Capturing Chicago







During a weekend in May, I traveled to Chicago, Illinois. While I was there, I took a photography class where I learned how to operate a DSLR camera. I also went on a photography excursion where I practiced taking pictures, applying what I learned at the class I took earlier.

I feel like during the course of my STEP Signature Project I developed a stronger view of the world. Something that I learned about during my photography class was how just taking a shot from a lower or higher perspective completely changes the picture. I felt like when I was walking through downtown and taking pictures of some of the statues and architecture, I saw everything in a different way than I would have before. I feel like I have a much more unique way of approaching things artistically and I learned that I can grow and develop my skills more because of this. It will just take some practice.

As I mentioned before, the photography class that I took was an activity and interaction that taught me how to look and capture things from a different perspective. I think that this is an important concept that not only applies to photography, but life in general, which is why I feel like my view of the world changed while completing my STEP Signature Project. The instructor played a big role in this by being so friendly and making difficult information easier to understand.

Another aspect of my trip that led to my changed perspective was the relationships I formed with Eric, the host of the Nighttime Photo Journey, and the other person who was on the excursion, Dana. Eric taught me a lot of new techniques for photography, but also talked a lot about his experiences and how he got where he is today. He offered a lot of insight and advice on advancing yourself in photography and as a person by allowing yourself to be open to new opportunities that might seem scary at first. Dana had a very bright and bubbly personality that made the experience so much better. She got super excited about all of the pictures she took and it made me excited to take more pictures too and compare our different perspectives of the same things. Both Eric and Dana contributed to my changed view of the world by helping me see how even though we had different shots, all of them were equally interesting in their own way.

Lastly, going out on my own and taking pictures after the class was a huge component of my changed view. I did not realize how frustrating it would be when I applied what I learned in the photography class and my pictures still did not come out quite the way I wanted them to. I realized that photography is a skill that takes a lot of patience and practice. I also learned that editing is an important step that you have to take if you what to translate your vision for photographs. I think this can be applied to life as a whole in that sometimes you have to take a step back and change your plans. That is how my view of the world changed from this amazing experience.

This change that I have made as a result of this trip is valuable for my life personally because I think that it is important to be able to look at things from another perspective that might be different from your original view. This applies to so many things, especially at such a diverse school like Ohio State, where you have to have an open mind and be willing to step out of your comfort zone to look at things from someone else’s perspective. Not only is that a photography lesson, but a life lesson as well.

My transformation is significant to my life in that it has made me consider my future plans. I want travel more now and see all different types of places and things. This will help me further strengthen my view of the world and my photography skills. I also hope to incorporate photography into my profession, or at least make time for it to still be a hobby throughout my life.

Cincinnati to San Francisco

For my STEP signature project, I travelled from Cincinnati to San Francisco, visiting several national parks, forests, and monuments including Arches, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite. During our stays, we hiked, climbed, and camped.

During my project, and in the time spent preparing for it, I learned a lot about independent travel, camping, wilderness survival, planning, geology, and geography. Simply planning out a detailed itinerary and budget, booking campsites and park/activity fees, and purchasing necessary gear strengthened my communication, organization, and time management skills. I spent many hours planning the trip, and it was extremely rewarding to see my hard work pay off as I travelled and made my plans become reality. During the trip, I was more confident that I was prepared to handle any problems that could arise. I learned that I was more capable than I thought I was and that my preparation helped me feel more comfortable during my travel. Having only camped once before the trip, I was a bit nervous about living in the outdoors for multiple nights at a time. However, I quickly learned that if properly prepared, camping is extremely easy and very fun. I learned how to appreciate my time outdoors, without the distraction of my phone or other common background commotion. During the day time, I was worried I would not be able to complete certain hikes due to exhaustion or my fear of heights. However, I learned that determination, focus, and the satisfaction of completing a strenuous hike and seeing rewarding views lead me to appreciate even the hardest moments and inspired me to continue to seek challenges. I also learned a lot about the history of the parks, which was interesting because I not only got to see some of America’s most beautiful nature, but I was able to learn how it was created over, usually, millions of years, and how the parks have affected history. After this trip, I feel more confident to plan more independent travel plans successfully, and feel more motivated to continue to travel to explore other national parks, both inside and outside of the states. I have an increased trust in myself and others, and feel more comfortable with pushing my boundaries. I have been inspired to tackle more strenuous backpacking trips and climbing projects in the future.

The first major experience that really changed my perspective was during my Delicate Arch hike in Arches National Park. At the top, where the famous arch is located, I was able to hear and speak to people from all over the world; I remember hearing French, German, Chinese, Spanish, and other eastern-european languages that I was unable to identify. Not only was it neat to hear and see all of this culture in one place, but it made me reflect on the importance of preservation of national parks. Not only do they provide some of the most incredible, breath-taking views, but they also bring together people from across the entire world, seeking to see for themselves some of the most miraculous feats of nature. Outside of every park was a small town, and then no civilization for miles in between the parks. These towns only sprung up due to the masses of people that travel to see the parks every year, another example of how unifying nature can be.

I also really enjoyed talking to people we shared campsites with and hearing their stories and what brought them here. It was interesting to meet people from Germany and Australia, who were doing a tour of western national parks for their summer holiday. Everyone at the campsites were very friendly and flexible, something that I have noticed is very similar amongst most people I met. I think this is because when camping, spontaneity and flexibility is important – you have to learn to adjust to changing weather, changing plans, figuring out day-by-day situations, etc. I learned a lot about spontaneity and flexibility while camping for several nights in a row and I’m glad I was able to share my experience with people who had similar interests and values. There is a great sense of community at campsites and at national parks, and I hope to continue to make more connections with similar people.

Another moment that was very significant for me was after we had finished a hike to the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, and we were riding the shuttle back to our car. During the ride, we mentioned the Olentangy River in conversation, and the mom and daughter in front of us overheard and asked if we attended Ohio State because they were from Columbus. This put into perspective for me just how popular and incredible these parks are, and how small the world is. It also reminded me of the powers of the natural world, and how it brings people together from all over the place, simply by being there, unknowing of its purpose and how It shapes the world around it.

Shortly after that shuttle ride, we drove to Sequoia National Park. The experience in this park was a big change for me – before, we had only seen orange/brown limestone and sandstone rock in the desert areas of Utah and Arizona. Suddenly, we were surrounded by blue and grey granite rock. The change in warmth and color palette was very intriguing to me and was a nice switch up from what we were used to seeing. I enjoyed researching how different climates and environments affect the type of rock that forms.

Yosemite, by far, was my absolute favorite park, and perhaps the most beautiful place I have ever seen in person. I was honestly expecting to be slightly underwhelmed, thinking it would be overcrowded with tourists. However, I was absolutely in awe of this park. It cannot be put into pictures or words just how massive these rocks were, and how small they made you feel. Yosemite not only had amazing mountains, but also had valleys, and waterfalls, and forests. Sitting at the top of Sentinel Dome with a 360-degree view of the park, I felt extremely grateful that I was able to have this experience, and feel inspired to share it with others and encourage them to see it for themselves.

In the future, I wish to continue to visit different national parks and push myself to accomplish harder backpacking and climbing trips. This trip was just the beginning for my passion for outdoor travel and adventure. In the following years, I wish to become stronger at climbing and learn more about climbing outdoors. Climbing outdoors can be very dangerous and requires a lot of expertise, which makes me very anxious when I hear about fatal accidents. However, I hope to strengthen my confidence by learning more and challenging myself more so that one day I can pass along my knowledge to new climbers. Besides climbing, I also wish to conquer more backpacking trips, as mentioned earlier. Backpacking requires individuals to carry all camping equipment, gear, food, and water on their back as they hike out to their destination over several days, stopping along the trail to camp every night. Besides the push for more outdoor travel, I will also apply the skills and knowledge I have attained in my future academic and career goals. I feel more comfortable talking to people of different nationalities and cultures, I feel more inclined to research online and learn about things of interest through the internet and through knowledgeable people, and I feel more confident that I will be able to achieve goals that I properly prepare for and set my mind to.

I also intend on joining student organizations or causes that promote wildlife and national park preservation. I think that every American should be able to see the national parks, and in order for this to be possible, more attention and funding needs to be directed towards preservation so that future generations can continue to understand the importance of being outdoors and seeing the miracles of nature. As society becomes more reliant on technology and production, we are slowly losing a focus on the importance of the outdoors and the solace it can bring. It is extremely liberating to be outside, feeling the dirt underneath your feet, the wind blowing through your hair, and the sun shining on your skin. As cheesy as that might sound, it is extremely beneficial to physical and mental health to be outdoors. I hope to carry this frame of mind into my future endeavors and know that no matter where life leads me, I can always remember to find my peace in the outdoors.

Here is a picture from each site I took during the trip. Looking back at these, I feel extremely grateful that I was able to see all of this, knowing that millions of people will never be able to have the same experience. I also feel a sense of gratitude that I understand the importance of these places, beyond the picture – I am able to take myself back to the location where the picture was taken and remember how the sights made me feel.


If you wish to learn more about my trip, I also kept a blog with more detailed information about each location, the hikes we did, and my reflections at

Leaving No Stone Unturned



The idea of a transformational experience is rooted in the fundamental concept of change. Change, an innate part of the human life, transpires by chance or through deliberate decision. Purposeful change is the intentional action of challenging your own assumptions, beliefs, and your limits in order to grow as an individual. The decisive element in a transformation is the recognition of a change that has occurred in an aspect of your life as well as how you perceive and respond to that new found knowledge. For my transformational project, I wanted an experience that would purposefully allow me to learn an academic subject through the art of exploration, an immersive experience. I also looked for a project that provided an opportunity for me to transform internally in an unintentional way, which can occur through first hand interactions, overcoming challenges within an opportunity, or by an omniscient reflection and comparison after completion. My STEP project provided just that.

My project included a visitation to national parks and monuments in the western part of the United States, including Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, and the Grand Canyon. Throughout the experience, I learned the history and significance of each national park and its affect on the culture in the surrounding communities. The primary objective of the project was to capture the natural beauty and overall experience through a camera lens in order to create an explanatory travel video that showcased events during the trip. This challenge allowed me to cultivate my creative side when presenting the narrative of the trip through video.


After completion of my project, I acknowledge that I underwent a personal and professional development throughout my experience. The paramount transformation I underwent in this project was my ability to seek and find value in every opportunity and event that transpires in life. Every event, both good and bad, that occurred during the trip had a purposeful lesson or impact on my life. The most important experience that I found the greatest value in my transformation was the time of reflection. In fact, the ability to seek and find value in each experience is rooted in the time of reflection.

In the present day world, our society has evolved into a nonstop liveliness that is addicted to faster living. The habitual fast paced lifestyle does not value time towards contemplation and reflection. Many individuals cherish any moment to pause from the dynamic lifestyle they live. The power of reflection is as critical to an experience as the actual event that occurred. Without reflection, we suppress the importance of what has been achieved. Throughout this project experience, I found purpose in reflecting on the events throughout the day such that I could learn and grow from each lesson that was intrinsic to each situation.

Every day, after recording the daily events that occurred, I documented my own personal reflection on how certain events related to experiences my life and what lessons that I learned could be applied . It was important for me to take advantage of the lessons I learned from the prior day and apply these ideas and skills to each day following. The value of reflection and time away from the hustle of life has allowed me grow as an individual. This includes my presence within a group project setting, my personal approach to life, and my critical thinking process to approach a new idea, city, or opportunity as a scholar. Each day brought new challenges and opportunities to learn, develop, and grow in real world situations. Experience was the best teacher and reflection was instrumental in developing my perspective and the driving force my transformational change.



The transformation I experienced affected the personal understanding of myself and the beliefs I had about life in general. The driving force behind my personal transformation were the life lessons I learned in the real world situations throughout the trip. For example, on our first day of the trip, I was pulled over for a speeding ticket while in Minnesota. Although most individuals would believe that this is a negative event that occurred, I perceived the event as a message from above. I perceived this speeding ticket to be a reminder to not speed through life in the fast lane, rather, slow down and appreciate the present moment for what it is worth. Life is a marathon race, not a sprint towards the finish line. This event transformed my whole mindset towards the way I approach life. Each and every day, take time to value the current moment you are in and the people that you are with. This trip turned out to be one of the most valuable experiences in my life, and if i had not slowed down and cherished each location, conversation, and situation, I could have overlooked the importance of each moment. This mindset is similar to a famous quote by Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I am grateful that I decelerated my approach to life and took advantage of each opportunity throughout this trip. If I had not, I believe that I would have missed the other life lessons I learned throughout the remainder of the trip.

Each day brought forth new life lessons, ideas, and knowledge in various forms. My prior knowledge of the national parks and western culture was ultimately changed by personal immersion. Each park featured a different approach to explore the natural beauty and no park was the same. Despite visiting multiple parks and monuments, Zion National Park was very interesting to me in particular. Zion once was a hidden gem of the national park system. In 2008, the park hosted almost half of the number of attendees that visited 2017. In response to the increasing number of visitors, the town of Springdale, Utah had to adapt by repaving roads, building new hotels, and created a public transportation system. A park ranger noted that the anticipated growth was far less than actual growth. Parking for visitors is scarce because additional parking lots were not created for the real growth and could only handle the anticipated lower number of attendees. In response, the town installed a shuttle to help with the low parking spaces by allowing hotel guests to not drive into the park. Roughly 65% of the visitors are travelers from foreign countries creating a demand for places to stay. The park ranger said that the town began to allow hotels to build in order to accommodate, but the town ultimately gave prime real estate to the hotels before they realized what the value of the land would become. There has been a drastic increase in attendance to the park, but there has been a reduction in the amount of funding provided to the park. Budget cuts from the government on a national level have decreased the amount of funds received by national parks. As a result, the shortage of funds does not allow very many additional improvements to help accommodate for the increasing number of visitors and creates a butterfly effect in other aspects of the area. For example, the shuttle system only has funding for the 9 busiest months of the year and constructing more parking lots is not attainable.

By staying in the town for two nights, I was able to understand and experience first hand the problems the town faces. I brainstormed ways I would handle the problems the town faces. If I was a business owner, what ways could I differentiate my business and profit on the rapid expansion? How could analytics be applied to the analyze the data trends in the city to make improvements that maximize the resources and minimize costs? Could analytics be used for historical visitor records, gas prices, weather patterns, or website visits? My perception changed on how national parks and cities surrounding the area operate. The culture of the western cities and stats was shaped by the surrounding geography. Stores, clothing, and daily operations revolved around the geographic location and other societal factors, funding for example. The interactions and events that occurred on the trip allowed me to transform my opinion and perception of the park system and western United States culture.

The trip was instrumental in the transformation of my interactions with individuals. By being in a group project, I was challenged to work on a multitude of skills necessary when collaborating. My daily reflections included how I treated my colleagues each day and areas I need to work on to improve my communication and engagement. Each day was a group effort to achieve success. In a group setting, I was challenged in my contribution through cooperation in decisions, leadership with responsibilities, patience with interactions, and my support of other group members. Cooperation with decisions was important to be efficient with time and accommodate others desires. This included choices in the places we ate at, activities we selected to do that day, participation in each activity, and other small preferences like who preferred to drive or sleeping arrangements. For some parts of the trip, I was the leader and had responsibilities for guidance in directions, itinerary, and decisions regarding the hotels, food, and planning. I have always had leadership roles in the past, however, I was never truly the sole leader, requiring assistance and cooperation from others. During the trip, our conversations about leadership style challenged me to reflect on the way I thought about leadership, how my experiences could apply within an organization, and how my interactions and engagement would be effective within an organization. By being challenged to think on a larger scale, I believe I have transformed into a confident leader who can represent and guide an organization with value based decisions. My patience grew as a result of living and cooperating with the individuals in my group. Confidently, I can say that I am able to treat others with respect, a calm demeanor, and an understanding of their perspectives. Throughout the trip, when faced with adversity or difficult points in our hikes, I found myself using a voice of encouragement. I transformed my interaction technique to a positive beacon that inspired my group to push forward. By interacting with my group members throughout the trip, I was able to reflect on how I was presenting myself to my friends and the world. In turn, I was able to reflect on my actions and how to improve my soft skills with other individuals, especially while in group settings.

The transformation that resulted from my project is rooted in the lessons I learned through the events, activities, and the interactions that occurred during my trip. Without this immersive experience, my personal reflection and transformation would not have been as effective. The power of experience was quintessential in challenging me to be critically examine my response in situations and then evolve. I was put to the test both physically and mentally to push through preconceived limits and push myself to new heights, allowing me to developing a mindset without restrictions. My project provided an opportunity for me to transform internally in an unintentional way, which occurred through my interactions, overcoming challenges in the trip, and by my daily reflections and application of the lessons learned.                                                                                                                                                                                  

My transformation has made an impression on both my personal and professional pursuits. Professionally, the development of my group collaboration skills, interaction etiquette with strangers, project planning, itinerary creation, and academic progress with video production are of value to my future aspirations in the professional world. In data analytics, group collaboration and project planning are essential to the success in the profession. Creating and managing a detailed itinerary for an organization or project with time sensitive milestones are important when executing a plan to successful completion with positive results. The academic component of my project, the video presentation, is a creative platform of the exact same role as a data analyst position. The role here is to consume data(video, photos, or numeric), to interpret data, and to tell the narrative of what the information is in a meaningful and relevant way that is easy for others to understand. This transformation has further progressed me to be prepared for my professional career. Personally, my transformation is valuable to my appreciation of the life I live. An old saying is that “with freedom comes responsibility.” In life, we are given the freedom to choice to make decisions. The responsibility that originates from this freedom is the responsibility you have to yourself to live a life that makes the most of every day you have. My transformation is significant in my life because of my development of a restrictions-free mindset. I have surpassed my preconceived boundaries and believe that I have expanded my limits to new levels. While on this trip, I have conquered my fears, learned new skills, and have created a vision for who I want to be as an individual. This transformation is as vital in my personal life. In transformation, challenging yourself and the recognition of your change and accomplishments is important. However, the biggest victory in a transformation is the application of all lessons you have learned and endured. The diverse perspectives I have accumulated will allow me to connect and build strong relationships with individuals in my personal life and professional career. The ability to approach a problem, city, or opportunity from different viewpoints will allow me to achieve success continuously throughout my life. Through this exploration, not only did I personally grow, but now I have the ability to spark growth in other individuals by sharing my transformation and experience with them.





STEP Reflection Prompts

As you may recall from your STEP signature project proposal, your STEP signature
project was designed to foster transformational learning—that is, learning that challenged you personally and helped you gain broader and deeper understandings of yourself, others, and the world around you. Please address the following prompts to help you reflect on your experiences completing your STEP signature project; please give careful and critical thought to your responses.

Name: Logan Lavelle
Type of Project: Creative & Artistic Endeavor

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


My group embarked on a 10-day road trip out west to explore our country’s national parks. The purpose of this project was to challenge ourselves mentally and physically, and gain a worldly outlook while learning valuable skills in project management and organization.


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


I learned that I am capable of a lot more than I originally thought I was. Going into this project, I expected there to be a lot of hardship and obstacles that would be extremely strenuous to accomplish. I think my group and I underestimated our ability to adapt and overcome to any difficulties along the way. I definitely came out of this project a stronger person in the fact that I have a clearer vision for myself academically, personally, and professionally.

My view of America has definitely transformed as well. I’m a firm believer that one can experience almost every landscape here in our very own country. Too often today, Americans seek foreign lands for travel, when there are great experiences waiting to be discovered here in the U.S. The diversity I’ve witnessed first-hand has completely transformed my view of the country, for I really didn’t know what was out there before embarking on this trip.


  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

One of the events that led to a change in myself was hiking Angel’s Landing trail in Zion National Park. Ranked one of the most dangerous hikes in the country, everyone in our groups overcame their fears and literally hiked to new heights on this day. With teamwork and immense focus, we all conquered this trail and lived to tell the tale. This affected me personally because I was unsure if I could complete the trail or not. Afterwards, I had a newfound confidence in that I can accomplish more than I thought I could.

Hiking 3 miles into the Grand Canyon, then 3 miles back up was another physically tough venture, yet it led to a transformation in my historical education. It was amazing to discover that the Havasupai Indian tribe has lived at the bottom of the canyon for at least the past 800 years. Driving through Utah and Arizona and interacting with Navajo people also resulted in a change in my education, for I had never seen or talked to Native American people, but simply read about their history in America. Being able to experience it first-hand was definitely a transformational experience.

Strictly following our itinerary led to a change in my viewpoint of leadership and project management. Being on our own and making our own decisions definitely led to personal growth, as we were in charge of our own journey and in charge of how to spend the grant in a smart manner. Sitting down as a team and writing an itinerary and then executing it was something that I originally thought would be extremely challenging. However, the fact that we stayed organized made everything much easier, which definitely changed my opinion of the concept of project management. I definitely want to pursue a career in which I can take the lead on business projects and help a team successfully execute a business venture.

Finally, there was a transformation personally pertaining to teamwork, which was a direct result of spending 10 days on the road with my two best friends. Although there were difficulties and disagreements for sure at times, there was a change in our relationship at the conclusion of our trip. We all share a closer bond now after completing this project. What I’ve learned about working with others is something I’ll take with me into the workforce, as well as future friendships.


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


Going into this trip, I had a lot of questions about our country’s history, geography, my own career aspirations, and my own personal goals. Many of these questions were answered as I embarked on the trip of a lifetime. Although it took a lot of hard work and preparation, I developed incredibly as a student, business professional, and man. I learned that the resources I’m exposed, especially those at Ohio State, put me in a very fortunate place in this country. Academically, I’m even more motivated after this trip to make the most of my education, for most people in America don’t have access to the wonderful things I’ve been fortunate enough to be exposed to. Career wise, I’ve developed more of an entrepreneurial mindset after observing all the self-starters who worked their businesses up out west. I’ve realized my passion for giving back to others, as well as the environment, and most importantly I’ve realized that to get somewhere in life, nothing will be handed to you. One must put 110% into everything in life, including friendships, academics, and future goals.



Blog for friends and family here!

Highlight video here!


“Get lost in nature and you will find yourself”

My project consisted of a 16 day, 4800-mile, backpack and tenting road trip through the western part of the United States visiting several major cities and national parks including Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, and Colorado National Monument. The goal of the trip was to experience new places and cultures. While doing so, I reflected on what I truly want in life and how I can better myself.

As I was browsing a website one day, I came across a quote that has forever stuck in my mind. The quote I am referring to is “Get lost in nature and you will find yourself.” Although the meaning may not be apparent at first glance, these words have had a very special meaning for me in the last couple of years, and throughout the duration of this transformational experience.  Nature is something that can transform a person better than anything else. When you are miles deep into a national park, and maybe even lost, there is a feeling unlike any other. The absolute silence other than maybe the sounds of birds chirping or water flowing in a river allows a person to truly reflect on themselves and their decisions in life. Nature allows me to try to answer questions like “what kind of person do I want to be?” and “how do I want to contribute to society?” The primary objective of my hiking trip across the United States was to try to answer some of these questions without having the distractions that I face at home and at school. The experience gave me the opportunity to not have any distractions and truly focus on myself and transform me into the person that I, not anyone else, wants me to be.

This journey transformed me in ways that were personally, mentally, socially, and intellectually challenging. It pushed me to limits that I have never experienced before. Spending 3 consecutive nights in the Rocky Mountain National Park back country and 2 consecutive nights in the Grand Teton National Park back country without everyday necessities like showers and cell phone service was able to give me a more simplistic approach to my life. When packing for our expeditions, we were very limited by weight and space in our backpacks. We had to decide what the bare minimum was that we needed to survive and we couldn’t bring anything more. It taught me how to live by the bare essentials which will forever change the way I approach my life. It made me realize that much of which I thought were modern conveniences in my life were distracting me from the great things in my life such as relationships with my friends and family.

This journey was mentally challenging because I was away from my parents for a very long time and had to make decisions and survive on my own. In the past I have always gone on trips with my parents and family with me but this time I was independent from them. This allowed me to grow as a person and become a responsible independent adult. It also proved to myself that when I set my mind to a goal, with enough hard work, preparation, and dedication I can accomplish anything. This experience helped me grow as a person and helped me to gain experience with hiking as well as being separated from my parents. This trip required intense planning and preparation but it resulted in something that will forever change my life and transform me into the new person that I want to become.

Finally, it was socially expanding because it forced me to communicate with strangers from very different cultures throughout the duration of the trip to ask for various things such as directions or advice on where to go. One example was when a man approached my brother and I deep in the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. We were 15 miles deep down a rocky dirt road with absolutely no cell phone service for miles. We were both somewhat nervous and scared at first, but we branched out and ended up having a very long conversation with the man who ended up telling us a ton of information and local insight about the areas that we were planning to travel to. This experience taught me that good things come when you go out of your comfort zone and talk to people that are very different from you.

Along the course of the trip I have done much reflecting about the places that I have visited, the new people that I have met, and the cultures that I have experienced. I have reflected on the beauty of nature and will make sure that all the future decisions that I make as a chemical engineer will always be for the good of the planet. When making tough decisions between environmental impact and profits I will now have a stronger will power to stand up for the environment. This experience may influence me to potentially change my major to either environmental engineering or plant sciences, or to take a more of these types of classes. It has given me a stronger passion for keeping the earth as beautiful as it possibly can be.


Hunter Jarosz

STEP Reflection- National Park Western Trip

I went on a 10-day road trip to national parks in the western United States with two fellow STEP participants. I spent my time hiking incredible trails in the parks, interviewing park rangers, and conversing with locals. My goal was to learn more about the parks and study how they have impacted the surrounding area’s culture, history, and economy. Being a Data Analytics major, I was interested in analyzing how the parks have culturally impacted the lives of locals and comparing this with my own way of life. This project falls under the Creative and Artistic endeavors, and I kept a daily reflection journal and created a story board presentation highlighting my experience.

Before this trip, I felt that I had a good understanding of what I could and could not handle. In my life, I have pushed myself academically and have seen great success in my scholastic career thus far. I felt as though I was lacking a major experience where I challenged myself physically and mentally. I embraced the fact that this would probably be the only time in my life that I had an opportunity to partake on some of the most dangerous, yet beautiful hikes in our national parks. By pushing myself mentally and physically to continue moving forward and completing every hike, I became aware of the fact that I can do anything that I set out to. I am very scared of heights, but following extreme elevation changes and views from thousands of feet above ground I realized that I can indeed face and get over my fears. I never would have ever thought that I had it in me physically and mentally to push my body to new heights, but the view was so rewarding. I realized that the most challenging tasks in life are the most rewarding and worthwhile. Putting myself out of my comfort zone and trying new things proved to have tremendous impact on my development. In order to achieve true personal growth, I have learned that I need to keep pushing myself to try new things that I otherwise would not have felt comfortable doing. I also learned that I can accomplish anything that I put 100% of my effort into and keep believing in myself.

Being out in nature and seeing some of the most remarkable environmental landscapes in our country, I learned to have a greater appreciation for my life and life around me. Being from a large suburb, I honestly did not appreciate the natural world. After this trip, I now understand the importance of conserving and protecting our world, as seeing these parks in person is unlike anything I have ever seen in pictures or movies. The landforms were stunning and made me ponder the idea of their creation millions of years ago and the notion that humans have not been around for that long in comparison to the timeline of our planet. I realized that I am part of something much bigger than myself, and that it is extremely important to work together and protect our resources moving forward so others can have incredibly transformational experiences in these parks.

I also learned to think with an open mind and look at life with optimism. Being from a mostly white town, I considered myself to be close minded. At first, I was aggravated that the majority of my fellow hikers were not speaking English and a lot of the park signs featured other languages. Yet, after continuously meeting people from all over the world at these parks, I felt a sense of pride in my country. I thought it was awesome to meet people from China, Europe, and Australia doing the same thing as me; traveling thousands of miles to see breathtaking beauty that our great country has to offer. Although we were all from culturally different settings, we all had the same goal of completing the hike and getting to the endpoints to take in the scenery of our beautiful world and reflect on our shared experience. I realized that diversity should be embraced as we have much to learn from working with other cultures and solving complex problems that we face as a society today. I learned so much from being out West in an unfamiliar setting with people from all over the world. I noticed that locals all seemed to be much more laid-back and grateful than people in the Midwest. There are so many things in life to stress over and worry about, but at the end of the day the thing that is most important is your own happiness and health. Over the 10 days I was West of the Mississippi, I saw a change for the better in my attitude and view of life. The culture and geography provided an overwhelmingly positive transformation on my life.

The biggest activities and interactions that led to my transformation were going on hikes in different parks and interviewing park rangers and locals. I hiked in 3 national parks- Yellowstone, Zion, and Grand Canyon, and all had their own unique features and interesting stories. I also visited Mount Rushmore and the Rocky Mountains in Denver.

There were 2 specific hikes that challenged me, and I pushed myself to limits that I did not even know I exhibited. The first hike was the most challenging experience mentally in my life. This was Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. This hike consists of a 2-mile uphill climb to the top of Scout’s Lookout. There is then a 0.5 mile hike up an extremely narrow and dangerous path to the top of Angel’s Landing. The challenging thing about this hike is that there is a 1,000 foot drop on the left and right of you. There are also hundreds of people going up and coming down at the same time my group was hiking, which makes it even more dangerous because 1 miscalculated step would mean instant death. Driving to the park, I had an uneasy feeling about doing the second half of the hike, but upon arrival I decided that I was going to send it. I needed to overcome my fear of heights and wanted to experience this incredible view that not many people get to see in their lifetimes. After taking a couple hours, we completed the hike and I could look around at a 360-degree view of the park. I cannot begin to explain how awesome the view was. The hardest part was being at the very top of this rock formation and looking over the edge. I felt the pit of my stomach drop as I looked over the edge and watched others dangle their feet over the edge. I stayed at the top for about 20 minutes and reflected on my life. I never thought I would have been able to overcome my fear and accomplish this hike. My willingness to try this hike and see what I was made of provided me with the opportunity to see personal growth and reap the rewards of challenging myself to do something I was previously uncomfortable with.

The second hike was in the Grand Canyon and is known as Bright Angel’s Trail. This is a hike into the canyon with thousands of feet of elevation shifts. It was 8 miles in total down to the Colorado River, but we decided to go 3 miles down into the canyon. This hike is very dangerous and a handful of people die each year or must be rescued via helicopter. The hazards of this hike include overexertion from the extreme uphill elevation climb on the way back up and the possibility of dehydration in the middle of the day that the intense heat and lack of water can cause. This was without a doubt the hardest physically I have ever had to push myself. The view of the canyon from being deep down inside it was indescribable. It is amazing to me that years ago native tribes lived at the bottom of the canyon. The park workers ride mules to repair trails and it was tough dodging them and stepping over to the side during the hike. It took us about 4 hours in total, and we somehow climbed up the trail faster than coming down. On the way back up, the change in elevation and grade of the trail both exhausted me. I remember drinking 5 bottles of water and stopping frequently to catch my breath. I had one thought in my mind at this time, shear survival. I was able to motivate myself and keep pushing to accomplish this goal. I once again completed a strenuous hike and realized that I could achieve something amazing by working hard and setting my mind up for success. Both hikes provided experiences like no other and taught me things about myself that I did not know I had in me. I also had the opportunity to take in unbelievable views of wildlife and nature and pondered the creation of these lands so long ago.

The second part of this trip that led to my transformation was interacting with park rangers and locals. I learned so much about the impact that these parks have on the culture, history and economy of the surrounding area. In Zion I interviewed Ray Bender, a volunteer ranger who has been there for about a year. The biggest takeaway from our interview was the impact that Zion has had on Utah’s economy and on the culture of the town next to the park, Springdale. I learned from Ray that Utah has started a big marketing push to advertise its 5 parks as their economy has shifted from mining and ranching to tourism. I also learned that 65% of the visitors to the park in the summer are from outside the United States. This has led Springdale to takeoff and make an investment to accommodate tourists. It was interesting to see small houses, laundromats and local markets next to expensive hotels and expensive new restaurants. He also discussed the park’s initiative with Walmart to try and stop the selling of lead bullets. I learned that hunters use these bullets to kill deer and then California condors living in the park eat the deer carcass and become sick and die because of the lead. This conservation campaign has helped rescue these animals but work still needs to be done. This interview was very educational and I learned a great deal of information about the impact that Zion has on the culture and economy of the area.

My other interview took place at the Grand Canyon with Kensie Stallings who just became a park ranger. She also stressed the importance of conservation but this time it was focused on history. I learned that the canyon is the home of many native tribal lands and that over 4,000 archaeological sites have been discovered with many more to go. There is over 10,000 years of history from these artifacts which I found fascinating. The main takeaway from this interview was the tremendous impact that the canyon had on a specific culture and this can be seen with the conservation efforts of the park. Both interviews gave me perspective on a different culture, but specifically the importance that the role of national parks play in our country. This helped me see the contrast with life in the Midwest, as there is a much greater Native American presence out West. I was able to learn about a culture I was unfamiliar with and appreciate the impact it has on the area.

I also talked to locals and learned a lot about the style of living out West near these parks. Every interaction I had, rather it be at a restaurant or a gas station, involved very laid-back and friendly people. Life is much slower paced and people seem to be happier out here than back in the Midwest. I realized that it is important to enjoy the little things in life, such as the beauty of nature rather than getting caught up in the stresses of society. Interacting with so many foreigners and learning from these locals helped teach me the importance of keeping an open mind when experiencing something new for being the best way to understand and appreciate where others are coming from. I enjoyed this a great deal and learned so much about this new culture and have applied this mindset to my life.

Also, being in a car with my 2 friends for about 80 hours also led to incredibly deep conversations where we challenged each other’s thoughts and discovered what some of our weaknesses and strengths were as a team. This opportunity helped us learn more about each other, and in turn ourselves. This communication also helped us understand each other and let us all work together extremely efficiently on this trip as we discussed our goals and desires for the duration of the time. For example, I learned that I tend to challenge ideas that I do not agree with instead of listening to understand the opposing viewpoint. This is where being open minded comes in and learning to appreciate the contributions that a different mind brings to the table.

The transformation from this trip has already been extremely valuable on my life. For example, where I am interning this summer is a very diverse setting with people from many different cultural backgrounds. By going in with an open mind I have been able to thrive at work and learn from some brilliant people. Diversity is essential in business as putting together people from different backgrounds brings different ways about solving a problem together which is crucial for solving issues in our society. Being open minded and optimistic about new experiences has already had a great impact on my professional success. In the future, I plan on working in the financial industry doing business analytics, and this tends to be a very stressful area for many. This trip has transformed how I look at life, and I now understand the importance of appreciating the little things and taking time to reflect and making sure you are happy as an individual. I plan on maybe one day buying property out West near one of these parks to get away from life when it becomes overly stressful and take my family on vacation. Life is too short to get stressed all the time and I have learned to live in the moment to ensure that I get the most out of my experiences.

I also plan on applying this positive and accepting attitude to my future. Challenges that are met with optimism and a sense that anything can be accomplished usually tend to work out and get accomplished. This applies to my academic, personal, and professional plans. Academically, I want to continue to get good grades and maybe even pursue my MBA one day. Personally, I want to ensure that I am happy with my life and have time for myself to reflect and grow. Professionally, I want to find a job where I contribute greatly and make a decent living while still enjoying what I do every day. I know that having the mindset that I can achieve all my goals is the first step to accomplishing them. This attitude makes a big difference on my mental health and personal growth, as I saw during the hikes and reflection on this trip. Overall, the transformation of how I look at life includes keeping an open mind, having a greater appreciation for the world around us, and thinking positively and confidently that I can accomplish any of my dreams by working hard and being persistence all have had and will continue to have a tremendous impact on my academic, personal, and professional plans moving forward.

I feel that this opportunity has helped me grow immensely. I know that the experiences from this trip have transformed me for the better and have put me in a much better place to be successful with my future plans. I am so grateful to have had this amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity and plan on continuing this positive momentum on my life by sharing my findings with others and communicating the importance of an experience such as the one I went on.


Link to Story Map:

Why You Should be a Conservationist – STEP Hawaii

Hello, my name is Livie Sears and I’m an up-coming Junior at Ohio State. For my STEP Signature Project, I decided to go to several Hawaiian islands to learn about different unique plant and animal life and the general natural beauty of the sea and landscape there. I hope to inspire others with the beauty of nature, and hopefully in turn spark in them the desire to be a conservationist. Through hiking, scuba diving, and recording my observations in a journal and with photography, I’m creating this website to highlight the beauty and worth of Hawaii.

This whole idea really took its roots the summer before my freshman year of college. My two older brothers suggested that we hang out as siblings before I started at Ohio State, so we drove down to Tennessee to spend a few days in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Even though my first couple hikes were hard and left me with muscle soreness that lasted several days, I fell in love with hiking and the National Parks. Since then, I’ve hiked 9 other National Parks (including 3 in Canada) and my ultimate goal is to hike all 59 U.S. National Parks. This goal has led me to become so much more in tune with my passions. Before I went to Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I had never realized my great love for nature, exercise, and outdoor adventure. Exploring these passions has led me to other interests too, like conservation and sustainability.

Although I knew I wanted to do some kind of hiking/adventure project for STEP from the beginning of the year, the idea to incorporate sustainability really bloomed over Spring Break. For 2018 Spring Break, two of my friends and I went on a road trip to see some National Parks in Florida. While we stayed on Elliot Key, part of Biscayne National Park, we had the pleasure of meeting two amazing National Park volunteers. They taught us with such care and depth about the fragile ecosystems on the keys in that area, and explained how susceptible they are to pollution and human activity. Meeting them made me realize that for my STEP Project, I wanted to highlight the beauty and importance of Hawaii to help people see how special our planet is, and that we all need to make changes to keep it that way.

I started this project on the Big Island of Hawaii. After taking a day to get settled and sleep after our long sequence of flights and layovers, my brother and I decided to start exploring. My brother, Nick, and I drove two hours south to the National Park on Hawaii, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Our first step once we arrived was to get recommendations and safety information from the Park Rangers assigned to that park. Together, we made a plan to do two multiday hikes in a row;

Map of Hawaii National Park Trails

Day 1: Hike 8.5 miles down Keauhou Trail to Halape

Day 2: Hike 11.5 across the Puna Coast Trail, Hitchhike back up to our car, Hike about 6 miles over the Napau Trail to Napau Crater

Day 3: Hike about 6 miles back

My Brother and I in front of the Volcanic Ash Eruption at Napau

After we planned our hike, packed our packs, and filled up on water, we made our way to the trail head. We started our hike on a field of black dried lava, and as the day progressed you could imagine the intense heat only worsened when it reflected back up at us from the hot black ground. After a few hours, we finally reached the grassier portion of the hike. As we stopped to get a drink of water, I turned around and saw a pinkish cloud, and quickly realized it was some kind of eruption. At that exact moment, a Park Ranger called my brothers phone and told us that our plan for tomorrow wasn’t going to work, because the crater next to our campsite, Napau, had erupted volcanic ash and was an unsafe area. My brother and I were awestruck and couldn’t believe we were lucky enough to avoid being in serious danger by 1 day. We continued our hike and finally made it to Halape after what felt like forever, hiking in the stifling heat without any shade cover was a new experience for me, and exhausted me more than I expected.

Halape Beach

Even though I was pretty beat after the hike down, Halape was beautiful and having a beach completely to yourself in Hawaii was well worth it. Before we set up camp for the night, my brother and I swam in a tide pool, walked around and explored, and relaxed in the shade. The next morning, I woke up and immediately knew I was severely dehydrated, and we had already gone through half the water supply for the hike. There was water available at Halape, but it was non-potable and had to be treated before consumption and we didn’t have iodine tablets to purify the water. About 30 minutes into the 11.5 mile hike back, I was feeling really sluggish and sick. I knew the dehydration would only get worse and slow us down as the day got hotter and hotter, so we decided to stop at the next water station and fill up the rest of our water bottles with the non-potable water. Even though we were taking a significant risk by drinking the non-potable water, it was the last water station and we decided we would rather drink it and potentially get sick rather than not drink it and know we were going to struggle through the rest of the hike (I’m SO thankful we refilled on water, because we ended up finishing all 4 liters on that hike and still needing plenty of fluids when we got back).

Volcanic Rock Trails

The hike continued and took us through several different landscapes. First, tall grasses and bush, then dramatic cliffs overlooking water violently surging into the rock below, and then dried volcanic lava for the last third of the hike. By the time we got to the lava portion, my whole body was dripping with sweat from the heat, despite the constant and forceful winds blowing along the coast. It was mid-day and the sun was beating down on us, worsening the sunburn that persisted to redden despite my 5 coats of SPF 50. I looked up noticed another volcanic ash cloud forming to our left, and 10 minutes later the ground started shaking. Nick and I just looked at each other and then held on for stability, we couldn’t believe we were experiencing an earthquake. All I could imagine was hot lava streaming down the side of the mountain towards us, or a tsunami forming. The noise the dried lava made when it scraped against itself was horrifying, it sounded as if at any moment it was going to break apart and reveal hot lava oozing up and engulfing the rocks under our feet. The earthquake only lasted about 30 seconds, but it felt like a lifetime. A few minutes after the shaking subsided, a giant mushroom cloud of pinkish volcanic ash erupted from the same spot it had about 20 minutes earlier.

Finishing the hike was one of the physically hardest things I’ve ever done. The hike across the coast was flat, so the challenge wasn’t the elevation gain, but the heat. I’d never experienced dehydration, sunburn, and muscle and heat exhaustion to this extent before and I won’t lie, I cried a little … don’t tell my brother. We finally got back to the road, and saw a Park Ranger directing traffic. He let us know that the park was being evacuated due to the earthquakes, landslides, and expected lava flow. My brother and I had to completely change our plan, and drove to the other side of the island to stay in an Airbnb.

We stayed another day or so on the Big Island, and then headed to Maui. Since we were on Maui for over a week, our main goal was to tackle our scuba diving certification. The online learning portion typically takes ~3 days to complete (or 1 night if you’re like us and procrastinate until the night before the in-water training), and then 3 days of dive training. The E-Learning was actually pretty fun, and definitely necessary to learn all the safety basics.

My Scuba Diving Crew

I will not lie, the first day of dive training was rough for me. I had gotten sick in the past couple of days and it caused me to be really queasy, so before I even got to get in the water I got sick in the beach public bathroom… and then again after my first dive. Surprisingly though, I felt much better when I was in the water rather than on the surface. Underwater, we worked on basic skills, like clearing your mask of water, practicing what to do if your air runs out, learning how to read and communicate your gage pressure, learning how to breath from your regulator (the mouthpiece) when it’s spewing air freely, towing a tired diver, bouyancy, skin diving, etc. Those skills sound simple in theory, but are surprisingly intimidating underwater. Each day of training went from 7:00am-3:00pm. For the first two days of training, we did all our skill training first, then got to finish with a little guided dive at the end. On the third day, we did 2 open water dives, and each got to lead a portion of the last dive. On our open water dives, we explored a small coral reef off of the beach, and were lucky enough to see a few green sea turtles, plenty of fish, and some moray eels. Something really interesting about Hawaii is that there are fish indigenous to each island.

We took full advantage of our new Open Water Diver certification, and went on a boat dive two days later. We sailed out near an island off the Maui coast, called Molokini. Molokini is known for its amazing visibility, and I can attest to the clarity of water… we were able to see 100+ft ahead of us. Around the reef of Molokini, we saw all kinds of creatures, sea cucumbers, moray eels, cushion starfish, blowfish, parrotfish, various butterflyfish, needlefish, various tangs, triggerfish (aka the Humuhumunukanukaapua’a, the state fish of Hawaii), boxfish, and much more! After we finished the Molokini dive, we got back on the boat and sailed back to the east side of the island, where we replaced our tanks and did another dive. Here we saw much of the same fish, but saw an octopus and green sea turtle as well. We were even lucky enough to hear a whale! This was extremely unexpected, because typically whales have left the Hawaii area by April. The dive guides explained that this whale was probably a mother who had her child late. From December to April, whales migrate to the Hawaiian Islands from Alaska to feed, breed, and nurse their young until they’re strong enough to swim long distance with minimal assistance.

View Along the Bike Trail

Although the scuba diving certification process took up a good chunk of our time on Maui, we did some other interesting things too! One day, we biked 28 miles down the inactive volcano on the island, Haleakala. On the way down, we stopped at several points to take in the view (or grab coffee at a local shop).

We also got to do some hiking on the last few days. We headed to Haleakala National Park and planned out a multi-day hike with a Park Ranger, who made sure to go over the seven “Leave No Trace Principles” (Plan Ahead and Prepare, Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave What You Find, Minimize Campfire Impacts, Respect Wildlife, Be Considerate of Other Visitors).



Map of Haleakala Trails

Day 1: Hike 8.5 miles down the Sliding Sands (Keonehe’ehe’e) Trail and part of the Halemau’u Trail to Holua to camp overnight

Day 2: Hike 4 miles of the remaining Halemau’u Trail back to the road

Silversword Plant – Rare plant seen on the Sliding Sands Trail

Sight Along the Sliding Sands Trail

The hike was beautiful, and almost other worldly, the sands were colored bright oranges and yellows and the plants on the terrain looked like they were straight out  of a movie. After returning to the car, we celebrated my last day by getting lunch and going for one last swim. I left Maui that night at 10:30 pm.

The initial purpose of my project was to inspire others to live more sustainably by sharing my experience interacting with the nature of the Hawaiian Islands. As I wrote this post, however, I realized that I want to inspire you to get out and experience nature for yourself. You will never be moved to change your lifestyle until you experience the calm and quiet of the forest at night, or the smell of warm pine during a day-hike. Once you experience all the subtleties of the outdoors, you feel like it’s your job to protect it. If you want to start exploring, National and State parks are an amazing way to get away without having to drive too far.

If you’re interested in making some changes here are some quick things you can do:

– Switch to metal/reusable straws – MILLIONS of tons of straws enter the ocean each year, and since they’re plastic, they never break down fully. Swap your plastic straws for a reusable one, or skip the straw all together! If you want to take this further, there are plenty of one-time-use plastic kitchen items that you can replace with more sustainable versions, including sandwich bags and plastic wrap!

– Reduce your meat/dairy consumption – A lot of people are feel uncertain about adopting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, because they would have to give up a large part of what they currently eat, but you don’t have to fully make the switch to help make a difference! Animal agriculture is one of the top 5 greenhouse gas emitters, so cutting out even a couple of meaty meals a week makes a difference. Try switching from cows milk to soy, almond, coconut, flax, or cashew milk and from beef burgers to black bean or quinoa burgers.

– Focus on reusables – Replace items with their reusable counterpart! Some ideas include reusable water bottles, coffee mugs, canvas bags (you can use these at the grocery store AND retail stores), plates and silverware (instead of paper plates and plastic cutlery), and using cloth rather than paper towel!

– Buy a bamboo toothbrush – Similarly to straws, tons of toothbrushes end up in the ocean each year and never break down! By choosing a

View Along the Halemau’u Trail

bamboo toothbrush, you can combat that waste. If you’re not a fan of the bamboo feel, there are plenty of other kinds of sustainable toothbrush options too that are more similar to a traditional toothbrush.

All of the ideas listed above are simple and can be implemented right away! The glooming task of slowing and reversing the damage we’ve done to our planet can be really daunting, but by making small changes, and encouraging others to do so as well, you can make a difference.

I hope my project has inspired you to step outside and make a change.


STEP Reflection – London Abroad

Kyle Prete

Artistic and Creative Endeavors

My STEP Signature Project consisted of a trip to London through my scholars program. The trip lasted eleven days and included several tours of well known landmarks. The purpose was to immerse ourselves in their culture and learn about the role sports play in society.

Several changes occurred with myself while I was traveling abroad in London. The first change consisted of me gaining more confidence in being independent and in a position to make important decisions. For example, there were a couple free days built into the itinerary, so I decided what landmarks I wanted to see to be able to get the ultimate experience of the history with the city. That leads to another change being that I became more open to perspective and engaging myself with the culture. Developing an open mind when traveling abroad allowed me to appreciate differences in cultures and understand how to respect differences when abroad or back home. Obtaining the opportunity to travel abroad with this trip was an important stepping stone for myself as I branched out of my comfort zone and experienced life outside the United States. I felt humbled to immerse myself in European culture and learn several aspects pertinent to London. This trip has more than inspired me to think about traveling more when given the opportunity, which is a lesson in of itself for my career to not pass up chances when they present themselves to me.

Each day was filled with opportunities to experience the culture present in London. Our travel throughout the city mainly consisted of riding the underground, or their version of the subway. Being able to take in the intricate patterns of the different lines and comprehending the architectural and engineering aspects helped me build confidence with navigating a transportation mode I am not familiar with. In addition, the sports theme of the trip presented the chance to set expectations that were far exceeded after experiencing several places. Getting to tour Wimbledon, the Emirates Stadium, and Olympic Park as well as attending a rugby and soccer match were some highlights for myself. Seeing the passion for soccer by the natives allowed me to obtain a fuller experience and replicate that feeling into my career as I continue post-secondary education. Other key places visited included the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and Big Ben. As I could see for miles on top of the London Eye I was taken aback by all the growth that has been achieved and knowing that there is still more to come. London is 2000 years old and some parts of the city maintain walls built during the early days of its establishment. Walking around that part of the city and taking in the rich history provoked my understanding of perspective and how stepping back to admire the smaller things in life can have a major impact. Sometimes we take things for granted in life and so one lesson I gained from the trip was to take advantage of every opportunity and know that everything happens for a reason. During the trip we also participated in some interactive activities such as the Churchill War Rooms and afternoon tea at the Savoy Hotel. It was a pleasure to enjoy tea at the Savoy Hotel and enjoy delicious platters of finger sandwiches and pastries. Participating in this activity allowed me to better understand the tradition. Sometimes we form judgments of people or places without meeting or going to see them and such ignorance can prove to be detrimental. It does not take a lot to impact someone once they take the time to comprehend the situation. The lesson gained for me was to become more open-minded when approaching a new person or scenario. Aside from that, going through the War Rooms provided a great historical background of World War 2 and the damage that humans can do to each other. With that being said, it is important to look after one another and maintain a feeling of respect for those we may not always agree with. Discrepancies will occur, but it is how we react that defines who we are. The lessons learned from these activities solidified how I can take new approaches in life to reflect a different side of me that is courageous to try new things.

It is critical to recognize the importance of such change or transformation that I experienced during my STEP project. Today, there is so much divide in the world and people tend to be closed-minded. There is a lack of unity and that opens the door to wars and other conflicts among nations. We must recognize differences as being unique and both listen and engage in civil manners about said differences. Taking the initiative in traveling to London to experience their culture has and will continue to allow me to possess an open mind applicable to my career.

STEP Project

Jack Ziessler

Artistic & Creative Endeavors

For my project I combined my curiosity with the outdoors and photography. I took a road trip out west, and used skills and techniques I learned in a photography course to capture my experience.

During my trip I discovered that I am more driven and patient than I had thought I was. Before this project, I had always believed myself to be somebody who could push through hard times, and remain determined to reach my goal, but it was not until I was backpacking in Colorado that I realized it was true. I was very pleased with how engaged I remained during my trip, and I continued to surprise myself with newly found curiosity. A big part of this transformation would have to be the fact that I brought my camera. This gave me another reason to keep going and continue to be involved in the environment I was in. I came into this road trip a bit insecure and confused about what I was trying to do, but I came out confident and comfortable with my interests in life.

The main focus of my trip revolved around the trail that I chose to backpack on. I spent a lot of time researching which ones were the most interesting, and I ended up choosing a difficult trail that I was dedicated to hike. So, it was definitely a barrier in my plan when I got to the trail and found out that the dirt road leading to it was closed due to snow. But, snow was not enough to stop the hard work I had already started. This initial decision to park on the road and walk the extra twenty miles just to reach the trail was what jump started this new persona that I had become. Even though at first, the decision to continue was a bit rash, this is what boosted my confidence that led me throughout the rest of the trail. It was my first bold step into the unknown, and threw me into a position I had not planned for, but was crucial for the reason that I left the park with more confidence than ever.

Of course, the road was not the only factor that lead to me becoming a stronger person, for later that night I fought through another barrier that I was not ready for: the night. Obviously, I did a lot of research before going backpacking, but it turns out that the temperature is something that you should never underestimate. At night, the temperature more than halved, and left me shivering awake thinking about how many more of these night I am going to have to endure. Instead of turning back, I decided that I had to accept defeat during the nighttime, and take back my rightful position on top during the day hiking twice as hard. Nighttime had the greatest impact by far, and was certainly the part of this trip that strengthened my patience and willingness to persevere. By no means was it fun to lay there at night and take that beating, but my intentions became stronger than the cold. If I had ever thought the car ride was what was going to build my patience, I was wrong. Whatever little it may have done, there is no doubt that the sleepless nights built it ten times more.

Lastly, I have always kind of thought of myself as a curious person, but learning how to take photos, and then bringing a camera with me on this trip made my curiosity tangible. For the first time, I was able to clearly experience my curiosity. Whenever I would feel that I need a break, I would set down my backpack, and instead of sitting there with it, would continue to hike with my camera to get into cool places for neat shots. My camera gave me a reason to climb and go to the weird places I always want to go to, and it showed me that rather than just being a daydreamer, I actually do genuinely enjoy exploring, and experiencing new things and places. Photography pushed me out of my comfort zone, and let me be the little kid I love being. I am super excited to see where photography will take me in the future because I know it will stay with me. During this trip, it set me on a path of interest and stretched my mind, and I know that it will continue to show me different parts of myself.

The transformation that I went through is undeniably helpful for every aspect of my life whether it be professionally or not. The confidence that I gained will open up new doors for me in my career as well as socially at school or anywhere I go. Although I did not spend time on this trip being very social, I am more comfortable in groups and with individuals because I am more confident with myself. I believe that this value paired with my stronger patience will lead me to places I have always wanted to go. I am also more comfortable stepping away from my norms, and into new scenarios. Before this trip I was a very shy and quiet person, and I think that although my core values remain the same, I am more courageous, and very willing to be involved because I have learned that taking a leap forward without going back has fantastic benefits. I am thrilled that I was able to learn so much about myself, and am enthusiastic to learn more.


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STEP Project: Taking Only Pictures

For my STEP Signature Project, I did a road trip out west to visit various national parks. I travelled with my friend Alexa, who just recently graduated from Ohio State in environmental engineering. My project purpose was to study and practice Leave No Trace principles, become conscious of human impact on the environment, and then come back to educate students of high schools I shadow in on what I learned.

To begin, Leave No Trace is a set of principles that are requested of visitors of preserved parks services to abide by in order to preserve the parks for future generations. The idea is that as a visitor, one should come in and leave the park as if the park had been untouched by them. It consists of seven principles.

1. Plan ahead & prepare.
I found that planning was one of the most important parts of our exploration of the national parks. At each park, we stopped into the visitor’s center for a trail map, and spoke with a ranger about trail conditions and recommendations. We found information about the history, terrain and wildlife of the parks. With so many different types of parks visited, this was crucial; we had hikes from sand dunes to full-on blizzards to overnight 14er ascents. Without proper preparation, we could have harmed ourselves or our surroundings.
2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces.
In a lot of the parks we visited, backcountry permits had to be obtained in order to camp on the trails, and came with a lot of restrictions. We were told to camp in specific areas that had been camped in before, in order to preserve wildlife.
In terms of day hikes, we did a ton of trails. A common thing we saw on our hikes was people going off the trails. As a photographer, I understand: it is so tempting to walk a few feet further out onto that cliffside for the perfect picture. But trekking off the marked paths may bring tramping feet over delicate restoration areas.
3. Dispose of waste properly.
Pack in, pack out. This is one of the most stressed hiking rules. What you bring into the wilderness must be brought out by you. That means clothes, trash, and food. On our hike up to Pike’s peak, we must have picked up an entire bag of trash and tucked it into our packs. They were usually just tiny pieces that someone had thought wouldn’t be too much of an impact. But those tiny pieces could bring harm to an animal if eaten. In the Channel Islands while we were kayaking, we came across a plastic bottle that was trapped in some floating seaweed. We picked it up, thankful that it was us that found it and not a curious dolphin.
4. Leave What You Find.
This one is difficult. It is so tempting to pick the pretty wildflowers, or to grab that piece of driftwood that would look fantastic as a shelf on the living room wall. But taking pieces of the environment has effects, even if it doesn’t seem so; removing a flower could kill the plant, and removing a piece of driftwood reduces the amount of broken down matter in the ground.
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts.
Fire warnings are serious. Some of the places we went to were so dry not even fires in fire rings were allowed. But most forest fires are started because of people ignoring these important warnings. Natural forest fires are good for forests, but fires started by humans are not.
6. Respect Wildlife.
It was honestly astounding to me how appropriated some of the wildlife in the parks were. Sitting in Rocky Mountain NP, I was surrounded by chipmunks, darting around me, running right up to me. They weren’t afraid of me in the slightest, because they knew I was eating a peanut butter sandwich. They expected me to give them food, which revealed to me that they had been fed many times by visitors. And that killed me – when visitors feed the wildlife, not only are they disrupting the animal’s desire to hunt or gather, but they also are hurting the animal’s digestive systems. Feeding the wildlife is, arguably, one of the greatest rules violated in parks.
Additionally, I saw so many visitors just simply walking up to wildlife. Signs at Yellowstone said to keep 200 yards away from the buffalo, but people continually pushed their boundaries. In Glacier NP, when we saw a momma bear and cub cross the road from our car, we were terrified and stayed in our car to watch from a distance, but later we saw a family get out of their car and walk towards the bears.
I saw so many carvings in trees of initials and names, and was increasingly filled with the awareness that those carvings would cost the tree its life.
Countless warnings within the park told this one itself, but I definitely grew respect for wildlife on this trip. Wildlife is still wild in these parks, and we should work to keep it that way, not only for our safety but for theirs.
7. Be Considerate of other Visitors.
Let the sound of nature be louder than your voice. Don’t break off branches or go off the trail, and pick up your trash – leave it the way it was, so the next person can enjoy it in the same way.

National Parks are intended to preserve precious terrain and wildlife, and therefore command a level of respect. A lot of damage done to preservation essentially comes down to human ignorance. After this trip, I have become so much more in awe of the natural beauty of this Earth, and my desire to keep it safe has increased deeply. I feel that as society and technology improves, the importance of retreating to the peace of nature is disappearing.

My major is education, and for my major, I shadow in several classrooms. I feel that education on the environment is not stressed enough in schools, so this fall, I am excited to create a presentation for Leave No Trace principles and present it to high schoolers in classrooms. I think that starting with the youth is important, as they begin to discover the natural majesty of the Earth, and hopefully work to decrease their impact on it.

I am excited to advocate for protection of the environment, and extraordinarily thankful for this STEP experience. I met so many wonderful people that served as resources for how I can better this earth, including my road trip partner, and I am excited to share my knowledge with students. I hope that from now on, I can continue life with an increased awareness and appreciation for my surroundings, and an immense respect for this Earth.