STEP Mural Project

The fellowship granted to me by the STEP program allowed me to follow my dream of painting my own mural. My desire was to go into a community plagued with high crime rates, violence, and poverty, and paint a message of hope. The Greater Linden area here in Columbus, OH has a reputation of being one of Columbus’ worst communities because of all that I listed above. One drive through the neighborhood will give you an idea of its condition, and talking with the residence confirms your thoughts, as well as gives you greater insight. After attending community meetings, talking with local residents and leaders in Linden, I decided that a mural challenging those in the community to “dream again” was most fitting. I had conversations with individuals to see what were some things that they once dreamed of accomplishing, but just let fall to the wayside, then I painted those dreams on the wall.

Every aspect of this project was so enriching, rewarding, and transformational. Over the course of completing this project, I gained leadership skills, confidence in my ability to interact with people/build relationships, and in my ability to turn my dreams into my reality. Allow me to hone in on some of what I believe to be lifelong relationships I’ve formed with individuals while working on this mural. Donte Woods-Spikes is one of the main people I’m so thankful for having been able to connect with. Donte is a social justice activists, mentor, and just all around world changer here in Columbus. I met him while visiting Master Artist, Richard Duarte Brown, at Transit Arts one day. I went to show Duarte sketches of the mural, and get some advice from him about how to approach the project, and he decided to introduce me to Donte. Donte was so impressed with my vision that he offered to document the process via video. He came to the mural site, recorded me working, recorded my conversations with people on the street, and even helped me paint a little. He also used his influence to inform reputable people in the city about my project. Being around him motivated me to take seriously the mandate on every human being to be a solutionist, and to make it my business to reach out to people who are oppressed, overlooked, and who simply just need a friend. This was a mutual thing. He’s expressed many times how inspirational my project has been to him, and even how my mural redeemed the corner of Cleveland and 18th Ave for him. That corner has gone from being a memorial stone of one of his worst life experiences, to now a memorial stone of all that he aspires to accomplish being transformed into a painting on a building. Platforms have also been opened up for him as a result of our friendship. To this day, when I think up a new way to make an impact in my community, he is one of the first people I think of. His friendship, and just watching him in action has caused me to Dream Again in so many ways, and I am forever grateful for that. To express my gratitude, as well as honor the work he does in the community, Donte was given a space on the mural (shaking hands with the officer).

Kanye Hawkins is a second person I need to pay homage to. Kanye is a 13 year old boy who lives one street over from where I painted the mural. The first day that I started working on the mural, Kanye came around asking about it and with great enthusiasm asked if he could be apart of the project. Everyday from that point, Kanye was on site at the mural from start to finish. He probably actually painted once or twice, but he faithfully came around to mess with my volunteers, drink all the Gatorade’s, use my ashtray change to buy snacks from the corner store and take on the position as DJ while we worked. As the summer progressed, we grew closer and he started running errands with me, coming to the youth events at my church, and coming over my house. I can’t say that I became a mentor to him because most of our conversations together didn’t consist of me giving him advice about life. I would offer my suggestions about things every once in a while, but we mostly just hung out. I can tell that my presence alone was enough to make an impact on him. I know this to be true because one day while working on the mural, he stated that he and his friend Roman loved coming around so much because they could feel that I cared about them, otherwise I wouldn’t be in that neighborhood. When he said that, I realized the power that lies in presence alone. I’ve always aspired to be a inspirational person for youth, but was unsure of what advice/resources I had to offer them, so I never tried to step up and be an intentional role model/mentor for someone. Befriending Kanye has shown me that what I have to offer is what kids like him need most, which is consistent friendship/presence. What I have developed with Kanye has put form to the type of relationship I desire to  form with every child I work with. I don’t need them to see me as an authoritative figure that they need to learn important things from. They can just see me as a trustworthy older sister who’s love and consistency has empowered them and shown them just how much they matter.

 

Since childhood, I knew that I wanted to be involved in the community, working with youth, empowering and engaging them through the arts. Working on this mural gave me exposure to those very things, and showed me that 1). This is the type of work I hope to spend my life doing, 2). I am capable of actually doing it, and 3). I also have much more learning and developing to do. Due to my introverted tendencies, I struggled with believing that I could make the impact I desire to make in the lives of people and the communities they live in. I couldn’t really envision myself being able to attend community meetings, network with pastors and community leaders, and build relationships with complete strangers over short periods of time. I also couldn’t envision myself planning, organizing, and managing a project as large as this mural. Now I know that I am fully capable of doing those things, and turns out I’m not as introverted as I think I am. I’d be lying if I say that I handled all things perfectly, but I did handle all things as best as I knew how. This project also showed me the many areas in which I need to grow, which is also apart of the transformational experience. Seeing what I was capable of doing gave me the motivation I need to further develop in other areas, so that I can be as effective as I aim to be in my career path.

Altogether, this project showed me where I am on the spectrum of being a quality leader, and a person who is integral, consistent, and committed. As I mentioned before, I didn’t excel in all areas, but I surprised myself with what qualities I do have, and that gave me the motivation I need to work on developing my character even more. As a result, I am already making plans to finish the mural entirely in Spring, and take on my next big project in fall, which is my very own art exhibit.

Thank you to those on the STEP team for allowing me to discover my potential, and receive the motivation I need to maximize it.

 

   

   

Programming in Creativity – STEP

My STEP project involved the use of android programming, where I spent time developing an android app that is applicable and appeals to what an app would look like in the app store. In my case, I decided to construct a weather app, and spent time constructing and refining the basis of the app.

 

I was new to the structures of android developing, as the classes I have taken only taught the basis of the language concepts and how to utilize them. With this STEP project, I was expecting to be exposed to the “real world” and how programming takes shape in everyday life rather than in a classroom setting with pre-set program projects and problem work sets. What was in store for me completely changed my perspective of the programming language.

Diving head-first into developing apps, I decided to use the Java language for the basis of my application since I already knew how to utilize most of the Java language components and structure. Going through tutorials and classes of introductions to Java android programming, I decided to create a weather app since it seemed simplistic and plain for a beginner like me. Little did I know that it was anything but simplistic. There were so many components that made up a simple weather app, and it got me thinking of just how much work it would have been to create other more intensive apps like the game apps that take up 3 GB of data on your phone. Care had to be taken for creating the basis for the app, multiple views constructed the activity lifecycle of the app, connecting the app to a source to read off weather data, as well as UI-friendly and responsive designs. Even the formatting of the screen sizes had to be done manually. I first would have thought programming it was a one-size-fits-all deal, but it turned out that I had to manually program every size range into the app files. For instance, someone with a Galaxy Note 5 phone would have a different screen size than say someone viewing the app from a Nexus 7 tablet. So many components made up the app that I realized everything I had was taken for granted, such as how complicated smartphones are and such.

This is what my workplace usually looked like, with constant debugging with the help of a AVD (Android Virtual Device)

Lots of tall buildings in Downtown Denver!

       In the middle of my programming session, I had the opportunity to go to an android conference. It was my first time going somewhere individually, let alone a conference, so I was really excited and nervous at the same time. Packing my stuff, I prepared for a 2-day trip to anDev 360, which was the android conference held in Denver, CO. Downtown Denver was a very crowded place, not as much as say New York, but there were constantly people in the streets. I arrived a day early, so I was able to explore around the city during the night after checking in at the hotel that the conference was held in.

Night time in Denver!

It was a good sight to behold, and many restaurants and shops plagued the streets. There were a lot more people out at night than I would have thought, but perhaps it was because of the Pokémon Go craze that was going on at the moment. Almost everyone out was playing Pokémon Go, as it had just been released about a week or two ago and it was the national sensation at the moment. The conference started off in the morning, with an introduction to the event. The way the conference was structured was unique, as two separate events would be ongoing at the same time. I could only go to one of the two, but video VODs were available on their website. The topics that they talked about were suited for all difficulty, with the most advanced being VR implications to the basic Hello World tips and tricks. I was able to absorb a lot of information from this conference, and lots of networking opportunities were available with sponsors such as Comcast and Google present to talk about android programming. After I came back from my conference, I got ideas on how to improve my application and UI ideas as well as which directories to use for progressing my application. Almost everything was done when Autumn semester came, and I was able to finish my project by the end of Winter Break. The total lines of my program took over 3,000 lines spanned over 50+ different files.

Free swag from conference!

       During the project progression, I was exposed to many ways of how to implement existing knowledge of programming into the project as well as learning new ones to add to my arsenal. The change in perspectives of what I had for programming is a very valuable lesson on both my academic and personal perspectives on many things. Programming the app made me realize of how little use my academic classes has taught me for this. When people have said “real world” is completely different from college, I was not completely bought on that idea. After finishing the app, I realized that this really was the case. The academic course only gave me the tools necessary to do the task. It did not direct me nor give me any ideas on how to complete it. Thus, adult work is completely reliant on one’s self and their creativity. When I first started, I had trouble getting started because the android programming library was too vast, and looking around in the directory one by one for the function that I needed to implement in my program took too much time. Through trial and error, I was able to learn through my errors and construct my own way of completing the program.

This project also taught me the valuable lesson of appreciation. As mentioned before, I would have thought a weather project would have been simplistic, but that was not the case. This has gotten me thinking about everything that I have taken for granted. Cars are a good example, as many won’t give a second thought on the mechanics behind it nor the millions of lines of coding that went to producing the car. All of the hard work spent on just one device which most people almost take as a granted privilege is really unsightly, and this project has taught me to treasure and appreciate all the small things in this short life.

The completion of my project looked like this

STEP Reflection- Adventures in Imagineering & Tourism

For my STEP Signature Project, I chose to take a trip to Anaheim, California to experience, research, and capture the essence of The Walt Disney Company. I chose to go to Anaheim, for I have already been to Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL and Disney Theatrical in New York City; the experience was guaranteed to be daunting, exciting, and fresh. Throughout the trip, I documented my experience through photography, speaking with cast members, and making note of significant cornerstones of The Walt Disney Company that exist in Disneyland.

CLE -> LAX

When I first came up with the idea of traveling to California for my STEP Project, I first saw it as a creative endeavor; I thought that I would start a blog detailing all things Disney: its history, why people find it so endearing, it’s current developments. However, in the time leading up to the trip, I started to see it as a networking opportunity. In the time between proposing my project and venturing off to California, I was in the midst of adding a major, figuring out that my passions did not quite align with the degrees I was obtaining. I decided to change the scope of my project to better fit my needs. So, with some daunting cold emails and a few finicky Google searches, I had set up meetings with two Disney executives in Research and Development and a Guest Experience Manager at Disneyland.

I thought, in the time leading up to my trip, that I would be enthralled with the details of Los Angeles’ tourism, Disneyland’s attraction, and Disney’s guest experiences. However, I found myself thinking about the history of Los Angeles and Disneyland more than anything. It was also, during this trip, that irony struck a note, for I found out while in Disneyland that I was officially going to be a dramaturg for Heathers: The Musical. The mix of me noticing my change in thinking and me receiving this news made it very evident that I needed to ultimately declare my Theatre major and start looking into Research and Development and Dramaturgy. My thinking was only solidified upon talking to the executives from Disney, for I knew I was more intrigued with both the “How?” and the “Why?” rather than with just the “How?”

Views

Prior to this trip, I had never been West of the Mississippi River. I knew going into my STEP Project that I would have to look at California from a different perspective, for, to make it in certain sectors of the entertainment industry, I would have to consider living in Los Angeles or the surrounding areas. I don’t want to say that I was disappointed; rather, I was more underwhelmed, quickly realizing that I like the hustle and bustle environment of cities like Chicago and New York. This is not to say that I did not enjoy California, for it was genuinely beautiful, historic, and inspiring as a future member of the professional arts community. I could just sense, as cliché as it may seem, from landing at LAX to driving to Anaheim to exploring Hollywood that I did not belong. This aspect of the trip perhaps framed my experience and my transformation, as I immediately started thinking of career prospects in New York City, London, and elsewhere.

Santa Monica Pier

An unexpected but worthwhile segment of my trip was exploring Hollywood. While, of course, I did tourist activities such as seeing the Hollywood Sign and walking down Sunset Boulevard, I found myself more intrigued with subtle details of my “tourist” day. For example, I paid attention to the commute, despising LA’s traffic but enjoying the lack of humidity and the beautiful weather. I found myself surprised by the mountains surrounding the city, the sand and dust covering the walkways to the Hollywood sign, and the congested nature of certain areas of the city. A highlight of this day, though, was adventuring in Santa Monica, ultimately ending up at The Santa Monica Pier. A key moment of this adventure was reading up on the history of the pier at Bubba Gump’s, taking pictures of the iconic Route 66 sign, and realizing that the pier was an iconic piece of Forrest Gump.

End of the Trail

Finally, the largest part of my trip was rooted in all things Disney. Whether speaking with executives, exploring certain attractions, talking to cast members, and experiencing traditional elements of the world of Disney, I was enamored with the history and the dedication to guest experience that the Walt Disney Company possessed. As someone who has dreamed about working for Disney her entire life, I had dreamed of the moment when I would finally walk down the original Main Stress U.S.A., and the moment did not disappoint. Whenever I spoke to a cast member, I explained that it was my first trip and that I was using it to connect with the roots of Disney to hopefully figure out which aspect of the company I was passionate about. The smiles that grew on their faces were really motivating, and many shared similar stories. If anything, these conversations, along with the conversations I had with the Disney executives I connected with, proved to me that ultimately, Disney is an experience, with roots of imagination, creativity, and positivity.

A Disneyland Classic

A fun part of this trip was the timing: Disney’s annual Halloween event was occurring at the same time, allowing me to experience an intensely planned Disney event.  As someone who has been interested in event planning, I was thrilled to experience this event to its full capacity.  I was able to witness the transition of the park from its normal day-to-day operation to its full-fledged Halloween beauty. There were many cool elements to this event.  For example, Disney has an entire area devoted to La Dia de Los Muertos, full of interactive activities, flowers, memorials, and history. I loved seeing these elements in the park, for it truly showed the wide scope The Walt Disney Company has developed.

Mickey’s Halloween Party

La Dia de Los Muertos

While this trip was fun and educational, it ultimately led me to really decide that I love asking questions. I love researching the roots of things, the history, the “why?” I discovered that while planning a trip is fun, it is not a career I could delve into. I learned that being an Imagineer is a career that spans many different disciplines, which was comforting for someone who took years to decide a major due to an array of interests. The trip I was able to take as a result of my STEP Project has led me down a path to a career area I’m thrilled and inspired to be a part of. I cannot wait to take the skills I have learned, the experiences I have gathered, and the passions I solidified into my grasp as I help educate about creativity and its benefits and utilize a strong informational background to develop new programs for those interested in the arts. And, hopefully, in the future, I will be standing in the feet of the many cast members and few executives I met, looking towards a bright, imaginative future that was all started by a mouse.

STEP Reflection – Creative Reflection

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

During the past few months I let my creative juices flow, resulting in small bursts of music and lyrics. I also learned many aspects of music writing and production. These skills and bursts were utilized to shape a final song, brought to life with help of close friends.

 

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

I quickly learned that music is an opening to the soul. It bypasses walls we construct to protect ourselves—pain, heartbreak, suffering and even love. To make music is one thing, but for it to resonate, you must become vulnerable and open with your feelings. The process of becoming vulnerable is difficult; it circumvents our instincts of protection. An example of this is when starting a new romantic relationship; you must be open, take leaps of faith and trusting it will work. Through this process I learned that a lot of the time I am not honest with myself and others about my feelings. Through the journey of making music, I could open up to the world and begin to connect with people at deeper levels. Helping transform hate and mistrust into to kindness and understanding is something that I experienced while creating music.

 

  1. 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?

I began this project by listening to others’ music. The structures, compositions and style helped me engage and develop my creative process. Instead of passively listening, I focused on every word and melody to understand the meanings and feelings the artists were trying to convey.  I quickly realized the amount of openness many artists have with their own lives. Most songs represent a story of something memorable or about someone. The lyrics help give structure to the story by creating a structure while the actual music helps convey the feelings. This helped me recognize that I couldn’t hide anything from my music.

A major part of my project was learning to use the equipment. As a percussionist by nature, a lot of my music in my head is rhythmic based. Being able to play the drums or sing the melodies out loud is one thing, but transfering the voice in my head to instruments is difficult. Once I found the sound that fit, I had to connect my instrument to my computer to record. I utilized Logic Pro X to edit and piece together the final song. The process of manipulating technology to grasp its full capacity created a large learning curve. While this was difficult, it was also rewarding as I was investing time into a skill that I am passionate about.

 

A huge part of my project, that I didn’t realize initially, was the focus on relationships. I’ve known my friend Andrew Kern since I was born. His family lived next door to mine in Texas when we were growing up and moved away at the same time. From Texas, he moved to Hudson, OH; I moved around for a few more years but eventually settled in Hudson, OH. We were always close, but connected and bonded over music. Andrew was a DJ and ran a business for 3 years out of his own pocket before going to college at Colorado State. Andrew taught me how to use the Logic software. I still have a lot to learn from him, but working with him was great. Being open with our music really strengthened our relationship. The other collaborator that helped me on this project was Emma Lentz. She is a friend of mine from high school. I met her in Hudson my junior year of high school. Emma is a singer and guitar player who currently goes to Belmont in Nashville. Alongside her talents in songwriting and guitar, Emma has an angelic voice. She is the voice in the music. Her experience while working with other aspiring artists in Nashville helped influence my creative process and piano playing. Working with these friends deepened our relationships and broke down walls that we all have built up unintentionally through life. Collaborating with them was an amazing experience and I hope we continue to do it.

 

 

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

Writing music is a demanding creative process. Music forces you to be vulnerable and share things that often we bottle up inside ourselves. Having moved a lot, I had built up a lot of walls around myself to prevent being hurt. This project showed me that deep friendships and bonds are built by sharing yourself with others. This vulnerability was harnessed and helped fuel my creative process. Being true with yourself helps you see more clearly goals to accomplish. While music is far from my career aspirations, creativity is not. This skill is applicable to every career and relationship.

 

Media:

  This is Emma in our makeshift sound booth.

 Recording Emma’s guitar part.

 

STEP Reflection: Dabbling in the Hip-hop industry

My STEP project was in the artistic and creative endeavors category. My project consisted of making music and exploring the music creation process. I learned about producing and engineering sounds and rhythms while being exposed to the music business. Through STEP I was able to find a creative way to express myself in a fashion I may have not been able to before. I can say the overall experience has been transformative.

The project allowed for me to gain introspects about the type of person I want to be, while exploring something of which I had become interested. The process was transformative because it compelled me to reflect on my values, which showed in the music I created. The constant reflection of self and creation of music that expresses emotions causes one to learn a lot about themselves. I could immediately tell when something bothered me or I felt comfortable saying something I wrote. There were a few times I compromised my values because the music sounded good. It is a struggle trying to find your sound because that sound is a direct reflection of yourself and your beliefs by painting a picture to your audience. Being true to yourself during the whole process can be one of the hardest things to do because you have to be completely open to how you feel about certain things.  Music has become a way for me to express myself in a way and stands as something I would continue doing in order to find myself. 

Through music exploration, I also learned more about life and surrounding yourself with the right people. When I first started my journey, I recorded at my cousin’s studio. When I was there, I felt like I never got the instruction or guidance I needed for someone who just started off. I was unproductive and barely got any work done. The executive producer I was with didn’t care about my music at all and it was blatantly obvious. So I switched the people I associated myself with and found a couple of people that I work really well with. My productivity increased drastically and it showed through my song writing and composition ability. So overall, I learned how much environment affects how you operate and that if an environment is toxic you must break away from it. This translates into the professional world as well. The music business is a business itself and you must only associate with things and people that are supplemental to your endeavors.

The business aspect of the project was probably the most challenging because finding good company is a difficult thing to do. Keeping contacts and properly allocating resources can also be difficult. A large amount of my STEP project went towards the production of my music. Since I myself do not know how to produce, I had to rely on the service of others to produce beats for me. The producers I was in contact with were established producers, meaning that I had to pay higher price for their beats. The issue with this is, they have many more customers than just myself, and buying a beat can cost well over $1000 if you want all of its legal rights. In addition, the quality of the music was not as good as it could have been because it was not made for me nor could the beats be edited because I did not pay for the files. Going through such a dilemma encouraged me to learn to produce myself and work with local artists for about a tenth of the price.

I was paying more for the name rather than finding quality locals to work with. Had I changed my budget by those means earlier, I could have made better music in the beginning. I learned a lesson about excess spending and efficiently using your resources for the highest quality outcome. These skills translate to my field of engineering.

I am appreciative of the self-reflection and transformation I have undergone as a result of the step project. I learned how to budget, network in a new, unfamiliar environment and met people that I will continue to build relationships with. I do have some regrets about the way I conducted things but I am happy with the overall experience I gained. I would definitely recommend the program to upcoming sophomores as a means to explore something that you’ve always wanted to do or invest in your future. I will take this experience with me moving forward and will never forget it.

Training an AI to beat Pacman

Joshua Sandvick
STEP Signature Project
1/30/17

The main activities of my STEP Signature Project were to first build a powerful computer, and then use it to train an Artificial Neural Network (ANN) to beat the first three levels of Pacman. Building the computer entailed lots of research to pick the correct parts, followed by actually assembling the computer. Training the ANN required me to use my machine learning experience that I gained from my summer internship to find the best way to teach the network to play Pacman.
The aspect of the project that was most transformational to me was the fact that so many of my assumptions coming into the project were wrong. One example of this was when I thought that assembling the computer would be much easier than training the ANN. While training the ANN was not easy, I found assembling the computer to be at least as hard if not harder than training the ANN. Since I had budgeted my time mostly for the ANN training, it was quite a shock to have to pour over 15 hours in total into researching and assembling the computer. Since I’ve never had a chance to work on a project by myself that was well-funded before, I felt that I learned a lot about making my schedule for a project quite flexible even if I think that I have lots of knowledge about the project beforehand. Another transformational aspect of the project was focused just in the realm of training the ANN. I thought that it would take an enormous amount of time to write all of the code for the Pacman training, but as I will talk about further on in this paper, smartly using the open-source code available from other programmers greatly reduced my time needed on the project. I feel that even more than learning about the intricacies of machine learning, practicing how to find and use good open-source code is one of the absolute most important things that I can learn as a computer scientist.
I think that describing the whole assembling of the computer will best describe why it taught me so much about keeping my project schedule flexible. Initially, I believed that researching and assembling it would take about 6 hours at most. This assumption was shattered immediately at just the research portion, though. It turned out that there are a wealth of options for each and every computer part, and having very little knowledge about all of the different brands and specifications coming in, I had a very difficult time deciding on the correct parts that would best aid in training the ANN. But by using the internet and the extensive help of three very knowledgeable friends, I was able to learn about almost every computer brand for all of the different computer parts, and I made a very informed decision on every part in the computer. To be able to gain this needed knowledge took about 8 hours, which was way over the amount of time that I had budgeted for it. This led into the next part, which was assembling the computer once all of the parts arrived. I anticipated this step to take around 3-4 hours based on what I had read online, but the directions that came with all of the parts were extremely vague since computer designs are very modular, and it took me around 10 hours to fully assemble the computer and get it working. On the other hand, I had assumed that training the ANN would take between 10-20 hours and then days of training time, but it only took about 6 hours in total. These discrepancies in my allotted times really caused my idea of budgeting a schedule to transform. The computer can be seen in the picture below.


Again, I believe that explaining the training process of the ANN will help to describe what I truly learned from this project. After my computer was assembled, I began researching common ways that people have created artificial intelligence agents to play Pacman. Since I had a lot of experience reading academic papers from my internship experience, that was my natural realm to research in. I quickly ascertained that for numerous reasons, it would be much more feasible to create an ANN that could solve Ms. Pacman rather than Pacman, and thus I thought it prudent to do so. One particular paper described a very reasonable ANN training regimen, and they provided source code that contained a simulation of Ms. Pacman and a framework with which to setup the ANN training. I thought that was one of my best chances for getting good results, and my time that I had spent reading papers turned out to be well spent. Immediately, the source code allowed me to work strictly with the machine-learning aspect of training the ANN rather than deal with writing its framework, and I was able to get very good results very quickly. I had heard of the power of using open-source software before, but after having used it firsthand, I will definitely try to do plenty of research before every project and see if there is an open-source tool out there that will increase my efficiency. I felt that unlike the semi-uselessness of my time schedule that I had created for this project, the pre-planning and research that I did before even starting to try to train the ANN to beat Ms. Pacman paid off more than I could have imagined beforehand. The graph of one round of training Ms. Pacman can be seen in the figure below, with the x-axis representing the number of games played and the y-axis representing the percentage of pellets eaten in a game.


My first transformation, involving budgeting time for a project, will most likely be the more valuable one to me because it is applicable in many areas of life. I plan to run my own software company someday, and I will need to have budgeting time for projects down to an art if I plan on having that company be profitable. While I think that one of the big takeaways here is that sometimes your best estimate of time needed will be wildly wrong, I believe that if I had the right experts advising me before I started, I could have come up with a time estimate that was much closer to the truth, and so in the future I will always seek out those kinds of people and consult with them as much as possible. This lesson about time isn’t just applicable to a business, though, and I’m sure it will come in handy many times even with something as simple as budgeting a fun day with my future wife and children.
My second transformation, involving not trying to reinvent the wheel in terms of software tools, is also very important to me and especially to my career. Many computer scientists, very much including myself, have a certain pride about them that drives them not to want to use other’s software if it is not needed. With this project, I believe that I have a very strong case for myself to use open-source software when it’s applicable. It saved me such a large amount of time and got me such strong results that I would have been a fool not to use it. Now, I do believe that there is a time where you should implement something from the ground up in order to learn all of its intricacies, but this should only be done when necessary since there are often faster ways to learn things. I will take this lesson with me throughout the rest of my career, and it will make me a much better computer scientist.

Guitar and Voice Lessons

Kristen Cook

Artistic and Creative Endeavors

My STEP Signature Project was to learn a new musical instrument. I took guitar lessons along with some voice lessons once a week for a few months.

I used to take piano lessons but those ended when my piano teacher stopped giving lessons due to her pregnancy. Piano came relatively easy to me, so I thought guitar would as well. My assumption was wrong as I found playing the guitar much more challenging. Taking lessons again made me realize just how much I miss music and how much I want to incorporate it back into my life. This project has changed the way I understand music in which I have a deeper appreciation. I did not realize, especially with the voice lessons portion, how technical and difficult producing the right sound can be.

My first guitar instructor was Victoria until she left Ohio in pursuit of a new job. Victoria was very knowledgeable and even part of a band. She taught me a decent amount about singing that I had not known. For example, singing should not hurt your throat, because your air should come from the diaphragm. It is also important to stay hydrated to produce the best sound from the vocal chords. A problem that I faced was that I often sang from my throat which is incorrect. The sound should almost feel as if you are pulling it from the forehead with a bit of nasal.

Most of my guitar lessons came from a different instructor Hannah. There are many reasons why I found guitar to be quite more difficult than the piano. With the guitar, calluses form after you begin playing, and it hurts the tips of your fingers in the beginning. It’s also quite difficult to stretch your fingers to make the different chords. Making a bar chord is especially difficult, because you have to press on multiple strings with one finger.

Both of my instructors were very kind and had some form of a degree in music. After my designated lessons were over, I was even able to get back in touch with one of my instructors in which she was able to recommend me to another local, well-credited guitar instructor to continue lessons. Also, learning guitar has given me a new outlet to turn to when stress of school, life, and various other things begins to accumulate.

This change is significant, because this experience has allowed me to learn more about myself. It has allowed me to rekindle my passion for music. I love to learn and am a very goal-oriented person. Learning the guitar has given me another goal to work towards. Also, improving my singing voice and learning a new instrument has helped to boost my self-confidence. I’ve always wanted to improve my voice and play the acoustic guitar. This experience has allowed me to realize that my aspirations and wishes are not as far away as I thought. I hope to keep music a part of my life and continue to learn new instruments.

Sierra Leone: A Virtual Reality Experience

Sierra Leone: A Virtual Reality Experience

Margaret Barrie

Artistic and Creative Project

   In my proposal, I planned to make a film and artistic game in honor of my home country, Sierra Leone in West Africa. I followed through this plan by utilizing my artistic skills as an art minor and my technological skills as a computer science major to create a Virtual Reality game. The game features famous scenery and landmarks of Sierra Leone and resembles a narrative story in which the user sees Sierra Leone through my eyes.

   As far as understanding myself, this project helped me realize why I loved my country as much as I did, not simply because I was a member of this nation but rather the tradition, the culture, and its uniqueness. Sierra Leone is one of the smallest countries in the world, so there are not many people from there or even have heard of it. However, since I was little, I have heard stories and tales of this wonderful yet war-struck country that my parents fled from when they younger than I am today.

       As a child, Sierra Leone resembled a fairy tale world, were all my cousins and family resided. It was my escape from loneliness, being a first-generation American child with no one that seemed to understand my struggle with identity. This project helped express my love for my country in ways I didn’t know possible. I wanted people to be able to feel this emotion. As I stated in my proposal, I wish I could take everyone to Sierra Leone, so that they could understand the attachment I felt when I finally visited. But I obviously can’t do that, so I did the next best thing, I made a virtual reality game and now anyone can experience Sierra Leone through my eyes.

 My parents were perhaps the biggest catalyst in the change I experienced during my step project. Their stories of childhood in Sierra Leone were nothing less than beautiful. Hearing about afternoons under the mango tree, or how my mom used to climb the cotton trees and be able to see the entire rainforest around her. Or even more importantly the time they meet as children. My parents lived in the same village and my dad and mom knew each other as children. The first time he saw her he made fun of her for skinny legs, calling her “chicken legs”. Little insignificant details like that formed the beauty of Sierra Leone through their eyes and then mine. This affected my project in seeing how much their country meant to them

       As for professional goals, the project was a step in the right direction. I want to be some sort of programmer when I grow up or have something portion of coding in my job. So making a virtual reality game was nothing less than challenging technology wise. I became so much more proficient in programming. Artistically, the entire game concept was entirely by me. So artistically I developed my skill much more than I thought possible. From the environment to the characters, everything was an advancement to my skill set.

Screen Shots of the game are below:

Learning to play the Piano!

Hello everyone! My name is Ben Schneider. Throughout the course of the summer I took beginners piano lessons in order to deepen my understanding of music, interpretation, and expression.

A video recording of some of my lesson homework!

My largest view that changed throughout the completion of my project didn’t actually seem to be music related—as funny as that sounds. Truthfully, I never really got to the point in learning piano where I could express a piece as a personal interpretation. Since I was learning from the ground up my teacher and I spent most of the time making sure I was hitting the right keys… Okay well not that simplistic but you get the idea.

For me, it had to be the concept of putting in the work to learn something you love. In order to be truly apt at anything in life, one needs to practice practice practice. School always seemed relatively easy to learn for me because we would always just scratch the surface of a topic or idea. With piano I always faced a disconnect. I heard a piece of music that I desperately wanted to play, but never really had the understanding that just how much work one needs to do before they are ready to even attempt it. This lesson will definitely help me grow as a person moving forward—to treat new challenges with patience, and to take my time with others who are trying to learn advanced topics before they can even walk with the basic concepts and ideas.

To be honest, the concept of “oh I will be taking lessons so I should be able to play that” aptitude was present from the very start! In my step proposal, I said that I planned on learning a piece called “the Opened Way” a score from a video game. Without really being able to read sheet music, saying hey, there don’t look like too many notes on this paper—I should be able to do it.

The moment that I probably would not reach that goal in my time frame was evident in my first two weeks of lessons. In order to even try to play that piece I needed to know how to read sheet music… which to Connie it was incredibly clear I could not. I also needed to instill the basic ideas of playing piano—the proper hand positions, scales, fingerings and posture. I could have spent the whole experience focusing on one song, but without the basic building blocks behind it at the end I would just be left with that song. I wouldn’t understand piano, or be able to take the lessons I learned from one song to apply them to the next.

Connie was very clear that she wanted me to learn about piano. On the third lesson, she showed me both an upright piano and a baby grand. She explained how the different actions worked, pedals, and the key differences. From that point forward I was completely on board. Because for me, sure I wanted to play that song, but I also wanted to leave this experience prepared to continue my own learning in the future. So we started from the beginning, playing songs like the saints go marching in, row row row your boat, and working our way upwards. Every song we played was important, as it was more challenging then the last, but not by much. Enough to reward me with the gratification of taking on a new challenge without being completely overwhelmed.

A picture of Connie and I!

Overall this was an extremely valuable experience—for both my personal and professional development. Foremost, these lessons gave me the foundation and push I needed to continue to learn piano something that I love and continue to aspire to improve at. I am excited for the day in which I will be able how to interpret a piece, instead of focusing on hitting the right notes, timing, and technique. At the same time, I have learned some valuable lessons that I can apply to the my job as a teaching assistant. Because of S.T.E.P. I understand the feeling of wanting to complete a project without having all the pieces, and how important it is for students to understand all of the building concepts before applying them to a synthesis problem.

If you are interested in my experience, I kept a weekly blog of it found here!

STEP Environment Scanner

Name: Brandon Horsham

Type of Project: Artistic and Creative Endeavor

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

For this project, I researched the capabilities of different components and systems in order to design a device that could scan its surroundings. I constructed a computer compatible with the necessary software and libraries to convert a physical scan of the environment into a model.

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

While doing this project, I learned both technical skills, as well as general ideas about how to handle changes to the plan along the way. The technical skills I learned were interfacing peripheral sensors and devices with microcontrollers and computers, constructing circuits, and working with Java and OpenGL to convert standard image formats (JPEG) into workable data on the computer. The main reason I decided to pursue this project, of which I had little to no prior experience with these systems, was to formulate and apply many ideas into a single cohesive application. I felt that schoolwork and typical methods of teaching taught important information, but in a fragmented manner. I feel like the classes teach the “what” aspect of the major, but they don’t delve too deeply into the “why” or “how,” which I feel is key to separating textbook knowledge from practical knowledge. This project was meant to complete this gap.

During and upon completion of this project, I learned in a more cohesive manner how different aspects of an electronic system interacted and communicated with each other to produce a tangible result, from the sensor input (camera) to the high level programming (Java and OpenGL). Additionally, I learned that plans may not always play out as expected, and handling changes along the way in the most efficient manner is an important skill to have.

 

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

I believe that this change is extremely valuable, because it changed my perspective on how I approach learning new things. For me, I found that simply learning the “what” aspect of things in general led to a superficial understanding of concepts. This project allowed me to explore why things happened the way they did, in my own way, without having to stray to get a grade or do what an assignment requested. I believe that viewing new ideas in an objective way, and seeking understanding this way would lead to a more comprehensive and effective understanding of the topic.

When I started working on the project, it followed my budget and plan quite well, with few variations. As the project neared completion, I found myself thinking and coming up with better ways to accomplish the end goal. I did more research during the project, and came up with better ways to accomplish the end goal. Initially, I thought that it would be most efficient to scan the environment by getting measurements of distance to the smallest possible surface area at the highest possible frequency, to create a good resolution scan. However, after researching the fastest possible infrared ranging device, I found that the scan would still take upwards of an hour to complete a relatively small area, and yield a low resolution. I began to look for other options, and eventually settled on using a camera with a line laser instead. This greatly boosted the frequency at which the scan could be completed, as well as the resolution (about 10 minutes for this scanning method). This change was a relatively significant departure from the original plan, and ended up working out well.

This change was a result of me wondering if there was a better way to accomplish the same goal, and doing research to find out fundamentally why the new method was better. Essentially, the difference arose from the physical characteristics of the sensors. The initial sensor, infrared ranging device, in essence had only a single point of measurement per reading. The camera design combined with the laser essentially has 1080 points of measurement per reading (vertical pixel count of the resolution), which could be varied. This doesn’t take into account any optical calculations, which vastly improve upon the resolution. The infrared sensor could only read an area with a minimum of a few square centimeters at a meter, which was a very low maximum resolution (this couldn’t distinguish fine features such as corners or edges very well if at all), whereas the camera could read data at the same distance to within a few square millimeters).

After determining why the new system was far more efficient than the old system with no significant downsides found, I made the change, and proceeded to complete the project based on this. Another change as a result of this was that I had to use Java to decode the data from the camera, which required learning how the JPEG format worked, and how to manipulate images and get data from them. In the end though, the result was that I had a comprehensive understanding of how taking picture of a laser beam could be converted to useful information regarding what the picture was taken of.

 

4) Why was this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

This change is very significant, because it changed the way I approached problems and learning new ideas, both of which go hand in hand. I learned that having a superficial understanding of ideas was not sufficient to contribute comprehensive solutions to problems, and that understanding the why and how of a system can lead to a more comprehensive understanding that can be translated into other aspects of life.

I think that learning how and why something works is the only way to consistently improve systems and methods, and that this perspective leads to objective analysis of current systems in place and possible solutions to problems. For example, if I were presented with a new problem today, or situation where things weren’t working, instead of just accepting them as they were, I would automatically try to find better ways of doing what is being done. I believe these skills are what could potentially lead to management and leadership positions, and are useful skills to have in general.

 

I would like to thank Mr. Cogan, my STEP advisor, for being supportive of my project, and being a great advisor in general during the spring semester. I would also like to thank the organizers of the STEP program for providing this excellent opportunity to provide resources to advance my knowledge alongside the school curriculum.