STEP REFLECTION- Samuel Richards.1260

Name: Samuel Richards

Type of Project: Artistic & Creative Endeavour

Western United States Photography Expedition- Reflection

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

For my STEP Signature Project, I embarked on a three-week road trip across the western United States. I spent the three weeks visiting different national and state parks around the country and learning from park rangers on a variety of different topics, as described below. In these places I expanded and diversified my design portfolio by capturing a variety of photographs and videography focusing on landscapes. However, the trip changed me in more ways than I ever could have expected.

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

I went into the STEP Program thinking that I had my life figured out. I was going to be an architect and design buildings and places for the rest of my life. It wasn’t until the STEP Cohort Process where I was challenged by my cohort advisor, John Schrock, to do some self-reflection. This period helped me come to terms with where my true interests lie, and more importantly, that Ohio State offered other options/majors that fell more in line with my passions and interests than my current major. I still wanted to design, but I wanted to design on a more macro scale with PEOPLE at the heart of my designs. This lead me to switch my major to Urban Design (City & Regional Planning).


I used this same mentality when going on my trip. I still wanted to focus on my passion of photography with a focus on the design of spaces, but I added a new approach of looking at design habits of these spaces (i.e. planning for places that experience risk of wildfires during the late summer, more sustainable planning habits necessary on the west coast that we don’t see in Ohio, resilience practices as far as dust storms in the middle of Nevada, etc.) that without this trip, I would never have the opportunity to learn about.


This project changed me. I was able to witness first hand different planning practices, both the good and bad, that exist across our nation.  I spoke with people who live in those areas.  I asked their reaction to those planning practices and what they would do differently.

I also developed new inspiration from these experiences, such as visiting National Parks and seeing new landscapes that I had never before seen. These experiences, as described in my Proposal, have led to inspire the works of countless photographers, professional designers as well as planners. I plan on using my experience to fuel my creative thinking, both in my passion of photography as well as the world of Urban Design and Planning for my career.

  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?

The biggest impact my STEP Signature Project had on me was the people that I got to meet from all over the country. My career goal is to work for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD is a federal government agency that focuses on planning practices and particularly housing of the entire nation. There is a saying in urban design/ planning that you design WITH people, not FOR people. It is considered extremely hypocritical to plan for people that you have never met, let alone for an area that you have never experienced. This trip gave me the opportunity to witness first hand planning practices used in the western part of the United States that I have only read about. More importantly, allowed me the opportunity to talk with people from these areas and ask them their opinions about those practices.


As one example, I spoke with at least one ranger at each of the National Parks I visited.  I kept a journal of those conversations. One of the most impactful interactions I had with a ranger was with Ranger Kelly from Sequoia National Park. Sequoia is at risk of being reduced in size by the Department of the Interior to only a small percentage of what it is today. I anticipated Park Rangers to give me their typical “protect wildlife” speech, but it was really eye opening to hear Ranger Kelly discuss it with me (knowing I was a Planning Student) from an urban design perspective. She discussed her view of how the planned reduction would negatively impact the economy, social well-being of the local community, natural sustainability of the environment, etc. These are all concerns/impacts that planners have to deal with every day. I loved seeing how a decision related to the planning realm of that area had members of that community worried and involved.


Along those same lines, it was amazing talking with people at diners about issues concerning them. For example, I had a discussion with a group of local farmers in Nevada about how they had to design crates to keep highway dust from corrupting crops and how they wished his state had some sort of protection plan to help the dust settle just off of the highway, similar to what the State of Wyoming has implemented along their interstates. I also spoke with local shop owners in Bridgeport, CA (a city just outside of Yosemite) about their concerns of the Ferguson Fire and how they wished the state had given them more support in preparation to evacuate their homes and businesses. I also got to speak with Yosemite National Park Rangers about how they had planned resilience for the park in preparation for the forest fires and how they have worked with city planners to put measures in place to keep the park safe. These are issues that you don’t necessarily see on the television until a disaster is at hand. It wasn’t until I was given the opportunity to see them first-hand that I got a true appreciation for what roles Urban Planners have in situations such as these, and how we have a real impact on people’s daily lives.


I also got new inspiration in terms of my design and creative outlooks from this trip. One moment that I will remember for the rest of my life was on the drive from Reno to Lake Tahoe in Nevada.  One moment the scenery was desert and small dirt hills.  Going around a bend and all of a sudden I felt like I was in a new world of dense forest and large evergreens. Moments like that just don’t exist here in the Midwest, especially not to that level of dramatic inspiration. Another stunning moment was watching the sunset over the horizon on the Pacific Coast Highway, only to expose the clearest star-filled sky I have ever seen that exposed the entire Milkyway. Words cannot describe that feeling.


I have countless memories of this type from sights that, quite honestly, are really hard to describe in a reflection. Any attempt I give will not do them justice. These experiences have without a doubt transformed my perception of the natural world and have caused me to look at nature for inspiration in my view of design. I have learned that nature has more to offer than any man-made idea or concept; which, more often than not, fail the test of time. It’s hard to explain but what was supposed to be a simple journey of stepping out of my comfort zone in my hobby of photography, has led to new perspective. A perspective that I know will help my career in Planning thrive, as well as all areas of my life for the rest of my life.


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

As described above, this trip has transformed me in ways that are nearly impossible to express in words. I am forever grateful for choosing to take part in the STEP program my second year on campus, as it led me to find a career that works with my passions, but also for giving me the ability to experience and develop a personal connection with part of the country that I will have never experienced without this project. I was able to gain creative inspiration from multiple sources that have changed my entire outlook as to how I think about design. I was challenged by forcing myself out of my comfort zone, particularly in the realm of photography, in many ways that I did not anticipate. But through all of that I have developed new perspective into my design works that will be reflected in all of my work to come.

Before this trip, I also had the perception of what I thought the people out west were like and I thought I had a good understanding of the issues facing the people out here struggling with (i.e. water limitations, desert conditions, sustainability, environmental goals, etc.). However, it wasn’t until this trip and being able to witness it all first hand and speaking with the people these issues are directly impacting that I am able to comprehend and feel an urge to help them. I have made lifelong connections with people throughout the entirety of my trip that, when I accomplish my goal of working for a federal urban design agency, I will be able to plan and, rather than seeing them as census data points on a spreadsheet, understand how my decisions directly impact them and their lives.

STEP reflection

  1. I embarked on a backpacking trip with a group of friends, in an effort to discover the merits of being in the wilderness for days on end, as well as to learn the ins and outs of managing some of the most thriving national parks on the west coast – and to apply that knowledge to my natural resource management degree, that I’m currently earning at the Ohio State University. The trip took 25 days, across 4 national parks (Rocky Mountains, Bryce Canyon, Yosemite, Sequoia) and provided us with enough backpacking experience to relay to interested, up-and-coming backpackers, via a website.
  2. Going into this journey, I already had a love for nature and for conserving our planets resources, so that the beauty of the natural world can be shared and witnessed by all. This was amplified after my STEP signature project. Being submerged in the woods after a hard days trek was such a rewarding experience. The scenery of the landscape is unparalleled out west, and being able to discover some of the most breathtaking sights in the nation was a humbling experience. Being able to live simply; only having to worry about food, water, and shelter was one of the transformations I went through and could really appreciate. Life for many people can be stressful, hectic, and outright crazy, but getting back to the basics was a nice break from my daily stressors as a student and as a member of society in general. The transformation regarding my passion for my major was also transformed. I wasn’t too sure what I specifically wanted to be doing after college, but after talking to some of the park rangers and listening to their experiences, I have a better outlook and plan for what I want to be doing in the future, and a genuine feeling of excitement too.  
  3. One such experience that was challenging for my group and I, was the elevation change when hiking up the mountains. There’s less oxygen in the air and it’s much more difficult carrying 40 pounds of equipment on your back, when going uphill. Rocky mountain was our first time backpacking, and it just so happened to have the highest elevation gain. This experience made the remaining 3 hikes much easier, and enabled us to warn others (through our website) to be prepared when scheduling a long days hike up a high elevation mountain. 

       Another experience that aided in the transformation of being a backpacking novice to an           intermediate backpacker, was listening to some of the experiences that the park rangers had. I vividly remember walking down the mountain, about 1000 feet outside of the trail- head, when three park rangers guiding 3 llamas and a few donkeys, with a vast amount of gear on their backs, pass us by. They told us that they were on a mission to repair some of the outhouses up at the top of the mountain and were in charge of leading the animals up the mountain with all their gear. It was stories like these that made it seem fun to be a park ranger. Some of the missions they are entrusted with are so unique and strange, and involve hiking through some very visually appealing woods and creeks. These are the stories that revived my passion for working outdoors and managing our planets ecosystems.  

4. I think this experience had a great overall impact on my life. It really allowed me to live simply and appreciate the quiet places and beautiful imagery of the natural world. The introspection that occurred on this trip was also a very useful tool in motivating me to do better in school and graduate with a degree that helps to maintain the beauty of these parks, as well as to contribute to a flourishing ecosystem for both animals and humans to enjoy. My passion for being in the wilderness has never been so great and has excited me for the future backpacking trips I plan to embark on.  

STEP Reflection

Billy Doyle

Creative Endeavor: PC Build/Animation


  1. I built a PC to use to learn the basics of animation to bring mental health-based videos to the world from the YouTube platform. I want to form a new kind of counseling with these online videos and to make them accessible to all people that have a phone or tablet and an internet connection.


  1. I have learned that making an animation is not as easy as it may seem whenever you see them in commercials or a YouTube video, even a 30 second animation could’ve taken the creators a week or so to do that much. I am a beginner and this is made apparent whenever I went into this project and I have realized that I have to work for the things that I want, even if I have a really good idea for a channel or subject to post about it is going to take a lot of effort to make this dream come true. I have started to see the world as something that I can make anything of if I put the work in, I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I have been making very good progress in my animation knowledge and I am going to start posting in October.


  1. During this project I have become a lot closer to my sister Vanessa, she is a teacher at Chillicothe High School and is an OSU alum and she is a teacher in the media area and she has a lot of experience in design and production as she has done this as a job for the past 10 years at the local radio station, she has helped me learn about the ins and outs of Adobe and made me more comfortable with the software.

I had hit a wall a little after I had started to work on my computer and get familiar with it and see the limitations and the ability of it and I was lost and I had started to go through some personal issues during mid-July and it had made me question all of the things that I was doing and going through at the current time. I decided to make the decision to get rid of the toxic relationships that I had been a part of and this had made me realize that these videos were important to me and that I could be the one that brings them to the surface and even started a movement for mental health. Mental health is being brought up a lot in the news and even here at Ohio State, but it appears that there is no help for those that are going through things, yes you can call the helpline, but I personally have an easier time watching and looking at a video opposed to speaking with a random stranger at 3 a.m.

I used to have a hard time finding motivation for doing anything in life and this project has truly helped me find a new outlet and a new passion to work toward as whenever I graduated high school I couldn’t play football anymore and I had gone through a breakup with a high school relationship that lasted over 2 years and I had felt like I didn’t have anything anymore and this project has given me the feeling of happiness and accomplishment that both of those things used to give me. I plan on doing these kinds of videos and talking about my life and sharing it with others for the rest of my life.


  1. This transformation that I have underwent has taught me a lot about myself, my peers, and the world as a whole, this has reshaped how I view everything and it has given me a purpose in life that I had been lacking for so long and I feel as though that this project has in one way or another, saved me from becoming anymore sad than I had been already. This project has even helped me in my academic life as well, giving me a reliable place and machine to do research and write on without having to feel cramped on a small laptop. This project will never have a true end to it, I plan on working on this for the rest of my career and I will continue to update this more in the future so people who may want to do the same can know what to expect and the things that you will encounter. My future plans are to become a counselor and help people with their personal issues but I also would like to be a content creator on the YouTube platform, I want to be the change in the world and I want to create a place for people to come together and take the world on together.

Yoga Teacher Training 2018

Lauren Garrett’s STEP Reflection




For my STEP Signature Project, I took a 17-day Yoga Teacher training. In this training we learned teaching methods that create a welcoming and beneficial yoga class for everyone. This training also gave the trainees valuable skills to manage stress, conflict, and discomfort in life, allowing me to become the best person I can be.



I feel as though every aspect of my thought process and how I see the world around me has changed. In the training we talked about and practiced how to deal with confrontation with others and ourselves. Almost everyone puts themselves into a drama triangle that can worsen and last a long time. People put themselves into the category of a prosecutor, protector, and/or a victim. We all can step out of this drama triangle by admitting to our mistakes and understanding the other person’ point of view. Through this I have learned to think more about how others might react and think about something, rather than only my point of view.

I have also learned how to manage stress in this training. I placed an unnecessary amount of stress on myself through self-judgment and then finding excuses why it was acceptable to place that judgment on myself. Events and situations do not define who we are, and that was the most valuable lesson I learned. I have always thought that because of the situations I have been through in life, I was and will be set up for failure. I now view life as happening for me, not against me.



One experience during my training that lead to my transformation was our daily meditations and discussions. During several of our meditations we were asked to reflect on a few questions that forced us to dive deeper into our emotions and really question who we are. Many of these meditations and reflections brought out tears and confessions that many of the participants have been compressing for several years. Through sharing some of my experiences, I have come to realize that sharing to the group and letting go of what held me back allowed me to face my problems and grow from them.

Another experience that led to my personal transformation was during a workshop that a guest yoga instructor led. This instructor was very intimidating and often made me hide back inside the shell that I was trying to break free from. He knew how to push everyone to their limits, but in the end made us into completely different and confident people. One specific moment was when I went up to practice teach in front of him. I was so nervous teaching and being in front of him that I forgot an entire section of the sequence. However, because I made such a big mistake, I realized that it was just that, a mistake. Mistakes are not the end of everything, but the beginning of everything.

Another key aspect of the teacher training that fueled my transformation were the relationships I built during the training. Although, we were all very different from each other when it came to age and backgrounds, in the end, we were all very similar. We all have faced some type of pain and challenge in our lives and knowing that we all had our own story and our own pain allowed us to become closer as a group. I know that I would not have been able to share as much as I did with the group if the others hadn’t opened up as well. I learned that sharing is not a sign of weakness, but one of growth and empowerment.



My transformation from this yoga teacher training matters to my future in a number of ways. First, it helped me to manage my stress, and I can directly apply this to my academic career. Managing stress during the school year had been a challenge for me in the past, but now I know how to take accountability for my actions that lead to my stress, and thus, try to reduce it. Professionally, this training opens more opportunities for me in terms of employment. Many dancers struggle to make a living off of dancing alone. However, with yoga instruction on the side it adds more income and relieves some of the financial stress. Teaching yoga is also something that I very much enjoy, so being able to teach in the future is that I am excited about and look forward to.





Backpacking Trip & Website

My STEP project involved going backpacking in Rocky Mountains NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Yosemite NP, and Sequoia & Kings Canyon NP. This was me and my group’s very first experience backpacking, and the entire trip took 25 days. Once we got back, we created the website, to reflect on the trip and hopefully give people some ideas on how to start backpacking.

I would say that I have come to appreciate everything a bit more after going on this trip. I think that at times people can get caught up being busy with all the things they have going on. By being on a backpacking trip for 25 days, I had a lot of time to simplify my life, especially when out in the back country. That kind of simplicity gave me perspective on how small my problems might be, and how I should really appreciate what I have.

From this trip, I also feel more comfortable living off of myself. When backpacking, I was responsible for all my gear, I had to cook my own meals and overall increase my level of responsibility. Over the month, honing those skills made me feel not only better suited to backpack, but also better prepared me for being an adult.

An experience that challenged me and my group along the trip was our very first hike at Rocky Mountains. Being from Ohio, we weren’t used to the altitude of Denver, CO, and we certainly weren’t used to hiking uphill in the mountains. We also made the mistake of packing way too much in our backpacking packs. We were faced with an uphill journey to our first campsite, and it was one of the toughest if not the toughest hike of our entire trip. However once we made it, we were rewarded with the opportunity to camp next to  Sandbeach Lake.

When backpacking in Bryce Canyon, we were faced with the tough situation of not having a lot of access to drinking water. Being summer, it was drought season, and during our 10 mile hike on our second day, we had no access to water until we got to our campsite. 2 miles before reaching our destination, we ran out of the water we had from the previous day. It was challenging making it through the last 2 miles, as my group and I were feeling dehydrated due to the heat and the hiking.

On our hike in Yosemite, we were able to see a black bear. We were on our way back from our hike, and saw a black bear laying down under the shade of a tree, just 20 feet away from us. Using caution, we were able to take some photos of the bear, and then we went on our way. It was an amazing experience to come so close to the bear, and fortunately we were able to do so without any aggression from the bear. Such a surreal experience gave me more appreciation for backpacking and also how close one can come with nature.

In my mind, those challenges humbled me. Not only do I appreciate backpacking more, but I understand that sometimes hard work is needed to get rewarded. If I want to be able to see some of the best parts of nature, I might have to put in the work to hike and camp out there. There are so many places in the world that cars and tour busses cannot reach. Many times, cameras will never do these places justice. I think that in the US we are fortunate enough to have so many National Parks, and it is a shame that they don’t receive more funding and more attention.

This trip has helped to develop my world view and also my personal goals. After going on this trip, I know that I’d need to live somewhere near nature. For myself, I know that hiking and backpacking will become a pastime I will enjoy for a long time. I also have come to appreciate backpacking and hiking as a form of exercise and I think that improving my own physical abilities is something I want start considering more than before. I got to meet many friendly people on my trip, and I also grew closer to my two friends that came with me. It was truly one of the best experiences in my life, and I hope to go backpacking again soon.

New England STEP Trip

Katharine DeSalvo

Artistic and Creative Endeavors

For my STEP signature project, I combined two of my passions: exploring new places and reflecting in the presence of beauty and nature. I used my STEP funds to travel to Newport and Providence, RI, Boston, MA, and Bar Harbor, ME. While exploring these cities, I captured the moments with photography.

My STEP project allowed me to experience a lot of personal growth. In addition to seeing the world in a new light, I was able to see new sides to myself. Before my STEP project, I could take a relatively decent picture on my iPhone. Throughout my STEP trip, I was able to take pictures in manual settings and set up the perfect shot. I am truly proud of how my photography skills have developed, and I am excited to continue to grow. In addition, my STEP trip helped to increase my confidence in myself. I proved to myself that I am able to survive in an unfamiliar city without relying on others for help. This greatly increased my confidence in my self-reliance abilities and I will be able to utilize those skills as a travel nurse living in an unfamiliar city.

In Boston, I stayed at a hotel called the Winthrop Arms. The hotel was located across the street from the Atlantic Ocean. Although I have seen a countless amount of sunsets over Lake Erie, I have never experienced a sunrise. I decided that Boston was the perfect place to watch my first sunrise. I dragged myself out of bed at five o’clock and walked across the street the deserted beach. The light pink and orange sky lit up the beach as I ran with my camera across the beach to a jetty. I was mesmerized by the scenic view in front of my eyes as the sun rose in the early hours of the morning. This experience allowed me to see the world in a way I had not before and opened my mind up to continue to chase after new experiences.

Portland, Maine is home to the Portland Head Light, a breathtaking lighthouse, and the small yet mighty Bug Lighthouse. In preparation for my visit to the Portland lighthouses, I experimented with my camera settings. I learned how to adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings and how that affects the quality of the picture I took. Although I really struggled at first with how different settings affected the outcome of the photograph, I was encouraged every time I took a photograph I loved. Because I took the time to become familiar with my camera, I was confident in my abilities and chose to shoot in the manual setting while in Portland and the remainder of the trip. Now, I no longer have to rely on my camera to set up the perfect shot for me.

Throughout the duration of my STEP trip, I had to rely on myself and my abilities to navigate in unfamiliar cities. I learned how to book hotels and experiences. For the first time, I flew on an airplane by myself. I created a budget and followed it. I was held accountable for my spending through keeping receipts and suffered consequences when I forgot to get a receipt. I planned what cities to visit, how long I could spend in a particular city, and what activities I wanted to do in the city. In addition, I learned throughout the trip that plans may fall through and I often had to act quickly to come up with an alternative solution in an unfamiliar enviornment. For example, on the second day in Boston I planned to stay for dinner and then drive to Portland during the early evening. However, I had not planned for the incredibly time-consuming traffic in Boston. I made the decision to leave Boston earlier than planned to avoid the traffic. However, this provided me with the opportunity to explore Portland before night fall. Upon reflection, I realized that I can rely on my abilities and am more confident to travel in the future.

The transformation I experienced is very applicable to my future as a travel nurse. On my STEP trip, I developed my self-reliance skills. In addition, my STEP trip increased my confidence in my own abilities. After planning, executing, and trouble-shooting a trip in an unfamiliar city, I have confidence that I will be able to successfully navigate a new city that I am assigned to work in as a travel nurse. In addition, I have always desired to learn photography, however, I never had the proper resources. STEP has given me the opportunities and resources to learn photography and provided me with my own camera to practice the skills I learned. Photography enriches my nursing education and allows me to develop a meaningful skill set.

Link to my flickr profile:

United States Virgin Islands Project

Haylee Brenek

Artistic and Creative Endeavors


From July 16 to July 24, 2018, I went to the United States Virgin Islands to learn artistically and academically.  I took the time to learn about the differences of mainland life and island life by talking with locals.  I studied the aftermaths of hurricane Irma and Maria along with how the government aiding the islands during and after the crisis. I also learned about the culture and the history of the island.  Lastly, I stepped out of my comfort zone and snorkeled for the first time and hiked in the mountains of the island while capturing my entire trip through note taking, photography, and videography. (Videos at: (Additional blog posts at:

During my project, I began to realize the horrors of the two hurricanes that hit the Virgin Islands in September of 2017.  Almost 10 months after, the island still shows the effects of the hurricanes.  Trees are bare, boats are overturned, and many business and homes are not yet rebuilt. While there, I went on an island tour of St. John.  My tour guide informed me a lot about the aftermaths of the two hurricanes.  The power was out for about 125 days on average and still can go out at random.  On top of that, many rooftops were destroyed and have yet to be rebuilt because of the lack of insurance being given back and only a percentage of help coming from the government group FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).  It has affected 100% of the population of St. John and even began concerns for when school will start back up.  One of the two schools on St. John is closed due to damages of the hurricane.  There are constantly construction workers at the sight working hard to get schools ready for September again, but the locals still fear that the schools won’t be opened back up in time resulting in students being sent to family members in the States or the fear of losing an education.

I also took the time to learn how different mainland life and island life.  Life is extremely laid back.  College degrees are not very common on the islands, most jobs are involved in the tourist-based economy.  The cost of living is above the United States average and most of the goods on the island are imported resulting in a higher cost of living.  If you plan on driving on the islands, don’t forget to drive on the left side of the road even though it’s apart of the United States.  On top of that, the USVI is represented in congress by the United States, but they do not have the right to vote.  Hitch hiking is another common thing on the islands.  There is a lack of cars and most of the locals are headed the same direction on one of the four roads on St. John.  The last big difference I noticed on the islands is the wildlife.  Don’t be surprised if you see wild donkeys, goats, cows, pigs, or chickens.

Because I experienced these things, it gave me a new perspective.  I gained so much knowledge of how the hurricanes really affected the islands and still is nearly a year after the catastrophe.  I became aware of the differences in lifestyles in the United States, but also the world while I was there.  It has pushed me to want to know more about the places I travel to and even the places I am living in.  I learned to not be afraid to speak out to the locals when I wanted to know more.  This project, in a sense, made me more worldly and gave me an understanding natural disasters and different lifestyles.

I think because I traveled not for leisure, but for a purpose, I want to take that into my next travels.  I want to learn more about the culture and the history of a place.  It was interesting to know what makes the USVI so unique.  I want to take that into drive to learn into learning about Ohio State, Columbus, different current events, and my passions for fashion, business, and film.  I got to advance myself in those aspects by giving me practice towards research in a place, learning a new skill in film photography, videography, and lead me towards new interests of government and diversity in life.

This is significant because it has changed me as a person.  This project made me learn more about a place that was so unknown to me.  In a world where no one is the same, this can apply to my everyday life.  I am going into Communications which pertains to everyone in the world.  The takeaway I took from this trip has driven me to learn about the differences in the world rather than just understanding people and things are different.  I have created a drive in myself that I was unaware about with my new interests in government and life.  I hope to always continue to be this way and always know that my artistic and creative endeavors project with STEP at Ohio State was just the start.

Creative endeavor: Documentary about birding

My STEP signature project involved making a documentary about birdwatching in northwest Ohio. With help from others, I performed basically all aspects of the film-making process. This included writing the script, filming and recording, interviewing, narrating, editing, and even creating a soundtrack with my guitar.

It is safe to say that my project was very transformational. Ever since my dad first took me birdwatching as a little kid, I have always enjoyed birdwatching, and always struggled to explain to people why I went birdwatching. Through this project I have not only created a film that can educate others about birdwatching, but I have also immersed myself into the activity of birding in a way I never have before. This has allowed me to learn a lot about myself and, through the process of filming birds and birdwatchers over the course of a few weeks, learn a great deal about other people and the outdoors. I feel like I am now deeply connected to the birding community and (in a funny kind of way) to the birds and scenery I spent so much time filming.

I had always wanted to make a movie, and to actually have made a documentary from start to finish has shown me just how rewarding the experience is. To make a 20-minute film from scratch has definitely strengthened my understanding of what it means to take on a long-term project. It has given me a better sense of who I am and what I can achieve, and of the patience that is required to complete something so in-depth. I feel much more confident when faced with, say, writing a story, or finishing long research project. As a writing and biology double major, this is very important. Additionally, the completion of this project has made me want to pursue film-making as a hobby.

I would say that the main interactions that led to my transformation was my interaction with birdwatchers. During the interview process, I had to combat my inherent shyness to approach strangers and ask them why they bird and what they enjoy about the process. Beyond just getting footage, this was an extremely rewarding experience. Getting to know other birdwatchers and their stories is something I will never forget.

I would say the most transformational event that took place was when I got the opportunity to film a cerulean warbler. I remember waiting near the forest edge all morning because the morning sun was behind us and the light was excellent. I heard someone say a cerulean warbler was headed in our direction and, sure enough, it appeared about twenty minutes later. This was a species I had never seen in Ohio, and arguably one of the most beautiful birds I have seen anywhere. I will never forget the excitement I felt when that bird appeared.

Finally, learning about the film creation and editing process was extremely rewarding. Truth be told, I had no idea how much work editing would be. It took me a few days just to learn how to use the program, let alone to sift through all my footage and put the movie together. But I think it was precisely because the work was so arduous that the project was so rewarding. This helped me realize that I shouldn’t do easy things because they’re easy- I should do difficult things because that’s how I can grow and produce something I can be proud of.

This transformation from a pre to post- documentary version of myself will be very valuable throughout my life. It has taught me the value of patience and hard work, about how the difficult projects are the ones I will end up most proud of. The interviewing process allowed me to face my fear of talking to strangers and allowed me to understand how irrational it is to let shyness control me. While the finished product was by no means professional, the fact that this was my first attempt at film-making has given me the confidence to take on things I have never tried before. It has made me see my creativity as a career asset rather than something that has to be set aside.

Watch the video! Here is the link:

A Summer in Middlebury

Name: Rachel Hutchison

Project: Middlebury Language Schools

As my STEP Signature Project, I spent my summer at the renowned Kathryn W. Davis School of Russian at Middlebury College’s Summer Language Schools in Middlebury, Vermont. At this highly intensive program, I took full time coursework in Russian language for eight weeks while also participating in extracurricular clubs and activities.

I am not even in the slightest kidding when I say that this past summer was truly the best and most life-changing summer of my life. Entering this program, I simply hoped to improve my language program as a heritage speaker of Russian and make some friends along the way. However, in Middlebury I met some of my best friends, worked harder and stretched my mind more than I  ever thought possible, grew such a deep appreciation for my Russian heritage, and even changed my entire career path.

Middlebury Language Schools is comprised of 13 different language schools. What sets Middlebury Language Schools apart from other language programs is the Language Pledge. In the Russian school, we called it честное слово, or literally ‘honest word’. It is a promise to speak only in the language for the duration of the summer. Everything in Russian. This meant no listening to English music, texting in English (even family and friends!), reading English websites – you name it! Breaking the pledge could mean dismissal from the program.

The immersive experience found at Middlebury is truly unlike any, and is arguably even better than in-country programs. After speaking with some of my friends who studied abroad in Russia over the summer, they told me that most students wanted to speak English and they were not able to grown in Russian as much as they had hoped. Middlebury College is situated in a charming small town, very similar to Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls. Although we did come across townies, they were aware of the language pledge and helped us keep it. We, the students, were very dedicated to staying in Russian at all times and did not even intermingle with those of the other language schools.

This was definitely the most challenging part of the program, and caused some funny, although frustrating, misunderstandings at times. And at times, lots and lots of stress. However, in my opinion, all of our progress was thanks to the language pledge. And the majority of progress was made out of the classroom. We participated in over 30 different clubs, all in Russian. Famous individuals from Russia, including writer and broadcaster Alexander Genis and journalist Artemy Troitsky, gave special lectures multiple times a week. We played chess, volleyball, soccer, and badminton in Russian. My friends and I discussed Marxist theory over lunch. On the weekends we even partied in Russian at our diskotekas, or dance parties.

Cultural and historical lessons were tied into all of these activities, even when we didn’t quite realize it. This program influenced my relationship towards Russian culture and my heritage in general. Although my mother emigrated to the United States from Russia, I didn’t know a lot about Russian history or politics. Living in America my entire life, I never gave too much thought to it. As a result of this program, I feel so much closer to Russian culture and am even prouder of my roots than I was before.

I began my undergraduate career majoring in neuroscience and taking predominantly all STEM classes. This summer stretched my mind in that I was thinking about topics that never really crossed my mind too much before: history, globalization, politics, literature. I even audited a graduate level course on Russian youth subcultures. While I was always interested in pursing these subjects academically, I was afraid that I would not be successful. My experience at Middlebury really solidified my desire to pursue the humanities in college.

Upon returning to Ohio State, I quickly changed my course schedule from entirely STEM to Russian, history, and political science courses. I am now pursing a degree in Russian Language with minors in history and neuroscience. I am taking courses in political science and philosophy as electives to enrich my course of study. Next semester, I will begin graduate level coursework in the Slavic Department. I plan to study abroad in St. Petersburg in Fall of 2019. After graduation, I hope to receive a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, where I will be able to live abroad and teach English in Russia for a year. I then plan to pursue graduate schooling in Russian area studies, history, or international relations. However, this is is not the end of Middlebury. I am already planning my return to Vermont to pursue my Masters at the Russian School…

Спасибо всем за прекрасное, незабываемое и потрясающее лето. Без вас жизнь не будет такой же.

Thank you all for a beautiful, unforgettable, and incredible summer. Without you life wouldn’t be the same.

Signing the language pledge!

Amy, Sidney, me and Anahit post-choir concert

Our Russian choir

At the lake! Мы на озере!

My class, with our wonderful teachers from St. Petersburg and Moscow! Наш пятый курс

Artistic and Creative Endeavor – Piano Lessons

For my project, I decided to take piano lessons. The money from STEP was used to buy myself a full-sized keyboard set and pay for 12 weeks of private lessons over the summer.

Since I had finally found my place at OSU, I wanted to find my motivation for creativity again. Doing this project showed me that I’m never too old to learn a new instrument and continue finding inspiration for music. I tried to teach myself to play piano before, and I gave up after feeling like it was too hard for me. After doing lessons once a week for the entire summer, I realized I can easily do anything I want if I just make time for it. This greatly boosted my motivation for my music, academics, and other aspects of my life that have helped me achieve many of my goals during college.

For me, figuring out what to do for my STEP project was a really hard process that involved me coming up with several ideas throughout my second year, and constantly changing my mind until a week before the proposal was due. I struggled a lot during my freshman and sophomore year because I felt like I couldn’t figure out how to excel in college, and I spent all of my time sitting in my room doing homework. I had really low confidence because I spent all my time on schoolwork, but I still wasn’t doing well. Also, I didn’t have enough time to spend with my friends or on my hobbies, so I felt like I really was not myself anymore. Second semester of my sophomore year is when things started to look up because I chose a major after attending a PDC about Speech and Hearing Sciences, and I finally did well enough in my classes to the point where I had time to be with my friends and start practicing guitar again. This is what lead me to finally figure out that I should take piano lessons for my project since I finally had the time, and STEP gave me the money I never would’ve had for it before.

Having a piano lesson once a week doesn’t seem too hard if you have nothing else to do during the summer besides practice, but that wasn’t the case for me. I had been balancing work, class, and these lessons, so some weeks I didn’t get enough time perfect what I had learned. Going into my lesson and feeling that I’m about to embarrass myself because my instructor could tell I hadn’t practiced was a really uncomfortable feeling. This feeling gave me the motivation to prioritize learning piano this summer because I did a great job when I actually put the work in, and it felt good to know that the work I put into any project will show if I just keep pushing.

I found that this project actually correlated with my major and my plans for my future career really well. I learned about aspects of sound and music that I never would have been able to teach myself, and the academic classes that I’m currently taking have been made easier since I have knowledge about how sound is made. My major is very communication-focused, so I think a lot about how music is a truly universal language. Not everyone has the ability to hear and communicate normally, so I’m grateful that I have the ability to appreciate music and understand how to make it. 

The changes I see in myself from my STEP project have been extremely valuable for my life in several ways. First off, I have more motivation than ever to make sure I’m balancing school, work, my social life, and my hobbies. Before I got back into making time for myself, I really felt schoolwork taking over my life and I was already sort of burned out before I made it halfway through undergrad. Realizing how full my life can feel made me never want to get off track again. I’ve really enjoyed learning about aspects of sound and music that I’ll be seeing in class, and I would love to possibly work with singers during my career, so having an idea about pitch and musical vocabulary is really valuable to me. Also, now I own a piano that I can fit into my bedroom on campus, which means I can continue to play forever. 🙂