STEP Roadtrip

For my STEP signature project, I took a road trip out west to visit different national parks and surrounding cities to focus on my landscape drawing abilities. These parks included places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion, and the Grand Canyon. I paired my project with another student in STEP, Kristen Deal.90, who focused on her photography skills. This project allowed me to grow as a person and truly broaden my horizons. Thanks to STEP I was able to see some of the most beautiful scenery that I may never get to see again.


I think for me the biggest thing that changed was gaining independence from the internet. For the first leg of the trip out to South Dakota we had service the entire time and were able to surf the web, get on Twitter, Snapchat, etc. But once we were in remote locations with no signal I became very immersed in the moment I was in, learning how to take everything in and reflect on my days. I started to feel free and not tied down by constantly updating my friends and family on what was going on. Another thing that I never realized was how big the world actually is and how lucky I am to be alive. We drove a total of over 6,000 miles, through 16 states in 18 days. I got to see lots of different cultures, accents, and environments.


Confidence was probably the biggest thing I gained from this trip. I learned how to navigate the country seamlessly, camp in the wild where buffalo wake up 15yd from you. I became a more complete, well rounded person. I don’t feel the need to rely on what others think of me now, which to me is important in our society today where social media is dropping confidence everywhere among young people. I also learned about myself that I don’t want to stay in Ohio forever even though my entire family is here. There’s a whole big world to see out there!


One of the most stressful and successful things I have completed was helping to plan this trip out. With such a big timeframe and long distances, it was very difficult. We had planned our first half of the trip out mostly before going until we got to the Grand Canyon area where we had to start planning on the go but we managed to get everything worked out. Trying to go from park to park with enough time to explore but enough time to get to our next destination while not being too worn out to go on was very challenging. I am definitely more confident in my planning abilities now after this.


The most surreal moment on this trip that sticks with me the most was in Yosemite where we hiked up to Vernal Falls. Along the 1,000ft climb we finally got to the base of the waterfall and continued toward the base. After passing this one boulder you were hit with what felt like a jet engine taking off in front of you. Wind and water battering your face and nothing but smiles. After a long hot sweaty hike, we got blasted by the force of a waterfall and I never wanted to leave. This moment will stick with me for the rest of my life because I will always remember the joy I felt in that moment. The world is massive, there’s so much to see and explore.


This trip was focused around landscapes so I had the opportunity to take on these incredible places and try and capture them onto a canvas. First, I would like to say; any drawing, painting, or picture does not do any of these places justice. Trying to pick the right thing to draw is very difficult as well as time consuming. Do I draw this little pond? Or do I try and take on this whole mountain range? Do I use watercolor, pencil, charcoal? After doing sketches of some of the things I saw, I enhanced my drawing capabilities which was a major goal for me on this trip. Even though art for me is currently a hobby I would love to incorporate that into job one day! I hope by doing this I build a bigger resume and further my abilities.


I am very thankful for the opportunity I was granted, I know these memories will stay with me for the rest of my life, one day I hope to tell my kids, “when I was 20 I drove across the country”. I definitely feel more well-rounded and confident in myself as a good human being. I have since gotten my parents to start recycling and not using straws. After going on this trip, I would love to have a job that allows me to travel and explore more of the world which I didn’t know I wanted. I learned how to really submerse myself in the moment and take everything in, and not take anything or anyone for granted which I think is very important. Our planet is incredibly beautiful and I would encourage everyone to travel.


Thank you STEP!

Road Trip 2018: Exploring National Parks and Photography


During the month of July, I set off on a journey across the country to explore landscape photography and learn more about the amazing country we live in. My main goal within these three weeks was to improve my photography, focusing mainly on landscapes. My photography focused mainly on the national parks that we visited throughout the country.

When I began planning my STEP project a year ago, I had absolutely no idea where to start. There were so many options and they all seemed amazing. It was not until second semester of sophomore year that I realized I wanted to use it as a way to improve my artistic abilities, specifically my photography skills. I bought a DSLR about two years ago but it was not until I took a photography class at OSU that I really used it to its full potential. During the time I was in that class, I absolutely fell in love with the art of photography. Once I finished the class, I knew I had a lot of room to continue to improve, which is why I chose to pursue a project that would help me do just that.


Art has not always played a huge part in my life. My interest and fascination with art is a new love that came when I took my first photography class. Throughout class, we would look at all types of photography and analyze the artist’s work. Our critiques in class taught me to look closer at everything around me and pay attention to details. Ever since then, I look at all forms of art, people, and nature differently. When you analyze things and think more in depth, you are able to see so much more within something that you may have thought was simple before. During my road trip, one of my goals was to pay attention to all that surrounded me and capture it.

My signature project changed me in many different aspects. This was my first road trip ever and I was with only one other STEP student. My first assumption that changed through this project was my overall idea of America and the beauty that we can find here. I had very little knowledge of what I could find deep within America. Before this trip, I had explored only big cities throughout America and had only been to one national park. During these three weeks, our main focus was seeing some of America’s most famous national parks. This included Yellowstone, Yosemite, Badlands, Zion, and Grand Canyon. We drove through 16 states, including South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, and more. We would drive for hours without service and found ourselves surrounded by mountains, grasslands, and farms. I was really able to see what makes each state beautiful and unique and develop a huge appreciation for each one.

My appreciation for the beauty found in America grew throughout every day of the trip. However, I specifically remember one day that still sticks out to me. After we stopped in the Badlands, we went west heading out to Yellowstone National Park. We drove the whole day just so we would get there by night time. By accident, we took a route that was more scenic and secluded. We drove through towns that had populations of less than 10 people and had no service for hours. Since we had very little distractions, we were really able to focus on the land that surrounded us. Little did we know that the route we took would take us right through a mountain range. For hours we drove through the valleys of huge mountains. I remember stopping, taking it all in, and realizing that THIS was America. When I thought of America before this trip, I never thought about the amazing mountains and valleys that you can find here. I never thought about the waterfalls you could find in Yosemite, or the herds of bison you can find in Yellowstone. It was absolutely amazing and eye-opening.

My biggest transformation was within the subject that I wanted to improve the most on: photography. As I planned this trip, I did hours of research trying to find the best lenses for this project as well as tips and tricks within the world of landscape photography. I was able to go to a local photography store, Midwest Photo Exchange, where I was able to get expert opinions on what lens to rent, etc. After renting a lens and purchasing one as well, we set out on our trip. Although I had taken a photography class and put in hours of research, I was still very nervous about the work that I would create. This was my first time shooting landscape photography, and I did not know what to expect of my work. Our first stop was the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. I automatically got out of my car and started playing with my new rented lens. This lens was something I would not be able to purchase for a very long time, so I was so excited to be able to try out such a great lens on this trip. Both lenses were much more complex lenses than the ones I had for my camera. However, after testing it out a couple times, I knew that my photos would be amazing on this trip.

I had a lot of moments where I knew I was learning more about how to shoot for landscapes. Before this trip, I focused on mainly portrait and documentary photography. As I went on throughout the trip, I would take riskier photos, frame my photos differently, and try different techniques. These photos helped me capture the beauty that I was talking about earlier. When we were in Yosemite looking at a waterfall, I remember having my breath taken away by the beauty of it. It was so big and there was a rainbow showing in the mist of the waterfall. I remember seeing this and automatically taking my camera out and snapping the photo. When I looked back at that photo, I realized how much I had already improved, and that was only halfway through the trip. Not only had my photography skills improved, but I had also gotten better at editing my photos. Using Lightroom, I was able to transform the photos into what I saw in person. It was absolutely amazing to see how I went from not taking photos of landscapes, to now waiting for the next weekend I can explore a local park and take photos there.

These transformations have been very important to me. Since taking my photography class, I have been mentally focusing on appreciating the art, people, and environment that surrounds me. When I took this trip, I was able to focus on just this concept the whole time. I worked on appreciating where I was at that moment and what surrounded me. I was able to focus on the natural art and beauty that surrounded me and capture this with my camera.  And then I was able to share those photos with the world. Although nature is not an art that was created by a human being, it is an art form of its own, and I am super content with the work that I created within this project to show to everyone else.

I posted my photos on my Instagram: kdeal_photos

– Kristen Deal

STEP- American Dance Festival

The Shen Wei Arts repertory cast

Christian von Howard- My contemporary teacher

My friends!

For my STEP Signature Project, I attended the American Dance Festival’s Summer Dance Intensive (ADF) in Durham, North Carolina. The intensive spanned six weeks and was filled with rigorous daily dance classes, including a repertory rehearsal with a former Shen Wei Arts company dancer, additional masterclasses taught by professionals circulating the dance world today, and performances from 17 prestigious dance companies from around the globe. I was constantly surrounded by a diverse group of faculty and dancers that both challenged and inspired my dancing and my thought process. Through this experience, I was also able to network daily with people that will someday be working in my field and may be able to provide me with work opportunities in the future.

Each year, the Summer Dance Intensive has a main focus. The 2018 focus for the summer was European and African Diasporic Dance and the relationship, as well as hierarchy, between the two. I was introduced to this existing hierarchy in dance through a professor at The Ohio State University last semester, which peaked my interest in the issue; however, through attending ADF, I was able to delve much deeper into it. Not only were movement courses readily available at the festival, but there was also a multitude of discussions, most of them centered over the festival’s focus. I attended a majority of them and enjoyed being surrounded by people from different countries, of different races and of different ethnic backgrounds than I. With each discussion, I was unlearning thought processes that I had grown up believing and reteaching myself with new information and a new light. I had a specific experience that sparked something in me.

One day after a long afternoon of dancing, I attended a three-hour Social Justice Workshop lead by Tina Vasquez, who received her BA in Movementology and the Choreographic Experience from the Gallatin School for Individualized Study at NYU and her MS in Organizational Behavior, Systems and Analytics at the Polytechnic School for Engineering at NYU. Vasquez is extremely interested in Social Justice and teaches workshops often for companies, communities, and students. She prefaced her workshop by saying that if at any point we feel uncomfortable, that we are able to step out but to know that removing yourself from the situation is a privilege and people do not have this opportunity in real life. From there, we did a series of exercises tying dance to the real world. There were discussions along the way. People became frustrated or upset. One participant decided to leave the workshop because she felt so uncomfortable. In one of the ending discussions, I spoke of my frustrations of being a white individual and feeling clueless as to do what I can do to help those around me and help myself to understand others. I became upset and cried in front of people I did not know because of this frustration. I wanted to understand, and I wanted to help but did not know how. Vasquez continued and revealed to us a list of white privileges. She explained to me that by being upset that I am becoming aware and that I am already attempting to start the work. She suggested I start the conversion I am having with myself with other white people to help open their minds and to help others begin to question the things that are instilled within us as white individuals. Quite honestly, the workshop was exhausting but I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to participant in it. After that workshop, my roommates and I had many discussions. I discussed the ideas I learned with my friends, my family, my significant other. As I go through each day, I am more aware than ever before. As I make and teach dance, I am aware of these ideas and keep them in the forefront of my mind, as to best serve everyone in the room. The new worldview I gained through this experience will stick with me for the rest of my college career and my life.

            As mentioned above, the additional discussions made available to students were a significant part of this transformation. Unique and new perspectives were given openly to the space. They were laid out of the table and you were allowed to try each one on and look around at the world as if trying on a pair of glasses. Some changed the color, some made things sharper, others made it hard to see up close but easy to view from a distance. These discussions always felt open and welcoming. They served as a safe space for everyone to enter. Ideas were never forced on you and were never thrown out as the “right” or “only” way to approach life. They made space for serious issues in society, such as race, hierarchy, or capitalism. With each discussion, I was able to walk away with ideas as to how I as an individual can transform the world around me. I was also able to take these perspectives and use them to analyze the dance performances we saw throughout the week.

The ADF experience would not have been the same without the group of students I went through the process with. I was able to meet dancers from all over. Some from colleges within the state, others from colleges across the nation and students from far off countries. I was able to exchange information, whether it be culturally, politically or regarding anything else, on a daily basis. We were able to take the information we have learned from our different backgrounds and share it, while simultaneously sharing the same experience in Durham. The relationships I formed at the festival will last and not only benefit my career but also my heart.

The faculty of ADF was spectacular and I learned something unique from each one I interacted with. Clarice Young taught me how European style dances and African Diasporic dances can blend to make a culturally rich hybrid of dance. She also taught me to take care of my mind and treat myself with kindness; reminding me every day to thank my body for being here and being present, an action I do not do enough on a daily basis. Christian von Howard taught me to open myself up to the world around me, both literally and figuratively. While dancing, he reminded me to keep my focus lifted and to truly use my eyes to see everything around me, which connected beautifully with Tina Vasquez’ workshop. Sara Procopio, a former Shen Wei Arts company dancer, taught me the world of Shen Wei and how to embody a world that I have not lived in myself.

This change is both significant and valuable in my life because it did not just affect me as a dancer but as a human. I can use this information to analyze my dance work with a critical lens to make sure it is politically and socially correct and that it is representing the people and the culture that surrounds said people in the proper way. More importantly, it has shifted my mentality. It has taught that growing up is not just about learning more, it is also about unlearning and retraining. It has taught me that learning is not linear but is a constant rearranging, unfolding and unpacking. Diving into the first semester of junior year, I will keep this concept in mind during my academic classes, but I will also expand it into my personal life and take it with me into the future.

My experience at Magic Mountain Music Farm – STEP Reflection

Sarah Troeller

Watching footage of my masterclass with Burton Kaplan.

View of the Catskill Mountains from the main house at Magic Mountain Music Farm.

Setup for “Mock Audition Day” where we were able to perform for our peers in the setting of an orchestral audition.

Beautiful nature in rural New York!

My STEP Signature Project consisted of a two week “Practice Marathon Retreat” at Magic Mountain Music Farm in Morris, New York. Over the two week program I attended two workshops daily that included lectures, performances, masterclasses, group listenings, and other musically enriching activities. I also had a private lesson every other day. I worked to learn new techniques of time management and effective practicing so that I can learn music quicker and with better control, and be able to express music more effectively.

Both me and the teacher I was taking lessons with at Magic Mountain Music Farm noticed a lot of change in me over the course of this program. First, I was able to raise the standard of my playing. I was able to do that by learning and utilizing new practice strategies that allowed me to pinpoint and solve problems. In the past, I would notice problems in my performing and practice, but I was not sure of a clear method to solve these problems. Burton Kaplan (the man behind the practice marathon retreats) has a manual that outlines and gives step by step procedures on how to fix specific problems musicians encounter in practice and performance. Through my study and implementation of these strategies, I learned that I am someone who learns very well when given very clear, specific instructions. That is an important and valuable piece of information that I can utilize in my studies here at Ohio State. Now I will ask my cello professor, Mark Rudoff, to work with me in lessons to cater to the ways that I learn best so that I can get the most information from him in our private lessons.

Another thing that was very important to me was the mindset and the environment that was set up at the retreat. A lot of times, practicing is a frustrating, boring chore that musicians do not look forward to doing. At Magic Mountain Music Farm, practice was put in a positive light. It should be objective, enriching, and rewarding, and there are strategies to avoid all of the negative emotions that so many musicians feel in the practice room. The root cause of all of these negative emotions is that musicians tend to set our expectations too high, and then we feel that we fall short in our performances. This can create a grueling and negative mental/emotional cycle. The only way to break this is to change our expectations, and to “only be who we are” and “do only what we can do”. By changing our expectations and setting short term, achievable goals every day, we can make real and trackable progress in our playing and feel a sense of reward at the end of each day. As I shifted my perspective towards this positive view of working and practice, I noticed the weight of those unrealistic expectations lifting from my shoulders. Surprisingly, without that weight, I think I was able to achieve more! I focused on working to my ability, gaining control of music I was working on. Then once I had control, I experimented and pushed my limits to raise my standard of playing. In the two weeks at Music Farm I was able to learn more music at a higher level than ever before, and with less stress and anxiety.


The most instrumental thing that led to these realizations and changes was my studying of Burton Kaplan’s practice manual, Practicing for Artistic Success. I used it as a step by step manual to help me learn practice strategies and shift my perspectives. It’s written in sections so if I had a specific problem, I could read the section on that specific problem and then immediately try the strategy/strategies outlined. It was also nice to have Burton Kaplan there himself to help me implement the strategies in person and to give me and others direction. Now in my practice, when I become aware of a problem, I immediately try to think of and implement a strategy to fix said problem. If I can’t think of a strategy on my own or the one I have isn’t working, I can use the book to give me more ideas. If that still doesn’t help, the book instructs to ask for help from friends and colleagues, or to hold off on the issue until you can talk about it with your teacher. That way you don’t create negativity and frustration around the problem. You wait to work at it until you have a clear strategy or solution in mind.

Another great thing was working with a lot of like-minded, positive musicians. There have been times in my life where I have been involved in music scenes that could be described as “toxic” environments with unhealthy attitudes. I was once part of a private cello studio that was run/managed on negativity, fear, and unhealthy comparison of students. That experience made me insecure and I struggled (and still sometimes struggle) with my self worth and identity as a musician. Despite the bad aspects, this experience taught me many things, and without it I would not be here studying at Ohio State. I met Mark Rudoff and realized that there is a world of positive, caring musicians who are good at what they do and good to each other. Experiencing that juxtaposition from my past situation gave me the motivation to seek out positive work environments and to not tolerate negative ones. The environment at Magic Mountain Music Farm was friendly and compassionate. All of the musicians that attended my session were hard working, advanced and capable players, yet none were arrogant or judgmental. We all realized that we were here for a common purpose: to improve our musicianship. All of us respected that we were at different points in our journey, and that it would be silly to compare ourselves and our ability/work, since we are all individuals who have different life experiences/goals. That positive attitude made a lot of difference to me. A lot of times in my old studio and even when I started music school at Ohio State, I would get imposter syndrome. I felt like I wasn’t a real musician or that I didn’t deserve to be studying music. At Magic Mountain Music Farm, I was welcomed with open arms and accepted for who I was. It didn’t matter where I came from, it only mattered that I was willing to work towards making positive change in my life as a musician. That’s the same feeling I had when I met Mark Rudoff and decided to come to Ohio State. I’m hoping that through many positive experiences, I will be able to cultivate a positive environment in my own personal life as a musician, and when I teach in the future.


The most interesting thing about Magic Mountain Music Farm (other than the name of the place) was that it is set up as  a communal living environment. I had to assist in cooking meals, cleaning, taking out compost, and other chores. They were all divided up between the eleven participants, so my chores were in no way overwhelming. We were all responsible for reading the schedule of events for the day to know what chores we had to complete. That gave me a sense of accountability and responsibility at Music Farm. It also helped me to get to know the other participants and feel like an integral part of the overall community of Magic Mountain Music Farm. I was not only fostering my own personal growth, but I was helping those around me and they were helping me too. That dependency and appreciation for others taught me to respect and to share my work/living environment, and to take responsibility and pride in it. Also it helped me to make sure that I was helping out and pulling my weight. Cooking and cleaning was also a nice break from practice that allowed me to refresh my mind. I am so happy that I had this experience, because I really think it will help my transition into off campus living. Now I have more responsibility than I did before in the dorms with a meal plan, but having this communal living experience has showed me that if the responsibility and household tasks are divided equally and shared, that they are not overwhelming.They can even prove to be calming, peaceful, and rewarding work. This experience has shown me that I share a responsibility to keep my house in order, and that I should show my roommates and myself respect in our house.

A great thing about music is it is a very similar thing to life itself. In the past, this would scare me because of how transient, universal, and ambiguous music as a whole sometimes appears to be. And I realized that a lot of times life scared and scares me for those same reasons. But something I’ve recently come to learn about both life and music is that there is a beauty in the longevity and ambiguity of them, and as long as I am willing to change and am hopeful and open to growth, then I have nothing to be afraid of. I have accepted that I will always have to do thoughtful and meaningful work to get results. I have also accepted that my life as a musician and my life in general will go through many phases, some great, and some that are unpleasant and hard. But the process to get through them is the same. Perseverance, objectivity, and a plan (with some built in flexibility) is what I need to always be equipped with. And if necessary, the ability to shift my perspective, actively trying to find the positive in a situation. Most importantly, as Burton Kaplan says, I will need the courage and bravery to confront my problems in music and life head on, instead of hiding from them. If I can do that, I think I can make significant positive change to my life.

I would definitely categorize this experience as transformative in a plethora of ways. The most important one I feel is my change of mindset and attitude. It is still early in the process, so I am going to hold myself accountable to continue to work at all of these strategies until they are solid habits that I don’t have to consciously work at. Burton Kaplan’s book says it takes about 4-6 months to really change your practice habits and solidify them, so I am going to continue my efforts into this semester, tracking my progress and feelings as I go. I will also take time to reflect at least once a week on how I’m doing, because the big picture perspective is just as important as the pinpointed perspective. I realized that if I can gather as much perspective and knowledge of myself and my situation as possible, I can make better decisions to maneuver the situation and to solve any potential issues. I am grateful to the insight that Magic Mountain Music Farm and Burton Kaplan have and continue to give me. I am also grateful to my cello professor, Mark Rudoff, for recommending this program to me as well as giving me some of the ideas that Mr. Kaplan presented to me ahead of time. It took a bit for me to digest them, but Mark definitely planted the seeds that made these groundbreaking realizations possible. I am also thankful to Ohio State and the STEP program for the support that allowed me to have this experience, and the opportunity to reflect and appreciate it.

Studio Building STEP Reflection

This summer, I carried out the project of not only building a studio but creating an album as well. This took place both in my apartment in Miami, FL as well as my dorm room here at Ohio State. While working in Miami I met a multitude of different types of artists. Through these encounters I learned about the different motives of musicians. One connection in particular made me realize how small the world truly is. I met and performed with an underground artist who worked with Dizzy Wright, one of the kings of underground hip hop. What’s more is that this same rapper was the closest cousin of the late Trayvon Martin, whose untimely death ignited his music career. This really changed my perspective on the size of the world. Somebody “small” is probably linked to somebody “big,” and somebody big is only big because we say so. The person who can change your life may very well be two points of contact away. The different fields in the world of entertainment are also heavily intertwined. My rapper friend put me in contact with a videographer who put me in contact with somebody with a clothing brand.


The music making process is now something that I feel very proficient in. Having been mentored through it by my the wondrous Sean Causby, I learned how to mix and master a track, making sure the levels don’t interfere with each other and that everything is balanced when it’s time to export. I also learned the difference in music quality between the streaming services. Applications like Soundcloud diminish your .wav files into easier to digest tracks. While they load faster, they do so at the expense of audio clip spacing within a playback device, whereas streaming services such as Apple Music or Spotify preserve your files on their own server, maintaining the quality of the sound of the original upload. This distinction made it all the more important to finish your mixes completely before sharing them.


This summer was more revolutionary for the entirety of my person rather than just my musical personality. Living on my own and doing what I needed so that I may do what I wanted is something I feel everyone should deserve to experience. That sense of feeling so rewarded after a successful week or even month is enough to get me through just about anything, and I am grateful to STEP for allowing me to do so.

STEP Reflection

My STEP signature project entailed taking two five-week EEOB courses towards my major at Ohio State’s Stone Lab on Gibraltar Island. I had 6 days of class every week in which I had engaging lectures and many field trips. The field trips always involved some kind of research or study in order to enhance our learning in the classroom.


Before my STEP project, I was unsure of where I wanted to go with my Biology degree. I was originally Pre-Vet going into Stone Lab, but knew that I wanted to go to grad school for research. Stone Lab allowed me to get hands on experience with research and studying out on the water and in the water, which has now led me to a Marine Biology path for grad school. I have a whole new view of Lake Erie, and I hope to go back for more experience and working in future summers. I found out about myself that my passion lies in the water, aquatic and marine, and I plan to direct my Biology degree down this path from here on out.


The main aspect I found out about myself during this project was that I love to be by the water. I have always had a passion for animals, but specifically marine animals. I also have had great interest in coral reefs and studying the ecology of the oceans. Stone Lab allowed me to realize that living and working on the water is exactly where I need to be in life. I feel like I could be the best version of myself at Stone Lab surrounded by all of the things that I love. I have grown a whole new appreciation for Lake Erie and the people who spend their lives researching it to help it retain the best condition possible for the ecosystem and the organisms living in it.

The research we did during these five weeks had a huge impact on me and my view of my future. This was my first experience with conducting actual research and collecting field data. I knew that this was something I wanted to do in the future, but I was not sure where exactly I wanted to conduct research or what I wanted to study. Being out on a boat on the water was some of my favorite times at Stone Lab. Almost every field trip we went on required us to be in the water, sometimes snorkeling or diving, and I enjoyed every second of it. I would love to do research in the future on Lake Erie, but I hope to now look into study abroad and internships that involve working in marine ecosystems. I feel like I made a huge step towards my plans for the future because of Stone Lab.

The friends I made and people I met at Stone Lab also impacted my life. I have never been able to be with a group of people who shares all the same interests, passion, and love for the environment like the people I met here were. It was such a great experience to be able to work and learn with people who wanted to be there learning just as much as I did about our shared passion. I also learned a lot about possible future opportunities for myself by learning about experiences that others have already had. It opens a lot of new windows for the future and I will always keep in touch with the people I met here.


Stone Lab really did have a huge impact on my life. I had ideas for my future and I had a good grasp on the things that I am passionate about, but this trip made the decision very simple. I realized during my time at Stone Lab that this is the type of work I want to be doing for the rest of my life, and I now plan on applying to various Marine Biology graduate programs all across the country. The professors that I had were passionate about their studies and clearly cared about passing on their knowledge to us. I met a huge group of people that I will hopefully stay friends with for the rest of my life.

STEP Reflection

Name: Jackie Green


Type of Project: Artistic & Creative Endeavor


For my STEP project, I chose to attend dance classes at Spotlight Dance Center in Orlando, Florida during the summer. I attended classes in several different styles, improving my prior skills in ballet and contemporary, but also learning new styles like jazz and hip hop.

During my project, I gained a new appreciation for the variety of dance styles that exist. Each is unique, but vocabulary from one style can allow you to improve in another style as well. I found that by working on styles that I wasn’t already comfortable in, I was able to target the weaknesses that I tended to work around when dancing ballet and contemporary. I also unexpectedly learned a lot about how different people incorporate dance into their lives from the staff and other students attending classes. This opened my eyes to how much choice I have as to how involved I wish to be in dance in the future, contrary to my previous concern that as I get more involved in school and my career, I’ll be forced to give it up.

My appreciation for broadening my dance vocabulary was developed by attending jazz and hip hop classes. Most of my experience in dance has been in contemporary and lyrical choreography, with a strong foundation in ballet technique. I’ve always admired hip hop choreography, but never felt comfortable attempting it before. As for jazz, I assumed it would be similar to contemporary and did not think it worth trying in the past. As this project was supposed to be a transformational experience, I decided to attend a class in each style at least once. I found the classes, even at a beginner level, to be far more challenging than I expected. Bot required much faster footwork than I was accustomed to, and hip hop in particular involved sharp movements and weight changes that contrasted the fluidity of ballet and contemporary.

Despite them being challenging, I found the classes enjoyable, and wanted to improve the areas where I was deficient. I attended jazz regularly, and hip hop actually became my most frequently attended class. These classes pushed me out of my comfort zone. Rather than making marginal improvements to the skills I already had and could practice on my own, I was able to target the skills that did not come naturally to me. While I obviously didn’t master these styles in one summer, I did make noticeable progress. The ability to execute choreography quick choreography is helpful for all styles, and being comfortable with a variety of different movements allows for more dynamic performance.

The people I met during my project opened my eyes to the variety of ways I could choose to stay involved with dance in the future. The students that attended the studio ranged from young adults around my age all the way to women in their late 60s. There was a fairly diverse crowd. Many of the students were working adults, holding full time jobs with a family, but still managed to make time for dance every week. I also met people that worked as performers at various parks in Orlando, and despite the fact that they weren’t at the level of professional dancers they still made a job out of dancing. The instructors of the class had interesting involvement in dance as well. Some made a living through performances and teaching, but others held a day job, teaching nights and weekends as a hobby and extra source of income. Seeing all the different ways I could choose to stay involved in dance in the future put my worries at ease.

These changes are extremely valuable to me. My personal goal is to keep improving as a dancer, and I believe I’ve done that this summer. I also have a wider range of dance vocabulary to work with, making me more adaptable and comfortable with taking classes at various studios, which I will have to change based on my location. As for my future plans, I feel far more confident that I will be able to stay involved in dance, even after I start my career in a couple years. I’ve seen how different people make it a part of their lifestyle in different ways, and know I can make it part of mine.


Art: City and Nature

For my signature project I went on a domestic road trip centered around my passions for art and nature. I spent two days in New York City, the art capital of the east coast. After visiting four major museums, I went to Storm King Art Center; an inspirational outdoor sculpture park. Finally, I  ended the journey with an overnight backpacking trip up Wittenberg and Cornell Mountain.

I have developed a deep confidence in my choice to dedicate myself to art. On my backpacking expedition I realized that my decision to climb one of the hardest trails in the Catskill Mountains was a reflection of my choice to become an artist. It is a difficult journey that many admire but few try. For so long I was afraid I picked the wrong major, that having an art degree would mean I had to become a freelance artist or a teacher. I realized that is not true, that is just what people say because they have no idea how many opportunities there are for artists in an increasingly visual world. There are so many mountains I can climb, why would I spend my whole life focused on just one?

My meditation plan didn’t go as well as I would have hoped, but the book I read in preparation (Meditation Now by Elizabeth Reninger) put me in the right mindset to go about the journey mindfully and positively. Silencing my inner critic allowed me to see that it is within my power to create the life that brings me closer to my goal of contentment. Money and material goods will not bring me the life I desire. When anxiety started to form in my stomach, I remembered that all of the best things in life are outside of my comfort zone. My anxiety has transformed into a sign of growth and it reminds me that one day I’ll look back at all that I’ve overcome and I will be so happy that I took the road less traveled. As long as I can work in a field that allows me creative freedom, the opportunity to work with my hands, and to be around people who are passionate about what they do, I will be set.

One of the most influential factors was not what I expected it to be, my best friend. She was there with me the entire time. Having someone by my side made the hard parts easier and the best parts even better. I know that no matter how hard it may seem at times, I will always have a support system of people I love. However, even though I had a companion, it felt uplifting to plan and execute such a large project all on my own. I planned a timeline based on my interests and capabilities, created a budget, maintained my finances, and safely carried out all of my plans with very few hiccups.

One of the minor bumps in the journey was slightly upsetting, but it gave me a chance to reflect and practice meditation. During the night on my backpacking trip, it got colder than expected. We prepared for an uncomfortably warm night, since after all it was the beginning of summer. We hadn’t anticipated the whole week to be so chilly. That combined with trees retaining the moisture in the air and the temperature dropping so drastically made for a cold night. So with light blankets and coats, we were unable to sleep comfortably. If we had been able to sleep we might not have experienced the primitive fear that comes with hearing strange howling sounds in the night.

After the undistinguished sound, we had to wait for absolute exhaustion to overtake us if we wanted any sleep at all. At one point I was absolutely sure that I could hear and feel some sort of dog-like animal sniffing at my hammock. I thought in this moment that the worst was about to come. No signal, stuck 7 miles from (and about ~3800 feet above) the nearest road. Around 5:30 AM the sun finally came up, and as tired as I was, I never felt so alive. I knew that all of fears that seemed so real to me were just that, fears. A feeling is not always an indicator of the real thing. There is no reason to let worry paralyze you. You must prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. This is the way I will manifest my dreams into reality, and still keep myself on my feet when worst comes to worst. As the great Jim Carrey once said “there is a huge difference between a dog that is going to eat you in your mind, and an actual dog that is going to eat you.”

The transformation I have undergone is invaluable. I have gained the confidence to take on my education with a renewed love for art. The last two years have been filled with anxiety and questioning. At the Guggenheim, in the Giacometti retrospective, there was a quote by the artist that filled me with hope. “We exceed only to the extent that we fail” – Alberto Giacometti. This simple statement is a reminder to me that the trials ahead are stepping stones to success, not reasons to quit my dream.

The life of an artist is filled with people who expect only two career choices. Meditation has showed me that expectations for the future are an illusion of the cluttered mind. It will be my life’s goal to learn to let go of my desires for success and material gain, and replace that energy with a commitment to the development of my own artistic abilities. Going towards my dreams while letting go of how they come to pass, I now know, is the secret to my happiness. Instead of trying to force myself to create a life based in someone else’s idea of what success is, I will listen to my internal compass. I have no fear of failure because I know I’ll never stop trying.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Summit of Wittenberg Mountain

Justin Brice Guariglia


Researching, Documenting, and Completing a Computer Build

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


My STEP Signature Project consisted of conducting research into which computer parts would best fit the budget given by STEP. The parts chosen were then acquired, assembled and the process was documented in order to aid those who hope to build a computer of their own in the future.

  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.

My STEP Signature Project has mainly altered the way I view projects in general. Due to the computer build, I have become much more detail oriented and patient. It has presented me with the opportunity to make much less mistakes when faced with a daunting task due to the fact that I can now look at a problem without becoming frustrated as well. Another change that I discovered during the project is how much more satisfying it is to make something yourself rather than simply purchasing the computer, or having someone else assemble it for you. Finally, I was able to grow a better understanding of the hardware side of technology, which I may not have received had I not been given the opportunity to complete this project.

  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? Write three or four paragraphs describing
    the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project
    that led to this change/transformation.

The first thing that I realized while completing my project was that I should work on maintaining a level head while trying to solve a problem. Fairly early on into the project, I realized that the motherboard would take up a large portion of the case, and that the fan might not fit as well. I had started to become worried, and frustrated that the fan would not fit, which made it much harder to complete the precise work that was required. After leaving the build for an hour and coming back to it, I realized that I would be able to mount the motherboard first, then mount the fan after the motherboard was secure in the case. Before this event, mounting the processor also gave me some trouble. It’s a very small object, and the pins on the bottom can become bent very easily. The mounting system was something I had not used before, and I had become worried and frustrated when it would not simply snap into place like I thought it should. After second and third guessing myself, I realized that I could simply apply a little more pressure, and it would slide right into place like it was supposed to. These two events proved that I should be a little more patient and keep a level head when dealing with any problem that I am faced with, especially when it involves precise work.


Throughout the duration of the project, I was also given opportunities to document my thought process, and share it with the Makerspace community. The Makerspace community also offered the chance to bounce ideas off of the other members, see their thought processes, and improve my own. I feel like this collaboration allowed for my project to improve a great amount, and it turned out a lot better than it might’ve had I not interacted with other members. This interaction with this community was able to provide fresh ideas on how I could improve my build and process, and it also made me look forward to helping others in the future the same way current members provided aid with my project.


Lastly, being able to build a computer using the parts purchased confirmed my passion for completing a project myself, and seeing something through from start to finish. Some may claim that it would have been much easier to simply purchase a new high-end computer, and they may be right, however the experience that I had gained from this experience in terms of technical know-how and practical problem-solving skills could not have been purchased. I would highly recommend to anyone who is considering purchasing a computer to weigh the pros and cons of completing the build themselves. They will more than likely find the same benefit that I found which was a sense of accomplishment, new technical skills, problem-solving techniques, all of which can be applied to practical situations as well as coursework.


  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.


The previous changes are valuable in my life for multiple reasons. First, as described in my previous answer, all of the changes that I experienced can be applied to both practical problems as well as coursework. For example, the problem-solving techniques and technical skills that I have gained grant me the opportunity to be able to troubleshoot my own issues that may arise seeing as how I know the build. By knowing what makes up a computer, and knowing how to troubleshoot one, I can also better understand how software that I may be writing (in and out of class) could interact with the system. Another example of where these skills can come in handy later is once I graduate and enter the workforce. It is extremely important in the workplace that you can keep a level head, especially considering that almost every developer position will require you to be able to solve complex problems with a team. By learning how to keep a level head, and problem solve off of my STEP Signature Project, I am better prepared for the future.