Higher Education in Brazil

1.) For my STEP experience I went on a study abroad trip to Salvador, Brazil.  We studied access to higher education (and education as a whole) especially for Afro-Brazilian youths.

2.) I had a vastly transforming experience in Brazil.  As a white North American, I was really confronted with the privileges I carry just as an accident of birth.  Salvador has a majority of black people, however the university in the city is 90% white. Access to education is not equal based on very systematic racism that has disadvantaged people of color for centuries.  There was a stark parallelism between the situation in Brazil and what we see in the United States today.  For me, it was incredibly eye opening to see the experience that students there have compared to the opportunities I was given here because of socioeconomic status and race.

3.) We visited several schools which really showed us what it was like for students to succeed.  If students can afford private schools, they will have the proper education needed to get into the free, government funded public colleges.  In contrast, those who must attend public K-12 schools are at a disadvantage because they are not well-funded by the government. Students must pass an entrance exam, but it is very hard if they cannot attend a good private school.  They do have an affirmative action policy in place to help level the playing field for students of color.

We visited a school where the students are completely of color in a small, community neighborhood.  They are a community school funded by donations so not everything is up to date. What they lack in funding or resources, they more than make up in passion and heart.  These students were so happy for the opportunity to learn.  Most of the students don’t eat more than the meal they are given at school they appreciate everything they are given.

Speaking with these children and teachers made me appreciate not only the free public education I had, but the choice I had in school and college.  I had the opportunity to be whoever I wanted and many kids across the world, and right here at home, don’t have that chance.  This has inspired me to go into education and fight for these kids so everyone can have equal access to education.

4.) This is so important because it has inspired me to think beyond myself in my career as an educator.  That means taking jobs in lower-income districts, not working for the pay increases, but the chance to even the playing field and be an advocate for these students.  It was devastating to see this abroad, but knowing that it is in our own backyard has inspired me to go forward and work to help solve this injustice.

Scientific Roots in the UK – STEP Study Abroad Experience

For my STEP experience, I enrolled in the Scientific Roots in the UK course and spent the first half of the spring semester in the classroom at OSU learning about the incredible scientific advancements made overtime in England, the people who made those advancements, and their significance throughout history. Then over spring break, we had the opportunity to travel to some of those places of cultural, historical and scientific significance in London, Lyme Regis and Cambridge that we learned about in class, and experience them for ourselves.

Throughout my experience in the classroom, as well as in England, I really broadened my knowledge of science as an interdisciplinary study. I think because the sciences are an ever-evolving field we often view them in the present and future tenses. Rarely do we get the opportunity to study where these discoveries came from, their social implications and historical context in detail. This program I was able to complete through STEP was unique because of the occasion it offered me to gain a deeper understanding of scientific discoveries and see how the evolution of science throughout history connects to social movements, social conditions and the sociology behind the study and pursuit of scientific knowledge.

Beyond the academic significance of this experience, I also gained a better understanding of myself through completing my STEP Signature Project. This was my first time traveling abroad, and as someone who is at Ohio State University purely on scholarship and coming from a small town in Appalachia, the idea of traveling to another country was as terrifying as it was exciting. Throughout my time studying with my classmates here at OSU and studying abroad in England, I not only gained confidence in myself individually, but also gained confidence in the way I connect with others.

One of the most valuable things gained from this experience was building lasting friendships with fellow students. We had a small group of people from different backgrounds, majors and academic ranks on our trip, and learning from and with one another was a wonderful experience I will always be thankful for. I went into this trip trying to see England all on my own, but found that some experiences in life are best shared with people who are just as amazed as you are.

It is certainly hard to pick favorites but the most memorable part of my trip was probably an afternoon fossil hunting on the shores of Lyme Regis. While talking to one of the few professional fossil hunters who makes his living by finding and selling beautiful pre-historic artifacts to tourists, I was given some sage advice about life. Listening to his stories about why he does what he does, and why he chose to stay in his home town and go into the “family business” of fossil hunting with his father was one of those conversations I will never forget.

While walking through the clay-like sand down the coast, his trained eye saw in a large piece of shale rock the edge of a perfectly preserved ammonite fossil. Normally, I would not have the confidence to ask questions when the answer could be “no”, but this was a wonderful opportunity I could not waste, so I asked him if he would mind if we tried break it open to find the fossil. To my excitement, he said yes. I now have several pictures of me chiseling out a perfect ammonite fossil that I was allowed to take home with me. Needless to say, best souvenir ever.

Beyond all the fun I had, I truly learned so much in the classroom and in England during this experience. As a sociology major, I was a little intimidated going on this trip with so many students who were biology and chemistry majors. But throughout our conversations and learning experiences, it was clear to me that a sociological perspective on science was also incredibly valuable. For example, we visited the Royal Society, which serves as a scientific authority in England, and has since the mid 1600s. While on the surface we learned about the historical significance of the Royal Society Fellows, and their contributions to the advancement of conducts and communications around scientific discovery. But on a deeper level, we were given an inside look at the social structure of this particular scientific institution, and their relationships to other institutions of scientific discovery. Because of my background in sociology, I was able to think further about the social conditions that either serve to further the exploration of science, or hinder that pursuit.

Participating in this trip was one of the best decisions I have made as an OSU student. It is so hard to put into words just how much I learned over the course of a few short weeks in the classroom, and one week abroad. I draw on those experiences often in ways that I was not expecting to after the trip. Sure, I thought that I would be able to return from England with some trivia to impress my friends, but never did I think I would draw on conversations I had with locals about pursuing my passions, or the importance of family. I never thought then that when I now find myself in situations of uncertainty, I remember the way I got myself and my buddy to every single “must-see” we had circled on our map of London in one day to remind myself that even when life is overwhelming, there is always time for tea. This change in the way I understand and view myself really matters in terms of my future endeavors, both personally and professionally. The broader understanding of my field of study in sociology and how it connects to the pursuit of human discovery in the sciences is incredibly valuable. That kind of understanding only comes from in-depth experiences like the one I was lucky enough to be a part of in England.



European Sustainable Cities

My STEP Project was a study abroad excursion to several European cities, including Copenhagen, Hamburg, Berlin, and Amsterdam. The goal of the project was to examine the sustainable planning practices that those cities use. As a group, we got to attend lectures from several local architecture and planning firms and conducted case studies on several key urban spaces.


The trip definitely changed my view on how urban spaces should be planned, in regards to both form and function.  European views on public transportation and housing are quite different from American views, and it was eye-opening to see the many examples of how spaces could potentially be planned in Columbus.  Americans are very much reliant on the car, a very unstainable means of transport, to travel to most places, and I would love to see more public infrastructure being built to sustainably support cities like Columbus.


All of the cities that I studied took measures to avoid suburban sprawl, with most of the population living relatively close to the city center. These density levels allow for public transportation to be a viable and sustainable way for people to get around. I had the chance to frequently travel around these cities via train, bus, metro, and bicycle, and I was very impressed.  Amsterdam and Copenhagen also featured canal tours, which also provided a charming, creative alternative means of transport.


Copenhagen, ranked the world’s most livable city in 2014, had a very impressive bicycle system, which was separate from both the roads and the sidewalks. The roads, bicycles, and sidewalks all had individual traffic signals, so the potential for crashes was minimal. In winter, the bike paths are paved before the roads, showing their commitment to the city’s bike friendly atmosphere. Measures like parking limitations and zoning have also helped greatly in reducing automobile traffic and emissions, thereby maintaining the city’s impeccable sustainability record.  Using methods similar to Copenhagen could greatly improve US cities.


Navigating subway and bus systems was another one of the highlights of my trip. In the cities I visited, there didn’t seem to be a negative stigma about using the bus or the subway, because it was a practice where everyone was participating. In those cites, buses and trams are simply more convenient to use than cars, so it is an all-inclusive activity. The lack of funding in public infrastructure in US has led buses and trains to be slow and unreliable, so the only people who really use them are those who cannot afford private vehicles to get around.  In the European cities, the public interest in bus and train systems allows more funding, which helps maintain the reliable service that these cities are known for.


This experience provided me the insight and motivation to pursue transportation planning and engineering, so I can help facilitate, in the United States, the kind of sustainable practices that one can find in European cities.  I believe that walkable cities are the key to a sustainable future, and the cities that I have seen provide remarkable inspiration for future goals that I hope to accomplish.

One of Amsterdam's many canals.

One of Amsterdam’s many canals.

Green space on a mall roof in Berlin.

Green space on a mall roof in Berlin.

STEP Study Abroad Reflection

During the Spring of 2016, I chose to take an independent study abroad trip to Birmingham, England. Most people are surprised that I did not study in London but I have two reasons for opting for the West Midlands. Firstly, I was told that London was must more international and while lovely, I wouldn’t get a feel for typical British life. Secondly, I do competitive Irish Dancing and the school I wanted to attend was in Birmingham.

While studying abroad it became clear to me that I am capable of creating anything I set my mind to. Everyday it was an amazing feeling knowing that this was just an idea I had my sophomore year that I had willed into a reality. The English school calendar also allows for a month long break before finals. I saw this as an opportunity to travel all over which is rare while in America. A majority of my finals were papers so I worked ahead and planned every aspect of my trip beforehand. The lack of major issues I encountered made me realize that I am at a point in my life that I am able to set a goal and take the necessary steps to achieving it without the help of an “adult” (I wouldn’t consider myself an adult just yet).

On the other side of that, when planning was over it became important to enjoy what was around me. I’ve always appreciated my time as a Buckeye but I believe even more so, I realize that this is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is so easy to be overwhelmed by all the errands you have to run and tasks on your to-do list. These moments pass so quickly that it is important to look at what is around you and realize that you will never be in this same place again. That can be obvious when traveling to places that you legitimately may never visit again but even during a seemingly daily routine at no moment will you be in the same physical, emotional, or mental place at the same time.

I gained a new sense of confidence when I traveled through Mainland Europe. When I left, I did not realize the set-up of the British school system so I did not anticipate having an entire month off. I think it is clear that I am quite ambitious when an opportunity presents itself so I knew that this would be my chance to see the world. Until now, I thought I was quite knowledgeable about geography and landmarks but I had to do copious amounts of research in order to create a list of what I wanted to see and how to see it. Next, I had to meticulously plan my trip by finding the right (and cheapest) transportation, places to stay, and the timing of it all. During some of my trip, I was joined by my friends Quinn and Victoria but since I would be traveling alone some of the time I created a detailed itinerary so my family and friends could follow along. I planned all of this and finished my final papers in March before leaving. I ended up never missing my transportation, trying a variety of foreign foods, meeting new people, and seeing more than I planned. My newfound confidence came from being able to plan and execute the entire trip which at first seemed daunting. In the end, I had traveled for 27 days straight, visited 11 countries, explored over 20 cities, and traveled over 5,000 miles.

While in Birmingham, I felt compelled not only to appreciate my time there but also my time at Ohio State. Although everyone was very welcoming, I was homesick being over a thousand miles from my friends and family. I realized how amazing my time at Ohio State has been which, I could have never anticipated when I accepted my place as a member of the Class of 2017. I had a new sense of wonderment that out of shear luck I met people that share the same heart as me and now are some of my favorite people. Although I missed this while in England, I knew that when I returned, things would be so much better because of this acknowledgement. I quickly learned that having friends on separate sides of the Atlantic would prove difficult. What I really needed was to be able to pick up one world and move it to the other. I understood my time there was limited so I focused on embracing it. A turning point for me was when I was exploring Europe. My tight schedule only allowed a few days in each location so I knew it was important to take a mental image of the cities. One of my favorite things to do was visit a site high above the city in order to get a good view of the skyline and landscape. When presented with such beauty, it was easy to get lost in the moment. When I returned to Birmingham, even more so than before, I was grateful for every dance class I attended (only finals remained at the university) and this amazing opportunity.

These changes have led to increased confidence and awareness. Both of these skills will be crucial as I finish out my time at Ohio State and enter the “real world.” While in school, confidence will be important when I’m feeling discouraged about my workload or overwhelmed about the future. Upon graduation, I will need to be confident in my work and my abilities in order to pitch myself to employers.

On the other hand, gaining a good sense of awareness is an important aspect of aging. The present always seems to pass slowly but it is gone before you realize it. When looking back, freshman year seems much closer than almost four years ago. Taking a moment to stop and smell the roses will help me appreciate the present, de-stress about the future, and create lasting memories that will, hopefully, slow down time.

One of my dance teacher from Birmingham, John Carey and myself

One of my dance teacher from Birmingham, John Carey and myself

Old Joe on the campus of the University of Birmingham

Old Joe on the campus of the University of Birmingham