America by Rail


My name is Aleah Westfall and I am an architecture student who desires to travel the world, to enrich my knowledge of culture and architecture. For my STEP project I created a route that I would follow by train to experience the architecture in the United States of America. The trip was a 15-day period in which I stopped in six different cities around America. Starting in Pittsburgh I went to New York City, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Seattle, Chicago and back home. All of the cities are places I have never been before and places of cultural and/or architecture significance.


How I have transformed.

After completing my STEP project, I feel I have transformed in to a more culturally diverse architecture student. I have been in many architecture history classes before the trip in which had learned about many different buildings but I hadn’t actually known the scale of the building until being there in person. This was the main goal of my trip, to have the opportunity of exploring the buildings, I had already learned about or read about, but to actually understand it first-hand.

In order to be an architect you must be willing to look to other architects to see how they have successfully made a space. This experience has allowed me to understand the reasons why architects did a specific thing. When looking at a plan of building the experience of understanding it by reading is very different than actually walking through the space and experiencing the ways a space may: compress, expand, allow for my light or establish different views.

I feel this trip was also a way to experience some of the major cities that I have considered working in. Throughout this experience it was not just about the experience with in the buildings but also the cultural experience of each city.


What led me to this transformation.

The cities I had stopped in were very fast pace with a very strictly set schedule. The train rides however, were extensive but they allowed me to slow down and enjoy my time. In between each city I had time to break down all of the aspects of each stop and to work on the blog that I kept along the way.  There were some cities such as New York that was very fast pace and there is still so much more that I want see, but my time did not allow. Then there are cities such as New Orleans which was a very bright and cheery city which gave me time to slow down and enjoy the culture of the street performers and the art work that lined the street.

The long train rides gave me the opportunity to meet new people from all over the world who taught me the ins and outs of the many different cities. The train ride from New Orleans to Los Angeles was the longest consisting of 48 hours. I had the opportunity of dining in the dining cart for one of my dinners. My friend and I were seated with two men both of which were second generation Americans who were very friendly. They taught us a lot about the culture they came from and were very excited to hear about our trip and very proud of our goals. They were also excited to hear about “The’ Ohio State University” as they had put it.

There was also a time in Los Angeles where we rode in an Uber to the Hollywood sign, our driver had never heard of the park we planned to go and he said that it was the first time he had ever seen it so close. It was interesting because although we were learning so much about his city we were also teaching him new ways to experience his city. Our Uber driver back to the station in Los Angeles taught us so much along the way about which famous people had lived where, different stories, political views and of course he too was an Ohio State fan.

Ever y city was different in its own ways. Along the train routes we had the opportunity to stop and step outside for a couple hours and experience so many more different cities. Throughout the major cites it was extremely heartbreaking to see the numerous people living on the street and their daily troubles. Also, while riding along the train routes the tents that just align the tracks and the shanties in New Mexico of people trying to earn a better life. This trip opened my eyes to the struggles with in our country that I had been blind to before.


Why is this transformation valuable to my life?

I have always been a quiet person from a small town. I feel that this trip has helped me to become more open to other people and also more understanding to others. I feel I have never realized how culturally diverse our own country is. Upon these new realizations I feel it will help me to become a stronger architect. I hope to be able to design a built environment that behaves as a place where everyone feels welcome and safe.

This trip was a huge experience for me and there is just so much that happened and has helped to transform me. The blog I kept along the trip was If you would like to see more about the specific places I had visit and more specifics of the train travel feel free to explore the blog.

STEP Reporting Back

Name: Nicholas Beutel

Type of Project: Creative Endeavor

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

For my STEP signature Project, I designed and built a computer.  To start, I researched what components a computer needs, and the requirements for them to function together.  After that, I had to assemble the parts in order to create a working computer.

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

When I began my project, I underestimated the amount of variety and work required for choosing parts for a computer.  Through this project, I learned great deal regarding computers and how they function.  I learned about the relationship between different components, and how the connections between these parts operated and led to the computer functioning properly.  This project also helped me to become a more determined and persistent in general.  I faced a few struggle while completing my project, but had to stay focused and continue working hard to solve them.

It has always been fun and interesting to me to undertake projects and this experience was no different. Completing this project has opened my mind to a new branch of hobbies and activities relating to computers and technology; a field will only continue to grow as technological advances continue in our society, This project has fueled my interest in technology and was an excellent creative experience that has taught me a lot.

  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?

When deciding on a project, and also after having done so I discussed a lot about my project with a friend of mine who also happened to be doing a very project.  We would talk about our ideas what different aspects of our builds, including what parts to use and methods of assembly.  I also received help from this person when I was having struggles with my project.  I think that having someone who I was able to discuss my project with helped the project to be a transformational experience, because I was able to more fully invest myself in the project, allowing me to get the most value from my experience.

Coming into the project, I had an interest in computers and technology and in knowing how they work, but I did not much about any of this and during my experience I learned much more than I expected.  I went from knowing a few of the different parts of a computer, to knowing all of them and what the function of each is.  I also know how the connections amongst them and even some of the parts’ components work to make the computer function properly.  This knowledge that I gained has only furthered my interest in the field and I plan to continue to learn more.

I faced one major problem while completing my project that forced me to be hardworking and also to think critically.  The first problem I faced was when dealing with the CPU cooler.  The fans and radiator that went along with it did not fit properly in the stand I had purchased, even though the sizing listed on the packaging for both matched up. As a result, I had to come up with a way to get the parts to fit.  I struggled for several days and thought I would have to purchase a different cooler, but I continued to search for a solution.  After a lot of work, I was able to rewire certain parts and change the positioning of the fans and radiator to get the parts to fit. I had expected the assembly of the computer to be an easier task than it turned out to be and as a result I saw the importance of remaining determined and finishing a task.

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

As someone studying engineering, I will see the progression of technology firsthand.  For me to have an interest in this is important as it allows me to have an understanding of current advancements.  A newfound greater interest in this area will help me continue to stay up to date on new technologies, including those which I may have to use in the future.  Additionally, in the remainder of my studies and in my career afterword, I will face struggles and times when giving up will seem like the best option, but I will understand the importance of staying motivated and continuing to put my best effort into everything I do.

American Dance Festival

This summer, I completed my STEP Signature Project by embarking on a journey to American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina. I attended one of the biggest and most renowned Summer Intensives for professional and college level dancers not only in the United States, but in the world. I spent 6 ½ weeks taking class from countless faculty members and professional dancers, attending performances from world renowned companies, and meeting young dancers that inspired me in more ways than I could have imagined. Most importantly, I was able to fully engulf myself in my art form, without any other commitments, and spend an entire summer completely dedicating myself to what I love.

Putting myself in a brand new environment of artists helped me self-reflect in interesting ways, ultimately gaining confidence and focus for my dance career. Because I have been dancing my entire life, dance is simply a part of my identity. However, because I attended ADF with no one else I knew, I realized that my confidence is shaken in unfamiliar settings. It took me a few weeks to really let myself be completely me, and take my classes as if I am the confident dancer I know I am. By the end of the summer, I realized that stressing and worrying about unfamiliar situations is something I do quite often. In the future, I will be auditioning with hundreds of talented dancers that I don’t know, so being able to stay grounded and not feel anxious about new situations is something that will be instrumental for my success as a professional dancer. Looking back, I wish I would have become comfortable with the environment sooner because once I let go of my uneasy emotions, I felt empowered and free. By the end of the summer, I was so impressed by how well I thrived in such a challenging environment, that I felt a sense of accomplishment that will set the tone for all my future endeavors. I went to American Dance Festival for 6 ½ weeks, and held my own with some of the most talented dancers in the world. I felt as though I could do anything in the future, and I could thrive in New York or Chicago as a professional dancer.

During my first week in North Carolina, I faced a challenge that made me re-evaluate my worth as a dancer. ADF holds auditions for everyone who wants to participate in a repertory performance. A very small number of dancers get picked, but its an experience that everyone wants because you have the opportunity of working with some of the most innovative choreographers of today’s dance world. Of course, I auditioned, and unfortunately got cut by all 3 choreographers. At first, I was discouraged and disappointed, questioning my abilities and talents. However, I moved on and soon realized that my summer and my worth as a dancer were not determined by those 3 choreographers not picking me. I even got another opportunity to perform, when a peer asked me to be in her piece for the student choreography showcase. This experience changed my perspective, and showed me how to stay emotionally stable when faced with rejection, which will always be a large part of an artist’s career.

Another transformative aspect of my summer was the close relationships I made with 5 of my peers. On one Saturday, ADF hosted a panel of professional dancers to speak to us about how to stay financially stable in the dance world, and support yourself as a working artist. After the discussion, my group of friends and I went to someone’s house and talked endlessly throughout the night about our future goals, where we want to dance, and how we can make sure that we have a stable income (most of our biggest anxieties). I felt so connected, supported,a dn empowered to start my future. I will never forget the friendships I made, and I plan on reconnecting with them after graduation.

Lastly, the community at ADF was inspiring and reminded me of why I do what I do. This summer, we experienced many tragic events in America, including the Orlando shooting, police shootings, and the tragedy in Nice, France. Additionally, North Carolina had recently passed the HB2 law that alienated members of the transgender community. ADF hosted several dialogues and solidarity walks to unite our community and allow us to heal together. More importantly, the students organized open choreography forums for anyone to create work centered around equality of the tragic events, and share them. I felt as though I was a part of such a compassionate community of artists who all valued inclusion, equality, and social justice in ways that I had never seen before. I was reminded of the power of dance and art in general to unite people, trigger powerful emotions, and most importantly touch the lives of others.

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STEP reporting back

Name: Savannah Lally

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.

My STEP Signature Project was traveling to my mother’s birthplace, Lakeland, Florida, and learning all about how she was raised and about my family’s history. We explored the city of Lakeland and all of the places my mothers family would go, as well as the island where my great grandparents would spend their time.

2. 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.

My eyes were really opened up to the fact that I am so blessed and have so many opportunities available to me because of the sacrifices my family members have made. I am attending the university I have dreamed of attending since I was a little girl, and this experience has called me to reflect on how lucky I am and how I need to be more appreciative of what I have and what I can accomplish. I am more motivated to do my best in everything I can possibly want to achieve. The opportunity I have been given in life due to the struggles and hardships my family members have endured is something I will not take for granted.

3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

My father’s relatives all live very close to me in Ohio, so I have a good understanding of my ancestors on my father’s side. Since my mothers family mainly lives in Florida, I do not get to see them as often and have not inquired much about what our family’s history was like. This trip gave me the opportunity to dig deeper and create a newfound appreciation and motivation for my education and future career.

Seeing my mother’s old home and her tiny one-room school house was remarkable. She had class with 20 other students with ages ranging from 6-15 years old. Her grandmother was her teacher until she was 10 years old. Her mom made all of her clothes. My parents worked so hard to put me through private school and purchase clothes for me whenever I needed them. I cannot imagine growing up how my mother did. It is amazing to me, and her upbringing has positively impacted my life by teaching me to value what I accomplish and receive. Along with this, I got to hear stories about when my grandparents were in college. They lived off of a couple dollars a week and were raising a daughter on top of taking 20+ credit hours and while both working jobs. This brought my college experience into perspective. I keep myself busy with extracurriculars, a job, and a full schedule, but I only have to support myself. I do not have the added pressure of raising a family.

Additionally, my great grandmother told me stories about her growing up in Oklahoma and how the men got drafted and taken away from their homes to go to training. She said that since she lived near an army base, the men would come and go and a majority of them wouldn’t return because they were casualties of war. Her husband, my great grandfather, was a fighter pilot in the army. Luckily he returned, but her best friend’s husband did not. I could not imagine the hardship of losing the man I planned to spend the rest of my life with at such a young age. I am grateful for the relationships I have built with my friends and not having to be afraid I might lose them too young. I have always been appreciative of all the sacrifices my parents and family have made for me, but hearing about the struggles they endured made me gain a better understanding of what they went through.

4. 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.

This transformation is significant to my life because it allows me to see where I come from and use that knowledge to understand that I can accomplish everything I put my mind to and will always have a strong support system behind me. Seeing all that my family went through just to provide a better life for my siblings and me, gives me hope that I can do the same for my future family. I have such positive role models to look up to and this trip has instilled a newfound confidence and passion for reaching my full potential in life. Starting out in my junior year of college has been very stressful with trying to decide what I want to do with my life, planning for grad school and graduation, and trying to network with companies and future employers, this trip has provided me with the endurance to finish strong.