Reporting back: The Week of Sunshin

  1. My STEP project was a creative arts endeavor consisting of a series of random acts of kindness and interviews around the city of Portland, called the “Week of Sunshine.” The project focused on spreading kindness as a way to start a conversation about the ways people create their own happiness. These observations and conversations were channeled into an interactive blog.
  2. I went to Portland expecting to learn about myself and others, but I gained so much more than even I thought I would. When I began the project, I believed I was going to learn about big, grand ways to make yourself happy and impact the lives of those around me. However, I discovered that so much of happiness and kindness come from the smallest things, and that we all have the power to make the lives of those around us a little brighter in almost every interaction. Almost all of my interviews revealed to me that what sticks out in people’s memories are small kindness, such as a ride home from the hospital or a free haircut or the simple act of taking the time to listen. I found myself growing in courage as I forced myself to step out of my comfort zone to talk to strangers, something I had never been very comfortable with since I was young. Now, I know the power of eye contact and a smile, and even though the project has officially “ended”, I’ve continued to make an effort to reach out to everyone I pass by on the street, even if it’s just for a moment. Throughout this project I also was able to experience so much kindness towards me that my heart has been consistently reminded of the genuine goodness of people. From bus drivers to cashiers to hosts to children in the park, my eyes were opened so much to the fact that, quite simply, people want to be kind to each other. When given the chance, human beings so often choose to be kind, and that has given me more hope than I can describe.

 

3. One thing I focused on in my project was handing out and hiding encouraging notes around the city. On the business cards I had printed with links to my Week of Sunshine blog, I would write messages such as “You are enough, You are important, You are loved, You are valuable” etc and put them in books, mailboxes, car windows, or directly into the hands of those I interviewed. I received emails from the recipients saying how much the notes meant to the people I gave them too, often hearing how such a small reminder “made my day.” Several replies mentioned that the person had never been on the receiving end of such a random act of kindness, and how much hope it gave them.

Another large part of the project involved interviewing strangers about things in life that made them happy- I asked questions such as where their “happy place” was, what were “little things” in life that made it worth living in their eyes, and what was the nicest thing anyone ever did for them. The responses I received truly opened my eyes, as I mentioned earlier, to the power of small acts of kindness. Most of the little things people cited were things like listening, smiles from a stranger, hugs, and being together with family. The same can be said for all of the nicest things people had had done towards them- there were no grand stories of being rescued from a burning building or anything like that, but I heard over and over again about someone simply stepping up to be there for someone in their time of need, and making the effort to show that they care. All of the happy places were little things, too, not vacation destinations or dramatic things like mountain tops, but reading alone on a rainy day, listening to music, having dinner with their spouse, etc. These interviews have made me appreciate all the little things in my life moving forward, and have taught me to make a greater effort to ensure that others experience such small kindnesses from me as well.

As for the kindness I experienced towards me, it was often strangers reaching out to help a 20-year-old young woman caught in a moment over her head. A bus driver in Portland who hand-delivered me to my destination, a woman I interviewed who told me how much she believed in what I was doing and hoped I found happiness out there too, the members of a church I visited who took the time to pray for me and hug me when I was struggling, my Airbnb host who made sure I felt at home and was being safe, along with flowers and endless encouragement sent to me from loved ones back home. It was incredibly humbling to realize just how much support I have in my life, from those who know me and even those who don’t. Going forward, I’ve begun making more of an effort to express my appreciation for those around me, and to allow myself to receive these kindness with open hands and heart.

 

4. As a nurse, my life will be dedicated to serving strangers who often will not be able to “repay” me in any measurable way. However, from this project I know that my ability to impact their lives will not just be in the medical interventions I perform, but from taking the time to listen and smile and simply be there for them. As a human being, I know my life is intricately intertwined with everyone I interact with, even those that I just pass on the street and won’t see again. I know now the power I have to positively impact everyone I meet, even in these small ways and moments. I have been completely transformed after my Week of Sunshine, from having my hope in the goodness of the human heart completely renewed, to being humbled by an outpouring of love given to me in my weakest moments, to seeing the beauty in all the little things in life. Coming back from Portland, I know that I am a stronger, softer, kinder, braver, and more generous person than I was when I left. As someone who will make it my mission in life to heal those around me, these lessons I have learned about comforting the soul as well as the body will prove invaluable.

whole world is happy graphic business card 1

You can read many more details about my project, the lessons I learned, and the people I met on my blog at http://weekofsunshine.blogspot.com/

 

Sustainable Solar Garden

Garden and Composter

Garden and Composter

During my STEP signature project I constructed a Sustainable Solar Garden from scratch with the help of STEP resources. I attended a week-long certification class about Solar Panel Installation and used this knowledge to design and build my own solar generator. The generator was then used to power an irrigation, garden, and compost system that I built in the backyard of my Cincinnati home.

The reason I chose this project was because I wanted to challenge my abilities as an engineer and my own confidence. I knew that I could handle the theoretical engineering principles in my classes, but I knew there wouldn’t be a point to that if I couldn’t apply these principles in the real world. Having never built much before, I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to bridge this gap and basically end up wasting my education. In addition, I’ve never really considered myself as a handyman, so I haven’t had the confidence to build or fix things for myself. I wanted my STEP experience to change this and I definitely succeeded.

After my STEP experience I have a new confidence in my education and hands on abilities, as well as, a new appreciation for life-long learning. Having successfully built my solar garden system, I actually feel that I’m ahead, rather than behind, in my hands on education. I’m proud that I can fully design and construct residential solar arrays as only a sophomore in college, which is a profession in itself. I also realized that my worry wasn’t about bridging the gap between theoretical and real world applications, but that I won’t have enough time to complete my goal of making global progress towards a sustainable future. For example, if I didn’t know how to even screw two boards together, how could I make technology that affects millions? However, the people I talked to and the experiences I’ve had during this STEP experience taught me one very important lesson, which is that life is about continuous learning. I don’t have to accomplish my goals tomorrow as long as I continue to learn and grow as person.

The experience that exemplified my reasoning for doing this project was my first visit to the hardware store. I felt utterly and completely out of place as I didn’t where anything was or what they did. I brought in my solar generator tutorial book as a reference in case I forgot anything, but even that didn’t help my feeling of anxious confusion. I remember asking a worker for a “soffit vent” and being embarrassed when trying to explain what it looked like. However, I inevitably made several more trips to the store as my project was coming together. Each time I became more and more comfortable knowing where items were and what they were used for. It’s weird to think of it this way, but I was basically practicing going to the hardware store. I learned a lot about the resources I have just around the corner and gained a sense of confidence to use in hands on projects.

Solar Installation In Progress

Solar Installation In Progress

During the second week in May I traveled to Indianapolis for a one week certification class in Photovoltaic Installation. The class was comprised of retired army vets, company executives, professors…and me. Each day we spent about half of the class listening to lectures and doing practice problems, then the other half were hands on labs. I learned a lot about solar, electricity, and wiring, so I aced the certification test at the end of the week. However, I learned the most from the others in my class. Most of the guys were in their sixties and were taught how to use tools by their fathers when they were kids. I never had that experience, because my father emigrated here from India and that’s not the norm in India. Throughout the week they taught me fairly quickly the basics of crimping and wiring, as well as, some tips and tricks of the trade. But what I loved the most was that these guys were there to learn. Some of them had been electricians for decades, but they were there to learn more about solar. This helped me realized that I don’t need to stress about knowing everything right now, because life is about constantly learning new things. To add to my confidence, the class helped me realize that I happen to be a quick study.

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Working Solar Generator

 

The last experience that led to my transformation was finishing my garden project. I took the system in steps, first building the generator, then setting up the garden, and then figuring out the irrigation system. My last step was to connect all of the pieces into one working system where the sun was charging the generator, which powered the water pump, which watered the garden. The weekend of July 16th I finished the project and hooked up all the pieces, but the feeling was not what I expected. Rather than reveling in the success, I started looking for ways to improve the performance. Later on I felt very accomplished when my mom said she was actually using the watering system and making zucchini bread from the garden, but in that moment I only wanted to learn more. I wanted to figure out how I could improve water flow or increase the solar production or decrease the amount of weeds. I know it is important to celebrate milestones, but I think this signifies that I have embraced the continual quest for knowledge.

This project has built my confidence and my curiosity. I have been thinking a lot about ways to use my new hands on skills. I really want to make some exercise equipment and a window garden for my dorm room next semester. I also hope to expand the solar garden to more plots and improve the watering system by adding a timer and a drip irrigation system. Now, it’s time for me to start learning and to never stop.

The information that I learned in this experience has already helped immensely in my professional career. After the class in solar panel installation, I began my summer internship at American Electric Power. I used this information heavily to build models of solar + storage projects and it has helped set me apart from my age group. Learning how to garden (especially cilantro) has also been a personal goal of mine for a while. However, the most valuable takeaway is the guidance it has given me when deciding between working in industry or research after college. Basically my two future plans are: get a job right after college and work my way up the corporate ladder at a green energy related company or go to graduate school and conduct research on a green energy topic. My monotonous corporate internship this summer in conjunction with the fun I’ve had building my own system has definitely pushed me towards the research path. I learned that I really enjoy having a mixture of hands on and computer work, which ties well into the kind of research that I want to do. I also have more confidence that I can perform in a lab setting, because I ran numerous tests while building my system. Now that I am on my path towards research, I can use my STEP experience as fuel to pursue a more sustainable future full force.

A New Scarf

Before

I found this scrap wool material from a project I had done years before and decided that it would make a really great scarf and would be a good way to test out my new sewing machine.

I was able to make it a little wider than the usual scarf because I wasn’t using a pattern or anything; it will be perfect for cold Ohio winters!

Finished Scarf

This is what the finished scarf looks like. I am almost excited for winter so I can wear it!