Becoming a Yoga Teacher

For my STEP project I decided to enroll myself in a 10-month yoga teacher training program in Columbus, Ohio. The program lasted from September 2016 to June 2017 and my class met one full weekend every month.

Before I started the program I had drastically underestimated the transformation I would undergo throughout the process. I had been practicing yoga for 5 years and I thought I would go in to the program, learn how to do some unique poses (maybe even a headstand!), and then get certified. My first weekend of the program completely shattered my original preconceptions. Believe it or not, we spent the whole weekend learning how to sit and stand “properly,” or rather, in alignment. I walked away from the first weekend fully convinced I had chosen the wrong program and even entertained the idea of dropping out. Thank goodness I did not because I went on to have life-changing experience throughout the process. I realized throughout the teacher training that I had been approaching yoga the wrong way the whole time prior to that. I had always approach sit from a competitive aspect, always going for the look of the pose, rather than accepting/embracing my body’s natural limits and respecting them. My practice changed forever and became much less stressful when I took the self-judgment aspect out of the equation.

I was fortunate enough to go through the training with the most amazing, diverse group of 14 other humans. The first day we broke into smaller groups of 4-5 called “family groups” who we got to spend extra time with during training weekends both discussing thoughtful prompts and exchanging lots of laughs. My group was made up of another college student my age, a social worker in her mid-twenties, and a middle-aged addiction counselor. We were all coming from vastly different walks of life and that made the experience of sharing our journeys so much more rich. The three other people in my group helped me realize that I was so caught up in trying to control every aspect of my life that I was missing the moments passing right in front of me.  This mental perspective I had was affecting my life both on AND off of my mat.

On my mat, I was constantly comparing myself to others and trying to push my body to its limits. Off my mat, I found myself in a similar situation of always comparing myself to others and pushing my body to stressful points almost daily. I wasn’t taking time for myself. I didn’t know how to sit in silence and just be with myself. Every person in the training program was assigned a personal mentor to help guide you through the 10-month project. My mentor’s name was Emily. She is a massage therapist and an experienced yoga teacher. She taught me that self care is as important as the care we wish to show others and after much urging on her part I tried meditating. Meditating of me wasn’t so much a spiritual practice as it was a tool for getting back in touch with myself on days when I couldn’t tell which way was up. Now, I meditate regularly and it helps my mind stay in touch with my body.

The most tedious part of my STEP project that I dreaded while I was in the midst of the program, but now secretly miss, was the out-of-class work called Integration Assignments. While I was in the program I just thought of the IA’s as extra homework, but towards the end I realized how much of an impact they had on my practice and my mental shift towards a healthier mindset. The IA’s were extended response questions that were assigned each month after our training weekend to help us integrate the knowledge we learned in throughout the weekend. They grew on me because I started to enjoy the process of sitting by myself reflecting on what I had taken away from the teachings. It also provided me with a chance to practice some poses in a quiet space outside of a classroom. Oftentimes, the prompts directed us to tap into our emotional body, our wisdom body, or our mental body so it took some of the focus off of the physical body.

Although my yoga practice has obviously changed and grown much safer and healthier, my life off the mat has been forever impacted by my experiences and the people who were apart of my training class. I am a Respiratory Therapy major and intend to work directly with people in my career. This program taught me how to balance showing others love with loving myself. I know this will be a beneficial lesson that will serve me well of many years to come because it will help me not “burn out” of the direct patient care field. I’ve also learned how much weigh can be lifted when self-judgment is taken out of the equation. I no longer approach situations with such a one-track mind, but I am more well-rounded and accepting of my body. I learned to listen and honor myself and that was a gift that will never stop giving.


Emily’s STEP Reflection

My STEP project consisted of preparing and performing a musical theatre recital that included three distinct sets: contemporary musical theatre, musicals based on the novel, The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux, and classical musical theatre. Not only did I have the wonderful experience of rehearsing music in this project, I also had the opportunity to manage the logistics of putting together a solo recital; this included finding a location for the performance, creating my own programs, advertising, etc.

Musical theatre has been a part of my life for quite some time. I began performing when I was only six years old and I have continued to find ways to incorporate musical theatre into my life every year since then, whether that be through performing in a full-scale production or singing a song in a showcase. Despite all of my experience, however, I had never done a solo recital and quite frankly, I was nervous to do one. For that reason, I knew that it would be the perfect project to do for STEP. Before beginning my project, I knew that this recital was going to be challenging, but some aspects were easier and some were more difficult than I had expected. I believed that my perfectionism would be one of the things I struggled with most, but with the help of my voice teachers, I overcame it. They helped me to understand that mistakes will always happen and being relaxed will let you sing better; and they were right! In addition to my perfectionism, I knew that performing 30 minutes of music by myself would be tough; however, I had no idea how hard it would actually be once I was in a dress tighter than I remembered it being and in front of an audience whose faces I could distinctly see. But I continued on with my performance and realized that I am stronger than I thought I was. I can sing and memorize nine demanding songs in front of an audience and enjoy it without my perfectionism getting in the way…and that is empowering.

My relationship with my voice teachers was one of the most essential aspects of my transformation during this project. Emily, my voice teacher from last summer, helped me to envision the type of stories I wanted to tell through this recital and started me on the track to stop worrying about doing everything perfectly. She introduced me to one of the most helpful tricks in conquering this need: looking into a mirror when you sing. I used this throughout my preparation for the recital, so that I was able to see when my face was getting tense from overcorrecting vowels and prevent myself from stopping after making a mistake. My voice teacher that I see during the year, Dan, only continued to help me transform. He helped me to get to a point where I did not need to use the mirror and could sense when I was starting to get tense. He also helped me to delve into each of the characters and their songs so that I could perform them with a true understanding of what they were about. With their assistance, I was able to stop being so perfectionistic and learn more about how to convey the meaning of these songs to my audience.

Not only did I learn a great deal from my vocal coaches, I also learned a lot from organizing the recital by myself. I found my own accompanist and created a weekly schedule for us to run through and rehearse the music I had chosen, which taught me a lot about managing a rehearsal schedule. I also worked with the Short North Stage to rent one of their performance spaces and determined how the space would be set up. I quickly learned that there was more to this than I expected and figured out how to solve problems quickly and strategically. For example, some of their equipment had been damaged the week of the recital and I was able to borrow equipment from a friend, which fortunately solved the issue. Additionally, I learned how to write and format my own recital program; in the process, I did a lot of research on each of the shows so I could include relevant information in the program and I figured out how to organize the Word document so that it would print like a book. Through planning the logistics of this recital, I was able to learn a lot about how to manage a performance of this kind and I developed organizational skills that I will be able to use in many other aspects of my life.

The largest and final part of my transformation took place at the recital itself; I discovered how arduous it is to not only perform a solo recital, but make sure everything else is organized for it as well. Before I even had the chance to warm up my voice, I had to make sure that the stage was set up to my liking and that the microphone was actually picking up my voice. I also had to help set up the food for my guests, as well as a few other other small things. Then I had to arrange the video recorder so that you were able to see me and hear my accompanist and me clearly. This ended up taking me about 30 minutes longer than I expected and then cut into some of my warm-up time; but, as they say, “the show must go on”…and it did! Once people started to arrive, I started to feel the nerves kick in; I did not realize that I would be able to clearly see everyone’s face from the stage! I was also suddenly forgetting some of the lyrics that I had had memorized for weeks. Fortunately, I was with my accompanist, Harrison, who reminded me of how hard I had prepared and how well this was going to go…and he was right. Though my first set was a little shaky, it still went well and I only continued to feel more and more confident as the recital went on. Once I had finished my final set, I felt a wave of accomplishment wash over me. Despite some set-backs in the beginning, the nervousness, and the difficulty of the program, I completed my own recital! This valuable transformation made me realize how capable I am of performing such a difficult task.

This transformation is significant to my life for numerous reasons. First, my life goal is to become a Speech-Language Pathologist that works with singers and this experience has given me an opportunity to further relate with future clients. Second, I have learned that it is possible to sing well without worrying about making mistakes; it actually makes it easier to sing well. I have always enjoyed singing, but this change led me to love it even more than I ever thought I could. Getting over my perfectionism in singing has also carried over into other aspects of my life and has allowed me to be more easy-going; thanks to this, my anxiety levels have decreased and I have been overall happier, which is always a good thing. Additionally, this project has shown me how much my mind and body is capable of; I was able to memorize and sing nine songs by myself and do it well. This has inspired me to create more difficult goals for myself and to maybe do another recital again in the future. Overall, this project has been one of the most empowering and transformative things I have ever done in my life!

To check out my recital, follow these links to my YouTube videos:

Contemporary Set:

Phantom Set:

Classical Set:

The Ascent: Climbing to a Better Life

The objective of my STEP Signature Project was to further explore my interest in rock climbing that I started developing during my second-year. I hoped to grow my climbing skills, and in the process use climbing as means of pursuing adventures. The bulk of my project consisted of me pursuing climbing training more deeply than I had before (at indoor climbing gyms), and in the process learning more about the sport and myself. My project also included a handful of trips to outdoor climbing locales, where I could enjoy the fruits of my labors in the gym and fully experience true rock climbing.

As a result of this project, not only have I found a new passion, I have found that climbing has allowed me to forge new friendships, pursue new adventures, and challenge myself in new ways. It has also played a significant role in changing and developing my personal philosophies and objectives in life. First off, while pursuing climbing I have discovered an over-arching love for outdoor activities in general. My continuous perusal of climbing literature and articles has led me to realize that there is a whole world of worthwhile activities to be pursued outside. Subsequently, I have found myself going on multi-day hiking trips; going for long, challenging bike rides; and just enjoying the natural world and the outdoors more than I ever have before. In short, this climbing experience has been a gateway drug to a broader interest into all of the adventures that the world has to offer.

I have also seen my philosophies on what I seek in life evolve over the course of this experience. I’m a mechanical engineering student, and prior to this experience I lived a life that was very focused on – and very dependent on – my engineering career goals. I invested almost all of my value and self-definition in these goals; they made me who I was, and as a result I clung to them intensely. Any time I felt like I was falling short on those goals would lead me to stress, frustration, and depression. But – at the risk of sounding cheesy – climbing changed me. It gave me a new outlet, something more to invest myself in. From a day-to-day perspective, climbing at the gym gave me a chance to rest my mind and clear it the stress that often felt like it was consuming me. In order to climb well, I had to put all of my mental efforts into figuring out how to ascend, leaving no energy left to be spent dwelling on whatever troubles I might have been experiencing. It was a simple release from worry, and a time to slow down and to enjoy myself. But even better, as time went on I found that that release from worry was not a transient, fleeting thing that only existed during the act of climbing. It started to become a part of my mindset. I started to worry less in all situations. Even in the face of tough times during both my summer internship and the ensuing academic year, I found that this mentality I had found through climbing really helped me to mitigate my stress levels. To put it in colloquial terms, climbing and the other outdoor activities that climbing has led me to have made me a much more “chill” person. They have allowed me to retain my motivation to achieve my goals, but in a much more sustainable and enjoyable manner.

Climbing also changed my philosophy about what defines a life well-lived. If you had asked me prior to this experience, my answer would have been something along the lines of how life is all about achievement and doing great things. But, like my tendency to stress out over career success, that philosophy changed. I realized that there are too many things worth experiencing in life to put all of your effort into one single thing. I realized that this was exactly what I was doing, and while that lifestyle definitely comes with some rewards, it just wasn’t worth it to me. It wasn’t what I wanted. I made up my mind to start living for more. I went on cool trips with friends, and climbed all the time just because it was what I felt like doing, and started developing this idea that I should do whatever feels right to me at the time (within reason), and not waste any time regretting it or wondering if I could have been doing something better. Because what I’ve realized is that whatever feels truly worth it to you is actually what you should do.

Before this experience, I used to just do school work and other engineering-related things all of the time. Even if I was well ahead on my school work, I would often abstain from things that could have been fun just because I didn’t want to feel like I was wasting time where I could have been productive. But now I know better. As long as all of my responsibilities are taken care of, I’ll do whatever I feel is worth doing. If some friends want to go wander around, go on a hiking trip, go climb, go for a bike ride, play music, hang out, or do whatever, I’ll do it. Life it way too short to not spend it doing what you want, and it sure as heck is too short to be spent worrying about what you should and shouldn’t do. [end impassioned rant]… So anyway, if you were to ask me what defines a well-lived life now, I would say this: “The best life you can possibly live is the one where you put all of your time and effort into doing the things you find enjoyable, worthwhile, and rewarding, and sharing those experiences with people you care about.” I like this philosophy a lot more.

This whole journey began with my first climbing experience, almost two years from now. It was early in the fall semester of 2015, my sophomore year. Some friends and I were looking for something to do, and one of them had climbed at the Outdoor Adventure Center at OSU before. They suggested that we all go try climbing. Up until that point I had never even considered rock climbing, but I found my first experience to be pretty enjoyable. I wasn’t absolutely blown away by it at first, but there was something appealing about climbing that made me want to keep trying it. So, over the course of the next few months, I continued to pursue climbing and quickly made progress. I learned how to belay, and my climbing abilities improved markedly as I found myself able to climb increasingly difficult routes.

Over those two semesters, climbing became increasingly important to me. I found that I enjoyed the combination of mental and physical challenges into one awesome activity. I also loved that the time I spent climbing really helped me clear my mind. It was an opportunity to focus on nothing but the task at hand, and let everything else fade into the background. Climbing also became a great way to socialize; it gave me time to hang out with friends I would go climbing with, and also gave plenty of opportunities to meet interesting new people.

In spite of all of these benefits, I was really only climbing once every few weeks or so. I came to realize that people who take the sport more seriously tend to go the gym to climb multiple times a week. I started to wonder if that was a lifestyle I would like to commit to; I wondered if I would enjoy that commitment, and if it would make my life better overall.

So that’s where this STEP experience comes in. I used my STEP funding to acquire some basic equipment necessary for me to further delve into climbing. I purchased a harness, shoes, belay devices, and also got a membership to a climbing gym near Detroit, where I spent the summer of 2016 on an internship. Those first steps to taking climbing more seriously came at a very opportune time. I was experiencing a lot of stress from work, school, and some of my extracurricular engineering activities. I was so stressed that my head would physically hurt for long periods of time. I was having breakdowns somewhat regularly. The 2 or 3 times I went to the gym to climb each week were a great relief from those issues. And I was discovering more about climbing every day. I was constantly learning new skills and techniques while training in the gym, and seeing myself be able to climb progressively harder and harder routes was very satisfying. I also was spending more time reading climbing literature and articles; learning new techniques, and being inspired by the adventures of other climbers that I read about. My transformation was beginning. I had a growing distaste for my over-worked lifestyle which brought me stress and frustration, and I was finding relief in climbing. I was starting to wonder why I would put so much of my mental effort into something that made me feel bad, when there were plenty of things to do, like climbing, that felt so much better.

When I got back to school following the summer, I was still in a pretty high-stress state. But I was ready to find something better. I made a commitment with a friend of mine to go climbing at least two days a week, and stuck to it in spite of what else was happening in my life. The relaxed mindset climbing gave me allowed me to find all kinds of enjoyable and meaningful experiences through that semester. I decided to take a step back and decrease the intensity of my involvement in extracurricular engineering activities. I also made an effort to spend less time worrying about being perfect at school; I told myself that as long as I was up to speed on my academics, I should let myself be free to do whatever I wanted. I continued improving as a climber, and continued to find relief, fun, and meaning every time I went to the gym to climb. I still found myself struggling with stress and depression, but I often had this strange feeling that I was somehow starting to work through it. Outside of climbing and school, I spent more time exploring the city and going on random adventures with my friends. The mindset of “do whatever feels worth it” that learned from climbing was starting to influence the rest of my life as well. Climbing was the backbone of my greater transformation.

That semester, in late November, I had my first experience climbing outside. There’s not a ton of climbing to be had in Ohio, but I heard of a small place to boulder called “Witch’s Peak” in Athens. So one weekend, I loaded my bouldering crash pad into my car and drove out there. It was a gorgeous fall day, with crisp, cool air and the ground covered by warm-colored leaves. I hiked my way up a still trail to the top of a hill that overlooked all of Athens, where I found the boulders I was looking for. I didn’t have any real plans of what I was going to climb or what I was trying to do. I just wanted to be out there climbing something. So I spent that day completely alone up there, with no sounds but that of the wind and my hands and feet moving along the cool surface of the boulders. I was able to climb some of the boulders, others were way too difficult for my skill level. But it was awesome. I was having fun and feeling at ease; it was a relieving, meditative experience. This reinforced my notion that life should be lived through experiences like this, and assured me that climbing was a great vehicle for those experiences.

Atop Witch’s Peak in Athens, OH. Some of the boulders I climbed are shown in the background.

I continued to climb regularly in the gym for the rest of the academic year. My next experience was not planned as part of my STEP project and does not involve rock climbing, but I give my pursuit of rock climbing full credit for leading me to do it. Over the course of my reading about climbing, I also started to learn a little more about hiking. In particular, I learned about the Appalachian Trail and became fixated on it. I was talking about the trail with a friend who is an experienced hiker, and he proposed the idea of hiking a section of the trail in the Smoky Mountains after we finished our finals. Instilled with my new “do whatever is worth it” attitude, I immediately agreed. We ended up spending four days hiking in the Smokies, with a large portion of our hike being on the Appalachian Trail. And it was splendorous. It was my first time doing a real, multi-day hiking trip, and actually my first time camping as well (and by camping I mean sleeping on a hammock in the woods). To be out in nature with a good friend, experiencing the beauty of the natural world around me in complete isolation from everything else, was amazing. We had nothing to do but hike, think, talk, and look at nature in awe. It felt more meaningful than anything I had experienced in a long time.

At Clingman’s Dome – the highest point in the Smokies – on my hiking trip with my friend, David.


My next great set of climbing experiences happened this summer. I was fortunate enough to have an internship in California, where I knew there were some cool rock-climbing experiences to be had. I met a friend with some experience top-roping outside, and together we explored some of the climbing locales in the area. Our first trip, and the most significant one for me, was the trip we took to Castle Rock State Park. I had never actually climbed large walls outside, so this was my first time doing any sort of roped-climb outside. I won’t deny that I was pretty nervous climbing outside for the first time, but the experience overall was totally worth it. I felt pretty darn cool actually climbing on real, large rock faces for the first time. It felt like everything I had been working for climbing in the gym was culminating in the ultimate experience of actually being out there having a good time working my way up the rock. It felt like the realization of a goal, and the end of a crazy transition state in my life. I had started this experience wondering if I could find something meaningful in rock climbing. I had to work through tons of mental and emotional health struggles I was having with other aspects of my life, and I had to learn to let go and just enjoy life. I did all of this with my pursuit of climbing as the backdrop. Now I was realizing one of my main goals I initially had when I first took up climbing, and I felt at peace as a result of the progress I had made in reshaping my life philosophy into something I found enjoyable and meaningful.

Rappelling down after setting up a top-rope while climbing at Indian Joe Caves (in Fremont, CA).

In summary, this experience began with me wondering “what will happen if I start getting more into climbing?” And it evolved into an experience that would have an impact on me far beyond just the sport of climbing itself. The way I live my life was transformed, very much so for the better. Right when I was at what might be the lowest I’ve ever felt in my life, climbing showed me another path. And I have chosen this path and although I am still working on refining my approach, I feel so much better about the way I live my life than I ever have. Also, I now think that climbing, hiking, and all of that fun stuff is totally rad, and I plan to pursue them even more as my life progresses.

As for my academic and professional goals, I believe this experience is helping me to achieve those as well. While I worked towards those goals almost ceaselessly for the first few years of my education, that lifestyle felt like it was quickly burning me out. By giving me additional things to devote my time and energy to, and also teaching me to be more relaxed, my STEP experience has led me to a more balanced lifestyle. It is this shift, I believe, that will allow me to stay motivated to work towards my goals without burning myself out. In conclusion, my STEP experience has shown me new passions that can coexist with my existing passions, and the combination of the two will allow me to sustain and enjoy both for the rest of my lifetime.


Up Up and Away!

My STEP signature project was to design and build a first-person view (FPV) quadcopter from scratch. This is a quadcopter that has a camera on it, and from the controller, the pilot can stand in one spot and see what the aircraft sees. It’s an unforgettable sight when you first get a true birds eye view of the trees and the ground below. I had never ventured into building something like this before, and knew it would be difficult, but in the end the experience was extraordinary. I researched all the different parts and used my engineering knowledge to perform calculations to ensure that the quadcopter would have the optimal performance. There were multiple design iterations before even ordering parts and constructing this aircraft. This was an incredible challenge but one I am so grateful to have undertaken.

This was my biggest solo engineering project to date. I had completed small projects before such as designing a plane on the computer using 3D modeling software. I had also been a part of the FEH robot design competition during my freshman year. In those instances, there was a teacher or a team directly supporting and working with me to achieve my goal, but in the STEP project, I worked alone. These experiences, along with my classes gave me the confidence and the know-how to pursue this project.

I learned a lot about myself through the project through facing different challenges along the way. More than once, I had to scrap my design because it would not be feasible, but discovered my perseverance and ability to continue to attack a problem until it was solved, no matter how long that may take. Another experience was simply learning to be able to ask for help when needed. I had always relied on myself to solve problems, but through this project, learned that sometimes you need to ask for help. This was a critical learning experience for me. The people who helped me were essential for me to complete the project and I owe them a lot. This project taught me a lot and helped me to grow not only as an engineer but also as a person.

Completing my STEP signature project was not as straightforward as originally planned, however I am grateful for the trials and tribulations faced along the way. I believe it made the project much more satisfying when it was finally completed. One of the challenges was simply the idea of building a quadcopter. This project was a new challenge to me with no clear place to start.  I ended up researching on the internet and found an engaged online community full of people excited about this hobby and ready to share their knowledge with others. This community, along with some of my friends who had built quadcopters before, ended up teaching me and helped me along the way from finalizing my design to checking my calculations and even flying it for the first time.

Another experience that made this project challenging was dealing with problems on the fly. There were multiple times that the parts needed for were no longer available and so I had to redesign some aspects of the quadcopter. This took time and kept me from moving forward. Other times, the parts wouldn’t work as planned or at all. I would be delayed by the supplier and this prolonged the project and tested my endurance. Specifically, a small but extremely important part is the prop nut that screws on the motor and ensures the propeller stays on the motor. A supplier got this order wrong five times, and thus delaying my progress and made it frustrating and difficult to continue. Other times, even with all my planning and preparation, I had selected an incompatible part and would need to adapt it for it to be able to work. The worst instance was when the entire frame assembled and wiring completed. My flight control board was not compatible with the other pieces of hardware I chose and so I had to take apart the frame and rebuild it with a new board.

Along with that, the experience of a longer project really helped me understand the engineering process and to solidify what I had been learning in class all these years. Building a quadcopter is not a sprint; it’s a long race and it is important not to lose sight of your goals and the progress you make along the way. Over the course of the project, I had to redesign the aircraft, redo calculations so many times I lost count, and take apart and rebuild the different components more than I’d care to admit. These all took time, and although frustrating, it made me appreciate the time that goes into engineering projects in the real world. I had to balance my building and design work with a full course schedule plus a part time job. Balancing these different commitments felt akin to juggling different projects, all that require specific attention at certain times. When the project was finally completed, it was a great feeling of accomplishment knowing how much effort was put into the different aspects of the development of the aircraft. Every minute spent on it was helpful, even the days where I could only work for five minutes or the days I worked on it for hours. I do believe that jumping in headfirst into this type of project ultimately benefited me because it taught me something at each step and so it never felt like work, but rather an exciting chance to create something new.

The transformation that happened during my STEP signature project is invaluable to my future academic and career goals. I learned so much about myself and my ability to come up with solutions to intricate problems, both engineering and otherwise as well as about my ability to persevere in the face of challenges, and how to tackle them in different ways. Entering college, I had thought of possibly going to graduate school and pursuing a master’s degree but was unsure if I was ready for that challenge. This project helped me solidify my choice in applying to graduate school. OSU has a 5-year combined degree program that allows me to complete graduate coursework during my senior year of undergraduate studies, giving me the opportunity to potentially get my master’s degree in one additional year. I also must write an undergraduate thesis and do my own research this year. Pursuing this program is an incredible opportunity, but it will be quite challenging.

With the experience, I had with STEP, I am confident in my ability to overcome this challenge. I have submitted my research proposal and eagerly await the response. Besides academically, this project will certainly impact my future career as well. Having this experience on a solo project will help me as a future engineer when facing engineering problems I have not seen before; ones that will challenge me and cause me to rethink many things I have taken for granted. Personally, this project helped me grow and become stronger and more perseverant. It gave me the confidence to undertake more projects and I even have plans to build another quadcopter soon!



Sea Kayaking

For my project, I went to Everglades National Park and 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge in Florida through the Outdoor Adventure Center sea kayaking trip. These parks contain a variety of organisms, many of which could have gone extinct had it not been for conservation efforts in the area. I photographed multiple different wildlife species located within the park in order to motivate others to see the importance of conservation.

Prior to my project, I researched some of the endangered species of the Everglades as well as a little bit of the history of the area. I knew about human interaction that caused many species to become endangered as well as conservation efforts that were put into place to help protect and save those species. Knowing about these efforts and reading about them before leaving for my project, I thought I already understood the fragility of an ecosystem. However, reading about it and seeing the organisms that are being impacted are completely different. I thought I understood the importance of conservation before but after seeing species that were impacted and living among beautiful landscapes that could have been destroyed I have a new, deeper appreciation for conservation.

One species of bird that became well known in the Everglades area is the snail kite. The only place in the United States where snail kites are found is in the Everglades. Due to disruptions of water flow in this area, snail populations were greatly impacted. The snails of this area make up a majority of the snail kite’s diet so when snail populations were influenced, it caused the snail kites of Florida to become endangered.  One day we found an extremely small snail riding on one of the kayaks and seeing it really put the importance of conservation into perspective. It was clear that human impact could greatly influence the ability of this tiny creature to survive. However, looking at this snail I could only think of its huge impact. Without this snail, the snail kite can not survive here. Something barely noticeable could have been wiped out by our negligence and as a result caused many other species to go extinct.

While taking my photographs, I wanted to make sure I was not focusing solely on animals since the plants and other organisms play such a huge role in maintaining the ecosystem. I attempted to take one photograph of a plant species for every animal species I photographed. Then while camping on one of the islands, I found a single purple flower growing from a vine and thought it would be a great organism to include. However, while I was taking the picture a butterfly flew into the flower and pollinated it and another followed soon after. Later on I found a flowering cactus and as I began photograph it I noticed a bee flying around the flower and landing inside.

In this moment I realized how foolish it was for me to try to photograph animals and plants separately as a means to show the importance of conservation. Conservation is about preserving ecosystems not just individual organisms so showing them as individual organisms devalues the importance of conservation. Some people might not care if a species of butterfly goes extinct but if it does pollination could become impossible for the flowering plant. Other people might not be bothered by a species of cactus being wiped out completely but when it causes bee populations to decline more importance can be weighed to the cactus. The entire ecosystem of the Everglades is dependent on interactions among species like this which is why it is so fragile. When these interactions are interrupted or stopped, it can be devastating.

Without the conservation efforts that have been put into place, many species around the world could have gone extinct from human impact. Reading and hearing about the importance of conservation has always made me a firm supporter of conservation efforts but seeing the fragility and interplay of organisms within an ecosystem has had a much larger impact on me. I no longer just agree with conservation but have sought out ways I can help currently as well as influenced my career plans to take a conservation based approach.

Creativity in Clothing

My STEP project was to design and sew my own pieces of clothing for both professional settings and casual settings and to develop my clothing construction skills. With these newfound skills, I was then able to teach and assist others with their sewing projects. I was able to cover a portion of the purchase of my own sewing machine and buy materials for my designs using STEP funds.

Clothing is an important part of how we present ourselves to the world. How you dress can be an important nonverbal cue to how you are feeling or how you want to be perceived. Throughout this project I had to come to terms with my style and how I wanted to be perceived by others in a multitude of settings. I have often been limited in expressing myself through my clothing due to a lack of what I felt was my “style” available in stores. Designing my own clothes and making my own color and design choices really helped me to open up about who I feel I am and how I want others to see me. This project allowed me to actively choose how I wanted to present myself in both professional and nonprofessional situations by making my own designs to represent my attitudes. Through designing my own patterns, I was able to work on developing strategies to overcome frustration and be more patient when my designs did not quite go to plan. Additionally, I was able to develop teaching and leadership skills as part of this process, by assisting others in their projects by volunteering with my former 4-H club and assisting friends by using my design skills. I realized that any skill is a gift that can and should be shared with others.

The first part of the STEP project I completed was to make the casual pieces. I wanted to have a lot of fun with the casual pieces. I have been sewing for many years, but always for competitions that are very construction-focused without much room for deviation from a printed pattern. By throwing away a strict pattern, I was able to express myself more fully and exercise my creative side that often gets left behind in my science-based major. The piece that I am most pleased with is an apron. I spend a lot of time baking and cooking, so having an apron was essential and seemed like a good place to start with designing my own pieces. After looking through some basic designs online to get an idea of what features I wanted in this piece, I decided on a wide-skirted pleated apron with large pockets, contrasting colors, and long ties for size adjustment. Choosing the design elements made me really feel very involved and excited in the sewing process as opposed to just following the instructions on a pre-made pattern. Part of what I thought really helped me develop my style and share my personality with the world was choosing my fabrics, which is a very important part of designing clothing as well. Normally I tend to shy away from patterned or brightly colored pieces, but for this apron, I felt that I should really show my interests. By choosing a cute dachshund pattern with a teal, cream, and brown, I was able to make an apron that I feel really helped me to develop my creative side. The mix of practicality and visual interest is one that really showcases my interests while staying true to my practical nature.

The other part of my STEP project was to create a professional outfit for future interviews and professional events. For these settings I wanted to have something that showed my professional side, but also made me stand out a little bit. For this, I was able to deviate from a standard navy-colored wool skirt and add a bit of flair to it by contrasting with peach-colored details. I made a cream shirt as well, and added a bit of pleating around the neck to make it stand out. Altogether I was able to create the desired professional-yet-unique look that I was going for. It just so worked out that another of my casual pieces, a scarf, went well with the outfit and added another fun element that can make the professional-looking outfit into something I could wear more casually as well. The task of making professional clothing really tested my patience. Even when using a pattern, sewing projects can go wrong. And when using minimal instruction beyond the basics when designing my own clothes, my projects went awry more than I would have like. My first experience with designing frustration occurred during the sewing and design of my scarf, which is a lovely plaid. The problem with plaids, however, is that they need to be matched up to create a seamless look. I really had to take my time and be patient when working with the scarf design to make sure that my scarf would come out properly aligned and have a tailored look. This was a small frustration compared to the ones I faced while working on my skirt. Because I was designing my own clothes, I lacked as much direction in the cutting out as I am used to with regular patterns. Proper measurement and cutting of pieces is crucial to make sure they all align when putting together the final product. I found this out especially when trying to make sure the bottom band of the skirt was even which required very straight lines when cutting out the piece and very accurate measurements when hemming and pressing. This takes a lot of patience and accuracy, which are both things that I am still working on. By taking my time when cutting out, and doing my best to correct mistakes early on before they became major problems later on, I was able to make my clothes. I faced the challenges of re-cutting and realigning pieces as they came and was able to successfully create an outfit.

One final piece of my STEP project included taking the skills I had learned and teaching others. Although I am no longer in 4-H, where I began my sewing projects at the age of 8, I am still in contact with several 4-H members who were working on their clothing construction projects for competitions. I went to sewing club meetings and helped young 4-H members with their projects by giving them advice and showing them the necessary techniques for their patterns. Even something as simple as sewing in a straight line or pressing seams is something that takes practice and being able to help young people with their projects made me realize that teaching others a life skill is a valuable way to spend my time. Many of the members I helped were able to take their projects to fairs and other exhibitions and perform well there. I was also able to assist people my age and older. Having design and styling experience makes me someone that people will come to when they have questions about an outfit or need assistance with small repairs like sewing buttons or fixing zippers. In one instance, I helped a roommate of mine repair a favorite coat that had lost a button, and hopefully taught her so that she would have the skills to make her own repairs in the future. I realized that I am very fortunate to have developed these sewing skills so that I can help others when they need clothing repairs on a favorite coat or have a question about elements of an outfit they are working on putting together. Through this STEP project, I really saw that sharing knowledge with others is very important for my own personal growth as well as the growth of others.

Making these pieces of clothing helped me to realize how I wanted to be seen. Each design decision I made revealed a little but of my character. Anyone who pays attention to how other people dress will be able to figure out a lot about me: my interests, my personality, how I want to portray myself. I was able to really express myself through this medium and develop my skills in the meantime. Sometimes working without much of a pattern was a challenge, but the results were some of my better pieces and I was really able to develop patience and ways to overcome the obstacles I faced during the design and the construction processes. Through this project I was able to explore my personality and develop my creative sense, as well as share my knowledge with others to help them in the future.

My STEP project will most certainly help me in my future plans. Not only was I able to get a better sense of how I want to convey myself to the world and grow as a seamstress, but the clothing and accessories I created will help me in upcoming endeavors. I plan to go to veterinary school, so having a professional-looking outfit will be good for school interviews. By developing my design and technical sewing skills and purchasing my own sewing machine, I am giving myself a tool set to make more outfits for the future and save myself a lot of time, money, and frustration at not being able to find exactly what I want at stores.  I have learned how to express myself more fully through sewing, how to overcome frustration and take my time to set the stage for success in the beginning rather than rushing in and regretting it later, and how to share skills with others to benefit the people around me. Being able to overcome frustration and having the patience to do things correctly the first time will certainly help me in my future career as a veterinarian as I know that I will face challenging situations that demand a high level of persistence.

Nature Photography in Colorado

My signature project was a photography trip to Colorado where I could practice landscape photography techniques. This trip also allowed me to build and diversify my portfolio.

Going on this trip to Colorado allowed me to take photos of a landscape that I do not normally have access to. Through this process I got to understand how much more goes into this style of photography than just the shot.  I also gained an appreciation for how much effort landscape photographers have to put in just for each photo.  After a week traveling to many different parks, I have many new photos and a mini collection.  My portfolio and my skills have improved after having this experience.

The mountains and rocky landscape provided different challenges than Midwestern landscapes.  I learned to adjust my lighting settings to fit the harsh contrasts off of rock formations.  I also tried to practice at different times for different kinds of lighting. I found that this is more difficult than I would have thought because it requires lots of planning beforehand. This was something that I was not familiar with prior to the project.

The best light is often in the early morning so to catch the light at the right time requires knowledge of the area in order to know when the best time of day is for those specific rock formations. Additionally, I had to know how long it would take to get to the location and where the best location is all before leaving for the park.  It also means getting out before dawn so that there is enough time to set up.

Another thing that is unique to landscape photography that I did not realize prior to this trip is that it is more difficult to get a lot of unique shots because you have to travel to a whole new park to get a new mountain or rock formation for the subject. All of these things I was able to learn through practicing in Colorado and will assist me in my future photography endeavors.

This experience transformed how I approach my photography and how I approach school in my daily life. I was able to escape my artistic comfort zone and try a new style out.  Normally I would stick to either macro or abstract photography. I found that it was difficult to leave this mindset while shooting but the landscape in Colorado helped me more easily get away from this and look for a different point of view than I normally would. By dedicating this time over break to exploring my passion, I was able to come back into the school year refreshed. Colorado provided me with a valuable change of pace from my usual routine of math and science.  I was able to re-orient myself so that I was doing the things I enjoy instead of just working all the time.  It reminded me that taking time for myself is important for my mental health.  This experience was very beneficial to my growth as a photographer and student.


Idiot Went to Nashville: A Reflection

In June, I traveled to Nashville, Tennessee with the aim of fully immersing myself in the city, particularly in its legendary music scene. While there, I wrote a daily travel blog called “Idiot Goes to Nashville”, which can be found at Currently, I am in the process of taking information from the blog and the notes I took onsite, and interweaving the observational and more personal aspects of the experience together into a longer form and more cohesive piece of writing.

When I proposed this project in April 2016, I was on the precipice of entering my first semester in the journalism major, which I would start pursuing in addition to my English major in August 2016. At the time, the idea of entering into the world of journalism absolutely terrified me. Having started out my college career as solely an English major, I was able to develop my skills in writing without having to leave my comfort zone all that much. As I went through my first two years of college, I found that I really enjoyed writing non-fiction, but then realized that, unless I just wanted to write about myself all the time, learning how to interview, and essentially just talk to people, was a very important step to take going forward. Being an incredibly shy person, the concept of me going out and talking to people to write something was absolutely terrifying. So, in addition to the Journalism coursework that I’d start to take the following academic year, I wanted to pursue a project that would both help me to face the fears I have toward the more social aspects of nonfictional writing, and on a creative level, would allow me to take what I’ve learned on both the creative and journalistic sides of writing and mesh them together into something that is a blend of both. Essentially, I wanted to work to develop a substantial piece of writing that is centered in the world of creative nonfiction, but with the more concrete edge that certain journalistic writing practices would provide.

The biggest transformation that I experienced over the course of completing this project was in the way that I view myself, and particularly my confidence about my ability to reconcile my anxieties with the kinds of writing that I want to do moving forward. This project came with its challenges, some expected and some unexpected, but the fact that I was able to objectively handle and adapt to these challenges and changes that came along has taught me a lot about myself. I’ve learned that being scared of things doesn’t mean that I’m actually unable to do those things. I’ve also learned that I have the ability to handle and adapt to changes in circumstance that will inevitably occur during the course of a long-term project such as this one, and that change in the creative process can actually be a good thing. On a practical level, I’ve learned a lot about how to travel on my own, learned how to blog and make my own website, and how to take notes and what kinds of writing practices work or don’t work when trying to write something substantial about a travel experience.

At the time that I proposed this project, the big finale of my project was to go to Bonnaroo, a massive music festival located just outside of Nashville in Manchester, TN. But, because I proposed this project about a year before I actually was set to begin, I was unable to foresee that the CMA’s and Bonnaroo would be during the same weekend in 2017, and as a result, hotel prices in Nashville skyrocketed. Since hotel prices the week of Bonnaroo and the CMA’s ended up being more than my entire budget for this project, I had to change the dates that I was going to the week after. This change in dates meant that I just lost a big aspect of what I originally planned to write about. I was forced to kind of change my angle, which originally was going to be more centered on how the mainstream and underground aspects of the Nashville music scene intersect, to one that more concerns how Nashville’s music scene looks like to an outsider on a normal week. The project ended up being less focused on the idealized, hyped-up version of what Nashville would’ve been on the week of Bonnaroo and the CMA’s, and more focused on what Nashville actually looks like, which I think ultimately served my project well. This significant change to my original plans for this STEP project really scared me at first, and I was unsure about how I could adapt to these changes and still come out the other end with a solid product. Adapting to these changes in logistics and to the reality check in regards to actually being able to get pre-planned, sit-down interviews when not writing for a specific publication, was definitely a challenge since I tend to kind of freak out when unexpected things like this happen. Keeping this in mind, the fact that I was objectively able to handle the situation and come up with a solution really helped me see that I’m a lot better at adapting to changes and coming up with solutions that I originally thought.

Even though it was difficult to get pre-planned, sit-down interviews for this project, I did find that I was actually able to get a lot of cool insight and information from observations, or from just going up and talking to people. Even having a casual conversation with someone can be pretty scary for me, but through this project I learned a lot about how to make this aspect of writing nonfiction easier. It’s really helpful content-wise to actually go out and talk to people and, through working on this project, I’ve learned that people are generally okay with just chatting about something, particularly about something that they’re interested in. For example, one of the things that I did while in Nashville was spend a day going to a ton of record stores in the area. In one store, the person working there was playing something really cool that I hadn’t heard before, and when I checked out, I asked if he had any copies of what he was playing in the store. He said he didn’t, but instead he sold me his personal copy of the record. After that, we just kind of chatted about music for a bit, since we had similar tastes. This kind of interaction wasn’t really too groundbreaking or anything, but it was easy to approach, since it was just a casual conversation about music, and I ended up getting a lot of good information about the store I visited, and some personal details about someone who works there.

Overall, the main things I’ve gained through this experience is essentially the knowledge that you can still get a lot of important information out of causal interactions and through observing people when you visit a place you’ve never been to before. Through some of the challenges I faced leading up to this project, I found out that I actually am able to be fairly flexible with things, and that it sometimes can be good when things don’t work out exactly as planned. When things go differently than planned, that doesn’t necessarily mean that things went wrong. Also, the fact that now I have some experience in putting some of these ideas in action, my confidence in my ability to handle these kinds of situations in the future has increased a lot. Its still a process, but this project has really helped me to see that I’m actually capable of a lot more than I originally thought I was.

My personal and professional transformation in terms of self-confidence as a result of my STEP Signature Project is incredibly significant for my life moving forward, particularly considering that I am going to be graduating college in a year. I’ve been studying how to write for the entirety of my college career, and having the opportunity to apply the things I’ve learned through my coursework to a project that I’d be unable to do in a classroom setting is something that is absolutely invaluable. On a purely practical level, as I continue to work on the long form piece of writing that is developing from my travel experience, at the end, I will have a writing sample of substantial length and quality. Also, if I later write for a publication where I have to go to an event, or travel “on assignment”, I can now say that I already have some experience with writing in that way, which will be very important as I continue to develop my writing career after graduation. Most importantly though, I’ve learned that I’m actually capable of doing quite a lot, and that just because I’m nervous about certain things, doesn’t mean that I’m unable to do them.

Cooking & Baking My Way Through Junior Year

Over this past year, I had the opportunity to take a variety of cooking and baking classes through a few different mediums. I was also able to purchase a Kitchen Aid mixer with a spiralizer attachment so that I could further cultivate my skills at home.

By attending these cooking classes, I was given easy access into getting to know a crowd of people (mostly women) who share at least one thing in common with me – that is the love of creating a good meal! The way cooking classes are set up, I ended up working with one to three other participants to create the meal or dish of the class. Being in small groups, it was fun to have the opportunity to get to know a few people fairly well. While in these groups, I was intentional as I could be to ask good questions to get to know them better.  I had the opportunity to talk with many different personalities, with many different walks of life. Through this I was able to see how fortunate I am to have grown up in a stable family and in a country that allows me to pursue my dreams. I learned that life truly is short, and we must enjoy it and make the most of the time that we have.

Perhaps the most transformational for me was meeting many people who grew up in other countries and came to the US in young adulthood. I met 4-5 of these ladies, and it was interesting to hear how it was a dream for them to move to the US. As an immigrant child (my dad moved here from Italy when he was 20), I loved hearing their background stories and learning what traditional dishes are to their respective countries. One sweet and gentle woman, Ervila, I got to talk to the most as it was just the two of us in a group. She grew up in Bulgaria and had moved here with her husband shortly after getting married. They moved here because the “opportunities are endless” and wanted their kids to grow up in this environment. Now her daughter is in her 20’s and works with victims of sex trafficking all over the world.

I also met one lady who was diagnosed with terminal cancer who was living up her last couple months of life. This was the third time she had been diagnosed with cancer and the doctors promised her it would be the last. It was so humbling to see this lady, sick and worn out from pain, still working diligently to enjoy the life that she has left. Not wanting to be pitied, she worked with her might to participate as much as she could and to enjoy what may be her last cooking class. I admired this woman’s will to work and the fact that she wasn’t just working to fight through another day, but fighting to enjoy it.

In the classes I also had the chance to learn brief histories of the cultures from where our food came from. For example I took a baking class where we made German Chocolate Cake and I was surprised to learn that the recipe was created by a homemaker in Texas in the 1800s! The only reason it is called German Chocolate Cake is because instead of using typical baking chocolate, a different type of chocolate, called German chocolate, was used. German chocolate is almost a mix of baking chocolate and milk chocolate as it is sweeter than semisweet chocolate, but still has the properties of it. This is just one example of how the history greatly impacted my view of the recipe.

Through this opportunity I had a chance to learn how to relate to others well, as well as continue to grow my love for the art behind cooking and baking. It was eye opening and so enjoyable to be around people who have the same passion as I do, yet come from completely different walks of life. I cultivated a skill of talking with people much older than me with many different experiences, and am confident this will come in handy as I prepare to enter into the business world. My love for cooking grew as I began to appreciate the different flavors and styles of cooking that each culture provides. I am eager for the day when I will be able to host dinner parties or perhaps teach my own cooking classes! Thank you for this great opportunity.

Brewing Science

Name – Tucker Bade

Project Category: Artistic & Creative Endeavors

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 consisted of studying the brewing process, and eventually brewing beer on my own. By gradually building up the complexity of my brewing technique, I went from brewing using concentrated extracts to brewing directly from grain and hops.

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.

Through researching and engaging in the brewing process, I have learned how to really apply the information that I study. Through classes alone, this is rarely possible, because even projects in class generally have a structure/pattern to follow. In the case of brewing, I started with no foreknowledge of what I would be doing, and built myself up to brewing beer from scratch. This transformation required lots of research in order to begin, but ultimately led to trial and error. In engaging in the brewing process, I found that I had developed a passion for something that I had never done before. This is something that could not be taught in a classroom alone. My brewing experience also gave me the opportunity to develop relationships with professors and TA’s who were interested in my brewing project. I was able to relate some of the information I learned in order to brew to my organic chemistry classes, and was able to discuss brewing with both my professors and teaching assistant. Furthermore, working with a professor in the field of food science allowed me to build a relationship with a professional in the world of brewing. Besides professional relationships, my STEP Signature Project has helped me to create stronger personal relationships. Because many of my friends and family members are aware of my project, people often requested “tours” of the brewing process. Through this, I was able to spend a lot of time with family and friends either explaining the process or actually brewing with them. This has helped  me to feel much more at home in Columbus, especially because of the vibrant brewing community the city hosts.
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.
Throughout my project, I was fortunate enough to be able to work with a professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology. Though my project was primarily carried out through research into each step, questions about how/why certain procedures were followed cropped up occasionally. Having a resource with so much knowledge on the brewing process and the chemistry and biology behind it was tremendously helpful. Also, having just turned 21 a month before my first brew day, it was good to have someone with a better palate to critique my finished product, and give pointers on things I could change. For me, this was a very unique relationship to be able to have: it isn’t every day that you get to share a beer you made yourself with a professor who teaches brewing science. Furthermore, as a result of this project, I have discovered the brewing science class at OSU, and will be taking it this fall.
Another key aspect of my project was the act of brewing. Being able to bring my research to life was a fascinating experience in which I had to allow myself to fail often, and learn to correct my errors. This experience has been unlike anything any of my classes have prepared me for – no longer was my work only on paper. For me, this was a very important experience. I have always been very hands-on, and being able to see the project through to the end satisfied my need for education to have practicality. In doing this, my passion for brewing grew, and pushed me to work harder in my classes, such as biology and organic chemistry, that helped me to understand more about the brewing process.
 Finally, I believe that brewing has made me feel much more at home in Columbus. Through sharing the brewing process with friends, I have been able to build deeper relationships with people who I otherwise would only be acquaintances to. Also, the city of Columbus is host to dozens of micro-breweries (and a larger brewery as well), and a lively brewing community. It has been a wonderful experience to talk with brewers in the Columbus area, and to learn from their experience.
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.
In the future, I hope to use my education at OSU to pursue a career in manufacturing food on an industrial scale. Through brewing, I have learned a significant amount about food safety and manufacturing. Hopefully, brewing at OSU will be a “foot in the door” at a company that aligns with my interests. Outside of my professional goals, brewing gave me a new interest in biology and increased my interest in organic chemistry – yeast are fascinating organisms, and it is interesting to be able to look at them through the lenses of both biology and chemistry. I believe that my interest in brewing intensified my interest in both of these topics, urging me to work harder in class, and delve deeper into the topics than I would have otherwise.