Writing. This was a powerful poem and encouraged me to read more of her work in the future.

The second half of the session, a professor presented “People, Place, and Policy: Examining Access to Opportunity for Marginalized Students,” and this was a lecture that I particularly enjoyed because of my interest in education and my experiences in education as a marginalized student myself. She talked about school choice, school testing, desegregation, discipline, health policy, standards-based accountability, and immigration. A startling statistic she shared was that 400 school districts are still under desegregation orders, in 2018! This equates to over a thousand schools, the majority of which are in the South. This impressive woman is working on seven studies; one of them is about the intersection of education and immigration policies, and this is very important in order to accommodate and meet the needs of immigrant and refugee students. This professor also suggested we find “academic crushes,” people in our fields who we look up to, and see how they got to where they are. She also said that we do not need to plot out our entire life!

The Saturday morning involved some physical exertion. We had our first volunteering event, and it was with Habitat for Humanity! Half of the Scholars had a shift in the morning, and the other half had an afternoon shift. It was hot and sunny that day, but thankfully my partner and I were on the area of a roof where we were underneath some shade. This was my first time working on a home; this house will eventually go to a family of five: a couple with three high-school or middle-school aged children.

Part Two of this blog segment will be posted shortly. (It was intended to be posted at the end of July, but I did not have the time to work on either Part One or Part II this summer.) I apologize to all my readers for this extended hiatus!

STEP Signature Project – Reflection

Name: Melinda Dang

Type of Project: Education Abroad

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.
Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

For my STEP Signature Project, I participated in the Public Health Perspectives: Finland and Estonia education abroad program that took place from May 18th to June 1st, 2018. I explored these two countries’ health initiatives, health challenges, education systems, unique cultures, and rich histories. By traveling to six cities within Finland and Estonia, visiting various museums, and going to cultural landmarks, I gained a more comprehensive understanding of both nations.

The class took a group photo in front of the Helsinki Cathedral. What a striking shot.

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

Having never traveled internationally before, I was unfamiliar with Europe and especially Eastern Europe. Finland and Estonia are countries I have heard of, but lacked knowledge about. Visiting these two countries expanded my knowledge of their history and health outcomes. Throughout the experience, I was curious and attentive, and I journaled each day to help me reflect on the day’s activities and what I learned. I aimed to be like a sponge and absorb all the information and sights, sounds, and senses around me. I especially enjoyed the excursion to the Finnish Institute for Health & Welfare, where I gained insight into current research and health challenges in Finland. I observed school lunches in a Finnish university and high school, and in both countries, I noticed cigarette sales and eating practices. This all informed me on how Americans can improve our own health outcomes. We can use more reusable utensils, offer more fresh food in schools and elsewhere, and make our cities healthier by having wide sidewalks and bike paths so that people can increase their physical activity.

Students actually want to eat their lunches in Finland; healthy, fresh options are offered!

I tested my capabilities of traveling internationally and independently. I explored on my own a few times, including taking flights alone, which all the more enhanced my self-efficacy skills. By booking my own flight and perusing tourist brochures to plan what to do during my free time, I learned about preparing for travel. Flexibility was a skill I often employed, whether it was adjusting to the extended amount of daylight abroad or the different style of bathrooms in Europe. In addition, I became familiar with taking various forms of transportation: ferries, trams, trains, taxis, and buses, so now I feel more confident in traveling. I engaged in intercultural exchange with tour guides, students, and everyday people; we shared our life stories and found commonalities and contrasts. This allowed me to strengthen my networking and interpersonal skills. Because of my experiences abroad, I evaluate my life and the rest of the world in a different light, and through different lenses.

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

Interacting with not only my peers but also the people I encountered in Finland and Estonia contributed to my transformation into a more globally-aware Buckeye. I realized the vast interconnectedness among humans and the extent of America’s cultural influence; I saw McDonald’s and Burger King restaurants as well as Deadpool 2, Solo, and Black Panther showings. At Keuruu High School in Finland, student artwork showed references to TV shows like Adventure Time and Spongebob. The students discussed aspects of their daily life with us, including movies, Netflix, and memes. They even prepared presentations for us about Finnish cuisine, holidays, values, and music. I am grateful that they openly welcomed us. I learned that they ride bikes or scooters to school; they do not lock up their bikes because nobody steals items. It is no wonder that Finland is ranked as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. These conversations were enriching because I got first-hand narratives from people.

Sometimes I was approached by store clerks who began speaking in Estonian, and I was bemused that they thought I would understand; I only knew “Thank you” and “Hello.” When I received a manicure from a woman who only spoke Estonian, we still communicated through hand gestures. I never found myself frustrated when communicating with people; I just remained open-minded and respectful. Having patience and composure regardless of where I am will get me far.

With my group, I participated in a myriad of events and activities. I developed relationships with my peers by exploring these unfamiliar areas together and sharing insights into health issues for our class assignments. We went into grocery stores to see how cigarettes were sold and we walked around towns to evaluate how walkable the cities were. We stayed a few days in cottages at a farm in rural Petajavesi, Finland, where we had an authentic sauna experience to better understand the significance of saunas in Finnish culture. We went to museums to learn about the history of Estonia and how people lived centuries ago. We also went to a science center, an U.S. Embassy, and three college campuses.

Another facet of my transformation was that I strengthened my responsibility and money management skills. With countless opportunities to shop, I exerted self-control and strategically bought souvenirs for close to 20 people, and I was still under budget at the end of the program. I was fully funded for my STEP Project because I fervently applied to multiple scholarships and received some assistance from friends and family. I learned of how much effort and planning goes into study abroad. The entirety of this STEP project was a learning experience for me, and I aim to study abroad in the future to continue learning more about the world.

4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
Write 1-2 paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

The transformative experience of studying abroad is significant to me in multiple ways. First, it fulfilled a personal goal of mine to travel. I enjoy learning about cultures, and this opportunity allowed me to study different walks of life. Secondly, as a budding public health professional, this study abroad experience encouraged me to blossom even more. I learned about how both Finland and Estonia designed cities to be sustainable and more people-friendly. Traffic lights and signs work well and are clearly marked. In Estonia, speed limits are even painted on streets. Both countries have tighter regulations on cigarette packaging and more graphic, emotion-evoking warning labels than on America’s cigarettes. From my observations, it is clear to me that Finland and Estonia invest more into their communities and are more concerned for the welfare of their people.

Our in-country homework assignments allowed me to analyze issues at home and abroad and synthesize them into Instagram posts, which I created using graphic design tools. By posting my homework online, I am communicating this health information with the rest of my network and beyond. Furthermore, I see social media as an essential tool for reaching populations, spreading awareness about health, and influencing behavior change. In the future, I hope to include this aspect of health communication and social media marketing into my career. In addition, I want to work hands-on with communities to improve their health. With a strong understanding of what it is like to live in those communities, I can effectively influence change so that people have access to transportation, healthy food, and more.

*** I encourage you to read my two-part blog post on my main Honors & Scholars e-portfolio page, where I describe my travels in greater detail. The link to my page is:

Public Health Abroad: Finland and Estonia – Part 2

I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

Day 7 marked the halfway point of our study abroad program. In the morning, we took a bus to the Estonian Open Air Museum, designed to resemble a real-life rural village in the 18th century! This was one of my favorite parts of the program. This museum included 14 different farms to show aspects of village life. I saw cottages, a teepee, a giant windmill, a church, and more. One path lead to the seashore where my peers collected seaglass and waded their feet in the water. I really enjoyed this opportunity to be immersed in nature.

Cottages were primarily made of wood and hay, both of which are extremely flammable!

The group had a guided walking tour of Old Town; Joosep was a wonderful human encyclopedia as he showed us to spots we had not been to before. He taught us what the colors of the flag of Estonia meant: blue for the sky, black for the dark forests and the dark times Estonians have been through, and white for purity and hope for a brighter future.
2018 marks a special year of celebration for Estonians because this is the 100th anniversary of their independence as their own republic, free from endless rule by different countries.

The symbol represents 100 years AND 20(18). Great design.

I boarded a tram by myself to a nearby cat cafe. I have never been to any cat cafe before, and I wanted to see if cat breeds differed in Estonia. When I went to Nurri Cat Cafe, only five other people were present, with about 10 cats in the room. I did not see any unfamiliar breeds. My time at the cat cafe was very therapeutic for me. Although I did not get to pet the cats much, I enjoyed eating my pesto pasta and watching the cats interact with one another. I even witnessed the cats at dinner time (6 pm) and they each pounced their tiny paws over to their own bowls to feast.

Two cats were perched on top of the table where I was sitting. It takes a while for cats to get accustome to you and be comfortable with you approaching them to pet them.

Day 8 meant traveling to another city. We hopped on board a train from Tallinn to Tartu! Tartu has 99,000 people as of this year. This sleek train got us there in less than two hours; I napped the majority of the time. After setting down our belongings, we had a quick walking tour and lunch.

The Town Hall is a landmark of Tartu. Bells ring from the hall each day. The fountain of kissing students is in the lefthand corner of the photo; the fountain was erected in 1998.

We spent an hour at the KGB Cells Museum, which showcases the basement of a building that was used to house prisoners! Men and women alike were put together in a cell. Cell walls were so thick that no noise could be heard between rooms. Rooms lacked lighting and ventilation, and often had as much as 30 to 40 people within such a confined space and with just four beds!

For the rest of the day, I browsed around souvenir shops in Tartu. We were conveniently located right across from a University of Tartu building, and right by the town square. Tartu sidewalks are very wide and can fit three to four people in a row. After popping into a small bookstore, we went to the Botanical Gardens, which was founded in 1803. It is such a beautiful place and I would have liked to see the greenhouses but we were running out of time. Nevertheless, the grounds were great and the garden included a pond. We saw people taking photos for graduation and weddings here. For dinner, the class ate at Meat Market, which does not solely serve meat.

A classmate took a beautiful portrait photo of me in the gardens.

Gardens are a valuable part of any city. People need green space for not just oxygen but for stress relief.

Day 9 was a free day for everyone. Two friends and a program coordinator/graduate student accompanied me to the Upside Down House that was about 30-45 minutes away on foot. We crossed the river and went into the outskirts of the city of Tartu. The house was built upside down AND on a slant, so it was disorienting and dizzying. The house included a sauna and that was neat!

This house stood out from its surroundings in remote Tartu. There was an abandoned aircraft hangar in proximity, and also a designated walking path among some trees. Buses do run along the street but not frequently.


This photo can confuse people at first glance! There are actually some Upside Down Houses around the world, such as Germany and America. (I had no idea they existed in my own country!)

Nearby was the Estonian National Museum, which is a tremendous facility where we spent a few hours looking at artifacts related to Estonian life. We paid 10 euros as a student discount and could access the entire building. We received cards encrypted with a technology that allowed us to swipe the card over a screen connected to an exhibit/piece. The screen would then automatically translate to English. This is so innovative and I hope that museums elsewhere in the world could incorporate this! I enjoyed viewing prehistoric and Metal Age tools. Estonia has been inhabited by people for the last 11,000 years! My favorite exhibit hall was the one featuring Uralic people, a people I had no knowledge about beforehand! They lived between Scandinavia and the Ural Mountains, so were primarily in the forests. They carved symbols into trees and their tales often involve bears and other woodland creatures. The exhibit showcased a people and facets of their lifestyle, but this was just one small sliver of Ugric studies. Also in the museum was an exhibit about 19th century clothing. Women’s clothing was preserved more because not only were they more beautiful and colorful than men’s clothing, but they also reflected diversity among different regions of Estonia. I learned about the usage of headpieces and necklaces. I am glad to have visited this museum! The facility was marvelous.

After our fun free day in Tartu, I worked on a homework assignment that addresses how walkable the city of Tartu is. Now that I have been to the more touristy areas of Tartu and the more remote parts, I was able to come up with a convincing argument for how well-designed the city is so that people can enjoy it whether they walk or use a wheelchair. Sidewalks have ample space and curbs/ramps have good inclines. When you get to the less-inhabited parts of town, some sidewalks are harder to tread on, but it still is pedestrian-friendly. After returning to the hotel, I got dinner and dessert with other friends and then about half of the class played games in one of our rooms.

(Please see my assignment on the walkability audit of Tartu here:

I was also able to complete another homework assignment comparing cigarette sales in America, Finland, and Estonia. Throughout the program, we were expected to observe how cigarettes were sold (where and for how much money) and what the packaging looked like, including what information or graphics were put on the warning labels.
(Please see my work here:

For Day 10, the class visited the Ahhaa Science Centre, which reminds me of COSI in Columbus! I love science centers and this one has four floors! The ground floor had a LEGO town of Tartu and exhibits related to water. It included tech spaces, a play area with giant building blocks, music/acoustic space, and tanks with real fish in them. In a dark room were lifelike animatronic aquatic creatures such as dinosaurs with fins and a whale shark. There are some steps leading up to a balcony that had ant farms and an incubator for chicks! This was the highlight of the science center for me. I love baby chickens. The chicks were either a day old or two days old, and some eggs were close to hatching!

FUN FACTS: Jellyfish have existed even before dinosaurs roamed the planet. A group of jellyfish is called a bloom.

FUN FACTS: Whale sharks are the largest fish. They are giant but gentle and eat plankton and small fish. Their skeletons are made of cartilage, not bone. Female whale sharks are actually larger in size than male sharks.

On the second floor of the science museum were glass jars containing human and animal body parts and embryos so visitors could learn about anatomy but also body anomalies. For example, there was a goat skull with four horns. The third floor had interactive activities testing health, from grip strength to memory to balance to processing speed. (I performed poorly on all of these, and despite appearing healthy, I have to make dramatic changes to my lifestyle and actually exercise in order to be fit).

When our group returned to our hotel, we met with another tour guide who took us around the University of Tartu. The different buildings are within walking distance; sometimes it seemed like a hike. She also led us to cathedral ruins. One interesting part of our tour was going into an attic of the main building of the university; this attic served as a lock-up for students who misbehaved and did not conform to student conduct. Students could be sent to this room for cheating or for disrespecting a woman on the street. Punishment could mean just a few days in the lock-up to a month! There was no supervision for the lock-ups, but students were still expected to serve their sentences and actually be in that space.

The attic can become humid and balmy in the summers but leave people trembling in the winters.

After our tour, we had another group dinner in a restaurant that looks like a wine cellar.

On Day 11, we traveled to Parnu, an even smaller city with 40,000 people. It is a summer resort town so it is more heavily populated during that season than others. It is located by the water so people frequent the beach. The water is shallow for an extended distance before it gets deep. Our hotel was a resort & spa in one, and we were able to use the sauna, pools, gym, and spa. I did not take advantage of these amenities but I did go outside to the beach to dip my toes in the water and step in the soft sand.

Our other completely free day was Day 12. I went to the mall by myself, and the trek was not scary as one might perceive. Parnu is tiny and quiet, and I do stick out as a foreigner among the mostly blond(e) Estonians, but I was safe. The walk from the hotel to the mall was about 20 minutes, and it was pleasant. The mall was actually a complex made up of about three tall buildings. One building had a grocery store and a few beauty stores. Another building had most of the clothing stores and restaurants. After making a few purchases, I headed back to the hotel and stopped at a woman’s home business, where she operated a beauty & hair salon. She offered manicures, pedicures, and hair styling. After getting a manicure, I had lunch at an eco-gourmet cafe with some friends.

On Day 13 (May 31), we had a short visit to the University of Tartu-Parnu to learn about their Spa & Wellness management program. The program director and a graduate student explained that the program is offered at a master’s level and it encompasses not just spa design, but also financial accounting, visual communication, and even the history of wellness.

The two-year program offers not only a strong theoretical foundation for students, but also opportunities to put the skills and knowledge into practice!

After the informative presentation, the group packed up and took a charter bus to Tallinn. From there, we boarded the ferry to return to Helsinki. Once we were all checked into our hotel, the program officially ended. Students were free to go back to the United States after the experience, or continue to explore Europe. Some of my peers stayed in Europe and traveled to multiple countries such as Germany, the Czech Republic, and England. My intention was to go straight home, but I had a stop in Iceland on my way to Cleveland. That 50-minute stop transformed into a 48-hour detainment in that country, but thankfully I finally made it home to America! What matters is that I am home safe and sound.

Our group had reserved seats that gave us up-close views of the Gulf of Finland!

I appreciate this opportunity of a lifetime because of the myriad of experiences and memories. I also am more well-informed about Finland and Estonia and am better prepared for future international travel. To my surprise, I was independently exploring and still survived.

I would like to thank the Office of International Affairs for executing this program, for providing me with a few scholarships, and for assisting me when I was temporarily stranded in Iceland for two days. I am glad that OIA has emergency hotline in place for students who find themselves in difficult situations. Thank you to @osuglobal for liking my photos and featuring one of our class photos on the Instagram page!

Thank you so much to Dr. Wallace and Amanda Jovanovich for coordinating the program’s activities and guiding us throughout Finland and Estonia. It was a wonderful class that had structure but still plenty of free time for us to explore. Thanks for showing us a part of the world that many people do not visit.

Thank you to the Office of Diversity & Inclusion for your scholarships and support for my study abroad. Thank you to my family and friends for your never-ending support as I navigated this adventure with equal amounts of trepidation and excitement.

Thank you to Finland and Estonia, for everything you have to offer to the world. Thank you to Iceland for also being a wonderful country. Everyone I met was friendly and willing to help.

If it were not for STEP and for the three other scholarships I received, in addition to some grants and gifts from loved ones, going abroad would not have been a possibility for me. I would not have fathomed the idea. I am forever grateful for this chance to take part in the Public Health Perspectives: Finland and Estonia program. I truly hope that other first-generation college students and first-time travelers such as me will have opportunities to study abroad as well. The Ohio State University’s education abroad office offers ample resources for interested students, so take the leap and venture into the unknown.

Go Bucks!

P.S. To see hundreds of photos taken along the journey, my comprehensive PowerPoint will suffice! It may take a while for it to load, and this could mean refreshing your page to view the entirety of it. It runs close to 300 slides!

P.P.S. Here are some photos of my stop in Iceland:
While I was there by myself for two nights and a day, I was not able to do much to lack of funds. I walked around to the seashore by my hotel and was captivated by the water. I saw some species of birds frolicking around. The Elder duck is common in the area. Although I wanted to step down and get closer to the water, I was wearing flats and also did not want to slip on a wet rock and get injured. I even saw a bright mustard-orange lighthouse that was used before and is now sitting stoically overlooking the horizons.

This was the plane I boarded from Helsinki Vantaa Airport to Reykyavik Keflavik Airport.


From my hotel room window, I saw a gorgeous sunset and could see edges of the water that surrounds the island of Iceland. Also, the country gets so much sunlight that the sun does not set until close to midnight.

This location was breathtaking and I am eager to return to Iceland.

Public Health Abroad: Finland and Estonia – Part 1

And then I realized adventure was the best way to learn.

For my first time traveling abroad, I participated in The Ohio State University’s College of Public Health’s Public Health Perspectives in Finland and Estonia! This education abroad program counted as my STEP project, which is a transformational experience done after my sophomore year of college. I explored the two countries of Finland and Estonia with the College of Public Health! In both places, I studied public health initiatives as well as the education systems and cultures. It was an informative ‘education vacation.’ I applied to the program in January and was informed of my acceptance a week later. Fifteen students participated in this year’s program, and we met twice during the school year in orientation sessions to prepare ourselves for travel.

Prior to travel, we also attended a week-long on-campus course called PUBHLTH 3189.04, which counts for three credits, and is graded A-F. This course was from May 9th to the 15th and provided us in-depth information about Finland and Estonia, from the history and cultures to the health challenges these countries have dealt with. I enjoyed this course because not only was I able to get to know my peers better, but I also gained considerable background knowledge before stepping foot into Europe for our field experiences. The class involved individual presentations as well as group presentations. We had an actual exam that was completely essay-format, so that we were not tested on memorization but on analysis and critical thinking. Right after our exam, I hurried to pack up my belongings and a classmate drove me home to Cleveland on her way back to Boston. I am touched by how I barely knew this classmate yet she offered a ride home (her route home involved passing through Cleveland, so it was not a trouble to her at all).

Just from what I witnessed in the class alone, I could tell that my peers are incredibly bright and passionate about health. Not all of us are public health majors; some are biology, biochemistry, and biomedical science. One is a data and analytical science major. The class is divided into two parts: the on-campus class (65% of our grade) and our in-country travels (35% of the grade). For Part 2, we need to pay attention on our field trips and create 10 Instagram posts in addition to completing five Instagram assignments.

During the couple of days back at home, I prepared for the trip. I packed one suitcase and stuffed my backpack until it puffed out to maximum capacity. On May 18th, 2018, my parents drove me to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. We went at 5 pm, after I scarfed down Chipotle, my last meal in America for a while. After baggage check, I exchanged $300 US dollars for euros, and this came to about 219 euros, I believe. The coins and paper money were shiny and colorful. My parents hugged me and left, and I proceeded through the security check. I was seated by my gate almost two hours early, so I began journaling. When I boarded, I did my best to sleep on the plane. There was a stop in Iceland, when I ran into another classmate who’s in the program with me. Then I was on my way to Helsinki! We arrived in Helsinki, Finland, at 1:50 pm. Everyone else except for one person had already made it to the city and were out exploring. After checking in, we took a bus into the actual city to look around as well.

Helsinki Cathedral was opened to the public in 1852 and is an evangelical Lutheran church! The public can walk around inside the lovely church, which is actually painted shades of gray, not white.

This square has so much space for pedestrians. It’s common for tour buses to line up all around the perimeter.

The sidewalks in Helsinki are much wider than American sidewalks, and there are also designated bike paths next to sidewalks. The bike paths are colored brick red. I also noticed a plethora of cultural restaurants such as Nepalese, Indian, Lebanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese restaurants. My friends and I explored the town square of Helsinki, including a cathedral and an outdoor marketplace, and then Stockmann mall. We took a train back to the airport, and I admire Helsinki’s train system. The train was very clean, modern, and efficient. Helsinki is the capital of Finland and it was indeed bustling, as I expected; the population is about 600,000.

The train system in Helsinki is well organized, just like the rest of their transportation.

After spending one night in Helsinki, our group went to Petajavesi for a few days and nights. Some of us played a Finnish card game called Musta Maija on the 2.5 hour bus ride to this rural municipality, which has a population of almost 4,000. We were in Central Finland. We stayed at Kumpunen Family Organic Farm, and it was very tranquil and beautiful there. The class was split up into different cottages and cabins on the farm. It was an experience unlike any other.

I especially liked the warm orange-red buildings on the farm. The building on the far right is called the barn and it was where we ate breakfast and dinner.

Here in Petajavesi it is mostly forest (Finland overall is covered by forests). We were by a lake and could swim and row boats in it. We also had access to a sauna; in Finland, saunas are ubiquitous and are part of people’s lifestyles. Finnish saunas are hotter than American saunas and people usually spend one to two hours in there. People can make it steamier and hotter by adding water onto the coals. People can warm up in this small house and then run into the cool lake, then repeat this. It is said to be good for the immune system and perhaps the metabolism too. I only lasted five to ten minutes in the sauna. I wore a tank top and leggings though, so that could be why I did not stay in the sauna for that long.


The food served at the farm is so fresh and healthy. I was eager to try Finnish food, and it was all buffet-style. Dinner included salad, pickles, onions, mashed potatoes, reindeer and elk meat, fish, breads and spread (always provided with each meal), and dessert. Dessert was rhubarb and potato powder topped with whipped cream. It was a fuchsia pink liquid and it was sweet but not overbearing. I tasted the beer and I still do not like any liquor or alcohol. I just like juices; the juices at the farm tasted great. For breakfast, the farm served us yogurt, oatmeal, berries, eggs, ham, cucumber, bread, apples, and bananas.

The farm staff members were all kind and encouraged us to eat up!

Just 15 minutes from the farm is a UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Petajavesi Old Church! It was built from 1763 to 1765. This magnificent structure is gorgeous and we had a guide tell us about its history and its current usage for holiday services and tours. I am amazed at how well-preserved it is despite it being made out of wood!

On day three, we went to Jyvaskyla for the day. It is just 30 minutes from Petajavesi and holds about 140,000 people. The group walked up a hill to the University of Jyvaskyla. We had free time to explore the campus grounds and later we all had lunch together in their student union. The campus is walkable and includes trees. Part of it was like a mini-forest on the school grounds! There were some hills and stairs outside. The lunch here is very affordable and also buffet-style, and the cafeteria area was bright white with lots of natural sunlight filtering in from the windows.

Tuition at the university is affordable, even for international students!

Nine of the 15 students followed one of the program coordinators, Amanda, to the free observatory tower that looks over the city of Jyvaskyla! From our view, we could see over the red-roofed homes and see the interconnected lakes.

I never found out why some houses have extremely tall ladders extending from the roof to the ground. This could be for fire safety.

Back in Petajavesi, the group changed into nicer attire to eat dinner at Pappilan Pidot with students from Keuruu High School. The school is in Keuruu, which is also about a half-hour bus ride from Petajavesi. The restaurant was fancy and we had a wonderful, filling meal there. I especially liked the pork, potatoes and carrots. The students were eager as well as anxious to meet us, and vice versa. My two friends and I sat at a table with three young women. They were great to talk with, and I learned about their high school experiences as well as their own personal hobbies. We discussed how they see America and what they do for fun. I learned that 18 is the legal driving age in Finland, that the students have three years of high school (Class 1, 2, and 3), and that students begin learning English in the third grade. Finns are also instructed in Swedish. Being multilingual is such an important skill in an increasingly interconnected world. I believe that American students need to begin language instruction at earlier ages so that they can better retain not just the actual language itself, but to also instill more self-discipline and respect for different cultures.

A handdrawn map of Keuruu was blown up.

The morning of Day 4, the Buckeyes traveled to the town of Keuruu, which has about 10,000 Finns, and is very quiet and walkable. We met with the 15 Keuruu High School students who volunteered to have us shadow them. They were able to miss class in order to show us around. The school is clean and neat and comprises three floors; it includes a gymnasium and auditorium. High school students have metal racks they can use to hang their jackets and place their motorcycle helmets. Motorcycles/scooters are more prevalent here, and I was surprised to see teens use them, but they are allowed to drive these at an earlier age than driving cars. Outside were plenty of bike racks; nobody needs to lock bikes up since there is no threat of thefts.

We had lunch in their school cafeteria. They use trays, cups, and metal utensils which can all be washed and reused. The only items in the lunch room that are discarded are the napkins. The fact that Finnish schools are more environmental conscious than American counterparts does not surprise me. The school offers plenty of food options: lettuce, shredded carrots, steamed potatoes, meat sauce/gravy, fish balls, and bread and spread. The cafeteria always provides milk and water, both of which are dispensed by simply putting a cup underneath a spout and sometimes pressing a button.

Eating and conversing further with the students provided me with additional insight into the lives of Finnish youth and people. Another fact that stood out to me was that the students must decide on a major before applying to university; there is no option for those who are undecided! The students also have a wide array of subjects to study in high school, and are required to take some classes such as philosophy, psychology, English, math, and chemistry.

(See this PowerPoint for my assignment comparing American high school lunches overall and Keuruu High School lunches:

According to the students, the school day can start at different times for them. It could be 8, 9, or 10 am, depending on the student’s schedule, and school ends around three p.m. There are two lunch periods. Nextdoor to KHS is an elementary school; KHS actually contains grades 7 through 12, with a student body of about 200.

The Buckeyes were split up into groups and we rotated to different classrooms for different student-facilitated sessions on Finnish popular music, cuisine, holidays, and more. While walking through the hallways, I found it interesting that none of the classroom doors had windows. However, hung on the walls were student artwork, which were all impressive; some drawings were of Sponge Bob, Princess Belle, and Gunther the Penguin. This demonstrates the influence of American pop culture.


Overall the visit with the Keuruu High School students was a great intercultural exchange. Then we were on our way to Helsinki again; our bus ride was about three hours long. After we arrived, we had the rest of the night free, so some friends and I explored the city. We tried Finnish fast food chain Hesburger for the first time. To me, it tastes better and healthier than McDonald’s. My meal consisted of a cheeseburger, fries, and Coca-Cola. We walked around Helsinki and I fell even more in love with the architecture.


The morning of Day 5, we visited the Finnish National Institute for Health & Welfare (THL). This is like the Finnish version of the United States’ CDC, as this facility has a strong focus on research and provides communities with education and resources. We listened attentively to three presentations from researchers at the center. One was a Ph.D. student who was to defend her dissertation a week from our visit! These presentations provided me with much insight into the health challenges Finland faced in the past, and what they are currently trying to tackle. Some issues discussed were the rise in obesity and depression rates, and the fact that blood pressure levels are still not within target levels.

The class took a group photo in front of the Cathedral. What a striking shot.

We boarded a ferry from Helsinki, Finland to Tallinn, Estonia. The ferry ride took about two and a half hours as we sailed through the Gulf of Finland. This was my first time on a ferry! After our buffet dinner, two friends and I explored the ship. The ship has a gift shop; a shop with brand-name handbags, perfumes, and sunglasses; some restaurants and bars; and casino-like games. The sundeck was available for people to go on top of, but it was very windy and colder than I imagined it would be.

Tallinn is another beautiful city, and you can see evidence from history and medieval times all over the town. With 450,000 inhabitants, it is of moderate size. That night, everyone explored the Old Town area, which has roots from hundreds of years ago. Stepping lightly on the cobblestone streets, we hiked up to two lookout points to catch glimpses of the rest of Tallinn. The sights were simply unbelievable.

For day 6, we spent more time in Old Town. My friends and I went into an old pharmacy museum to see what an apothecary shop was like. I learned about medicinal practices from centuries ago: health professionals used dried up toads, hedgehogs, and bats for some treatments, in addition to using herbs. Apothecaries placed glass jugs filled with liquids to represent what specialties they addressed in their care. This shop displayed jugs with red liquid and blue liquid, which stood for blood and phlegm in accordance with Hippocrates’ humors theory.

Our group had a special visit to the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn, Estonia. We spoke with two generalists and one specialist; these three folks were Americans like us and were happy to discuss their experiences with foreign service. It helped me clarify what embassies do and what the process is like for becoming involved.

Afterwards, we went to Hotel Viru for their KGB museum. Our tour guide explained to us what it was like under Soviet rule; in that hotel, the KGB spies set up secret microphones and cameras in certain rooms and areas. It was very eye-opening and we went into a room that was once the office for KGB officers. The door to that room had said “There is nothing to see here” and hotel guests apparently obeyed this saying. This tour gave me insight into history and I realized that this happened not too long ago. The tour guide told us that Estonians do not like talking about the KGB or remembering what else happened during Soviet rule.

The uniforms were left behind in the office when the KGB dismantled their headquarters literally overnight. The office was set up to recreate what it would have looked like leading up to 1971.

For dinner, we ate at MEKK, a classy restaurant serving modern Estonian cuisine. I finished clean every plate for all three courses! It was a very delicious meal. I am impressed by the quality of food we have been eating here. I never eat at such high-class settings in America, and abroad we have plenty of group dinners at fine establishments.

To be Continued in blog post Part II

Tips on How to Prepare for Travel

My carry-on was my backpack. The contents of the carry-on should include passport, emergency cards, insurance cards, cash, debit and credit cards, accommodation information, contact details of fellow students, any prescriptions you have, a change of clothing, and cell phone and chargers. I had one checked bag, which was my suitcase. Be aware of weight restrictions. See packing guidelines from OIA and also adhere to the rules and regulations set by specific airlines and by the TSA.

Helpful hints in terms of safety are to connect to secure sources of WiFi. Do not connect to free WiFi if you do not trust the source. Do not post your location haphazardly because someone could be following you as you travel around. They could catch up to you and do something. Post your photos at the end of the trip, once you return home.
Carry money wisely. Keep your wallet and passport on you at all times. Have emergency numbers written down too in case your phone dies. Use the buddy system and try not to go alone anywhere. Always be aware of your surroundings. Do not have your eyes fixated on your device. Wear comfortable shoes.

Going abroad for the first time was a worry of mine ever since I was accepted into the program. I felt unprepared and nervous that something would go wrong. Indeed, mistakes and mishaps occurred, but they were all learning experiences. They also make for interesting conversations with my loved ones now that I have returned home. Please do not hesitate to talk with peers and OIA staff about your feelings. They can help ease your tensions and fears.

My Experience at Equitas Health – April 2018

April 2nd –

  • Today, I was able to stay on campus instead of commuting to the Clintonville location of Equitas Health. As part of National Public Health Week (an entire week dedicated to my beloved major and field), the hotline did outreach! From morning to mid-afternoon, we had our own table; different Equitas Health departments each had their own tables. Our table in particular had an easy guessing game. We had two containers filled with condoms; people had to guess how many condoms were in the container and they could choose to guess one or both. We provided hints for each container. The larger box had 750 and the smaller one had 300. Only a few people had close-enough answers! We handed out prizes to those who came close to the actual amounts.
  • There were hundreds of students who passed by us; we were stationed not too far from Thompson. Some people did avoid us but that was fine. We provided condoms and other free items to people. I appreciated the students and community members who participated in the different activities we offered!

    I continue to put myself outside of my comfort zone and interact with people in person. It is a skill I am continuously improving. I enjoyed helping out for NPHW 2018 at OSU!

    Public health is everywhere!

April 9th –

  • Snapengage, Adam4Adam, and Canva – this is the trifecta that I open up on my laptop when I get seated at the office.
  • I made several Canva posts for upcoming holidays. One that was actually used was for Equal Pay Day.

    Equal work deserves equal pay, but sadly this is not the case, especially not in America! This post aims to raise awareness at wage gaps not just for women, but for certain subgroups.

  • With the warmer weather approaching, I wanted to ensure that people knew how to properly store condoms!

    Proper storage of condoms is key! Otherwise, condoms will be wasted.

April 16th –

  • Today was a busy day for Snapengage. I had chats to answer from people from China, New York, London, Greece, Ireland, and India, in addition to just America! It is interesting to encounter visitors to the hotline from around the world. Even though we are based in Ohio, we serve anyone who comes across our site and want to know more about sexual health.
  • I posted on social media about Orchid Day and how I related it to vaginal health and pH.

    Vaginas are not supposed to smell like flowers; it’s not natural. This idea can be harmful to people with vaginas because it is an unrealistic expectation.


  • I did the usual protocol of answering online messages.
  • I worked on future Canva posts, and this is one of my favorite parts of working at the hotline.

    An astounding 1 billion people worldwide (that’s about 1 in 7 people) get involved in some capacity for Earth Day. We only have one home, so we all should take better care of it.

    Showers should be around five minutes or less. The average length of showers is eight minutes, which is approximately the length of two songs. I enjoyed finding out what can be sustainable as people engage in pleasure.

April 23rd –

  • In the morning, I answered several messages and continued to work on Canva posts!
  • I can even schedule posts ahead of time on Facebook, which is a handy feature for anyone with a page.
  • Sexting can be safe, but people must take precautions and think smart!


  • This post was made for Sexual Assault Awareness Prevention Month. I wanted people to remember these resources in case sexual assault occurs, to them or someone else they know. It is actually a common issue and must be addressed.


April 30th –

  • I expected this to be my last day at the hotline for a while, but found out that I can return for just a few hours in May to continue to help out!
  • Besides online outreach, I again worked on Canva.
  • On this day, I wanted to mention testicular health. This is an aspect of men’s health and although it can be uncomfortable to talk about (how does one have a conversation about testicles?), it is necessary! All ages of men should get involved and take care of themselves down there. Experts suggest doing a self exam after a shower or bath because that is when the testes are relaxed!

    This is another favorite post of mine! I love bubble tea and I love educating others.

  • I ended my shift by looking up future holidays for May and brainstorming what I could possibly do to promote sexual health even more.
  • This month has been eventful and really fruitful for me in terms of what I produced and contributed to the hotline! Volunteering has provided me with insight into what I can do in the future for my public health career.

My Experience at Equitas Health – March 2018

March 5th –

  • I logged into Adam4Adam and answered messages throughout the day; I log inquiries on data sheets. As I interact with people, I learn more about sexual health myself because I must dig deeper into research to find the answers to their questions. I have learned more about how to find PrEP and finance it; copays can get expensive, but there is assistance to reduce costs!
  • There were more Canva posts to be made for the rest of the month! I made a post for International Women’s Day, National Napping Day, as well as one for National Jewel Day.
  • Our Facebook caption said: “We will be dedicating all of our posts today to women who are changing the standards of beauty, sexuality, gender roles, etc.
    We want our followers to participate with us today in recognizing today’s brilliant, powHERful, women! Send us a message including a picture of a woman you admire and a quote that has really empowered you in your fight for gender equality and we’ll share it on our social media pages. “

  • This is one of my favorite Canva creations. I am ecstatic to challenge my creativity in connecting holidays to sexual health concepts.

  • People are like jewels. We are precious and it takes time for us to develop and fully form. We at the hotline wanted to highlight mental health and how that cannot be neglected. We connect hotline visitors to resources if they are experiencing a crisis or are just feeling down. We care about the overall health of people.


  • Another post I enjoyed making was about National Puppy Day.

    Older and elderly people have sex too; I wanted the hotline to have some inclusive posts about this group! We serve all ages, from teenage to older age.

  • The hotline does Myth Mondays, and I created this one.
    Toilets are often seen as harbors for harmful germs, but contrary to popular belief, they aren’t common places for contracting STIs. If you have any questions, dirty or clean, give us a call at 800.332.2437! #myth #monday #mythmonday #lgbtq #hiv #education #knowthefacts


  • I tallied up data for calls versus chats for the hotline; for February, we had 67 online chats and 41 calls.
  • Since it was the first Monday of the month, we packed condoms and enjoyed pizza.

March 19th –

  • After I returned to Columbus from my eventful and enlightening spring break, I was back at the hotline to continue doing meaningful work! I did Snapengage and worked on Canva posts. I opened Adam4Adam.
  • I assembled condom packs; since we operate the Free Condom Project, this is an essential part of what we do. Without volunteers and work-study students, the project would not be successful! I finished the mini condom packs, which contained two condoms, a tiny tube of lubricant, and a hotline business card.
  • I also researched tech apps related to sexual health. The hotline does Tech Tuesdays, usually twice a month, highlighting online apps or websites the public can use!

March 26th –

  • I opened up the websites needed for the day, and then worked on determining what Canva posts could be made for April.
  • I found out that provides lists of LGBTQ friendly providers! This is a helpful resource to direct people to. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association Healthcare Provider Directory (GLMA Provider Directory) are free resources too.

This month, I was proud that I developed a stronger skill for answering messages and creating social media posts! Each day is a learning experience, and I am growing as a future professional in the field of health education & promotion.

My Experience at Equitas Health – February 2018

February 5th, 2018 – Third Day of Volunteering

  • I logged onto Snapengage to be available to chat with any visitor to our hotline.
  • I opened up the site Adam4adam to answer messages from people and to do more outreach work.
  • From noon to five p.m., we had a condom packing party, so we packed plastic bags with condoms and our business cards while we ate pizza and watched movies.
  • I created Canva social media posts for future holidays. For example, I created a post for National Nutella Day. This graphic was posted to our Facebook.

    It is estimated that 9,000 jars of Nutella are sold per hour. It is also estimated that there are over 22,000 new STI infections per hour in the US each year.
    Spread love! Get tested regularly, talk to your partners, and use protection!
    For more information on HIV/STI transmission give the hotline a call at 800.332.2437, chat with online at or send us a text at 614.859.6448

February 12th, 2018

  • The first task is always opening Snapengage to chat with people.
  • I opened Adam4adam next to click through profiles and to answer messages.
  • I worked on finding national holidays for each month, so that we can create social media posts related to these holidays and find ways to connect sexual health to that day. I found holidays for February through December 2018 for us to use.
  • I created a post for National Freedom to Marry Day, which was established by Lambda Legal, a gay rights advocacy law firm to end sex discrimination in marriage. Marriage should be a personal decision between those in love.

    The holiday was founded in 1999!

  • I answered more messages on our various platforms and gained more experience answering various types of questions and comments. Some wanted to learn about better protection/prevention, whereas others simply message us to thank us for our service, which I appreciate very much!

February 27th, 2018

  • I worked from home and spent a few hours on Adam4adam answering messages and clicking through profiles. Additionally, I made two Canva posts. I had chats open but there were no visitors.