My reflection on undergraduate research

I decided to look into a specific policy because it is a policy that affects millions of people’s lives daily. As I am in the process of publication submission, I am not able to reveal too much detail about the project at this moment, but I can definitively say that it was truly a transformational experience for me.

Throughout the project, I learned that there are new things coming out in academia every single day. So unlike a class paper where I only have to do literature review once, I have to search online just about every day to stay on top of current literature. Throughout the search, I found some cofounding and come conflicting literatures that made me realize how a single event can be looked at so differently just because of a different vantage point. I learned that what I assumed is good can actually have negative effect on other people’s lives and hence can give them a totally different view on a social policy.

Throughout my project, I worked extensively on a data set that started out to be messy and spotty. The set required about 70 to 80 hours work just to make it analyzable. Even though it was very tedious and tiring, the joy I got every step of the way made me realize that I am on the right path for my future. It gave me confirmation that being a researcher truly is what I am interested in doing for the rest of my life.

Another effect my project had on me was that it made me more conscious of what is going on in the real world. For me to truly analyze the policy, I dug deep into news and commentary about the policy I was researching and found out how privileged I am not having to worry about these issues. It put me in a new mind set to think not just in my shoes but in many others’ because I realize that my view is not, and never will be, enough. I knew this already but I ever truly experienced it in this way and I am very grateful for the realization.

These realizations are transformational because I truly realized that I want to be a social scientist, and that means the learning of different cultures, habits, thoughts, and ideas will never come to an end. This project has taught me a lot outside of what my classes have. I used a small portion of my school work and applied it to a societal problem. Being able to see that school work can be so relevant is refreshing and encouraging for my future endeavors!


(Pictured is my research advisor Dr. Joyce Chen and my presentation session at Denman)

Emma Davis

Artistic/Creative Endeavor

My STEP Signature Project was to compete at Ohio Star Ball with my professional partner as a Professional/Amateur couple for the first time! I got to dance in the Smooth/Standard dances at the Bronze level.

During the time of my project, my understanding of myself changed rather drastically, especially since I had a span of almost two years from when I proposed my project and when it was finally completed. When I had first submitted my proposal, I didn’t think of myself at all as much of a “real” dancer. I thought my technique would have to be perfect for me to really be able to call myself a dancer and feel authentic about it. Though I think I will always struggle with these thoughts of inadequacy on some level, this process has been a liberating and validating one for my identity as a dancer. I’ve also seen a huge transformation in my mental health as well! When I was in my STEP advising class, I was in a major depressive episode and dancing was one of the only things that actually made me happy. To get support and the opportunity to take my dancing more seriously has served as an incredibly therapeutic process. I have a huge amount of support for not only my dancing but also my everything! My identity as a dancer has grown tremendously and so have I on the whole over these past two years.

In this process, the people who have helped me along the way have always been the catalyst to my growth and development. I would say the most significant relationship that has shaped me in this process has been with my professional partner and coach. As we began this process, he and I had been dancing together for almost a year, and we had created an amazing partnership as he mentored me and my collegiate dance partner at the time. As I moved forward in my dancing and preparation for this competition, we soon realized that we were not only optimal dance partners, but as partners in every faucet of life. We have now been together for over a year and a half and have lived together for almost as long. He continues to be a motivating force for my betterment every day and has been hugely supportive in all of my endeavors—especially dancing!

While our dancing partnership has undoubtedly grown us much closer, it was certainly not an easy process. Most people go through life with minimal project collaboration with their significant others, but we got to do this huge undertaking—dancing at one of the biggest ballroom competitions for the first time together—within the first year of our relationship! This collaboration has been like a sort of crash course for both of us on how the other communicates and how we interact in a high stress situation. We have built excellent communication skills while going through this process that has helped us in our dancing and our day to day life. I know that having this opportunity has impacted my understanding of myself in a beautiful way that helps me to put my emotions into perspective and chose to communicate in a way that is beneficial to both of us so that we can easily maintain flow and momentum even as our emotions are turbulent….go look up a Viennese waltz, because that’s pretty much how it feels! I am so incredibly thankful to have had this opportunity to dance with the person I love at a competition like this (where I would have never been able to afford it as a full time college student).

Another relationship that hugely impacted me during this process was my STEP advisor. Again, while I was meeting with her on a weekly basis, I was in a major depressive episode and was falling behind in my classes in a major way. I was apathetic and certainly didn’t feel like I deserved such an amazing opportunity like the grant I had proposed that would let me dance, so I eventually fell behind in my STEP reporting and progress as well. I was all too willing to give up on my grant, and my life. And I know how cheesy this sounds, but my STEP advisor was not at all willing to give up on me. She persisted with trying to get me to open up about what I was going through and eventually came to understand the severity of the situation. She stayed with me and gave me so much grace every step of the way to submitting my proposal.  She even came with me in person to a meeting with STEP leadership to explain the situation when I missed a deadline! I would have never gotten the grant without her, and I will never be able to adequately express how much it meant to me at that inexplicably dark time in my life that someone was so willing to go out of their way to fight for me.

This transformation that started in these two years will undoubtedly continue to affect my life in major ways in the years to come. I have been given the privilege of having the funding to prepare for a challenging competition at a formative time in my dancing career, and this time spent in preparation has made a sturdy foundation of technique and experience as I go forward.  I have also been given a tool for destressing from school and work, connecting with my loved one, and exercising my body and mind. This is going to be crucial for me in my career as a way of finding balance between my physical health, mental health, and my career in psychology. I look forward to someday integrating my knowledge of dance and psychology into a place where I can provide dance as a therapy to myself and others! I know this time has also given me a leg up on effective communication primarily with the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, but also with everyone I work with in my life and career. This project has meant so much to me, and it has been an affirmation that I am and always have been a dancer, and that I am worth fighting for.

STEP Reflection

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

I chose to create a film project (with two other girls) to examine how the glass/bamboo ceiling has impacted our interviewees’ lives and their perspectives. I traveled with Sharon Yeh and Wendy Zhu to Manhattan for 10 days over Spring Break. We interviewed 4 women: 2 undergraduate students and 2 working professionals. In totality, we gathered 3 video shorts and 2-3 written responses. For each person, we tailored a list of similar questions accordingly to each person background, career choices/aspirations, interests, etc.

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

I was very interested in this project because I wanted to examine if there was a opportunistic ceiling that was impeding the Asian-American community in career advancement. In other words, I wondered, is the glass/bamboo ceiling real? Simultaneously, I wanted to delve in different medium that I was used to: filmography. Most of my camera experience has strictly been in photography, which is very different (though skills are transferable). Alas, I saw an opportunity to create a project that was not only uncharted territory for me, but meaningful to Asian-American and other minority communities.

After completing the project, I learned that yes, there may be an underlying bias and other underlying factors in job recruitment and promotions. I learned that cultural factors do influence the trajectory of where an Asian-American chooses to route for their career. Initially, I thought it would be easier to find a clear message, but the findings of this project started getting muddier as we progressed through the project. I started to realize  implementing a project that involved people’s experiences would be scattered and unorganized. In a sense, it was like writing a storybook with people’s experiences – there was a lot of footage to go through and it wasn’t until we edited and refined, that we could chisel out clearer findings. Also, learning how to edit in Adobe Premiere Pro took some time getting used to. It was amazing to meet new individuals and learn about their experiences, but It’s also really important to respect our interviewees’ time. What they are comfortable with also needs to be respected.

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?

It’s also really important to respect our interviewees’ time.

I tried cold-emailing individuals to interview, most of which were unsuccessful. People are not as receptive to people that don’t know. Many of interviewees happened to be contacts within our network, whether they were students we knew or Ohio State alumni. It seemed easier to find working professionals were connected to our school, The Ohio State University. When we met with these individuals, we met with them for approximately an hour or so. I was very appreciative because they willing to commit time from their day to contribute to our project. I think if anything, this has made me more conscious and empathetic towards other individuals.

At the same time, since our interviewees’ were in our network (who have similar background to us), most if not all interviewees were East-Asian. Initially, we wanted a wide breadth of Asian ethnicities represented (like South Asians, for example).

Learning how to edit in Adobe Premiere Pro took some time getting used to.

I’ve never used Adobe Premiere Pro before, and it’s less user-friendly that iMovie. After deliberation, we decided to keep each individual’s video as a stand-alone, rather than combining their responses into a collaged film. Since our questions were tailored, it was difficult find intersecting points to combine that would also flow cohesively and artistically.

Editing did take a bulk of our time. We spent a lot of hours scouring over our footage and cutting it down accordingly to our project topic. After we cut to the content we needed, we then revised our footage to make it more aesthetically pleasing.

What they are comfortable with also needs to be respected.  

We had intended this to be a film documentary, however, not all interviewees were comfortable appearing on camera, and so that limited our film collection. Instead, we either gathered written response from them or from ourselves.

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

I’m glad I did this project. Though, it did not turn out as expectedly and did run into some challenges, it was a wonderful experience meeting and learning about the individuals we talked to. It allowed me and the other two girls to meet these new people and learn about how glass and bamboo ceiling have/will impact them. I learned how powerful filmography is as a product, but how mildly painful it is to create (specifically referring to editing). While I’ve had a distant appreciation for filmography since high school, I never sat down to lend myself the opportunity to learn it; this project allowed that. I hope to delve more deeply into similar projects in the future. If anything, it’s certainly peaked my interest to continue pursuing this genre of art and communication. I learned that I do love learning about other people’s stories and experiences, but rather than watching other filmmakers/storytellers dive for these, I want to do it myself.

In the future, I plan on working in software companies (Adobe, Instagram, Google, Stripe, etc.) in a technical role. However, on the side, I see myself pursuing film or photo projects like this in my free time and essentially, storytelling.

Behind the scenes:

Our project:


Building a Custom Designed Computer

My STEP project involved researching and ordering computer parts for an eventual computer build. I found this to be an apt project for my field of study as I am an electrical engineer. Through hours of researching and testing builds, I finally constructing a fully functioning computer from the funds provided by STEP.

In all honesty, I was not confident my STEP project would impact my life outside of my studies. After all, building a computer to many seems very cut and dry. However, I had never truly built something outside of a lab space; a fact I did not realize until I started building. All design considerations, all parts choices, these were aspects I would have to decide for myself. In a way, my passion for engineering was reignited by the freedom of creation I could experience through my project. In classes I rarely get to physically create something, let alone such a complex piece of hardware.

The passion I had for creating something on my own accord fueled my desire to thoroughly do research into what I was doing. I visited countless computer build forums and went to multiple computer build live demonstrations. On top of that I thoroughly vetted every piece of technology going into what I wanted to create. Only when I had felt I had done due diligence did I even order the parts. In a way, this project made me feel more confident in what I’ve chosen to do with my life. There truly is nothing more I enjoy more than creating something and this project helped me to realize that.

There were various interactions I had that made me relearn my love for electrical engineering. First, my first forums posts asking questions about builds were all well received. In an instant I had been enveloped in community I never really knew existed. I found other people that were as passionate as I was about simply building things. This idea was only reinforced when I went to specialized computer stores and talked for hours with people who had built hundreds of computers.

Furthermore, I had multiple interactions with professors who talked with me about my build and asked about the progress. In this way I understood that what I was doing was a true project that garnered real interest. Furthermore, these mentors fully believed in me that I could create a complex system from nothing but my own resources and efficacy.

All of these interactions really made me feel like I had a community I could relate to. A community that’s passionate about building and creating. Though education prepares you for such aspect in life, learning and experiencing are truly two different things.

Everything I experienced I am sure will have major implications in my life. I have always had doubts if engineering truly is right for me yet this project put many of my fears to rest. This project showed me that I am a creator and doing anything else with my life would be a life lived lesser. Because of this project I plan to focus more on my studies so that I can one day end up in an occupation that makes me feel as excited as this project made me feel.




Taking Piano Lessons and Learning Classical Pieces

My STEP project involved taking piano lessons from professional piano teachers. My focus was to develop piano technique through my instructor in order to be better prepared to teach myself piano once my STEP project ended.

Unfortunately, life got in the way. The first summer of my STEP project I reconnected with my elementary school piano teacher and took lessons once a week. I was able to work through the three songs I had been wanting to play – Clair de Lune, Arabesque, and Consolation No. 3. Other works I did include Reverie, Moonlight Sonata 1st Movement, and Song of India, among more. Then I moved in to school, and the semester hit me right away. I was taking 19 credit hours, TAing for a 5 credit hour class, and running a new club. Those three things took up the entirety of my day. While I did have some time intermittent, I did not have enough to diligently practice and put my full effort into learning piano. The next semester I was taking the same workload, except I was at my house even less.

My STEP project made me prioritize and figure out what was most important to me. When I became busy, I made a conscious choice to put 100% of my effort in a smaller number of things instead of putting a small amount of effort in a large number of things. That is the transformation I went through – I became an all or nothing person. When I choose to do something, I do it with all of my heart. But when something doesn’t interest me, I don’t even make an effort for it.

As stated, the events that caused me to become an 100% or 0% type of person was me being extremely busy. For a span of three months, I would leave my house at 9:00 AM and not get back until midnight due to a variety of reasons. First, my 19 credit hour schedule caused me to have a lot of classes and homework. I would do my homework between classes to not overload myself at night. Second, I was/am a TA for the Fundamentals of Engineering for Honors program, which comprised of grading 32 lab reports a week first semester and being present in open lab at night second semester. Lastly, I founded a new club that year which took up my remaining time. I made a choice that I would put all my effort into my studies, my students, and my club.

I value this change in me because I do not know another way to live than to totally dedicate myself to what I believe. Giving anything less than 120% of my effort to the things I am passionate for seems like a waste of my time and energy. I learned through this project that I am not passionate about piano, which is OK. I like playing and enjoy the challenge, but there are other things that give me more gratification. So while I may not have done 100% of my STEP project, well, that’s just who I am. I gave it a try, and didn’t find passion for it, so I put my soul into other aspects of my life that I could do 100%. And that’s OK. I do regret taking somebody’s spot in STEP that would have done a project. Had I known my sophomore year that I would’ve not been passionate about piano, I would have chosen a different project. But I’m constantly learning in life, and without STEP I wouldn’t have learned my priorities.

Building a Computer and sharing VR learning software

Step Reflection

Ian Neuhart

My step project entailed building a Virtual Reality ready computer. I used this computer and held an event where I shared Virtual Reality education programs with professors and students in the Physics Department. Many people came by and tested out the virtual reality programs and many wished they had this sort of technology when they were learning 3D vector math and chemistry.

While completing my STEP project I learned that I was interested in educating people and liked finding new ways for people to learn. Using the programs that I assisted in the development in was insightful on what I wanted to do for a career, thinking of new ideas and ways to better educate people. I also learned about computer hardware, like what each component does, how it all works together, and which pieces are important to which processes. This has allowed me a new outlook on computer systems, servers and even cell phones.

Meeting many different people and their views on education was a big part of what changed me. The people I met gave me a new outlook on education. Even those who know the concepts they are viewing were impressed with how intuitive a new type of visual can be. Truly seeing other people learn and experience a new way of learning opened my mind to the possibilities available of merging technology and learning.

Building a computer helped me realize that technology is rapidly advancing, not just the actual components but software as well. While technology is increasingly becoming a part of our daily lives, teaching software will become a normal thing in many classrooms. Even today with smartphone based response quizzes, the technology will only improve and be more useful in classrooms like google cardboard’s VR for phones.

One of the professors I met allowed me to help with coding new virtual reality learning software for his lab over the past summer. This experience has been vital for my decision to continue my education into graduate school. Hopefully all these past experiences will help me continue to educate and teach others using unique and different technology, always innovating and improving.

These changes have been important to me because it has helped me understand what I wanted to do with my near future. I had originally seen graduate school as an option but now it has moved up to the top priority for my future goals. This experience has also given me an insight into the hardware side of technology. This has given me a new hobby that I will take with myself into the future.


Bamboo Ceiling

Wendy Zhu

Type of Project: Artistic and Creative Endeavors

We wished to explore the intersectionality between being female and women of color, with a focus on Asian Americans women and the bamboo ceiling. To do so, we traveled to New York during our spring break to interview working women and students. After the interviews, we edited the recordings of our interviews to create videos that are now available to OSU students and the Asian American community.


Through our STEP project, we overcame many obstacles such as contacting potential interviewees, drafting up our interview questions, and even booking my first AirBnB. I think these experiences allowed me to grow in multiple ways


Our first major obstacle was finding interviewees. We had to reach out to many individuals and many of them were either uninterested or did not wish to appear on camera. Initially we planned for the project to take place at the beginning of our summer break, but unexpected events occurred and we ended up pushing the project back. In doing so, some of our interviewees were no long available for the later date and we had to reach out to more people to interview. Through these events, I learned to reach out to email strangers and push myself outside of my comfort zone. While we did get a lot of declines and even non-responses, the people who agreed to be interviewed made all the effort worthwhile.

Another obstacle we faced was drafting our interview questions. We had some questions that were given to all our interviewees, but each interviewee also received tailored questions. To do so, we did research on them as individuals and then crafted questions based off their work/study background and whatever information we found about them. Crafting questions was not particularly fun but speaking with our interviewees was eye opening. This gave me the opportunity to interview people professionally, which is something I would not be able to experience in a traditional classroom environment.

Lastly, I learned to create and book my own travelling accommodations. Before, my parents handled everything but because of STEP, I booked my first AirBnB. I’ve seen my parents book hotels before but AirBnB is slightly different. I had to create a profile and when we found a suitable place, we had to be approved which was slightly nerve wracking. Thankfully, everything regarding living arrangements went without a hitch. Through these events, I think I learned to “adult” a little more.


Thanks to STEP, I was given the opportunity to learn things outside the classroom. We planned our own project and completed it from start to finish. As one of our interviewees said, “90% of your college education occurs outside the classroom”. While the 90% mentioned is an arbitrary number, this project made me realize how true that statement is.

Community Oriented Club Projects

For my STEP project I decided to design and develop a project to help the local Columbus community. In order to accomplish this I partnered with the National Society of Black Engineers. A project committee was created and we decided to design a baby monitoring system to help address the high infant mortality rate in Columbus. This project has been a really hard process. The biggest obstacle when working with the club and university was time. It takes a long time to incorporate meaningful processes into already established frameworks. Funding, organizing and exposure are understandably hard to manage while working on a project like this.

Before my STEP project I thought that planning and organizing was fairly straightforward. However, I found that often decisions on the project were contingent on other members. As a result, organizing can be naturally difficult. These experiences although stressful helped me work better with members and forced me to keep up with planning and organizing in order to ensure that we reached our goals. The project was initially focused on detecting ions in water. This idea came to light, because my friends and I participated in Ohio State’s Make-A-Thon in Spring 2017. The idea was an impromptu solution to crises such as the Flint Water Crisis. We didn’t aim to solve any crisis of this magnitude but wanted to explore if it was possible to create a cheap solution on how to test water supplies. Inner city Columbus at times can be effected by water issues as well. In fact, it is common to find unwanted particles in water like nitrates which can have a profound effect on young children and babies. Our project at Make-A-Thon failed quickly due to limited supplies and lack of experience. Even after working on the project after Make-A-Thon we found that the IR sensors we purchased were incapable of giving us data where we could perform spectrum analysis.

The project committee within NSBE falls under the duties of the Technical Outreach for Community Help (TORCH) Chair. After the Make-A-Thon project proved to be too difficult to handle, NSBE and its leadership gave me the platform to work on a project to help the community. After a year of collaboration with clubs, planning, organizing and ideas we officially started the committee. The project was adapted and shifted to a baby monitoring system project in order to address infant mortality in Columbus.

Infant mortality in Ohio is a very big problem. In fact, Cleveland is considered to have the worst infant mortality rate in the country among underrepresented groups. Columbus is not an exception to this problem. The problem has gotten out of hand and as a result the state of Ohio has issued $500,000 in initiatives to reduce infant mortality. This funding has gone towards home screenings, educational programs and as a product of these efforts the “ABC’s of Safe Sleep” was created in order to educate the public about how babies should sleep. SIDS and suffocation are common causes of infant mortality. The state of Ohio and experts suggest that infants should be alone, on their back and in a crib (hence the ABC’s) in order to reduce the rate of sleep deaths in infants. This has been widely publicized in Columbus as part of the initiative as well. With technology such as deep learning and computer vision, we can identify whether infants and their guardians violate these safe sleep practices.

The baby monitoring system was 3D printed with PLA and assembled. The camera is a common Raspberry Pi Camera and is driven by a Raspberry Pi Zero W. In order to give the user  feedback there’s an LCD touchscreen driven by an Adafruit LCD driver. The system is regulated by an Adafruit power management board. We included an HCSR-04 ultrasonic sensor for motion detection.

Often when the world doesn’t present any life threatening challenges into your life, it’s easy to not understand the struggles of others. Infant deaths are often reduced in severity and the general public does not give enough attention to the problematic infant mortality rate across the country. It’s linked to many other factors that can affect the child through its development. Stress, diet, sleep and many other factors in regard to the mother can influence the infant mortality rate. Mothers who are exposed to undesirable environments out of no fault of their own are often faced with this issue. Researching this topic and understanding how socioeconomic status and race play a role has been particularly interesting as well. This is a problem that boils down to a lot of social issues and as a result communities are losing children.

This project helped me become more cognizant of my habits as an executive board member to an organization. In college, group activities and long term projects are typically only taken seriously because they’re tied to a grade. In this project it has pushed me to be more open and understanding of the groups I’ve worked with. The experience has shown me that a lot of problems in life are presented as surface level problems, however, issues that involve multiple people typically have a more complex mapping of issues associated with them.

This change has been significant to my life for many reasons. I’ve wanted to do work with robots for a long time. I didn’t know what skills I needed in order to do this until college, but at the time I didn’t know how to develop these skills. College has also shown me that I want my work to impact the community. This project has allowed me to take technology associated with robotics (artificial intelligence) and use it to impact the local community where I’m from. It’s given me the opportunity to be a leader on campus and those skills will help in the future for any other technology and community oriented projects I would like to work on. STEP and NSBE have given me a platform to merge my personal interests and desires to help the Columbus community.




Undergrad Research STEP

My step project focused on conversion of commonly found biomass into molecules that can be converted into many different things like petrochemicals, acids and hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF). I worked in Dr. Brunelli’s catalytic materials design group in the Chemical Engineering department for the duration of last spring and summer and after with a focus on increasing the yield of the precursor to HMF, fructose from glucose. While fructose is considered a rare monosaccharide, glucose is considerably more abundant and is used as the starting material for my research.

Currently, the fossil fuel consumption rate is occurring at an unsustainable rate. As such, alternative sources of energy must be found and harnessed to avoid an energy crisis in the future. An area of study is research on the conversion of saccharides into units that can be used as a substitute for petroleum/ petrochemicals. The idea is to use glucose, a highly abundant monosaccharide as a starting material to form products that can be used to produce energy. The isomerization of glucose to fructose is an important reaction because it’s currently a bottleneck that inhibits the fructose dehydration reaction to HMF because fructose is a rare sugar, so HMF cannot be produced in abundance. HMF will later be used as a starting material to produce petrochemicals and as an extension, energy. My project focused on the isomerization reaction between glucose and fructose using borate salts and involves the use of a zeolite (a nanoparticle) as a catalyst.

When I first started the step project, I imagined myself as an eager student willing to put long hours of work into a research project that I found interesting. However, as I quickly learned, research is much more than just the willingness to put forth hard work. Research is a process that takes many hours of hard work just to end up with an undesired or unexplainable result at the end of it all. Although I enjoyed most of my time in the research lab, I don’t have the same eagerness I once had for wanting to get into a research project. From this step experience, I learned that if I do not have a clear goal in sight that I’m striving for, I’m going to be hard pressed to find any interest and ability to enjoy what I do. The idea of working for no real go in sight has made me reconsider the idea of committing into the research world. With that said, however, my time working in Dr. Brunelli’s lab was in no doubt enjoyable and was a very intensive learning experience.

In the beginning, from before the project started, I did an extensive amount of background research and journal digging to find relevant information on my topic. Initially, I was intimidated by the sheer quantity of scientific jargon I had to file through to get to the meat of the subject and the level of scientific proficiency I need to be at to understand it. But after the first ten or so papers, I slowly grasped just what is going on in the papers and began to understand the papers section by section starting at the end with the results and conclusion. In my mind, understanding the whole picture began from the conclusion of what the researchers intended to do as well as what they accomplished. This process went on for several weeks until I had an inkling about what I will try and attempt in the lab setting. After I accomplished a sufficient amount of reading into scientific literature that was approved by Dr. Brunelli, I began my project with one of grad students, Nitish Deshpande.

When I started on my project, I had many meetings with Dr. Brunelli and Nitish to straighten out my understanding of the system. There were many times in the lab and during reading the research articles that I felt dumb and out of my depths because I could not grasp the seemingly easy topics that were later explained to me. In one of the first couple of days, Nitish asked me a couple questions regarding the kinetics and thermodynamics of the system and I was able to answer those with acceptable theoretical precision, but the last question about what the borate species did in the system left me dumbfounded. I couldn’t come up with an answer in that week that I pondered. In the end, he led me to the answer that the borate species served as a trapping agent that removed fructose from system and by le Chatelier’s principle, the equilibrium proceeded towards the side with less fructose. As time went on, I continued to feel confused, as what I attempted in the lab did not work the way I intended it to and more questions than answers popped up that I struggled harder to find a conclusion to. Compared to the simple questions posed in class, where the questions ultimately had a single correct answer, there was no such thing in the real lab world. Sometimes when I run an experiment meticulously, to try and mimic the procedure done in a journal, I’d get results that were in no way like theirs and from there, I’d try and figure out what I did wrong.

In the handful of times I presented at the group meeting, I was only able to express what I felt was a superficial understanding of the system as well as an inadequate explanation of what was going on in the system I was working with. These group meetings broadened my view on scientific research and realized just how difficult it is to come up with any sort of meaningful result that people will care about. Even with my faults and problems I faced on a daily encounter, I still found joy being in the lab, working hard to try and explain the unexplained phenomenon I saw while doing experiments. Once I enter the lab, even if I was only doing trivial things like chores and refilling the acid/base bath or washing the glass ware, the time would fly by and leave me wondering how I was able to spend several hours doing what on the surface appeared to be mundane affairs. From my experience in the lab and working with the wonderfully didactic Dr. Brunelli and Nitish Deshpande, I can with no doubt say it was a fantastic experience and I would not spend another minute of my life any different if I were able to turn back time. The knowledge and frustrate I’ve gained from working in Dr. Brunelli’s lab is an invaluable asset that has completely turned my naïve understanding of lab work upside down and makes me question if research is the proper place for me in the future.

This opportunity to work as an undergraduate research assistant has provided me with valuable information on what working in the lab is like and has made me reconsider my goals of going into graduate school. While the research and lab work are interesting, I’m not sure my constitution and mental duress can stand up to the test of time most graduate students have to go through to obtain a Doctor of Philosophy diploma in their field. This experience made me reconsider my future goals and aspirations and I am currently in a state of limbo, with no true goal tied to my person with a hollow dream that I once had. Research has met and well exceeded my expectations as being a draining field and exactly because of that, I am currently considering all my options intensively. You could say this was a transformational experience.

Poster presentation

Creative Endeavor: Taking Piano Lessons & Composing A Song

The primary objective of my STEP Signature Project was to develop my piano performance skills. I was able to achieve this by taking professional piano lessons, learning music theory, and composing a song. The activities of my project entailed taking lessons with a piano instructor in my hometown Cleveland, Ohio, using online resources to learn music theory concepts, and applying the performance and music theory lessons to compose a song entitled “Let It Rain”.

One of the biggest assumptions about myself that changed was my belief that I would want to pursue a music minor and possibly play piano professionally. After looking at the coursework for a music minor, I realized that although I could possibly squeeze a music minor into my last two years, it would not be as fulfilling as I initially hoped. One of the main reasons why I so thoroughly enjoyed learning the piano and music theory was because of the stress relieving aspect. The de-stressing elements of the music would have been negated had I pursued a music minor because there would have been added pressures making it less enjoyable. I also realized that my academics and my future career will always be a priority over music because pursuing professional performance would require a larger time commitment than initially anticipated.

Coming up with a schedule was very easy at the onset of my project, but one of the biggest lessons I learned about time management was about prioritization and being flexible. The original schedule for my project included taking lessons in performance and music theory during the Summer of 2017, then using Autumn 2017 to compose a song. My STEP Signature did not go as planned. When Summer 2017 rolled around, I ended up starting my lessons an entire month later than I anticipated. Despite starting my lessons late, I was able to make a lot of progress with my piano teacher. I was able to work through an entire adult beginner course book. The course book included lessons on theory, technique, and sight reading. It was very advantageous that I had previous music experience, but I was still challenged with the material in the first book we used.

The biggest obstacle I had to overcome during my lessons was unlearning the techniques I taught myself to play piano. I was not using the proper hand techniques for playing and that was one of the biggest reasons why I felt stagnant when performing. The methods that I was using previously were holding me back from becoming a better player because they didn’t create a solid foundation. Another thing that helped me get better was having a new piano keyboard. Previously I had been using an unweighted 61-key keyboard. Upgrading my keyboard to a weighted 88-key keyboard allowed me to practice songs as intended and allowed for a continuity of practicing proper performance techniques.  Being able to fully play songs as written and learn new performance techniques helped immensely in rekindling the passion I felt when I first learned to play the piano.

Throughout the summer I built a really good relationship with my teacher. She was very accommodating to my schedule and my learning style. I learned to be less critical of myself with the help of a professional teacher guiding me. She gave constructive feedback and was very patient. At first it was difficult receiving some of the feedback because I was very prideful about the skills that I had acquired all on my own, but it didn’t take long for me to take instruction and apply it both during the lessons and during my private practice at home. My teacher provided extra material and even suggested other books to use to build performance skills, including a Hanon piano exercises book focused solely on performance technique. Through her great teaching and my constant practicing, I finished the first instruction book and moved on to a second one by the end of that summer. Once that summer ended I realized that even though I was dedicated and focused on growth, I had only taken half of the lessons I had planned for. I extended my project to this summer to allow myself more time to take lessons to be better equipped for the challenge of song composition.

During the school year, I continued to practice but  I was soon overwhelmed by schoolwork and was only able to go back home and take a couple of lessons.  After the school year ended, I was excited to get back to taking lessons, but unfortunately I was unable to due to having a full-time internship in Columbus. The internship ate up a lot of my time so it took extra hard work and dedication to continue practicing to not only ensure that I didn’t lose any of the growth from the lessons, but to also push myself even further to continue to grow and to compose a song. I had a hard time trying to find a new instructor, especially given the time constraints of my job. To overcome this obstacle I resorted to using online resources along with the instruction books suggested by my piano teacher to self-guide my learning of piano theory.

While I faced heavy time constraints due to my internship commitments, I was able to learn more music theory and compose a song. I became more secure and confident in my piano skills and my ability to build on those skills. I no longer feel stagnant and I have a game plan for continued growth. Through this project, I was able to learn quite a few valuable lessons. I came to understand that I am very passionate and dedicated to playing the piano and although composing a song was a welcomed and highly enjoyable challenge, I am content with focusing on performance for my own entertainment. Learning the intricacies of music theory and learning how to translate that into a song at my performance level was challenging and forced me to think outside of the box and be creative to come up with a final product that  I can be proud of. Learning to adjust my schedule to accommodate the things that are important outside of school/work will be a useful skill to achieve my professional goal of a healthy work-life balance. This project helped reinforce the idea that you can have multiple passions and it is okay to shuffle around your time commitments as long as you continue stay dedicated and work hard to achieve your goals.