My STEP Experience: Attending the Doug Varone and Dancers Winter Workshop

IMG_3667For my STEP Signature Project I attended the Doug Varone and Dancers Winter Workshop in Boston, MA at The Boston Conservatory. At the one-week long workshop I took Varone technique classes with all of the company members, learned choreography from their current repertory, took dance composition classes with Doug Varone himself, and watched the company perform their current works in an intimate studio setting.

During this workshop, I made a transformation from primarily being a performer to becoming both a dancer and choreographer. As a dance major and someone who has performed all of my life, I’ve always seen myself primarily as a performer. It wasn’t until attending this workshop and taking dance composition classes with Varone that I started to also view myself as a choreographer.

In his composition classes, Varone shared the choreographic devices that he uses to create his work. His choreographic process places emphasis on intuition and play, which I found as a very conductive atmosphere for my own creative process to thrive. My experience working with Varone and his dancers in this class has changed my entire understanding of my own choreographic process and I left this workshop with newfound confidence in my ability as a director and choreographer. This understanding and confidence will aid me in my future as a dancer, choreographer, and rehearsal assistant – all roles that I am interested in pursuing upon my graduation.

My initial interest in Varone technique sparked from my experiences within the OSU Department of Dance. I recently took my first semester of Varone technique and performed a piece of Varone repertory in Dance Downtown. My interest in Varone technique is what led me to the workshop and fueled my desire to dig deeper into the technique.

IMG_3676During my time at the workshop I found how comfortable and at home my body feels within this technique and how satisfying the movement feels in my body. The daily technique classes transformed me into a dancer that has a deeper bodily understanding of Varone technique and its aesthetic, as well as more clearly understanding my own movement aesthetic. This understanding has stuck with me ever since and has aided me in my continued growth in the OSU Department of Dance this past semester. And I believe that this understanding will continue to aid me in my growth beyond OSU.

Through my experience with this workshop I have redefined and clarified my desires for my future upon graduation. I have always been interested in performing and traveling with a dance company based off of my previous experiences within the OSU Department of Dance. Working intimately and socially interacting with Varone and Dancers has expanded and transformed my view of company life. Much of what I learned about company life from the dancers supports the knowledge that I already had; however, I gained new information that deepened my desire to experience this life. I’m thankful for this experience because it has reinforced my hopes for my future as a professional dancer.

To learn more about my STEP Experience and my experience as a Dance Major at OSU:

Blacksmithing in the 21st Century @ The Columbus Idea Foundry: Alex Cochran

My STEP project saw me traveling to the Columbus Idea Foundry (CIF) to take blacksmithing classes. The CIF is located in Franklinton, right across the Scioto River, and is a “makerspace”– a place where artists, designers, and even those with little to no artistic talent (such as myself) can go to practice or learn a new creative technique. With funding and donations from the City of Columbus and many of its members, the CIF contains millions of dollars of tools and equipment its members can use for 3D printing, laser cutting, welding, painting, jewelry making, glass cutting, blacksmithing, and more. I focused my STidea1EP funding on taking blacksmithing classes with Adlai Stein, the CIF’s resident blacksmith.

I’ve always wanted to try blacksmithing. It’s always been something I’ve been interested in, but it’s not really something incredibly accessible to the public anymore. What used to be a series of techniques that needed to be learned in order to create the metal tools and products used by society are now generally automated and completed by factory machines. Being able to begin to learn how to shape and reform metal pieces into useful or creative designs allowed me to explore a creative side of myself that I rarely get to see. As a Materials Science & Engineering student at Ohio State, my daily studies explore the complexities of metallurgy, but we don’t usually see or experience steel being heated and reshaped. Reshaping metal doesn’t require equations or much of a conceptual understanding of high-temperature crystal transformations, only a vision for the end-product and the knowledge of how and where to hit the piece. The instructor made sure that I understood that the metal is very much like extremely tough clay– it can’t ever be completely ruined. Never having been much of a painter, blacksmithing provided a unique creative experience for me. It expanded my perception of what I though art could be, and especially what I thought I would be able to make with my hands. instructor-cif

Working with Adlai was one of the major reasons I feel comfortable calling my project transformational. Though his experience with blacksmithing is purely hobby-based, he managed to turn it into his full-time job, earning a living selling his pieces. During each project that he helped me complete we’d often talk about the different aspects of blacksmithing that make it interesting. He helped relate a lot of the theory that I’ve trudged through in school to the different types of hammer strokes and techniques used to temper the metal.

Spending several hours during each week reshaping metal into usable tools showed me how useful an ancient technique could be. The most interesting and involved project that I completed during my STEP project was a steel knife. I made the knife out of rust-resistant 1040 steel and gave it a handle made from Purpleheart wood, and I regularly use it to cut fruits and vegetables in my kitchen. It’s much sharper than any of the other knives that my roommates and I own, and also looks the best. It is extremely rewarding knowing that I was able to make it with my own skills. Since then, I’ve made several other things, such as a bottle opener and a hatchet, each used regularly.

Also integral to my transformational experience was the community at the Idea Foundry. The members of the idea foundry are all there to express their ideas in a plethora of different ways, and everyone is open to collaboration. Often when walking across the shop floor I can hear members asking others for constructive criticism. It doesn’t matter if you are just beginning to learn your craft or you’ve been at it for years; all of the members at the CIF love to ask questions, offer advice and ideas, and never stop giving words of encouragement. Learning to blacksmith wasn’t easy. Even though I’ve done it more than the average person, I’m still terrible at it. Regardless, Adlai and his other students and fellow artists are always positive and ready to help.

Starting on my way to learning how to blacksmith has been a valuable experience. It has solidified the interest I have in my major, shown me a wonderful creative outlet, and introduced me to a community of interesting and extremely well-rounded individuals who understand my need for a way to express myself in a way different from anything I’ve ever done before. Applying the knowledge I’ve gained in class to something I can do with my hands has been very liberating, especially as it has been taught to me by a group of people I can relate to. In addition, I’ve been able to make some pretty cool stuff along the way.


Name: Dina Ballard

Type of Product: Creative Endeavor.

  1.      My STEP project was centered around my internship at All N 1 Studio, which is a photography studio. Throughout the summer, I was required to work on projects with LaTosha Ward, the owner of the Studio. With that she required me to come up with and successfully complete a personal project to contribute to my portfolio.
  2.      Before the STEP experience, I knew that I was passionate about photography, but I was also somewhat insecure about my talent. I would be nervous to shoot for people in case things did not turn out the way that I intended. I knew that I had a passion to give a voice to those that were unrepresented with my art. That’s all I ever wanted to do. While completing my experience, I was required to trust myself, trust my camera, and trust my craft. My experience showed me that I prefer to work with people that are underprivileged and often ignored. With that, I was able to appreciate myself as an artist and build my confidence in myself. I became a stronger and more professional individual as a result of my STEP experience.
  3.     a. My personal project required me to go to the rough neighborhoods of Cincinnati. I wanted to bring forth the beauty of those areas and people that are often neglected. The people that saw the shoot taking place and wanted to be a part of it, appreciated the message I was trying to get across. They loved the photos and they loved how I was able to see the good on their home and their people. That was something they didn’t experience often. I definitely think that my personal project is what caused the transformation in me and made me a better version of myself.

b. Having to work with a model that was accustomed to shooting and professionalism contributed to the building of my confidence as an artist immensely. I can say that going into this specific shoot was exciting as well as nerve wrecking. It was intimidating as Ms. Ward had me working alone with this model. I was under a great amount of pressure to represent myself and my mentor in a positive manner. I was able to push through my nerves and make my project into something greater than I desired.

c. Ms. Ward is very serious about her professionalism and this experience helped mold me into an artist that puts that first as well. There wasn’t any room for me to ever keep a client waiting or to be late with something she held me responsible for. As I am working on my own now, this is something that my personal clients have come to respect about me. I am grateful for her sternness as it made me a better entrepreneur.

4. This change is significant as it helped carry me to higher levels. I am now an artist that is respected and getting paid for her craft. I feel confident to work with people and give them exactly what they feel visioned for themselves. My confidence in myself made me a better student and is helping me venture into my goals of being an entrepreneur with my work.

Gaining Confidence at The Second City

For my STEP project, I visited Chicago with  a friend and took classes at The Second City Training Center. Second City is a company located in Chicago (main location), Los Angeles and Toronto that specializes in sketch writing and is known nationally as a launching pad for comedians. Many Saturday Night Live cast members from throughout the years have come from Second City. Some notable alumni are Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Steve Carrell, Steven Colbert, Chris Farley and many more. While in Chicago, I took a class called Writing for The Onion, Improvisation 1 and Writing 1. In Writing for The Onion, we learned how to write fake news in the style of The Onion, possibly the most famous satirical newspaper in the world right now. In that class we also learned how to write headlines that would coincide with said articles. In improvisation 1, we learned to think on our feet which helped in Writing 1, as it is a class that teaches how to write sketches based off improvisation.

Taking these classes at Second City has helped me grow as a person. As a writer, the improvisation class helped me realize that it is okay to not have everything planned out completely. The improv and sketch writing class helped me to gain invaluable comedy skills that have enabled me to come back to Ohio State and lead a sketch writing class that we established this year. The Writing for the Onion class helped me learn more about comedy writing, which helped me as an officer and writer for The Sundial Humor Magazine. I was able to take the information I learned in this class and teach it to the members, who now know how to write better fake news in the style of The Onion.
Apart from the classes we took, I learned a lot from travelling to Chicago on my own. Both myself and the friend that accompanied me are very shy and are not eager to leave our comfort zones. This was the first time we had traveled anywhere without any parents. We booked our own flights, booked the hostel we were going to stay at, find rides to and from the airport, and maneuver the city. One of our biggest accomplishes we were the most proud of was riding the EL by ourselves with no instructions.
This experience was very transformative for me for many reasons. As we were there for two weeks, I was able to get a taste of what it is like to live in Chicago, which is very important since I will probably move their once I graduate. It was also very transformative for me in a personal way, as it helped me get out of my comfort zone by living in a big city and putting myself out there in my classes. This experience was also very beneficial for me on a business level. As an aspiring writer/comedian, I was able to learn valuable skills for going forward in my desired career. I was also able to network and meet many different people that are trying to make it in the same career path, which helps to obtain a support group as I go forward. This experience also helped me gain confidence in myself. These classes were the first time I had ever performed in my life and many of my classmates, and even my teacher, personally told me how well I was doing in improvisation and acting. A lot of my classmates actually assumed that I do theatre a lot, which was a big deal to me since I get very nervous in front of groups. We were also praised in our Writing for the Onion class and a classmate even pitched a movie to us that he wants to write. The experience helped transformed me by giving me the confidence to follow my dreams.

Echo Ranch Bible Camp, Juneau Alaska


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This past summer, I used my STEP funding to travel to Juneau, Alaska. While I was there I worked at a summer camp called Echo Ranch. The STEP funding went towards the flight to Juneau, the room and board fees that the camp required, and supplies for the summer. Working at the camp was an incredible experience, and I will never forget the memories I made with the campers and my fellow staff members.

I was able to explore a completely new culture during my time in Alaska. The state of Alaska, and Juneau especially, has a really high rate of suicide, as well as high depression rates. Alcohol and drugs are also extremely prevalent in this culture. One of the reasons why this happens, is that in the winter in Alaska, it is dark outside almost the entire day. Children would go to school and it would be dark outside, then when they get out of school it is already dark again. This creates an atmosphere of depression, and causes the people of Juneau to fall into this vicious cycle of drugs and drinking. The camp that I worked at provided a place for these young children to get away during the summer, and experience a place where they would be constantly loved, which wasn’t the case for a lot of my campers. I estimate that about seventy percent of my campers came from divorced parents.

I was also able to grow spiritually over the summer. Being at a Christian camp gave me the opportunity to share my faith with my campers, and be surrounded by fellow counselors and staff members who shared the same faith and love for the Lord as I do. Going up to Alaska and showing these young children so much love and spreading my faith was the most rewarding aspect of the summer, and made the trip completely worth it. Just seeing how happy we were able to make the campers and how much fun they were having was the best feeling in the world.

There were many specific events that led to the transformation that I experienced this summer. Spending time with the campers and hearing all of their different stories would be the main reason. Every kid was different, and every kid had a unique background. Each week we would have about one hundred kids at the camp, and each week would consist of a different age group of kids. For instance, one week we would have one hundred high school campers, and I would be in charge of around fifteen, and the next week we would have about one hundred kids between the ages of seven and nine. I didn’t really have a favorite age group, but my favorite thing was just being able to hear their stories and their struggles and help them in any way I could. Many of the campers came from extremely dysfunctional families, so I would try my best to give them advice and words of encouragement. I became a lot more grateful for my own family this summer, and I definitely felt blessed for my own upbringing.

Even just being around the fellow counselors and the older staff I was able to learn an incredible amount. I learned about discipline, respect, and many useful counseling tips. Being around groups of kids that struggled behaviorally meant that I had to learn quickly how to deal with them, so the older counselors and staff members really taught me a lot. I had one camper who suffered from severe fetal-alcohol syndrome, and struggled a lot with discipline. He never listened to anything I said, and he would often run away from me. I quickly had to find a solution as to how to help this camper, and my older staff members helped me find that solution. We found out that his dad was not around in his family, so he wasn’t used to listening to males. So I ended up having an older female staff member who worked in the kitchen help me out with that specific camper the entire week. Without the help from her and the other staff members, I would not have made it through the week.

The last thing that attributed to my transformation was the self-reflection that I did. On the weekends, and even sometimes during the week, we would have time to just go down to the water and sit in the sand and reflect. I could read my bible, sit in prayer, sing songs, skip rocks, or anything else that helped clear my mind. It was during those times when I would think about why I was there and why I was helping out those campers. I really didn’t go up to Alaska to transform myself, I went up there to transform the lives of kids who really needed help, and the transformation that I went through was just an aftermath of me helping these kids. Each and every one of my campers impacted me just as much as I impacted them, and I would use that self-reflection time to really think about how I can take what I learned from them and apply it back to my life in Ohio. I’m really thankful for those times of self-reflection and the lessons I learned from it.

These many lessons and experiences that I went through will continue to have an impact on me because of my major and my career path. I plan on becoming a teacher, so being around hundreds of kids this summer was an experience that will definitely help me academically. I was able to study how certain kids learn, how they behave, how they respond to discipline, and more. This upcoming year I will have my first experience with student-teaching, so I plan on utilizing everything I learned this summer and putting those lessons into play with my future students. Once again, I’m extremely grateful for all of the amazing memories that happened this summer, and I can’t wait to return to Alaska again sometime soon.

STEP Reflection: The Show Must Go On!

The purpose of my STEP project was to utilize the tools and concepts I am currently learning in the Aerospace Engineering major at The Ohio State University as well as outside experiences to construct a 6-motor video drone. Next, I would take various photographs and video footage of the city of Pittsburgh for use in a media presentation about my hometown city.


The project first began with education. In order to design and build a 6-motor video drone, I needed to learn more about how drones work, design practices, construction techniques, recommended materials and parts, and troubleshooting. After performing roughly a month of research, I began designing my drone based on a “plug-n-play” strategy. In this method, the designer outlines the goals and constraints of the project in order to choose components to be combined to create the finished product. I knew how much overall thrust I needed, my weight and maneuverability constraints, my cost constraint, my time constraint, and my video and picture quality goals. I used all of this information to decide which components to purchase for the hexacopter. With so many options on the market, this required me to sacrifice a large amount of my project time in order to make the best decisions possible.


Picture of the GoPro Hero 3+ mounted on the Zenmuse 3D Gimbal

Picture of the GoPro Hero 3+ mounted on the Zenmuse 3D Gimbal

Throughout the construction phase, I performed several different tests on components to make sure they were performing as expected. I tested the electrical system, propulsion system, flight control system, and the video capture and transmit system, as well as several individual parts. During testing most components performed optimally to expectation. However I discovered that I was having a much greater voltage drop than expected in the system while running the motors above half power capacity. This was a major concern because the aircraft required the motors to be at a power capacity >65% in order to hover, and between 55-80% for maneuvers.

Aerial picture of my backyard in Murrysville, PA

Aerial picture of my backyard in Murrysville, PA

I did the math for my first build, and I should have had about 18 minutes of hover time, 11 minutes of flight time, and more importantly 14-15 minutes of mixed flight time. This would have been more than enough time per flight to accomplish my project goals. However this was not accounting for the major voltage drop above 50% power. After initial flight testing, I discovered that I only had 10 minutes of hover time, 2 minutes of flight time, and roughly 4 minutes of mixed flight time. After extensive trouble shooting, I learned that in order to successfully get my flight time up, I would need to make major design changes, changing more than half of the aircraft. Before going ahead and spending significantly more money to essentially construct another hexacopter, I corresponded with other hobbyists facing similar issues as well as professionals in the field of aerial drone photography.

My Aunt and Uncle's front lawn in Pensacola, Florida. Notice the shadow of the copter.

My Aunt and Uncle’s front lawn in Pensacola, Florida. Notice the shadow of the copter.

After encountering various struggles and troubleshooting problems with the hexacopter, I’ve come to the realization that this project truly has been a transformation. Time and time again I have been faced with adversity and issues without easy fixes. Throughout the project as a whole, I have learned that troubleshooting can be a very long process. Almost never did my first solution to any problem become my final solution. In most cases it took anywhere from 3 to 7 different possible solutions, built and tested, before I found the best final solution. From this, I learned how to more effectively troubleshoot problems.

14 in. carbon fiber propeller mounted on a Turnigy Multistar motor.

14 in. carbon fiber propeller mounted on a Turnigy Multistar motor.

I also learned first hand about the cost of failure. As the project progressed and I ran into more unexpected issues, the amount of costs began to go up exponentially: Purchasing incorrect parts, purchasing replacement parts, time to construct or reconstruct, etc. The more mistakes I made or issues I ran into, the more frustrating the project became. Each time I would solve a problem, I would celebrate the fact that I no longer needed to spend more time or money on that issue, only to discover that I now had 2 more problems requiring my attention!

It is also important to consider safety when designing, constructing, testing, and maintaining a video drone. A hexacopter is a complex machine consisting of several different systems made up of hundreds of different working components. If any one component does not behave properly, the encompassing system will not behave as expected, causing the behavior of the hexacopter to be unreliable. Because erratic drone behavior is so dangerous, it is absolutely critical that before each flight, each system of the hexacopter has been tested and will behave reliably. Negligence on the part of the pilot could result in serious injury or even death! I can’t even count the amount of times a systems check failed before a test flight, forcing me to cancel the test flight to figure out what was wrong.

One time I took my hexacopter down to Florida to show my extended family and do a small demonstration. Before the demonstration I made sure all systems were operating properly and that the hexacopter would behave as expected. During the test flight, all systems were normal and the hexacopter flew very smoothly. I was satisfied that it would perform well and that I was ready to show my family what it could do. While flying during the demonstration, the hexacopter suddenly stopped responding to my commands on the transmitter. The carbon fiber propellers are 14 inches in diameter, and honed to a sharp outer edge spinning at over 400 RPM. This meant my hexacopter had been transformed from a well-functioning, predictable video tool, into a 12 pound deadly, uncontrollable mass of metal flying directly towards my family.

A still captured from the crash described above.

A still captured from the crash described above.

Luckily, I regained control of the vehicle and executed a crash landing before it reached my family. No one got hurt (except the hexacopter) but the experience sticks in my mind as a reminder: As an aerospace engineer, my actions and decisions could have serious negative consequences, including the unwarranted death of innocent people. Every decision we make must be very carefully thought out and analyzed before action is taken. We must do the best we can to keep others safe, including preparing for the unexpected. It’s not enough to hope nothing will go wrong; as engineers it is our job to go extra lengths to be certain that nothing will go wrong and prevent harm to others in the cases when we are wrong.

My hexacopter next to my puppy Toby, a jack russel terrier/chihuahua mix.

My hexacopter next to my puppy Toby, a jack russel terrier/chihuahua mix.

At this moment in time, the project is incomplete. The surplus of learning I have experienced throughout the course of this endeavor has been paramount to my success as an engineer and a problem solver in the modern world. I may have learned a lot, but I’m not finished learning yet. Even now, after rebuilding the hexacopter with different components and the expert knowledge from professionals and other experienced hobbyists, I still have been unable to get my mixed flight time over 8 minutes. In order to safely fly my hexacopter around the large crowds of people I will find in Pittsburgh, I need to have approximately 15 minutes or more of mixed flight time. For the time being, the project is on hold, but not forgotten! I will successfully get my mixed flight time over 15 minutes, and I will successfully make a presentation of Pittsburgh using media gathered with my hexacopter. Adversity has struck at me, but to adversity I say: “The show must go on!”

My STEP Reflection, Adventure To A Healthy Me!

STEP Reflection

Name: Caroline Edwards

Type of Project: Artistic Endeavour

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Description of My STEP Signature Project :

Starting Summer 2015 and continuing today, my $2000 has been used toward a healthy life movement. I have spent this time attending yoga classes, participating in rigorous workout programs, biking as my main transportation, and eating an organic healthy diet. I have been eating healthy raw foods and working out while publicly tracking my progress through an Instagram account funandfit_ce. (

My Transformation:

Background: Prior to this experience, I had chronic problems with my stomach for several years. I had undergone numerous tests, all of which came back negative. This was a very frustrating, painful and costly process for no results. My family was paying over $1,000 a month for stomach medicine to shut down my colon everyday so that I could function in society. The medicine was the only thing that has successfully managed my stomach problems, although it has had many other negative side effects. This was a real stress in my life and something that had a negative effect on me in many ways.

This experience has had numerous positive impacts on my life. Prior to this experience, my gastrointestinal doctor had told me that he thought with a healthy diet and exercise my stomach problems could vastly improve. Since nothing else has really helped, a holistic approach would be the only other option to improving my stomach issues. This project funded my healthy lifestyle by providing healthy food and workouts. This allowed me completely throw myself into the healthy lifestyle. After months of changes to my diet, exercise program and a new trial medication, my stomach problems began to greatly improve.

Along with the medical benefits, this experience also helped to improve my self-esteem and overall well-being. Today, I feel so much stronger and more fit and my body is running much more smoothly than it has previously.

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Activities and Relationships That Led to My Transformation:

Throughout this experience I was able to learn, first hand, the importance of eating healthy foods and exercise. I learned an immense amount about exercise from yoga classes, workout circuits and biking.   From yoga, I learned about the importance of balance, stretching and total body fitness. Yoga also taught me how me to reflect in on my thoughts and tune into how my body is feelings to have to most power and strength in my workout. Biking taught me the importance of endurance. I started out only being able to bike short distances, but over time I gradually biked further and further. Circuit training taught me to push myself and never give up. There was many times during hard workouts that I felt like giving up but I would keep pushing myself, which greatly helped to improve my mental and physical strength. Not only did I learn about the exercises themselves, I learned about their impact on my body. I now use the techniques of deep breathing, that I learned from my yoga instructors and trainers to better maintain the stress in my life. I have learned how to use exercise to boost my mood and energy level as well as maintain mental stability.

This experience allowed me to learn a lot about the importance of a well balanced diet. I was able to try countless new fruits, vegetables and grains, which I have been able to incorporate into my diet. I learned that healthy foods can not only help your body run more smoothly by increasing metabolism and regulating body functions but also help to improve overall energy level and mood. Most importantly, I was able to use healthy foods to greatly improve my chronic stomach issues by introducing healthy bacteria and probiotics into my GI tract. Now, I have replaced the junk food and premade meals with healthy new snacks and recipes to keep my body running smoothly. The information that I have learned through this experience is going to be applicable throughout the rest of my life.

My STEP experience also allowed me to create relationships with other women embarking on similar healthy lifestyle journeys. Throughout this experience, I tracked my project through an Instagram account that functioned as my blog. On the account, I posted pictures and comments about my intensive healthy lifestyle endeavor. I shared my workouts, recipes, struggles and triumphs with my followers. This was extremely beneficial because it gave me an outlet to share changes I experience with my mind, body, and spirit. I posted pictures of the progress I make in loosing fat and gaining muscle through exercise and healthy eating. Overtime, I gained a follower basis that was very interactive. I began to receive messages from other young women who were attempting to start new healthy lives asking for my advice. I was then able to respond to them using the information and experiences that I had accumulated while doing this project.

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Impact On My Life:

This experience has had a very positive impact on my academic, personal and life goals. Academically, this experience has helped me develop much better study habits. I use deep breathing exercises to relax myself during studying and to reduce my anxiety before exams. I have, also, found that working out before studying improves my concentration and energy levels. Personally, this experience has helped me become overall much healthier as well as helping to improve my stomach issues. Finally, this experience has helped me to develop a sustainable healthy lifestyle that will be implement in my life for years to come.



My STEP Experience: Through “The Photographers Eye”

 Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

For my STEP project, I used the grant to purchase a Nikon D7200 camera. I then spent the summer traveling throughout northeast Ohio exploring national and local parks doing nature photography. Once I returned to school, I took a photography class, and learned more of the finesse and history behind photography.

What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

The biggest way that I was transformed through my experience is in how I look at the world. According to John Szarkowski in “The Photographers Eye,” there are 5 basic principals of making a good photograph: the thing itself, time, point of view, detail, and the frame. These principals have effected how I look at the world, and as I take more and more photographs I have really begun to look at things from a different point of view (pun intended). I have really begun to appreciate the beauty all around me, whether that is an abandoned alleyway or a beautiful spring flower (as can both be seen in my post). I think that viewing the world in this way has really had an impact on my environmental activism as well. I know what kind of beauty is out there, and it is something I reflect back on constantly that I want my kids and grandkids to be able to appreciate the outdoors as much as I do — not simply through photographs but tangibly, in person. This experience has made me want to capture the beauty that the world has to offer, and preserve it for the benefit of the future.

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?

There were three major events that happened during my STEP experience that led to this transformation in me. The first, and one of my favorite experiences, was when I went on a day trip to the Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, Ohio. This massive arboretum has a myriad of animals and plants all in one patch of land, but the crown jewel of the park (in my humble opinion) is the rhododendron garden. This beautifully landscaped garden is filled with all kinds of different rhododendron plants, and just spending the time to slow down and enjoy it really defined my day. Trying to capture all of the subtleties of the different varieties of plants helped change how I try to look for detail.

Another important defining moment of my transformational experience was when I took the photography class after the summer taking pictures. The class, Art 2555, helped me to define my voice and improved my photographs. The class is where I learned about Szarkowski’s “The Photographers Eye,” and the 5 basic principals of making a good photograph: the thing itself, time, point of view, detail, and the frame. By giving me the theoretical background and the tools to improve my photography, the class improved my work a lot. The other important way the class helped me was the critique process. It was the first time that I had my work critiqued by a peer and professional, and hearing their feedback on a regular basis helped me to find the best way to pursue my work.

The last series of events that defined my project was the implementation of human subjects into my work. Before implementing people, I didn’t photograph anything but flowers and wildlife – which is easy. By broadening my horizons to include photographs of people, I was really able to deepen my skill with the camera. Also, by including human subjects I  was able to build and deepen relationships with those people, and with people who view my work. By looking at human subjects, I got to learn a lot about people. I had to interact and communicate with the subjects while trying to transcend the them to speak to a larger picture. This last aspect of my STEP experience was the culmination of everything I have done and learned, and it really helped me grow in my photography and as a person.

Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?  

My STEP experience has really helped open my eyes to the beauty in the world around me. I am always looking at the world through an artists eye now, and that has really changed my outlook for the future. Studying public health and eventually medicine didn’t leave me with a lot of time to pursue the arts, and the grant from STEP has given me that opportunity. Furthermore, there is not going to be a time in the next few years that I will have the funds necessary to get into photography, aside from my STEP grant. Now that I have the resources to pursue photography as a creative outlet, I have seen that I will be able to focus on it as a release of stress. This will let me pursue my future and dedicate myself completely to studying and keeping my end goal, the medical field, in sharp focus (pun intended). This STEP experience is going to have long reaching effects into my future.




DSC_0218 Richmond Alley #1Richmond Alley #2


STEP Reflection: Creative Writing at Yale University

I used the opportunity given to me through the STEP program to attend the 2015 Yale Writers’ Conference, Sessions 1 and 2, in the beautiful New Haven, CT. Session 1 was a 3-week-long program that included an intense workshop and daily programs (journal editor panels, major press and indie press publisher panels, novel pitch sessions, craft talks by established writers including Colm Tóibín and Cheryl Strayed).

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I was in a Creative Non-Fiction workshop led by Jotham Burello, publisher at the indie press Elephant Rock Books. As if sharing a personal piece isn’t scary enough, my workshop, save for another 20-year-old, was comprised of writers 40-and-over. I sat around a table with these writersmy own life a fraction of their years writing—feeling terrified, anxious, incompetent. What message could I, a 20-year-old college student from Cleveland, convey that they didn’t already know? How did I get here, a prestigious institution at a competitive writing conference, anyways?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since the third grade, but as I entered into adolescence and adulthood, my dreams swayed. I took positive comments on my ability for politeness. During my second year at OSU, I had become enamored with Creative Non-Fiction. To me, the beauty of CNF lies in its power. Stories can be so deeply subjective, yet the “NF” carries with it a promise of factuality. What better a medium to regain agency, to present a situation as you experienced it?


Of all the stories I might have wrote for my manuscript, there was one that felt so immediate, necessary even, that I could not write anything else. The story ended with, “I blink and I am gone,” and I can’t say I was writing metaphorically.

A week before I moved into Baker Hall East, I was sexually assaulted. I spent my first year at OSU trying to ignore it, and my second year trying to sift through the event as if it held some truth about who I am. Passive. Pathetic. Yes I couldn’t speak, but perhaps I didn’t try hard enough? Perhaps I didn’t care enough about myself to voice dissent. Perhaps I deserved what had been done.  The word brave was unanimously used on my workshop day, but I definitely didn’t feel that way.

Some view literature as a vehicle to truth, and my own manuscript conveyed a truth I wasn’t ready to look in the face. While trying to deal with my assault, my self was fragmented. I scrambled to shove my experience away. I thought if I wrote it down into a lyric essay, my assault would become a character’s story instead of my own.

It wasn’t until lunch in the Davenport Dining Hall, directly after my workshop, that I understood the importance of sharing my story. A fellow workshop member came up to me. She gave me a hug and called me brave, and I still didn’t know what to say. She said she’d been keeping a secret for nearly 40 years, only recently had she told her husband and therapist. While traveling in Europe, she met a handsome Italian and naively agreed to go up to his apartment for a drink. She told me my story inspired her to write her own. The next workshop meeting, we shared new pieces we wrote, and my fellow workshop member shared a poignant piece about her assault in Italy. At times, I feared her voice would give out, that the grief would suppress the courage she had left. But grief never won. She left us with an image—a pajama-clad young woman, hurrying past the Trevi Fountain, cradled in her own arms.

It has been almost a year since I heard it, but I cannot forget this image. And I won’t ever forget this image, nor will I forget my own. Of course assault does not define someone, but I’ve learned that in order to live authentically, I must accept all that has happened to me as affecting who I am. I am a survivor, and through my writing I can learn, I can heal, I can define myself through my art rather than through bad memories.


The STEP Program, on the surface, gave me the opportunity to go to the Yale Writers’ Conference where I learned about craft, publication, and my competition in the writing world. I never imagined my STEP experience would truly transform me, but looking back I know it marked a pivotal moment in my personal growth. I connected with other writers, regardless of age, and became confident in my own potential as a writer. I had my first workshop breakdown when I butchered the manuscript my fellow writers once loved. I came to terms with the idea that not all revision is good revision. I learned to love myself through my writing, even if it meant accepting all that I once tried to compartmentalize. Without this experience, I do not think I would have the necessary self-esteem to continue writing, or to feel okay again in my own skin. Without hesitation, I can now say: I am a survivor, I am a writer, my stories deserve to be told.

Rachel Cull – STEP Signature Project


For my STEP Project I decided to learn all about Photography. The focus of my project has rested on unlocking my creative abilities through photography in order to have a creative outlet for stress. Also, the benefits of the Arts on learning and cognition are innumerable. I spent funds on a quality DSLR camera and some accessories in preparation for the Photo I class offered here, at The Ohio State University. I have taken photographs in several stages of learning and various settings and types. I fully expect photography to be a life-long love as well as a useful pastime.


When starting with my camera, the first thing I learned was that I was inept with my camera. I remember thinking at the time that my photographs were so good for a beginner, and some were, but the majority had bad lighting or weird framing. A photographer I know taught me the difference between aperture and shutter-speed priorities and how to use manual mode. My photos got exponentially better after that. Then, my Photo I professor, Jared, taught me about white balance, framing, and all of the different types of photography. He critiqued my work and helped me learn my strengths and weaknesses and I got better again. There is still plenty about my camera I don’t know, but I have the understanding and skill necessary to tweak settings and know what that does to my images. There will always be something new to try!

I learned to see the beauty in the world, even the beauty in destruction. There was a girl in my class who took photographs of garbage on the street and they were lovely! I took photographs for a series on anxiety disorders that I eventually put into a small Art Show that President Drake attended. I got so much positive feedback from my instructor, my peers, and ultimately President Drake (which was pretty cool). It’s like in the movie, Concussion, when Dr. Omalu talks about the grace and beauty in football even though it’s destructive and lethal; so is the world and everything in it.


Taking the class took an emotional toll on me at first. My work was critiqued week after week and some days it felt harsh. I liked all of my work and art is an emotional endeavor. But I learned that Jared’s “harsh” critiques would make me better, and I found that since that realization I have responded more positively to criticism, both constructive and otherwise. He also taught me that being creative can be logical and I have grown in creative skills as a result of taking this class, which was my goal. I’ve grown so much and realized that when I am critiqued, in any way: a grade on an exam, an evaluation of my performance at work, or a comment about my photographs, I am the only one that can fix that. Complaining about it or blaming it on the reviewer’s personal opinion won’t make it any better; it just wastes time. My life has gotten exponentially more satisfying due to this realization and understanding. Sometimes it really isn’t personal.


My main goal in learning photography was to relieve stress in a creative way, a way that inspires me, so that whenever life gets crazy, I can just pick up my camera and see the world through a lens instead of my over analytic brain. I have found so much more relief than I ever hoped to find. And even after the photographs have been taken, the photos themselves bring me joy. I can capture little moments, stopped in time, and remember my life in them, even when my brain no longer can.

I’ve also been able to share my knowledge by taking photos for friends and family. I took head shots for my co-workers for their Linked-In profiles and I will offer to do the same whenever Hall Council or RA’s do professional development events. I took portraits of my friend for her mom. I have taken some family photos and have become the “official photographer” of Baker West. I love being able to share my new-found ability with others.


Stepping out of my own head to see how a person, a landscape, a building, or an event looks through the lens is almost an out of body experience. It feels like it’s own form of meditation. That second when you hold your breath so the camera is still when you take your shot, everything becomes crystal clear. Everything looks so beautiful through a lens and it’s up to me to make it really sing. There is something so powerful about freezing a moment in time.