STEP Reflection

Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

In my proposal, I had planned on traveling to Boulder Colorado to complete a two week meditation retreat at the Shambhala Mountain Center. At the last minute a business opportunity came up for me in Columbus, and I decided to stay here and visit the Shambhala Center that’s close to campus. Because of this my meditation was not as structured or as intense as I had hoped, but I still used my time to journal, meditate and read with occasional guidance from several mentors. Through this experience I developed a new view of myself and the world, and I’m immensely grateful for my taking time to focus on my spirituality and mental health.


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

For a long time, my approach to life came with the assumption that there must be some way to avoid pain. When I heard about zen and meditation I thought this was the solution I was looking for. All the books I read talked about the bliss that comes with being mindful and raising  your consciousness. They talked about the pain that it would take to get there, but these were only words on a page, so being hopeful of my future liberation, I chose to ignore them. Right there lies the problem I have dealt with. It is this tendency to ignore and suppress anything unwanted in search of perpetual pleasure. With this fantasy as my goal, a division between my mind, body and soul occurred. My soul (or awareness) lost sight of my mind as a way to navigate reality and confused the world of words in my head as reality itself. Our definitions and thoughts are useful conventions that help us communicate and stay organized, but if mixed up with the real world they can totally frustrate us. Because the truth is that our words and ideas stay fixed so that everyone can stay on the same page, but the reality and beauty of life is that it does not stay fixed. When we find ourselves in this confusion and identify with our thoughts rather than our awareness of them, then a split between mind and body occurs too. I prioritized what I “knew” in my mind and ignored what I knew in my body. I have developed a habit of overthinking, and as I poured most of my energy into thoughts, I became less and less aware of my immediate experience. The mind has evolved with software to help us remember and predict events so that we can survive. However imaginative these functions get, they are ultimately limited by true experience. The sensation in the body is our actual knowledge of something. Whereas our mind might define something as hard, soft, pain or pleasure, what it actually is is a fluid changing experience that can not be verbally expressed. This is not to say that we should abandon defining things for convenience, but if we place too much weight on the rigid structures of our minds we end up missing out on the vitality of life. The imagination of our mind and the knowledge of our bodies need to be in balanced communication, even when the experience of the body is painful. Pain is just a message from the body telling you that something is wrong. Telling you to do something else.

As I became aware of the division between my mind and my body locally, I started realizing the implications of this division globally. When the experience of the body is separated from the activity of the mind, our ideals and expectations for permanent pleasure can run rampant. So when people separate themselves from other people and when civilization separates itself from nature, our ideas of “progress” and “security” can exponentially grow without bounds. Our environment is just as much apart of us as our small intestines and childhood memories. Nature in this sense, including other species, the earth and cosmos is our collective body. Since we’ve divorced ourselves from nature using definitions of the world of words, we have gone on ignoring the messages of pain coming from the environment. In pursuit of infinite comfort and avoidance of pain, we’ve gobbled up most of our resources and destroyed ecosystems, waning the diversity of life needed for us to survive. I see this all around me in the form of racism and police brutality, hyper-masculinity, high interest rates, global warming, political mass hysteria and widespread mental health issues. For some reason we view these all as separate problems, but I believe they’re all symptoms stemming from our collective inner division of mind, body and soul. I think if we can come back into the awareness of our minds as software with powerful and unrealistic possibilities, and our bodies as hardware that eventually have to break down, we can get rid of our fantasy of pleasure without pain and the illusion of separation.


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?

Staying in Columbus made my relationship with the Shambhala Center more distant that I had planned. Had I gone to Colorado, I would have been immersed in meditation everyday for two weeks. The center here only meets twice a week, so most of my meditation had to be on my own. In part I am glad that I didn’t travel far from home, because I’m scared that if I had I would have romanticised the experience and spent my time back in Ohio trying to recreate it. However, I was not able to kick myself out of my comfort zone and actually go to Shambhala until I broke up with my girlfriend in late July. That experience forced me forced me out of my head and into my body. I had been hiding a number of things from her, and whenever she confronted me about them I would lie. When I lied there was a distinct uneasy feeling in my body that I ignored. I wanted to keep up the image I had in my head about a happy relationship, and this message from my body that something was wrong got in the way. So i lied and hid things all the way up to and partly through our breakup. At some point in our argument I broke and started being completely honest with her about everything that I was doing, and why I thought I was doing them. I was drawing this knowledge out of an awareness of my gut feeling. It was terrifying and relieving to be that vulnerable. Instead of suppressing the pain in my body, i was able to release it and tighten the division between my mind and body.

After the breakup I decided to go to Shambhala for the first time. There I got instruction on how to meditate properly with a few different techniques. Specifically how to sit comfortably and keep my eyes open. Up to that point I had meditated with my eyes closed and my back against the wall. This way I would usually end up falling asleep. However getting used to meditating with my eyes open has made it easier to stay mindful during everyday activities. But what really helped me was a book that caught my eye as I walked out on my first visit. The book was Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and it was the perfect text to illuminate the division I was dealing with. Trungpa explained spiritual materialism as the comfort we find in going through the motions of a spiritual practice. He says that we pat ourselves on the back because what we’re doing looks good on the surface, but we haven’t made any true sacrifice to identify with the spiritual path. This is definitely true about my life. I read a long list of books about spirituality without examining my selfish nature. I would imitate the effects of zen without really feeling it. This is true of my relationship too. I wanted to act like the loving boyfriend on the surface without sacrificing the thrill of chasing other girls. After viscerally feeling the truth I was avoiding during the breakup, Trungpa’s words cut deep. All the other books I had read made me feel like I understood what others didn’t and just boosted my separated ego even more. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism made me deeply contemplate how surface level my practice actually was. After reading it and feeling it on a bodily level, I was able to revisit the other books I had read and understand them much more clearly. Specifically The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts. He writes about how we live in an age of anxiety, and how most people are living for a distant future where all the desires of their mind become a secure reality, and they miss the point of life everlastingly. Ultimately Watts explained that even though our sense of “I” behind the scene of our experience seems permanent, it is actually in constant motion like the rest of reality. Since it doesn’t stay put, there’s nothing to secure. This means that trying to have pleasure without pain is impossible and meaningless.

Another experience that illustrated this division in an instance outside of my personal experience. A Birth of a Nation, a movie about Nat Turner’s slave revolt was just released. The movie has been surrounded in controversy because the director, Nate Parker, was accused and acquitted of rape at Penn State in 1999. People suggested boycotting the film in order to not support rape culture. The Wexner Center for the Arts premiered this movie and hosted a panel the day before to discuss the controversy. The moderator asked the panel of OSU professors whether they would see the film and if they would be torn in the process. All three of the panelists essentially answered yes and yes. They all asked the question, how and under what circumstance can we divide a piece of art from the artist who made it. One woman even divided herself, not sure if she would see the movie as a black person, a woman or an African American historian. Right there and then I thought to myself, “Why not all three?” Why can’t all three of those perspectives fuse together even if some of them seem to oppose each other. I think they should inform each other like the body does the mind and vice versa. It’s all the same spirit of division; separation and purposeful ignorance to uphold a golden appearance. I’m not trying to act as if I’m above this division, I’m just trying to say we need to be aware of it so that we can slowly begin to reintegrate. To start feeling pain as a good thing, as an opportunity for growth.


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

Becoming aware of this division within myself and how it plays out all around me is valuable to my life because I can start to practice true empathy. If I understand how unrealistic the demands of my mind are, I can focus more on taking care of my body and well-being. I’ll also be able to understand a little better why people are selfish and act nasty towards others, even when it’s unintentional. I think this will help me be more patient and show the love to other people that i would want shown to me. I’ve also realized how many bad habits I’ve accumulated by trying to avoid pain. Whereas before I wanted that silver bullet that would take care of all my problems, I know that I have to work bit by bit everyday to reverse those habits. When I fail and relapse into them, I won’t be as hard on myself, because that will only worsen the problem.

I’ve taken some time off school to figure all this out and work on replacing my habits with better ones. I think this new perspective which has drawn me ultimately to pursue love, will help me come back to school and finish my degree. I used to look at earning a degree as a selfish thing. Something to improve my own life. However, now I see it as a gateway to help others feel the love that I’ve neglected to show myself.

STEP Reflection

Praachi Das

September 30, 2016

For my STEP Signature Project, I attended the Young Mathematician’s Conference here at The Ohio State University where I presented an undergraduate research project I had worked on throughout the summer of 2016. The project was conducted along with and under the guidance of Dr. Farrah Sadre-Marandi, a post-doctoral researcher at the Mathematical Biosciences Institute at OSU. The project involved a review of mathematical models used to represent the structure and symmetry of virus protein shells called capsids. Dr. Sadre and I investigated and expanded upon a previous model which uses a concept known as lattice theory. This enabled the specific characterization of a larger number of viral capsids and helped explain some complications such as “handedness” that appear to have been oversimplified by the model.

Through this STEP experience, my primary goal was to explore and take part in professional development opportunities which would in turn put me in a better position to obtain an internship. I had primarily aimed to attend various conferences related to my academic fields of interest. I wanted to learn more about the vast amount of information that currently exists in these areas and the research that is currently being done in it. Ultimately, I wanted to use my STEP experience to figure out what direction my academic future would take. Although my actual project was slightly different from my original plan, I can confidently say that this is one goal I did manage to achieve. I was able to use the STEP funds to live in Columbus over the summer and take part in a research project which involved two areas of study that I am most interested in – Biology and Math. This in turn enabled me to work on professional development by attending the YMC in late August. Attending the YMC and being involved in research over the course of four months helped me realize that I would like to attend graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in Mathematical Biology.

From May through mid- August, I worked on my research project and learned more than I could have imagined. I learned about the science behind the concepts we were researching – from viral capsids and fullerenes to lattice theory models and handedness. I also gained experience with the idea of research itself; from figuring out how to approach research and effective ways of doing literature searches to getting into the habit of constantly asking questions and learning that research can often lead nowhere.  Most importantly, I came to realize just how much is out there in these areas of study that nobody knows; let alone how much I don’t know. Rather than frighten, this fact actually excited me, because isn’t that essentially what research is for? It’s to explore the unknown based on what is known in order to build on the existing pool of knowledge and make a contribution to progress and new developments. I came to recognize that this is what I want to continue to do, particularly in my areas of interest – epidemiology, mathematical modeling of microbiological structures and population ecology.

As I mentioned, taking part in this research project allowed me to apply and be selected to attend the Young Mathematician’s Conference held at OSU. It may sound stereotypical, but this two and a half day conference really was an unforgettable experience. This was the first opportunity I had received to present my research to other students and professors who are involved in mathematical research. I spoke to like-minded people about the work I did and engaged in some of the most interesting conversations. I was able to really get into the details of my project with people who understood the theories behind it and were truly interested in learning more – something that had previously been a rarity. In fact, a couple of questions from some students brought to light a few concepts that were not clearly stated. This turned out to be very helpful as Dr. Sadre and I were able to look into these questions and refine our results further.

Along the same lines, I have to mention the excitement I felt upon meeting all the students who were a part of the conference. I had thought that being at a math conference with around 60 other students would be too daunting for me to actually get to know people. However, the fact that we were all there for the same reason – to talk about our research and learn about others’ work- and shared a common passion for math made it infinitely easier. It was nice to know that there are so many other people all over the country who get as excited by math as I do! It was also fascinating to learn about the research that they all had done over the summer. This reinforced my growing recognition of how vast research is, in particular mathematical research, and how many different avenues one can explore.

At the conference, I also had the opportunity to interact with and attend talks by faculty from various universities across the country. I had an interesting conversation with Dr. Illeana Streinu from Smith College who has experience in math research involving biological aspects, and it was intriguing to bounce ideas back and forth with her. I also had the opportunity to listen to a talk given by Dr. Henry Segerman from Oklahoma State University. He talked about the mathematical aspects behind 3D printing and it was definitely one of the most remarkable talks I have ever attended. Additionally, the conference also had a graduate school panel consisting of all the faculty members which was immensely helpful. It provided me with a lot of tips and advice on approaching the process of applying to graduate school.

While it may not be obvious, being able to work on this research project and consequently attend the YMC really was a one-of-a kind experience. I had been struggling all of last year wondering what exactly it was that I wanted to do career-wise. Being able to have this experience helped me determine that I want to study further and do more research involving both math and biology. The ability to research and mathematically represent biological entities, the spread of diseases, epidemics, drug use, and population growth would enable me to present alternative perspectives on these important issues. Having such a capability could contribute to a better understanding of current knowledge and bring to light new information which may potentially lead to the advancement of treatment, containment and prevention strategies for various health issues that plague today’s world.

I was also able to meet so many new people who have helped form and develop this goal, from my peers at the YMC to my mentor Dr. Sadre. A reflection on my experience would not be complete without mentioning how amazing working with Dr. Sadre has been. Her enthusiasm and love for biomathematical research combined with her intelligence and bubbly nature has been a huge influence on me. We are so similar in our manner of thinking, and I have learned heaps from her about research. In fact, I will continue to work with her until I graduate in Spring 2017. Additionally, having this experience will definitely give me an advantage when applying to graduate school, which is an invaluable benefit. All this would definitely have been a lot more difficult to accomplish had it not been for STEP. I am grateful that I was able to have this opportunity and am glad that I decided to be a part of this program!

STEP Reflection

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

My STEP signature project entailed several components in the creative endeavors in the arts. Using my STEP funds, I purchased several instruments that allowed for me to expand my musicianship and gain new skills. Also, I attended the 2015 OMEA Professional Develoment conference in Cincinnati.

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

Through my STEP project, I was able to grow personally and professionally, as I am a music education major and hope to be a music teacher one day. One of the instruments I purchased was a Bb clarinet. Upon gaining basic skills to play the clarinet, I joined the Ohio State University Band, an open enrollment concert band in the school of music. In University Band, I got to develop technical skills on the clarinet and gain perspective of what its like to play another instrument in an ensemble. This experience was extremely valuable and will directly impact my abilities to be a music teacher.

The OMEA Professional Development conference is an annual music educators convention held in February and is the largest in state professional development opportunity for teachers, students, and performers. At the conference, I attended many clinics and performances and got to make connections with people in my field with whom I will be working. This conference opened my mind to new ways of teaching and broadened my appreciation for my profession and introduced me to music and ensembles I had never heard before, all in three days. I learned that there are so many great ways music can impact lives, and I left ready as ever to pursue this professions of bringing music into people’s lives.

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?

During my time in University Band, I got to interact with musicians with whom I would not usually get to interact. As a music major, I spend most of my time around other students in my studios and music major performing ensembles, but in University Band, I got to be around musicians who are not music majors, but simply love music and chose to continue playing their instruments in college. Through talking with them, I learned about their backgrounds and why they loved band, stories from high school, etc. I always enjoy hearing about what makes people enjoy band and music, as I want to be able to provide my students with as many reasons as possible to love music when I am a teacher. In addition, they were able to lend me many helpful tips about clarinet playing that I otherwise would not received.

At the OMEA conference, I interacted with many of my colleagues including those both teaching and still in college. Connecting with colleagues at a conference personally and professionally is such an important thing because its the only time you get to be with a bunch of people just like you with similar perspectives and goals. Some of the people I really enjoyed talking to were some recent graduates of Ohio State who are in their first years teaching. Speaking to these teachers allowed me to see what my experience may be like in a few years and how I can best prepare for that. I was even offered a band camp teaching job at the conference during the summer.

One of the great things about the conference was the opportunity to see some high quality performances from the finest musicians in the state and beyond. Some groups are from high schools and middle schools in Ohio, others are from colleges. At the convention, I was exposed to the University of Akron’s Symphonic Band at their concert Friday evening. Also, I was exposed to the Mason High School Wind Symphony, of the finest band programs in the country on Saturday afternoon. Seeing these examples of music being made to the highest level inspired me to love this profession even more and be as excited as ever to become a band director.

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

This transformation was significant in my life because it represented a broadening of my knowledge, skills, and passions for music and teaching. I will always strive to be the best teacher and musician that I can be, and my STEP project helped me to do that with these endeavors. With each experience I have I gain perspective that I can use to connect with students and others through my role as a teacher one day. Hopefully this is only the beginning for me, and I will experience a lifelong adventure of learning.

STEP Reflection

I participated in the Internship Component of STEP in order to develop my teamwork/leadership skills, supplement my education, and gain work experience at L Brands Enterprise in Columbus, Ohio. STEP allowed me the fortunate ability to spend two internships with L Brands and my reflection spans over both summer experiences, comparing what I have learned. My personal and professional development is dependent on the experiences I have had over the past two summers because of the contrasting work experience and team environments, which allowed me to developed an understanding of the culture within both the Accounting and Finance Departments and garner knowledge of forecasting models and financial reporting procedures. From my first internship experience in the accounting department, I learned a few different things. I learned I generally do not build relationships when working. However, I began to understand the importance of building such relationships with coworkers. I started to prioritize attending team lunches and activities, which allowed me to make better connections and meet new coworkers, and I took and interest in their personal lives when appropriate. This was something I took with me when I started working with the finance team during my second internship. Closely related, communication, I have learned, can always be improved. Although I believe I have strong communication skills, I have learned that I normally only communicate in the way preferred to me—face-to-face conversation and only asking questions if I need information. Forming questions was a big portion of my second internship as I learned how to ask questions depending on the type of person you communicate with. For example, working on such a small team, I had the opportunity to communicate daily with the Associate Vice President of Finance all the way down to my financial analysts. I learned how detailed my questions should be and how to brainstorm follow-up questions as well as how to deliver these questions. I learned that some prefer emails rather than face-to-face communication; others prefer you ask questions in person or over the phone.
Overall, I gained immense amounts of knowledge regarding my interactions with others during this STEP experience this summer. I tend to try my best to be very aware of my perceptions and actions when presenting information or asking questions to my team members. I learned that I am a strong collaborator in team settings and that I continually reach out to others to make sure everyone is on the same page. Although it is sometimes uncomfortable for me, I have internally reflected to establish an understanding that relationships are an important component for successful team building environments and being a respected leader. I have garnered a few tools in my experience this semester that will help me communicate better with my peers and create stronger relationships so I can be a better leader. To me, being a leader is closely tied to perceptions—if you create a positive environment for development and a trusting and communicative relationship, those who you lead will be motivated to work hard and build off your energy. In many ways throughout both of my internships, I saw the effects of this process and in others I saw the negative effects of this nonexistent process.
My manager, Christy, from my accounting internship experience was drastically different in management style than my second manager Andrea in the finance internship where I focused on finance based tasks. Working with Christy was an extremely positive learning experience because I was able to learn how others’ leadership styles may affect my approach to working with them. In order to maximize team effectiveness and build relationships, I have to best understand how to work with others in a way that they want to interact. Comparing others’ leadership styles helped me understand and become more aware of my preferred methods of leading and interacting and how to adapt these behaviors in different environments. While working with Christy, I learned that I have a strong response to physical cues. Christy was very open with her expressions and it put me off when we first began working together. However, after reflection, I learned that I needed to ask questions to better communicate with others rather than making assumptions about their intentions. I found I needed to learn not to take reactions from others so personally, ask deliberate questions and realize that making mistakes is not a bad thing.
Working with Andrea was a completely different setting. Andrea took strong interest in my personal life and wanted to learn about my desires for long-term employment. Andrea used a very developmental style of management, which I found much easier to respond to. This was something I took note of for my own leadership practice both to use at school in student orgs, and for the future when I become a manager of individuals or a team.
During my first internship, I worked with a team member who truly motivated me to be more curious and adapt a love of learning in my work. Chris approached things with a much more curious mindset than others on the team. Chris always asked questions and wanted explanations, which is something I personally connect with. Whenever we ran into something we didn’t know, he looked it up or tried to dig deeper into the information and he asked many questions. We were learning together, which I think is an important realization when discussing attributes of a leader. Leaders don’t know everything and they learn from their followers. I learned from Chris that being curious doesn’t mean you have to verbally ask questions, but you can look further into details and ask yourself deeper questions. This makes you a better team member because you are willing to go the extra mile and you then have the ability to explain more to your team members because you have gained a more thorough understanding of the material. During my second internship on the Financial Planning and Analysis team, I found a team member, named Sam, who had a very similar style in comparison to Chris. Sam furthered my curiosity, which was a very important characteristic in the finance department because we work with many cross-functional teams for which we do not know all the ins-and-outs. By being curious and not being afraid to ask simple questions Sam taught me that you can create opportunities for yourself and others by opening doors that you never knew existed, all because you asked the right question.
I look forward to taking these experiences to heart and utilizing the skills and knowledge I have taken away from each individual to better my leadership skills, competency, and future employment experience. I get the most from interacting with people and the STEP experience allowed me to work with two different teams in order to develop an understanding of myself and find my passion.
My internship experiences solidified my decision to finish my major in Accounting at the Fisher College of Business and even successfully led to a job offer at the end of my experience. Through this internship, I came to many realizations of the differences between accounting and finance positions, which ultimately, aided my decision to accept an employment opportunity in the Rotational Finance Program at L Brands upon graduation.
The most important piece of my STEP experience was the ability of working in both Accounting and Finance departments within the L Brands Enterprise. From reviewing my strengths and values during my time in STEP, I personally feel that a finance position embodies my values of challenge, curiosity and competency while aligning with my strengths of Futuristic, Strategic and Discipline. I was motivated to work in the Finance area because the work clearly had a futuristic focus and allowed for autonomy and exposure to many finance functions and cross-functional roles. The accounting position, however, challenged me in different ways. My strengths of Focus and Discipline were clearly aligned to my role in the accounting department, however, I felt unfulfilled after mastering a topic or procedure. After comparing and contrasting these positions, I was able to make a more educated decision about my employment opportunities and what I might enjoy doing in the future. This was extremely important to me because I was very undecided about where to start my work experience. STEP not only afforded me the experience of learning about myself and gaining a deeper understanding of my coursework, but it also provided me the opportunity to accept a job offer.

STEP Reflection Arts & Creative Endeavor Individualized Study Abroad in Singapore

STEP Reflection
Arts & Creative Endeavor Individualized Study Abroad in Singapore
Pallavi Keole

My STEP project was a combination of the Artistic and Creative Endeavor, Study Abroad, and Independent Choice categories. This project centered on self-planning a trip to Singapore with my roommate to experience the arts and cultures the city-state had to offer.
During this project, my roommate and I planned this trip on our own with the help of some relatives and online resources. This was the first time either of us had travelled abroad on our own on a schedule that we organized ourselves. This is something I consider to be a huge milestone in my life as it was time first time that I had to take mature and proactive decisions for something that I was creating on my own. Normally Study Abroad options have an itinerary planned out and most of the accommodations are taken care of. When actually arriving in Singapore and having to make on-the-spot decisions in a foreign country on the other side of the planet required skills and maturity that I had never experienced before but am extremely glad and satisfied that I was able to exercise and hone those skills before leaving the college environment and entering the “adult” world.
This international individually-designed STEP project comprised of a number of various aspects that led to it being a much more full-filling experience that I could have ever imagined it to be. There was a lot of planning that took place before arriving on the island nation of Singapore: researching the culture of the country, figuring out how to experience the native culture of the country in the short amount of time. During our sophomore year, we spent a large portion of our time talking with our STEP contact, Ola Ahlqvist. Learning how to get a proposal written and approved while having to contact different faculty members to get this trip approved was a learning experience it since this individualized trip was “off the beaten path”.
Once all of the accommodations were completed for leaving for the trip, the next hurdle was the plane ride itself, as Singapore is located on the exact opposite part of the world, with a 12 hour time difference. Once my roommate and I arrived in Singapore, we were in awe, trying to slowly take in all the different sights and smells that we encountered on our first day there. This country is one that I have a hard time finding one that could be as diverse as this one. The streets are crowded with a mixture of Eastern and Western ethnicities. All the signs were written in four different languages: English, Mandarin, Tamil, and Malay. Along with the intense diversity came the blends of foods and cultures. As you walk down a common street, there would be food stalls serving every time of food imaginable: Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Indian, Russian, Italian, American, you name it. All of these restaurants were locations that people went to on a daily basis, nothing out of the ordinary to any of them. Just being in a culture where so many different cultures blended so seamlessly together was inspiring and gave me a whole new perspective since it the demographics were very different from what someone experiences here in Ohio. As Singapore is known for its diversity, we were able to visit the different pockets that exuded a certain culture in the full. There was Arab Street, Little India and Chinatown to name a couple. In each of these places, there weren’t only the cultures that they were named after but influences of the other cultures that have previously mentioned.
To document our daily adventures, we kept a blog ( As a Chemical Engineer, I did not have previous experience in the field of photo journalism and photography. During this trip I was able to learn how to handle a blog and practice using a DSLR camera with instructions from my roommate, who is majoring in journalism. It was refreshing to add an art and design angle to my perspective on life since most of my course work had been centered round core math and science classes. I believe it is important as any type of science and engineering major to have some exposure to the arts portion of our society as aesthetics of a project are somethings equally as important as the functionality of a product. Being able to connect what I had experienced through this trip to my daily life and potentially future career what something I was very happy to have gained from this experience.
Along with gaining some multicultural journalism exposure from the trip to Singapore, I was able to share my expanded horizon experience with my managers at my internship this summer. This past summer I interned at Procter and Gamble’s Beauty Research and Development function. During my first week there, I was introduced to numerous colleagues who were from P&G Singapore as it so happens that one of P&G Cincinnati’s “sister” branch is located in Singapore. I was able to connect and work seamlessly with someone from a foreign country and it felt so wonderful to able to share my experience with someone from the country. There were several instances during my internship that Manager and Director would come talk to me about my travels to Singapore and how I managed going there and what I thought of the country. Having exposure to one of the most commercially and technologically advanced and integrated companies, along displaying my initiative to create and try someone of my own helped me stand out amongst my peers when during my interviews as I was able to give a very genuine response on what I believed being culturally diverse and appreciating it meant.
Overall, this trip was unbelievable and I am so happy that I was able to get such a wonderful opportunity through the university to allow for me to expand my horizon through my own means. Being adventurous and building mental strength to be able to make quick decisions when own your is a key attribute that will allow for me to experience new things and build a strong lifestyle as I grow up and enter the world after college.

Step Reflection: App Development

Alexander Vavra

Artistic and Creative Endeavors


  1. Project Description:

My STEP transformational project was to build a mobile application for iOS entirely on my own. The goal was to take a development project from its infancy all the way through solution analysis, system planning, implementation and testing on my own. By doing this, I would not only test my limits as a programmer and computer science student, but also get a taste for what areas in the industry I prefer to work in.


  1. What Changed/Transformed:

I find myself blessed to have a very well-formed passion for my chosen field of study. I’ve always loved computer science, in particular the area of software engineering, but I never realized just how deep it goes, just how much work it takes. I’m still sure that one person can do it all, but for anything but a nontrivial application, it’s very difficult and requires a dedication that makes succeeding super difficult.

The good news? I’m still in love with computer science. I got to dig deep into APIs I’d never experienced before, drop into lower level code for more complex tasks than I’d ever attempted to tackle, and wire together UI components that I’d probably never see if I had stuck to only class work. I now know that I will be happy just about anywhere in the world of Computer Science, but upon graduation I want to focus on writing code, implementing solutions, and solving complex and challenging problems.


  1. What Led to the Transformation:

When you sit down and design a piece of software, you first have to find a problem worth solving. The difficult thing about this is that all of the low-hanging fruit has already picked, so if you’re trying to create a project just for the project’s sake, finding a problem where your passion matches the work involved is difficult.

When I first designed my project, it was to be completed the summer of 2015, but just a week into summer my father passed away. The day before most of my supplies to begin developing my app arrived, I was in the hospital with him after a work accident. I said goodbye, and all of a sudden I didn’t have the drive to work anymore. I postponed. I dragged my feet. I fiddled with things, but never committed. I ended up not really starting till this past summer, 2016, and when I did my outlook on the world was very different from when I designed the project in the first place.

My project time during the last summer intersected with time I spent at an Internship with Nationwide Insurance on their IT App Dev team. During the days I went to work, and at night I used the skills I had learned to work on my own toy applications. I did requirements analysis on many small problems/annoyances I had in life, I designed User Interfaces on my small sketchpads, I focused not on the coding, but on finding the right problem to tackle—one I was passionate about. Currently, the application is still under construction, but the goal is for it to allow students to view which classrooms around them are free of classes for any certain amount of time so that students can work or study in those unused rooms.

Creating an app like this has taught me a lot—not about the coding as I had originally intended—but about everything else. To build the app I needed access to not just my computer, but with many people too. I had to contact the registrar to ask them for class schedules which I could map to rooms. I needed access to a list of all rooms in all of the buildings, too. The exercise of creating all of these business relationships was not only informative, but it gave me a good understanding of what working with a large group of people was like.


  1. Why is the Transformation Significant?

My transformation is significant because it is still in progress. Being able to attack these problems on my own terms with my own development equipment is by far the largest advantage I have in preparing for the workplace. The work that I have done has already netted me interviews, technical discussions with industry professionals, and confidence in my own abilities beyond the classroom.

More than the coding, this transformation is important because it helped me through the difficult time I had dealing with my father’s death. Once I regained my focus, I was able to build things, solve problems, move into a role of independence in my academic/professional domain in a way that I would have struggled to without the supplies and drive that STEP gave me. Without my experience, I don’t know if I would have fallen in love with my major all over again or not—and to me that’s very scary. My STEP experience has been—and will continue to be— transformational in a deeply personal way.

STEP Project Reflection: Ballroom Dancing


Name: Aaron Wang



Type of Project: Creative Endeavors


My STEP Project was to track my own improvement and changes upon leaning ballroom dancing. Utilizing the resources provided I took professional ballroom lessons and competed at the collegiate level competitions. Along the way I also began to integrate ballroom into a large aspect of my life.


The transformation that my STEP project took me though was building a confidence in me that I did not have before. Thought out my childhood I constantly lack self-confidence and ended up mostly become a very lonely person. After coming to college I decided I wanted to change myself and to do something I always wanted to do which was dance. I chose to join DanceSport at OSU and start ballroom in order to become a classier individual. However in ballroom traditionally the male has to lead and to be confident in making moves.

In leading ballroom I learned to be comfortable with my own skin and being in close contact with other people. STEP funding helped in finding private lessons to learn the proper technique which led to making it easier to form connection with my dance partners. The friends that I made within the community forced situations to help me overcome the obstacles of connection. Though practicing, competing, and eventually teaching ballroom my confidence in my dance skill has then rubbed off into being more confident in my everyday actions.

Ballroom like most skills and sports require constant practice to improve in, when I first started I came in with absolutely no background experience in dance. As a beginner dancer I fell into the same bad habits of looking at my feet and being passive as the lead. I constantly second guessed myself and felt more comfortable just getting dragged around much like how I faced decisions in life. I always felt awkward being in close contact with members of the opposite sex. In dances like the waltz I always left space for Jesus and all twelve disciples. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t going to ever improve and eventually that I would just be made fun of. But in wanting to keep my promise to myself, I continued to attend lessons. After months of lessons, I became friends with many of the dancers that continued with me. Through helpful mentoring I broke my bad habits and through immense teasing manage to overcome my awkwardness with connection.

A common mentality in DanceSport is that competing is the best practice. The organization is a combination of a competition team and a social club, yet all members are encouraged to compete as soon as they feel comfortable. I was never a competitive person and did not decide to go to my first competition until a year after I started. Some of my STEP funding contributed to paying for competition fees and dance shoes to continue to improve my abilities and confidence. Although I compete now on a regular basis, I still never developed a spirit for competing rather than trying to win I participate to improve my dance skills and build up my relationship to the dance community.

As I began to become more and more involved with ballroom dancing the walls that block each level become greater and greater. In order to further myself I decided to take ballroom lessons over a summer and in turn began to learn how to be able to teach others. Upon return to school, I became in charge of DanceSport’s outreach program to teach classes in resident halls and to other organizations. While the rest of my teammates and friends became more competitive dancers I chose to go it my own way and became I more of a social dancer, the focus being on different styles and general atmosphere. While I still am very much part of the competitive scene and have grown a lot thanks to it, I find myself excelling at the social implications of ballroom dancing. Breaking into the social dance community requires a certain amount of courage to improve oneself mentorship. So after my competitive dance lessons and practice I built up enough background to continuously try to improve myself at salsa dances and other social activities. Now as a senior I am one of the best social dancers in the club and help out newcomers as they learn ballroom for the first time.

This change is significant in my life and one of the greatest and most important reasons I enjoy being a student at The Ohio State University. The experience really helped improve my self-confidence which is important particularly as I finish up my liberal arts major in International Studies I have utilized my new found courage to push excellence in the soft skills I have gain such as public speaking and critical thinking greatly increases my opportunities in the future. While ballroom dancing might have been the center of international politics in the medieval and renaissance periods the characteristic of charm and confidence I believe still play a major influence in diplomacy. In other professional goals ballroom dancing is something that really sets me apart from other and is drastically unique. While I might have similar research or internship experience like my peer being a person who has pursued creative endeavors give me just another edge in furthering myself. While I may not be planning to become a professional dancer or ballroom teacher I will most definitely be making use of my skills in my future plans in personal and professional goals.

Thank you so much for the opportunity and the resources to pursue this transforming adventure.

STEP Signature Project

I chose a photography project which fell under the artistic and creative endeavor category for my STEP signature project. The main focus of my project was abandoned buildings/places and their connection to the environment. I wanted to capture the environment “taking back” its territory.
I think there is really two things that my signature project gave me in terms of a transformation.

The first is the newfound creativity bone in my body. Previous to this experience my life had been oriented academically around math and science and my hobbies included sports and the outdoors. I engaged in a photography project to break those limitations that I had set for myself because I thought that I was not a creative person. This project showed me that it doesn’t have to be one or the other and I think it shows a side of me that I did not know I had.
My signature project also strengthened my appreciation for the environment and the world around me that I often take for granted. I got to capture images that to me reflect an environment that is strong and able to reinstate itself after being trampled on by humans. I notice things more than I had before. I will notice the building in the middle of the city that is abandoned and think about how it seemed so necessary at one time, only to be left unoccupied.
The first event that impacted me was a site of abandoned cars that I visited. These cars are located in the woods behind the house that I grew up in. I can remember going on walks with my mom and my sister on the quad trail that used to go past them. My mom would always urge us not to go near because of the broken glass. Returning to the site during my project was a little surreal. My sister came with me and we reminisced on how we would play around them whenever our mom was not there. The cars were much more overgrown with vegetation and were more deteriorated from what I can remember, but they were still there. Comparing my encounters with the site led me to think about the things that go unnoticed. When I was younger I did not think about the environment as beauty that surrounded me, it was simply there and I just took it for granted.
The visual interaction between the environment and an abandoned object impacted my appreciation. Vines that wrapped themselves around steering wheels and up the side of a building reflect the strength and prosperity that the environment is capable of given the option. This is strength because it is able to regrow on an area that was once taken from it by humans.
Finally the activity of photography was not an easy task. I am still improving because it is not a skill that is automatic. The act of engaging in something creative led me to express myself in a new way. Expressing yourself and in my case the environment creatively is something that can be unique to the given situation. I know that my work is always going to be different that someone else’s. This creative outlet gave me something to focus on that was different for me which helps to make me a better-rounded person.

This experience has been significant to my personal life because it has humbled me.  Abandoned locations have shown me the strength in the environment and that is a beauty that I would like to see thrive.  This has impacted my future because my major is Ecological Engineering.  The appreciation I have for the environment has helped me to solidify my passion to make an impact on the way humans interact with the environment. I plan to continue the idea of my project into my future because I would like this hobby to help me preserve my transformed appreciation and give me a creative outlet.
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The American Dance Festival (ADF) 2016, New York City Winter Intensive

thumbnail_img_6969 img_6991 img_6980 img_0035This past winter break I attend the American Dance Festival (ADF) 2016, New York City Winter Intensive. The ADF Winter Intensive held in Manhattan, NY offered nine intense days of classes, panels, performances, and more. This program was an amazing opportunity for me to experience life in a city that I want to one day live in, network, study dance with an excellent faculty and view various dance performances.

This was one of the most positively influential experiences of my life. I got a better idea of what it’s like working in this city as a contemporary dancer. Prior to this endeavor, I wasn’t sure if NYC was the place for me but now I am sure. This was my first time visiting NYC and I totally fell in love with the atmosphere there. After embarking on this experience, I have realized that I truly am meant to be in this field as an innovative artist.

The intensive was held in the studios of the phenomenal Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is one of the top dance companies in the world, and has been for many years. I was honored to dance in such a sacred space.

The highlight of my experience was attending an open rehearsal for the Bill T. Jones/ Arine Zane Dance Company. This company is also one of the leading in the world. Bill T. Jones is a famous dance icon, so the privilege of being in his presence and witnessing his company’s rehearsal process was amazing. This was truly a moment that I will never forget.

My STEP experience enabled me to expand upon and further develop my creative and artistic passion for dance. Over the course of the festival, I studied each day with the American Dance Festival’s diverse faculty, extraordinary musicians, and vivacious student body creating rewarding, life-changing experiences that can only yield from intense, artistic training. I aspire to have a fulfilling professional career as a choreographer, dance educator and performer after graduating from The Ohio State University. I am a constantly evolving artist, yearning to contribute to the field in my own way as a choreographer and performer. This experience definitely helped expand my abilities to achieve these goals.