A Shocking Exploration of Vintage Amplifiers

Name: Jack Weber

Type of Project: Creative Endeavor

My STEP Signature Project was a creative endeavor that lead to me building a Marshall JTM45 (guitar amplifier). This included doing hours of background research on the operations of vacuum tube amplifiers as well as historical information such as schematic changes or part suppliers. I then constructed my own head cabinet for the amplifier I built for aesthetic and transportation purposes.

The area of understanding that mostly changed over the course of my project was the process of learning and sharing information. I reinforced for myself that I am a very tactile learner but I can draw ideas and conclusions based on previous experiences and readings. I can read books, watch videos, listen to podcasts or whatever until I’m blue in the face but none of that is doing me any good until I can get my hands on what I’m working with. I had an idea of doing something like this for a project for a while now and I had some background experience in related fields so I wasn’t going in totally blind. Once the idea was firmly planted into my head what I was going to do for my project I go to work doing research. Eventually I came across two books of a small series on the design process and working of vacuum tube amplifiers specifically geared for guitar. I have to admit, they were a struggle to read at times. They were very heavy information wise, written for electrical engineers and full of upper level math but were worth their weight in gold. Explanations to almost any question or situation was provided as well as reasoning from an engineer’s standpoint and as a guitar player. Even though my project involved a lot of research and learning, it was very enjoyable. I got to combine history, physics, engineering, woodworking, and guitar playing all in one vast multidisciplinary project.

However what really opened my eyes was learning how information travels and how people learn, especially in small niche communities. Vacuum tube amps are not new technology and are antiquated outside of a few niches. In the heyday of tube guitar amps (1950s-1970s) information didn’t travel as well or as quickly as it does today and people had to learn in different ways. One of the most interesting conversations I had was with Bruce Egnater, who has made a name for himself in the guitar amp industry after 40+ years of experience, about how he had learned. His answers didn’t surprise me but, the thoughts I had did. He said he learned primarily by reading books and going to the library, writing letters, and just plain experimenting and getting zapped on occasion. Now this didn’t surprise me like I said, but the thought of the actions behind it did. If he wanted to learn something he had to trek down to the local library, look for the book and then get the relevant information. Or in the case of more specialized information writing a letter and hoping for a response, let a lone a helpful one at that. His notion of opening up the amplifiers and learning by doing was echoed by other professionals that it was the best thing to just experiment and ultimately see what sounds best as there is something that can only be learned by hands on experience.

My STEP project was mainly three components of what lead to my revelation of learning. The three components were pre-completion (of amplifier), post-completion, and communication, each having their own sort of theme to the experience. The pre-completion part of the project was where the most actual theory and application of the experience was. A large part of this was my communication with a friend named Jelle Welagen who runs his own business building high-end guitar amplifiers for particular customers. The most important thing I learned from him was how to create my own explanations for how things work and how to use inductive/deductive reasoning to problem solve. This helped me rationalize some of the confusions I had with the theory and operation of the amplifiers, which would in turn help with troubleshooting down the line. This phase was mostly learning about how the amplifier worked, assembling and installing hardware, planning and plotting, and keeping track of safe working habits. This was by far the longest, but least frustrating part of the project and probably the most enjoyable for me. This reinforced my idea that I learned complex matter best by exposure to several different (accurate) sources and by doing things with my own hands.

The second component was the post-completion of the build. This is where trouble for me started. Most people who do these types of problem struggle their first time with build errors and a general lack of understanding or experience. I was lucky and did enough research and had enough background experience in other fields that I was comfortable taking something on like this project. Everything up to the first test went smoothly for me as I was very careful to make sure I didn’t make common mistakes and to label all of my parts. However as soon as I got to the point where I was going to play the amp at volume, I heard one of the worst sounds I ever heard in my life. An extremely loud high pitch squeal jumped from the speakers startling my friend and I. This “issue” would take me on a wild goose chase for the next week trying to hunt down this squealing demon as by my standards and the schematic I had I did everything right. This is when I met Brendan Tarbox. Brendan is a machinist who builds amplifiers for his local music scene specializing in Tweed Fenders. I had posted on a Facebook group where several prominent techs and designers communicate and he had taken and eye to my problem. This eventually led to him spending the next 6 hours on the phone with me one day trying to troubleshoot the problem. After digging out my oscilloscope and signal generator we figured out the problem. In actuality this was a problem I created for myself by ignoring one of the few changes on a modern schematic compared to the vintage style I used and in an attempt to solve the issue I bandaided the problem and created a new one. While in theory, I knew the theory behind what was happening, I didn’t know how to troubleshoot those issues that I knew the theory of. This experience reinforced that some things must be learned first hand, and to not judge a book by it’s cover. When I first called Brendan, I was greeted by the voice of a 45yr old blue collar guy but the kicker is that he’s actually a year younger than myself, which really threw me for a loop.

The third component of my learning experience was a lesson in communication. Specifically the communication of technical knowledge and ideas of a dying art. The most extreme example of this was working with my father and a friend in our woodshop and trying to communicate the head cabinet plans along with other ideas and potential adaptations or modifications. There was a couple of more than frustrating moments in that situation which is why communication is super important when dealing with materials like fine hardwood, or in my case figured black walnut. Fun fact, black walnut is so hard that it can cause non-commercial planers to trip the circuit breaker when trying to remove as little as a 1/64 of an inch per pass. Over the course of the woodworking portion of the project I learned that fact 26 times, which was a waste of 5 minutes and quickly began to add up. What I learned here is that when plans for a detailed project are communicated verbally, small interruptions of communication over time will cause a breakdown in the accuracy of the communication and therefore the information being passed to one another. It is also important that this information is preserved, or any information that has value and therefore should be shared. When people such as Ken Fischer die, their knowledge and experience is lost. The only things preserved were those written down or retained by others, and he had helped many people who recorded this information.. This is important because this type of sharing of information and communication allowed me to successfully troubleshoot my amplifier. The conclusion of in the shortest possible manner is that information should be free.

This change of view on experiencing and learning is important to me as it allows me to understand how I learn in situations that call upon multiple disciplines and how that information and experience is shared through a community. It’s given me more empathy when interacting people in learning environments which is important as a student. In terms of growing as a professional, I was able to prove to myself that I can document and learn about complex ideas and thoughts, and then create something using that knowledge. In addition I became more detail oriented which is useful when trying to communicate ideas or designs. Just as important I learned that writing down personal experiences is great way to share information with others as I used this sort of journal to explain ideas to my friend who was very interested in the project. I’m including a link for it. I am a bit disappointed as I fell behind in trying to deal with formatting issues, hosting pictures and working in the garage without wifi to document what and why, for a good part of the woodworking portion. I really enjoyed this project overall and I am attempting to continue pursuing this form of creative endeavor by applying for an OSU academic enrichment grant as a follow up project which will hopefully lead to a lifelong passion of making things I enjoy.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/16F4jYqRLI-FuC1PwQ2FdUJ_gjPkm8oLRrTKFfUMfoJ4/edit?usp=sharing

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More Than Wearing a Bedazzled Green Bikini

Name: Rebekah Gippert

Type of Project: Artistic and Creative Endeavor

 

For my STEP Signature Project I trained and prepped for 14 weeks in order to compete in the WNBF Tri-State Bodybuilding competition. During this time, I was given a strict meal plan to follow, training regimen, and coaching in order to learn the proper posing techniques for the Bikini Division within the competition. I received coaching from the fitness organization, 4D Health and Fitness.

For the past three years I’ve desired to compete, but I never took the chance. Before this prep, I always considered myself somewhat of a “diversified hobbyist.” I’ve always been interested in anything and everything but only for a short amount of time. I’ve never been good at following through with my choices or desires and often times found myself giving up.

But, I began to see changes in those areas about 4 or 5 weeks into prep. I can recall the day I went through the exact motions I was supposed to in order to have a successful day in prep. From waking up early, eating my food at the right time and exactly measured out, taking every supplement I was supposed to, finishing off my gallon of water, and then killing a leg work out later that night, I thought to myself “why the heck have you been making discipline so difficult for yourself when it’s really freaking rewarding to follow through for once?” It was something along those lines, but it just clicked. And for once, I buckled down and had tunnel vision for the goal I had in mind, Tri-State.

As much as I would like to say I kept that tenacity, I didn’t. This prep was primarily to shape me into a more diligent student, employee, and overall person while showing myself that yes, abs were possible. But it wasn’t just that. Because of this prep and the challenge it was for me, I finally came to terms with my depression, something I had put to the way side for nearly two years.

So yeah, this prep basically flipped every assumption I held of myself upside down but on the plus side, I learned that I could rock a bedazzled green bikini. (Thank you cardio, though I still hate you.)

The entire purpose of a figure competition is to shape your body to the best of its abilities within a certain amount of time in order to compete against others who have done the same. What they don’t tell you is that you’re not just training your body, you’re training your attitude, your outlook, and your character as well. The entire prep led to a transformation within myself, but if it weren’t for my coaches, team members, and family I would have never recognized the areas of myself that were being shaped.

Unfortunately, and quite ironically, I was unable to finish my prep and compete. Through the advice of my parents and coaches, I decided to stop prep due to health concerns, both physically and mentally.

The objective of this competition prep was to reshape certain areas of my character I knew I lacked in, such as discipline, positivity, and ambition. All of these areas and more were “tweaked” and I’m continuing to work on them. But the most detrimental area within myself that was exposed was my mental health. For over two years I have struggled with depression but never accepted how impactful it was. This competition prep instigated the comfort zones I had built to ultimately show me that no matter what condition I am in physically, if my mental health isn’t in order, nothing can be.

I knew this prep would change my outlook on myself and my surroundings, I just didn’t think it would be to this extent. And even though I was unable to complete to goal at hand, it was the journey along the way that was the most impactful.  If it hadn’t been for this prep I would have never come to terms with the state of my mental health and would never have been able to move forward.

This transformation is immeasurably valuable for my life. If I hadn’t even tried to prep for this competition, I would’ve been sitting with the same mindset I had been for two years. That mindset became habitual and then ultimately set into my character. This prep was an opportunity for change, and though I’m disappointed I was unable to compete, I am so glad I tried. I underestimated the impact a prep could have. People don’t consider training 3 hours a day, 6 days a week life changing. They don’t think that consuming the same meals every day for weeks on end to be character shaping. They don’t regard drinking 1-2 gallons of water a day an ordeal. Not only these things, but I had to take supplements I hadn’t known existed. Consumed fat burners that caused insomnia for up to 32 hours because of the caffeine content. Posed in 5 inch heels and strutted around in a tiny green bikini while trying to perfect a posing routine without dying of humiliation and finally, couldn’t eat Sunday night dinner with my entire family, like I so badly wanted to, all because of this prep. But it all was worth it. Every single week, day, moment. Worth it. Who I am now is not who I was 4 months ago because of this time. I learned discipline, true ambition, and tenacity. I learned to be positive when every ounce of you says otherwise. But most importantly, I learned to accept and finally be vulnerable about the state of my mental health. This time allowed me to grow in areas that don’t just affect my academics or career. I’ve grown in areas that are detrimental to my goals and ambitions, my relationships, my way of thinking, my attitude, and my spirituality. I’ve learned to see myself from a different perspective. I’ve learned to give myself more grace and freedom while being able to accept the things I cannot change.

Rather provocative, I know, but these are taken two months apart. Cheers to a diet of oatmeal, grapefruit, and chicken.

Rather provocative, I know, but these are taken two months apart. Cheers to a diet of oatmeal, grapefruit, and chicken.

This is 4D, my team and ultimately my backbone! If you haven't spotted me, I'm the cheesy blonde left of front.

This is 4D, my team and ultimately my backbone! If you haven’t spotted me, I’m the cheesy blonde left of front. Standing to my right is my twin, she went on to take 2nd in her Figure Divison at Tri-State!

So in conclusion, I didn’t compete and though that may be upsetting to some, I was able to grow in every area I intended to and more. Because of this competition prep, I can proudly say that I have changed for the better.

PDX: Design in the Pacific Northwest

Emily Mumaw

 

For my artistic and creative endeavor STEP Project, I had the opportunity to travel to Portland, Oregon to shadow a large advertising firm and document my experience in the Pacific Northwest utilizing design programs to create a final multimedia digital story.

When I first started planning my STEP project I had no idea how impactful this trip would be and how much I would learn about myself. While in Portland I had the opportunity to focus on the passions I have and really reflect during this pivotal time during my college career. With half of college behind me, I learned so much about my values and what I want my future to look like. My undecided view of the professional world was vastly open ended and I had no good idea about what kind of company I’d like to work for or what I’d like to do. Now while I still haven’t quite pin-pointed my dream job, I know that a company culture focused on creativity innovation and flexibility are things I look for, and I want the people I work with to be not just people I love to work with, but people I love to spend my time with. And on the topic of people, before my STEP project, I knew how important people were in my life but I viewed myself as someone who liked to be on my own a lot. Through exploring a new place on my own, I found there were many times where I just wanted to be able to share those experiences with someone else. These realizations made this trip so much more than I expected. STEP was really transformative.

Being able to get a glimpse into the world of Wieden + Kennedy was amazing. The office space itself is enough to make my right brain melt. My overwhelming thought during my time there was “what if work really was this fun?” Beyond just “fun” the incredible caliber at which W+K works is mind-blowing. As the largest independently owned advertising agency, they work with huge clients, and their work is not just award winning but recognizable. If you’ve ever seen a Nike ad, guarantee it was dreamt up in PDX with W+K. Thanks to one of my aunt’s friends I had a chance to get a behind the scenes look on their work and their home. Employees here were excited to come to work and really passionate about what they were doing. It was refreshing to see something so contrasting to an Office Space environment, and made me really reflect on company culture and what I would want in a full time role.

One of the greatest parts of being able to visit Portland, Oregon was to be able to stay with my aunt and her family. I have two little cousins ages 3 and 2 months and living on the other side of the country, I hadn’t met them in person before. Being able to hangout with them was such an incredible experience. I’ve now filled hundreds of water balloons and played countless games of “Pop the Pig” before bed (super underrated game, I would highly suggest looking into purchasing it for yourself…it’s a crowd pleaser.) Being able to explore such a unique city and then coming home to my little cousins was a great way to remind myself to have the same intense curiosity as them and to look at things through the eyes of a child. I truly was able to reflect in a way that made my priorities very simple and my outlook so positive.

This experience was eye opening in so many ways but I think that this trip was ultimately valuable for two different reasons. From a professional standpoint I was finally able to see a company culture that I really felt like a fit for me. I’m used to people asking, “Why design?” when I tell them I’m a design minor but a Finance major. While I strive to sharpen my analytical skills and hone my financial literacy, I attribute my attention to detail and strong awareness of aesthetic to my creative passions. After endless ideas of “what do you want to be when you grow up” I think this provides a lot of direction with what type of company I want to work for and equally importantly; the people I’d love to work with. Being at Wieden+ Kennedy showed me this on a very real level; maybe I’ll be back?

Finally from a personal standpoint this trip provided a lot of clarity on what I truly value and what I want to do in life. I’m the oldest of three. My little brother and sister may not know how much of a profound impact they’ve had on my life but almost every aspect of my personality can really been traced back to being the big sister. I’m a people person; I thrive on being able to take care of others. I’m responsible and driven, but while some of my traits are type A, I tend to fall on the go-with-the-flow end of the spectrum. I’m independent, but I love doing nothing with other people. I’m hopelessly indecisive but I’m always looking at things from different perspectives and strategically planning for the spontaneous and unexpected. And all of this comes from spending my childhood being not just a big sister, but a third parent and a friend. Being in Portland and spending most of my time exploring the city by myself was a tremendous exercise in independence. I know I have the skills and confidence to navigate a city but I’m far more inclined to share my time with the people I love. Coming home to my family was the best part of every single one of my day’s adventures. In being able to spend so much time with myself I found that my greatest values are those I get to share my life with. And from all of this I’ve been remind that the most important part of any journey is the people you bring with you along the way.

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STEP Project: West Coast Roadtrip

 

Name: Daniel Joseph

 

Type of Project: Artistic and Creative Endeavor

 

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

For my STEP Signature Project, myself and two fellow students spent two weeks traveling down the West Coast from Seattle to Death Valley.  In visiting and camping at six national parks, we spent the majority of our days taking in the beauty of the outdoors and learning about significant issues facing the environment.  The purpose of our trip was to help decide whether or not a career path in something environmentally related is right for us.

 

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

After embarking on this transformational experience, I learned a lot about both myself and the world around me.  To start, there were a couple things regarding my personal being that I solidified through my experiences.  I have always thought of myself as someone able to function on my own who can be resourceful if need be.  The trip was one of the first times I have traveled by myself for an extended period of time with no parental supervision or guidance.  I have been on plenty of trips without my parents in the past, but in every scenario, there were either adult figures there with me or a detailed itinerary that had each aspect of the trip covered.  Our road trip provided significant amounts of adversity at times, and it provided plenty of personal and group decisions that needed to be made that adults would have made in the past.  As I had expected of myself, when it came to these big decisions, I was able to reason through them with myself and friends in order to come to the best possible solution.  This proved to myself that I am able to function and make generally smart decisions on my own, and it was really something that I enjoyed throughout the duration of the trip.  The other thing that I solidified about myself is the fact that I love and need to get away from the mainstream every once in a while.  Though I love the everyday grind and rigor of school and work, there is something about spending time away from daily routines that really helps me clear my head.  I had known this a little bit about myself before the trip, but spending upwards of three day chunks of time with no connection to the world, besides my two friends, was one of the most refreshing things I have every experienced.  These times away allowed me to do some very important thinking about my life, and I found myself in a mental state that I usually do not come to when at school or in a daily routine type of scenario.  This helped me understand how important it is to every once in a while, even if it is a rare occurrence, step back appreciate life and where it is taking me.

 

In terms of my view of the world, I have always had a pretty strong faith in humanity.  Though it is something that is not as popular in this day in age, this trip reiterated time and time again, that is faith to be had in humanity.  As I described before, we were truly out there, where none of us had ever been, on our own.  There were many times when we needed help, and every single time somebody came through for us and pointed us in the right direction or helped how we needed them to.  Of course, there is definitely caution to be had in our world, but this trip showed me that there are still plenty of good people out there that deserve respect and trust.

 

Finally, an assumption that I had before this trip, that I think many people have in this world, is the fact that the destination or end result will be the best part of an event or process.  This trip taught me that contrary is often true.  While I loved every bit of each amazing place we were able to travel to, some of my most found memories are from the long car drives in between national parks or they are from out months and months of preparation that went into this trip.  I want to avoid sounded cliché, but this trip taught me to enjoy every little aspect of the things that I am involved in.  Whether it is school, academics, or extracurricular, the preparation or steps to get somewhere can be some of the most memorable or enjoyable experiences one has, and I think that myself and others too often look forward to the final destination and end result.

  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? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

As I mentioned above, the first thing this trip solidified in me was the ability to function and make big decisions on my own.  The specific example that comes to mind was about half way through the trip in between Crater Lake National Park and our next destination right outside of San Francisco.  We had about eight hours of driving to do between the two locations.  On our original trip itinerary, we had scheduled for all eight of those hours to be done the next day.  However, after vising the national park and hot spring in Oregon, we had much of the day left, and decided to get some of the driving done the night before we planned.  As we pushed on, we were forced to make decisions and take into account many different variables.  How tired are we? Where can we stay (since we are off itinerary)?, How far is the next big city? Etc.  These are all questions that my parents would have taken care of in the past.  In this specific scenario, we drove and drove for about six hours until about midnight where we finally reached Sacramento.  We figured that we could find a place to stay here, but after searching for campsites online for a long time, could not find anything with no reservations.  Thus, we were facing some pretty significant adversity.  The only people who could solve the problem of where to stay was ourselves.  So, we parked a car, and though out our options for where to stay the night.  We eventually were able to find a park and sleep place after about another hour of searching.  These types of problems and decisions were things that I had never had to deal with in the past.  However, I had always thought of myself as somebody who could take care of myself if need be.  This is exactly what this scenario proved to me.  We were able to think through our problem and find the best possible solution all on our own.

 

The second transformation and solidification I described in question #2 involved time to get away from civilization and the mainstream.  As discussed thoroughly in my project proposal, the main reason that I wanted to take this trip was to see if a career in an environmentally related field was right for me.  I had been heavily considering added an Environmental Engineering before the trip and was very confused as to if it was something that I should do or not.  As described above, during the times where we had no contact with the outside world, I was able to do some of my best thinking.  With no clutter in my head, surrounded by peaceful sceneries and peace and quiet, I stared to be able to think clearly about my future.  This specifically happened while hiking the Hoh River Trail in Olympic National Park.  We backpacked 34 miles over two days and were surrounded by some of the most beautiful images I had ever seen.  Being in this scenario really helped me to examine my studies and future as a whole.  I was able to crucially think about what I wanted and where I wanted to be in the future.  I started to realize that although I have an extreme passion for the outdoors, working in an environmental field is not something that I necessarily want to do.  Of course I will love and enjoy the outdoors for the rest of my life, but I started to lean away from wanted a career relating to the outdoors.  Something that I had been very passionate about in school up to that point was computer science.  It was on these hikes and in these times of solitude that I was able to realize that tacking on a Computer Science Engineering minor is something that I want to do.  Today, I currently am taking classes in the minor, and I have been loving what I have gotten to do within it.  Up to the trip, I could not even lean one way or another as to which minor to add.  Being able to make that decision while on the trip really spoke to how effective time away can be for me to clear my head and make important decisions.  Of course, in the future, I won’t be able to go on road trips to make decision about my future, but at least I know that a little piece and quiet will go a long way in helping me decide.

 

The third thing I talked about above was restoring my faith in humanity.  After traveling to Mount Rainier, we a bit off itinerary and decided to drive a few more hours and camp rather than camp near the mountain again.  We did our research and found a campsite that we could go to that did not require reservations.  It was on the coast of Oregon.  Upon arriving there, we started setting up camp.  No more than five minutes after being there did a man come up to us asking if we needed any help with anything.  He explained that he was from the area and essentially lived campsite to campsite.  He told us where to move our car so we wouldn’t get charged extra for parking and where the best fishing spots were.  Shortly after he left, another man came up with a similar background.  The first thing he did was introduce himself and offer us a substantial amount of firewood.  We were very grateful for this since it was getting dark and we were running out of time to search for wood.  Both of these men were extremely helpful to us, and they wanted nothing in return.  Later that night, one of the men’s son was visiting.  The son drove a large black Ford F-150.  Upon trying to leave his wheels started sputtering out and he realized he was stuck in the sand.  Without thinking, we all came together and helped the son for about 45minutes to get his truck out of the sand.  The man and his son were very appreciative of us just as we had been for the firewood and advice earlier in the night.  As I stated above, growing up, this is how I always assumed that people should act towards each other.  However, over the past few years at school, I had seen plenty of things that made me start to question my faith in humanity.  These interactions proved to me that there are plenty of genuinely good people out there.  Of course, blind faith is never good, but more often than not we realized that people are there to help, you just have to be cautious.

 

Finally, the fourth transformation that I discussed above was the importance of enjoying the process.  I had always been warned growing up to not look to far forward, as I would miss the amazing things that happen in between.  I never really took that too much to heart until this trip.  Because of STEP we had full reign to plan this trip in a way that we knew would be both amazing and transformational.  We put countless hours into our preparations, meeting one to two times a week to plan every little detail of the trip.  When I look back, those nights in Brian and Jake’s dorm room are some that I remember most.  Compared to those nights, the trip seems like a blur.  Moving forward, when we were on the trip itself, we constantly challenged each other to look forward to the long drives to the next big destination.  By the end of the trip, we were as excited to drive three hours as we were to spend time in a National Park.  That is not we didn’t enjoy our destinations by any means, but we really started to enjoy the little pleasures that our trip presented us with. Weather it was stopping at McDonald’s to get an iced coffee or stopping off the side of the road to grab a cool sunset picture, the process and trip there was almost as fun.  I will compare this scenario to my everyday studies here at Ohio State.  I am working towards getting my degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering.  Like most majors, this comes with a lot of hard work and hours invested in to studying.  For my first two years of school, especially sophomore year, I hardly remember anything.  It was such a blur.  Not that I didn’t have fun or make memories, I was just so focused on the next big test or career step that I lost sight of the blessed college experience that I have been able to have to this point.  During our trip and into this year, I realized that four of the best, most unique years of my life are over half way over.  This year I have been really trying to take it all in and appreciate the late nights studying or the hours spent applying for jobs or the times cooking dinner with the roommates even when in a rush.  This trip really helped me slow down my life, even when it is moving fast to make sure that I am getting the most out of each and every day.  Though I know it will probably happen, I would hate to blink and have my college years be over just like that.  They are such a special time and I am thankful that this trip helped me realize how important they are.

 

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?  Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

Though this was touched on pretty significantly in question three above, I will do my best to summarize how this transformational experience was valuable for my life moving forward.  First of all, after spending time thinking on the trip, I was able to realize what path of study to take.  As I had described in my project proposal, I was strongly thinking about adding an Environmental Engineering minor to my studies here at OSU.  The environment is always something that I have been passionate about, and I really liked the idea of helping to improve it.  However, I wasn’t sure if this was something that I would be good at or wanted to study for the rest of my life.  After spending the trip with Jake, I realized how much he truly knew and understood about the environment.  It helped me realize that there is a difference between liking spending time in the outdoors, and really wanting to make an impact in it.  Jake’s wealth of knowledge combined with the significant amount of time I had to think about my future helped me start to analyze my true likes and dislikes from an academic perspective.  I realized that Computer Science Engineering was something that I was passionate about and wanted to continue my studies in.  As I said before, I am currently taking classes in this area and really enjoying it.  One of the main reasons why we embarked on this trip was to figure out where we wanted to be with our academic future, so I am glad this trip helped me figure that out.

 

In terms of functioning on my own, the trip was almost like a test.  I was 19 at the time, and I am now getting to the age where I have to start thinking about full time jobs and life after college.  It was a great way to see where I am at in terms of independence.  Making decisions that I never had to make before was an experience that I am very glad to have had.  It showed me that I am capable of surviving on my own, but at the same time, that there is plenty of room for growth before stepping out into the real world.  The trip highlighted some key things that I need to work on for my personal being, and I have made great strides in order to improve those since the trip ended.

 

In addition to faith in humanity being solidified, the story told about the two men at the campground helping us, really taught me how I need to act.  College, from my point of view, is a very selfish time.  Everyone seems to be out to better themselves and to do what will get them the edge for life after school.  While I am guilty of acting this way a lot, the interactions we had while on the trip showed that acting out of true altruism for others is something that should be done more often.  I have never felt better about an interaction with a stranger than the few we had on this trip.  In the time since we have returned, I have tried to start acting more and more out of the goodness of my heart, even when I might not be receiving something in return.  In my opinion, this is how we, as people should act, and I will always remember this moving forward.

 

Finally, in terms of appreciating the life I have been given.  Each day is a blessing. There is no sense rushing through from event to event just to make it through.  Though it seems like something that might be soft or cliché, I cannot express how much this trip transformed me in this regard.  I have started to appreciate more and more the little things in life.  Especially when looking at my unique college experience, time is too short to spend all my time looking forward to what is next.  This trip taught me how to pay attention to how I get places in addition to the places I go, and I am very thankful for that.  So far this year, in implementing that mindset, I have been able to enjoy my time much more.

 

Learning to Play the Drums

My STEP signature project was learning to play the drums.  I purchased a kit and took lessons twice a week, where I learned the fundamentals of drumming.  I practiced a good deal on my own, and did more research into drumming and music.  This included reading into a music theory course, looking up and practicing different drumming techniques, and reflecting on my experience and how my abilities were developing.

First and foremost, my STEP project has drastically increased my understanding of music.  As I outlined in my proposal, music is something I’ve always enjoyed, but never really understood.  It always seemed to be something separate from me, something I could never hope to understand.  But now that I have learned something about playing music, music as a whole makes more sense to me.  My early lessons involved a good deal of music theory, dealing with time signatures and note divisions, primarily.  As I was playing a rhythmic instrument, understanding the timekeeping aspects of music was necessary.  As a result, I’ve come to understand one of the most important components of music, the rhythmic backbone atop which songs are built.  Though this is hardly a life-changing thing, it has allowed me to look at music, an omnipresent aspect of human culture, in a new light.  I can’t listen to a song without picking out the rhythm, and I find myself dissecting any piece of music I see, attempting to identify how it is constructed.  While I am far from an expert, I’ve at last come to understand something about an art form that has always eluded me.

Perhaps more importantly, my project has made me far more aware of my personal weaknesses and how to combat them.  The other portion of my project, aside from furthering my understanding of music, was to develop better time management skills through regular practice and reflection.  I found this to be the more difficult aspect of the project.  The music-learning came easily thanks to my teachers and my own practice.  What was harder for me was to create routines for myself and enforce them.  Practicing came easily, as I enjoyed playing the drums.  What I found difficult was making sure my practices were productive.  I often neglected practicing my fundamentals in favor of simply banging on my kit.  I learned to split my practice time in half, working on the basic components I covered during my lessons for the first half before moving onto more enjoyable playing.  This agenda setting has come into play in other aspects of my life.  As I’ve returned to school and found myself dealing with homework and projects, I feel better equipped to more effectively approach and deal with my assignments.  I was less successful on the front of my reflections.  I often neglected or forgot these and missed several weeks.  Ironically, this revealed to me just how difficult it is for me to establish routines in my life.  While I have not totally fixed this, I am now more aware of it and keep it in mind.  I have been making more of an effort to plan out my week ahead of time, identifying work I need to do and when I need to do it.  As I live off-campus this year, I am responsible for bills, cooking, and cleaning, which helps.  I have plenty that I need to do any given day, so I have been making an effort to be more regular in my schedule.

The most important aspect of my STEP project was my taking music lessons.  I attended lessons twice a week, and they were the primary source of my learning over the summer.  My lessons began at the most basic.  I learned how to correctly grip and use my drumsticks, which was far harder than I expected it to be.  The biggest challenge for me at first was learning to use just my wrist to drum, while leaving the rest of my arm still, but relaxed.  This required a lot of practice to develop the muscle memory needed to do this without thinking.  Along with the basics, I also learned the fundamentals of music theory, covering music notation, different note divisions, and how to play along to these.  At first, I didn’t even play on a kit; I simply drummed in quarter notes on a practice pad.  These basics felt tedious at first, but they were an excellent way to immerse me into a completely alien environment.  Once I had learned the basics, I moved onto playing simple beats on a kit.  Again, this required a lot of adjustment as I figured out how to play one thing with my arms and another with my feet, an aspect of drumming I still have yet to master.  In time, I would move on to playing full songs, which required me to stretch my still-growing skills in new directions.  Learning songs required me to incorporate new aspects of the drum kit, or unfamiliar time signatures I was not used to.  I found this to be the most interesting and productive aspect of my lessons, as I came to understand just how much work can go into creating a song, even a short one.  The entire process was enlightening, and rewarding.  My intent was to focus intensely on developing a skillset over a short window of time, which I think was a success.  I am still an amateur drummer, but I’ve come to understand the art in some way.

The most interesting aspect of my lessons was the fact that I got to learn from three different teachers.  Due to scheduling conflicts, each of my instructors had to leave after a month, which meant that I was lucky enough to receive three vastly different perspectives on the art of drumming.  I think this was what allowed me to learn so much in such a short time, as each of my teachers specialized in a different area of playing.  My first teacher, Danny, for example, specialized in drumline and marching band playing.  While this is not an aspect of drumming I am particularly interested in, it requires very strong fundamentals.  This made Danny an excellent first teacher, and he taught me several great drills that have helped me develop better timing and note-dividing.  My second teacher, David, was the exact inverse of Danny, specializing in playing jazz.  David taught me different styles of holding my sticks and helped me become better at playing on a kit as opposed to the practice pad I had used to work on my fundamentals.  David had a wealth of knowledge about drumming and often prescribed songs for me to listen to outside of practice.  For example, he once asked me to listen to some Brazilian jazz and study how it used different time signatures and styles of playing than I was used to.  This sort of thing helped me understand drumming as a whole, beyond the basics I was learning.  My third teacher, Matt, did not specialize in any area like my first two teachers did.  Instead, he was well-rounded in different drumming styles, which worked perfectly when I had been playing for a few months.  By this point I had learned my fundamentals and was able to tackle playing full songs and learning more complicated beats, which allowed me to take advantage of Matt’s wide skillset.  Thanks to having three teachers, I was able to absorb a wide variety of knowledge that I wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to.  They also offered plenty of interesting insight on the art of drumming.  I was able to hear stories, advice, and tips from people with years of collective experience, and every lesson was loaded with unexpected new things to learn.

My lessons also helped with regards to my time-management goals.  First and foremost, they forced me to practice outside of my lessons.  I would often be assigned beats or exercises to practice, and I would have to be able to successfully play these before the next lesson.  As I only had one hour a week, I had to come to my lessons prepared.  If I neglected my practice, then I was wasting valuable teaching time.  There were times where I didn’t practice as much as I should have, and my already limited time was made less productive.  I learned early on just how important it was to develop my practice routine, if I wanted my lessons to continue being effective.  They served as an excellent motivator to practice even when I didn’t want to, and to practice smart.

My STEP experience has been helpful helping me not only understand a new art form, but to also understand myself.  As I explained earlier, it revealed to me just how much work I need to do to become a more organized, effective person.  I outlined the time management aspect of my STEP project almost as an afterthought, a positive side effect that I saw.  However, this aspect of my project became the most important to me.  Much as I enjoy playing the drums, it is more important to me for my life as a whole that I develop better time-management skills.  My difficulties in establishing routines over the summer have led me to employ stronger methods in the last month.  I outlined a calendar at the beginning of the summer, but this proved to be less useful than I’d hoped.  Once I got used to my routine of lessons twice a week, I didn’t have much use for it.  However, now that my life has become busier, I have been using calendars and planning methods to more effect.  I am aware of my weaknesses in organization, so I have made this a priority in my life.  Moving forward, I am going to continue the work I began in my STEP project and become the organized person I need to be.

Another aspect of my project I outlined was stress and anxiety relief.  I had a relatively stress-free summer.  However, as with my need for time-management, my anxieties have come into play since I started school.  However, I now feel more equipped to deal with them.  Drumming offers me an excellent relief activity.  I can play for half an hour and forget for a time about my stresses.  Though drumming doesn’t solve my problems, it allows me the in the moment stress relief that I need to more effectively deal with them.  It gives me a way to divert my attention elsewhere and allow my body to calm itself down, so that I can attend to my stresses in a more calm, organized manner.  My attempts to better manage my time have also helped.  Scheduling makes everything seem more manageable, which allows me to approach stress in a more rational manner.  I still feel stress, but the skills I developed through STEP have taught me how to deal with it.  Rather than let it overcome me, I can take preventive measures and keep myself feeling in control of my life.  Moving forward, I intend to have better control of the stresses and anxieties that have bothered me my whole life.  I feel more equipped to be in charge of my life and accomplish my goals.

My STEP project was a success in many ways.  As I’d hoped, I learned a lot about music and playing the drums.  I greatly enjoyed learning what I did, and I have made drumming a part of my life, a part I hope to only intensify as I develop my skills.  Beyond drumming, though, my STEP project has helped me develop skills to be more in control of my life.  Though I still have a lot to learn about managing my time and being productive, I have taken the first steps and started developing the necessary skills to be a more effective, productive person.

Custom Built PC

For my STEP project, I built a PC. My goal was to have a graphically powerful computer that would be able to handle modeling programs such as Solidworks, and some light computational chemistry in MOPAC. I ordered all of the parts in May and had the computer built by mid-June.

I gained a lot from this STEP project. First and foremost, this was the first time in my life where I really had to build a budget and stay under it. I used significantly less than the full amount STEP offered, and in addition I didn’t want to spend frivolously.

The project really began in Summer 2015, when I started thinking about building my own PC. It would allow me to build a computer that fit my needs precisely, while allowing me to learn about all of the constituent components and how they work together to make a computer work. I did lots of reading online, and with the help of some online forums, subreddits, and YouTube videos, I gained a lot of knowledge about the different components. My preliminary idea of what kind of PC I wanted to build was very similar to the one I ended up putting together.

Building a budget and deciding where costs can be cut is a critical skill that carries over extremely well to the business world. In a PC, there is a clear correlation between the price of components and their performance. Deciding which components can be downgraded or excluded with the least significant effect on performance is a critical thinking process that I am sure to go through again when I am out of college.

Once I had all the parts in-hand, the first step I took was to install the power supply. It came with loads of wired, far more than I needed for my components. The next step was to install the CPU to the motherboard. After the CPU was locked down, I installed the CPU cooler. Installing a CPU cooler requires you to apply thermal paste, essentially a grey glue, to your processor. It was one of the more finesse parts to the build, and one of the many parts where you can screw up and not know immediately. I applied the paste, placed the CPU fan on top of the CPU, then screwed it into the motherboard. Next I installed the RAM, the GPU, and the SSD. The case I decided on had several hard drive bays, and the SSD is separated nicely from the rest of the components. This made cable management easier towards the end of the project.

After all of the main components were installed, most of what was left involved plugging in wires. The USB ports, power button, and headphone jacks on the front panel of the case all needed to be plugged into the motherboard. The motherboard itself was not very helpful, as it only had short vague descriptions for the connectors. This is where the motherboard manual actually came in very useful, as it diagrammed where all the connectors needed to go.

Once the PC itself was built, I tweaked the CPU fan settings and dabbled with overclocking. The CPU (i7 6700k) is capable of overclocking and is commonly used in overclocked builds. Ultimately, I don’t believe my CPU fan is able to maintain suitable temperatures with overclocking, so I opted not to do it. In the future, if I upgrade the CPU cooler I will reconsider it.

I got to experience hands on budgeting and engineering skills through this project. As a biology major, I am not given much of any hands-on experience in budgeting and building, despite how these will play prominent roles in my adult life. This project gave me a chance to experience these things, while also coming out with a computer that will aid me in my studies here. I am already in the process of using the skills I’ve learned, as I am building a computer for my father over fall break.

Computers are a passion of mine and STEP gave me the opportunity to pursue it. The primary learning outcome was to learn how to build a functional computer and reuse this ability in my life. I think I’ve accomplished this, as I am typing this on the PC from my project.

View of the CPU before the fan was installed

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The computer’s maiden boot – on the screen is the BIOS (this is before Windows was installed)

Custom Built PC

The project that I chose to undertake with my allotted STEP funds was to build a custom desktop computer for use in my everyday life, academic career, and my inevitable professional career. Firstly I had to choose the correct parts for the computer, assure their compatibility, and attempt to optimize performance within the budget constraint. Secondly, I had to go through the process of carefully assembling the computer manually. Finally, I have been using this computer nearly every day for a wide variety of tasks, none of which were available to my previously.

I would not say that I have changed, per se, through this experience – a better term would be evolved. For some, obviously myself included, building a computer is a very personal experience. While some consider painting or music to be the highest form of art, I have always viewed it to be technology. The concept alone that man is able to harness a synthetic and artificial power or computation has always enthralled me. Just as it is commonly believed that you feel a much greater satisfaction when purchasing something that you have worked hard to earn the money for than just from being given the item, so it is true that the gratification received from constructing a computer is immensely greater than that from simply purchasing one.

Although it may be a cliché, undertaking this project has given me a large amount of experience in real-world problem solving. Issues arose during the assembly process that had to be remedied, as well as software issues during the initial boot-up process and at random intervals since. As I built this computer over the summer, I did not have access to anyone that had knowledge of the intricacies of building a computer and thus was forced to solve everything on my own. Adding on to that situation’s inherent personal benefit is the nature through which most problems had to be solved – retracing my steps prior to the software error so as to find where the mistake occurred.

Everything mentioned above has dealt with the actual process of building, though just as much has been gained from the computer since it became fully operational. While working with the statistical software program “R” in political data analytics courses, my previous computer struggled to load large data sets and struggled even more to represent the generated visualizations appropriately. My new computer scoffs at such tasks. Though I am not currently enrolled in any class that requires the use of R, I have taken it upon myself to experiment with incredibly large data sets. While the information received at the end of analysis for these data sets remains roughly the same as if I was only dealing with a portion of the size, the professional importance lies in the margin of error. By being able to handle such large data sets, the task of nearly eliminating all semblance of margin of error has become trivial.

The aspect of computing that I am currently experimenting with (and plan to take courses regarding in the future) is computer aided design, or 3-dimensional modeling. I have been using Autodesk’s free CAD software for a  few weeks now, though as of yet only for a general understanding of the mechanics. Once I have a better grasp of these, I hope to attempt to virtually reconstruct a layout of my apartment to test my abilities. The possibilities open to me with CAD software and a powerful PC are nearly endless, and are some of the aspects of this computer that I am most excited to discover.

All in all, I believe that my benefits from this experience, present and future, can be sorted into two categories: personal and professional. As for the personal gain, I now find myself able to tap into an artistic side that I have always known to be present, but unable to be utilized. I have never been one for drawing or painting, and while I enjoy poetry and novels, I have found that my best writing tends to be that of a non-fictitious nature. I am now able to portray ideas and emotions that I have in a virtual reality, perhaps even to be constructed into a physical reality someday, depending on where my career takes me.

The most direct benefit that I am gaining from this experience however, is the professional benefit. For one, the ability alone to understand how to build a computer and take it apart, as well as understanding the function and capability of every individual part is a universal skill. Every profession in the modern world uses technology, and though my current knowledge is constricted to computers (and not machinery) many previously closed doors have opened. Furthermore, the experience using the aforementioned programs, R and Autodesk CAD, have formed incredibly useful job skills. When I reach academic courses that require the use of these (or similar) programs, I will be going in with a significant advantage that will allow me to spend less time struggling with concepts and more time honing skills. Focusing in both computer and political sciences, I am not sure where my future will lead me, but I do know that my ability and experience working with and analyzing data sets, as well as my ability to work with graphic design will prove to be a crucial skill, thus making the best use out of what I hope will become a passion turned into a career.

Drone Media Business

Anthony Mahmud

 

 

        My project involved creating a startup business revolving around using a pilotless aircraft to take aerial pictures and videos for clients. I went through the various stages of a budding entrepreneur, from researching and forming ideas, to implementing them and serving customers.

        The media portrays entrepreneurship to be a matter of coming up with brilliant ideas that radically change a product, service, or the social fabric of society. While as a business student, I understood that businesses are much more than ideas, I certainly didn’t understand how many other qualities were vital for a successful startup, let alone the degree of salience that they harbor. The reality is that there are an abundance of good ideas among our populace, but very few successful startup businesses. Going through my STEP signature project, I learned an incredible amount about that “in-between:” the less flashy procedures that bring an idea to life.

One thing I struggled with at first was trying to find a way to differentiate my business from other existing drone media businesses. I met with many people who were knowledgeable about technology, business, and photography, and I found that I was either getting shallow answers, or suggestions that were thousands of dollars out of my price range. However, as I did more research, and really thought about the purpose of my project, I realized that my business model didn’t necessarily have to be particularly unique. By starting a business in a very infantile market, I already had a wealth of assets in simply existing. There already existed plenty of demand for professional aerial photography, yet a lack of supply to provide. By simply offering a quality quality service, I had incredible business potential for simply being an early adopter.

        On the human side of things, my eyes really opened up to the stark differences between a seller and their customer. As we are all customers for many different goods and services, we often take for granted how demanding we are of suppliers. Now, to clarify, high expectations are a good thing for business as they force firms to innovate, and continue to provide top notch offerings at risk of losing business. However, it was still very insightful to discover hold cut-throat business can be. In academia and university culture, ideas and projects are almost always met with support and enthusiasm. In business, the customer doesn’t care who you are or where you came from. They often don’t want to know how things work, what your limitations are, or even what their own desires are. They simply want what they think they want, at the lowest price possible, and in the most convenient fashion. At times, I felt disrespected by the people I was working with, and that was certainly the case in many instances. However, others times, it was just a result of my customers being working professionals with duties and relationships and a life to live. As an entrepreneur, I realized that my job was to support and cater to that quality, not fight it.

        In particular, I ran into a lot of frustration with customer communication. In my marketing classes, we learned that communication is the most important thing in growing a business, and earning recurring customers. That seemed simple enough, but I found out that it was much harder to do in practice. My main segment of customers was real estate agents who wanted aerial pictures of residential properties that they were trying to sell. Getting ahold of these customers was a challenge in itself, but having a meaningful conversation with them and actually earning their business was an entirely different challenge.

        With one customer in general, I was put on hold for four hours cumulatively over the course of two weeks. Her secretary with whom I spoke most of the time would keep me on hold while she went to grab the client, but would repeatedly disappear for half an hour, and return to tell me that the client was busy. She would offer to take a message, and have the client call me back. However, time after time, two to three days would pass, I would once again call in, and repeat the miserable cycle. While this experience was one of my worst, it’s a common occurrence for companies and small businesses that have to deal with a volatile consumer base. In hindsight, the experience also taught me that some customers are simply not worth keeping.

        We often see in movies and TV shows that the best businesses are those that live by the policy “the customer is always right!” While taking care of the customer is extremely important, there comes a point where maintaining a consumer relationship is damaging and unwise. In a strikingly overt example, I had to cut off my efforts towards a customer that was taking advantage of my generosity. Because drone photography is a very new industry, a lot of potential customers are unfamiliar or sceptical of its value. Because of this, I offered a free 30 minute session to all customers. My hope was that by eliminating the cost barrier to trying out my service, I could easily demonstrate worth, and subsequently acquire a paying client. This worked out in multiple instances, but in this example that was not the case. I did a 30 minute shoot for a real estate agent who wanted panning shots of two homes in a Powell, Ohio neighborhood. Afterwards, the gentleman thanked me for my services, and said that he would get in touch with me if he needed any other properties photographed.

        Over the following two weeks, I saw business pick up quite rapidly, as I started receiving phone calls from other real estate agents who were references by the aforementioned gentleman I worked with. The only problem was that time and time again, these new clients would capitalize on my complimentary photoshoot, and never call me again. I began looking into the matter, and found that most of my jobs for those two weeks were done with agents that all worked for a single, large real estate firm with a huge presence in the Columbus suburbs. All of the properties with which I worked were owned by this company, and each agent of the firm seemed to be taking turns at using my free service. While there were no enumerated terms of my free trial that would make their act illegal, I certainly felt taken advantage of from a moral standpoint. While this experience was demoralizing, it taught me that businesses need to be caring but firm. We hear so much about businesses taking advantage of customers, but customers will also take advantage of businesses if they are given the opportunity. I had the pleasure of working with many wonderful customers who were appreciative and respectful, but there are a few exceptions in every batch, and those people have to be dealt with sternly.

        It would be hard to say that I haven’t acquired some degree of cynicism from my experience of starting a business, but overall, I found that the positives heavily outweighed the negatives. I found that a lot of the social skills and interactions I processed can apply to my personal and professional relationships. Bosses, friends, significant others, family members, and professors all have priorities and duties to which they must attend. Each party prioritizes those things differently, and in order to interact with them effectively, one must understand that climate and respond accordingly. From a business side, I learned that launching a startup is definitely possible, and not necessarily difficult in the ways one would imagine. I was repeatedly tested in my blatant will to make the company work. Being an entrepreneur is a 24/7 job, as there is no boss telling you that your job is done and you can go home and relax. The duties don’t stop, and you can choose to apply partial effort, or make sacrifices in your life to complete them. I think these principles are directly applicable to my near future entering graduate school, and joining the professional workforce. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity that STEP has given me, and I hope to continue my project and the lessons I learned beyond the scope of this summer.  

Beautiful trail following a boat under the horizon!

Beautiful trail following a boat under the horizon!

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Here I played around with camera techniques to capture a stunning view of the sun penetrating colorful clouds.

 

Cross Country Road Trip

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1)      My STEP project was a 21 day road trip in which a few friends and I travelled cross country stopping along the way at many of the national parks. While on the trip I really wanted to accomplish a two main goals. First I wanted to explore the country that I have lived in for my entire life, yet that I truly have seen so little of. Second I wanted to meet people from various parts of the country, see the differences in our ways of life and finally learn the reasons that these people were on similar trips to myself.

 

2)      I have never experienced anything like this trip previously in my life. This trip offered me the opportunity to participate in a true “once in a lifetime” experience. I was able to truly immerse myself in the United States. For a long time, I had wanted to travel abroad, however while going through the STEP program I came to the conclusion that it would be more beneficial for me to explore and experience the country that I actually live in. The United States is an expansive and diverse country, and I couldn’t really appreciate that until I saw it for myself. It is one thing to read about our country, or see it through pictures or TV, but to actually travel it and immerse yourself in it is a totally different experience. I really gained a greater appreciation for the United States, and the incredible beauty that it possesses.

 

One of the things I really wanted to find out going into the trip was what other people’s motivations for visiting these national parks were. I came in assuming that most people wanted to see beautiful sights and to explore the country. While this was definitely true, one of the most interesting take-aways for me were the real motivations as to why people wanted to do take these trips. To my surprise, most people wanted to take these trips to escape the stresses of their normal lives. Nearly everyone spoke about how much of a toll working and life has taken on them and they are using these trips to break away from that normal cycle and to immerse themselves in the much peaceful surroundings of nature. Our country is one that prides itself on hard work and we reward people for this. However we very rarely take the time to think of the toll that it takes on us throughout our lives. This is something that I had never considered before in my life. I had always prided myself on being able to work hard but I have never considered the toll that that may eventually take on me. Additionally, because the vast majority of our country lives in or near cities, the majority of us never get to experience this much more peaceful lifestyle. I have never experienced what it is like to live a slower paced, more in-tune with nature lifestyle. While I don’t think it is something that I will actively pursue by moving to one of these areas. I do think that I will be much more mindful of the way that I do choose to live my life. My perspectives have shifted as a result of this trip and while I still praise hard work, I will also be much more conscious to leading a more balanced life.

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3)      The most obvious cause of the shift in my views was simply due to the places that I travelled to. These were some of the most beautiful places that I had ever seen in my life. The serenity and beauty of many of our national parks are not readily observed in my everyday life. While I have been on vacations before I had never been in a scenario in which I was immersed in the outdoors like I was on this trip. This was most evident by the time that we spent camping in Glacier National Park. This was my first time camping and because of this I really didn’t have any true expectations as to how the experience of camping would affect me. Because camping was totally different from my everyday lifestyle, it really taught me how to appreciate what was around me in nature. I didn’t have cell service for the entirety of the time we were in Glacier so it really allowed me to “unplug” and appreciate how beautiful the world is. Whether it was the sounds of nature, seeing animals, or simply observing the landscape, I was for the first time noticing how incredible nature truly is. I didn’t need a fancy phone or anything else to enjoy my time in Glacier, I could just enjoy the natural beauty of the world.

 

For me, the most transformative part of the trip was speaking with the people that I met on the trip. The first transformative encounter that we had was in the tiny, rural town of White Lake, South Dakota (it has a population of 500 people). While I have been to rural areas before this town was unlike anything I had ever seen. Their “town” was a single street with less than 10 buildings on it. While there we ate dinner at the local bar and met a pretty incredible woman. She was born in White Lake and had an incredibly strong sense of family. Even being born in White Lake, she never dreamed of living anywhere else. On top of that, everyone in her family currently lives and works in White Lake. The thought of anyone leaving White Lake had never really occurred to her. Additionally because the town was so small, their way of life was entirely different from mine. People were much more focused on family and their community as opposed to being focused on success and material things. Probably no one in that city had a lot of money, but I doubt it even matters to them. They all seemed to be more than content with their town and truly enjoyed living there.

 

Finally when we departed on this trip I had thought most people were taking trips similar to ours. They wanted to explore and see beautiful places, and while they were doing that, it was the reasons behind them taking the trip that surprised me. Every single person that I spoke with mentioned that they were using these trips to “get away” from the stress of their normal lives. Whether it was the students from Minnesota who were just trying to get away after finals. A man from Michigan (Go Bucks) whose wife died a few years back and all he had done since was work to put his kids through school. Or a recently retired couple who were using this trip to kick off their retired life after spending their entire lives working. Every one of these people mentioned how they were using their trip as a way to escape the stresses of their normal lives. And these were just a sampling of the many people that all echoed the same exact message. It hadn’t occurred to me in the beginning of the trip that people would be using the national parks for that reason, but I can see how these serene places could be a very fitting place to escape to.

 

4)      Getting away from the stresses of life was something that really resonated with me. I am the type of person who is very hard on themselves and adds additional stress on myself to do well in everything that I do. Whether it be in school, in my career aspirations, or in anything, I always put pressure on myself to excel. The two areas that this trip really made me think about was my academics and the career I want to pursue. I am an honors student so I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to excel in all of my classes. While there’s nothing wrong with holding myself to high standards, it did open my eyes to trying to provide a little bit more balance to myself and my college experience. However, the biggest change was probably in my career aspirations. I had originally wanted to pursue a career path in the financial industry where working seven days a week and up to 100 hours is what is expected of you. That’s the rule, not the exception to it. After meeting these people on my trip and speaking with them about how they had wished that they had more balance in their lives, I started to rethink that career path. I really had to focus on what was important to me.

I realized that I really did want some more balance than that in a career. I no longer cared about the “prestige” of the field that I was going into, rather I was much more concerned on being able to have more work-life balance. I wanted to be able to spend time with my family and friends because those are some of the most important parts of my life. I also started to narrow my search to companies that promoted a more balanced work-life schedule. Another big thing for me, was that I really wanted to start looking at companies where I could find like-minded people to me. I wanted to surround myself with down to earth, humble people. While that may sound normal, it isn’t always the most common in the financial industry. And while I still don’t mind working long hours or working hard at what I do, I’m no longer willing to sacrifice the rest of my life for my job. These realizations were a totally unintended consequence of this trip but I think it is probably the largest impact that this trip had on my life.

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My STEP Experience

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For my Second-Year Transformation Experience, I pursued the artistic and creative endeavors of underwater photography. I received my scuba diving and underwater photography certifications through an accredited week-long class in Fort Pierce Florida, and spent the next week photographing and documenting my dive excursions and related experiences.

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This experience has had a huge transformational influence on my mindset and view on the world. It really was an unbelievable learning experience. When I had first started thinking about pursuing this project I had stated that I thought this experience would be socially expanding. During my trip i met countless of unique individuals from many different backgrounds and personalities. From local dive instructors, to fellow roadtrippers that we met along the way, i was introduced to many different cultures and ideologies that were mind opening. In addition, my experience scuba diving has been life changing. Like my experience surfing, pursuing scuba diving and underwater photography has given me another outlet to truly explore and experience my passion for the ocean. It has been especially transformational by developing a love for the art of underwater photography which I have combined with my with my passion for surfing. After my experience, I became very involved in surf photography.

During our trip, my roommate Ryan Linker and I road tripped down to Fort Pierce, Florida where we planned on receiving our scuba diving certifications. During this road trip we camped in West Virginia and Charleston, South Carolina at night to get rest for the next days of travel. While we were setting up camp in Charleston we ran into a couple that was also roadtripping. After spending the night with them we learned that Jim was a professional squash player from Great Britain, and his girlfriend Alva was a student studying abroad from Sweden. The atmosphere of our trip was extremely laid back, open, and free. This allowed me to really get to know our new friends. We spent that night talking about where we were from, our passions, and interests. After telling them about our road trip and STEP project, we learned that they were heading south to Amelia Island, Florida to skydive the next morning. Knowing that we were planning on driving through there to get to Fort Pierce the next day, we left first thing in the morning to head to the jump site. No more than 18 hours after meeting Jim and Alva, we were in a single propped plane at 10,000 feet preparing to jump. This experience was extremely transformative for me. It taught me to live in the moment, and take advantage of the opportunities that people have to offer.

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This new found free spirit has allowed me to see the world from a different perspective. Even after we said our goodbyes, we learned that Alva and Jim were flying to Los Angeles for a mini vacation, the same week we were in Fort Pierce to get scuba certified. When they returned, we reconnected with them. During the next week of our STEP experience, we did multiple dive trips across the florida keys, road tripping and camping the entire time, but this time with our new friends. I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to meet Jim and Alva and share this experience with them.  I hope that my newfound perspective on life will allow me to continue to make meaningful connections like this in the future.

During my time in Fort Pierce becoming a certified scuba diver and underwater photographer, I became very close with our instructor Cory. We spent many hours practicing and training with him. It was clear that cory was extremely good at what he does. From my time spent with him, I learned that he has always loved scuba diving since he started in his early teens. He loved it so much he pursued a career in underwater welding. During his career he lost a few fingers on different occasions. Eventually he decided that his job was too dangerous and decided to move to florida to become a divemaster and scuba diving instructor. Hearing cory’s story has been very inspiring. It helped me transform my mindset about my true passions and hobbies. His story taught me that it is not always about how much money or make or how challenging something may be, but it’s about pursuing the things that you love.

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My step experience has also been transformative in regards to my creativity and perspective. Doing underwater photography has been a transformative experience. Growing up as an avid boater, surfer, ocean rescue lifeguard, and the fact that I have lived on the ocean my entire life, I have always wanted to become a scuba diver because it will provide me with another skill that will allow me to explore and experience my passion for the ocean. Learning the art of underwater photography allowed me to pursue and develop a new artistic ability, further further enhancing my appreciation the waters that I have such a passion for. I believe that being tasked with taking pictures while diving, allowed me to better observe and experience the dive as I had to look at things more in depth and find a good perspective for the shot. It has allowed me to develope a sense of spacial awareness, and taught me to look for and better appreciate the beauty in my surroundings.

The transformations I have experienced will benefit me in many ways. Meeting Jim and Alva transformed my view about how i should live my life. I learned that although it is important to plan for the future, it is also just as important to live in the moment. This will allow me to better appreciate the people I meet and the things that i pursue. I believe this will allow me to live a fuller life. Cory has also transformed my viewpoint regarding my interests and passions. He taught me that it is important to pursue my passions and do everything i love to the best of my abilities. I believe these transformations will benefit me in my personal, academic, and professional goals. By sticking to this mindset i will more easily and effectively meet new people with common interests. This will allow me to network with individuals that are diverse and unique. In addition, I have learned to pursue a career that I enjoy and makes me happy.

Overall my STEP experience has truly been life changing. It was packed full of some of the best moments in my life. I go to travel and see the country, spend quality time with my roommate, meet awesome and interesting people, and most importantly learn more about my passions and perspectives.