My STEP Project Focusing on the LGBTQ+ Community

Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. 

My STEP signature project was a photography project where I went to cities all over Ohio and took portraits of LGBTQ+ youth. After the portrait session, I interviewed them about their experiences as someone in the LGBTQ+ community. I had a portrait session around every other day and I edited the photos from the sessions on the off days.

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

At the beginning of this project, I thought I knew all sides of the LGBTQ community quite well since I have been apart of it and quite involved with the community for a decent portion of my life. However, interviewing people from such a diverse group of backgrounds with differences in culture, religion, sexuality and gender identity intersection, socioeconomic status, parental/familial reactions, and factors like those made me realize the myriad of experiences I did not know about or understand.  Before this project, I assumed I completely understood how everyone felt during their coming out process and to a degree, I think everyone who has ever had to come out does relate to those who have done the same. However, the differences in backgrounds and factors can have a huge effect on how people experience and view their journey. This project changed my assumptions about the community and the way I tended to view all stories as linear and following a similar pattern when in reality, each story is organically its own.

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

One specific series of interactions that led to a friendship that was a very large factor in the change that I talked about in the previous prompt is a friendship that I developed with a biracial, queer trans man. The open and honest conversations I had from becoming friends with this guy and developing a relationship with him opened my eyes to the intersectional relationship between people’s different identities and how that can greatly affect someone’s journey through life. The ability to have these conversations in an open way without judgment and with each person being open to learn and understand where the other person is coming from creates an environment conducive to understanding.

Another set of interactions that led to this change was meeting with such a large variety of people over a certain age range and seeing the vast range of experiences within the group. Talking to two people who came from similar socioeconomic statuses, but had vastly different familial situations completely changed the way their experiences went in ways that most people would never think. Unless they experienced it firsthand or, as I did, talked to those people and learned their stories secondhand.

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

This transformation is very significant to my life and the way I view the community that I am in as well as in the way I conduct myself with others in the community. By seeing that every person’s story is organic and unique, it has allowed me to get ride of any preconceived notions or stereotypes I had about others in the community and instead gives me the space to get to know each person individually instead of assuming I know their story. However, thee journey that this project took me on this summer did not result in a single transformation. It caused changes and transformations in multiple facets of my life and in my thinking. Getting to know each story of the people I interacted with provided me with valuable human interaction and connection. This not only enhanced my people skills and made me more ready for my future as a psychologist, but also allowed me the opportunity to open my mind to the different lifestyles of people within my community and allowed me to get rid of the misconceptions and stereotypes that I had around certain groups in the community. Sometimes we think that it is impossible to have prejudices or stereotypes about a community just because we belong to it. This project allowed me to see that I had these misconceptions and it gave me the opportunity to grow out of them and develop a better mindset. This project was extremely personally transformational for me in the way it changed my thinking around myself and the way I interact in my community as well as the way I think about my community. However, my project also gave me skills that I think will be extremely important in my future career.

As someone who has a future goal of working with at-risk teenagers and young adults who struggle with mental illness, I feel that I need to understand the at-risk groups that I will see a lot. lgbtq+ folks are one of the largest young groups affected by mental illness, especially trans folks. The suicide rate is higher for the lgbtq+ community and then even higher for trans folks. Therefore, being able to talk to a number of people in the community who have struggled with mental health issues and have first hand experience of what it was like for them, was an extremely important aspect of this project for me and extremely eye-opening. It gave me exposure to the topics that I want to work with in the future as well as allowed me to develop the skills I need for my future as a psychologist. In general, the way this project has changed the way I see the world and the people around me has made me more compassionate towards those around me as I remember daily that I never know what someone has gone through because everyone has their own story that has made them who they are today. On a smaller note, but still of significance, this project reignited my love and passion for photography and for portraits and the way a photo can show a piece of someone’s soul. I think portraits can be extremely thought-provoking and emotion-inducing, but also fun and playful and light. I love the duality of portraiture and being able to work on that and explore that duality this summer was challenging and it forced me to mature as a photographer as well as a person. This project was the catalyst for many changes in myself, large and small, and the way I exist and see the world. It was an experience that I never forget and will continue to benefit from for the rest of my life.

 

A couple of my favorite shots from this summer project:

My Summer STEP Project

 

Inspiration/Project Overview

 

When I entered Ohio State’s Second-Year Transformational Experience Program (STEP) at the beginning of my second year of college, I had no idea what I would do for my signature project. As the year progressed I still was no closer to figuring out my project until my personal life gave me inspiration just weeks before my proposal was due. In December of 2017, my grandmother, Carol McGinnis, was diagnosed with bile duct cancer.  She was hospitalized on December 5th and underwent many procedures to attempt to control her symptoms. Eventually, her doctors’ decided there was nothing more that could be done for her due to the advanced nature of her cancer. At that point, she had been in the hospital for almost a month and could no longer walk. My family could not care for her unassisted so we decided to move her to the Truman House of Community Hospice. Just eight weeks after she was diagnosed, she passed away at Community Hospice. It was during this time that I spent visiting her at the Truman House that I was inspired for my STEP project. Community Hospice gave my grandma and our family a home-like environment when we were not able to take her back to her own home. While there, my grandma received items handmade by volunteers such as pillowcases and gowns. These donations made her hospice room feel a little more like home. I knew that I wanted to give back to this organization that did so much for not only my grandma, but also the rest of my family. Thus, my STEP project was decided. I chose to sew 12 pillowcases and knit 12 blankets to be donated to Community Hospice’s Truman House in New Philadelphia, Ohio, one for each of the 12 patient rooms the building houses. As part of my project, I also became a volunteer at Community Hospice and I attended sewing and knitting classes.

 

Transformation

 

My project truly took on the “transformational” aspect of the STEP acronym in more ways than one. Going into my project, I had an idea of what hospice care was, especially considering my family’s recent experience with it. However, I had only seen hospice care from the point of view of a family. Throughout my project, I was able to see Community Hospice through the eyes of a volunteer. I was able to see how important each volunteer is to the care of a patient. I could see our work having a direct impact on the organization. This project has fostered my passion for service, which is one that continues to grow.

Additionally, this project allowed me to further develop my artistic abilities, which is something I do not often have the time to do. This summer, I was able to express my creativity and learn two new skills: sewing and knitting. The art classes I took to learn these were challenging in a way that I am not used to. I now have two new hobbies that can stay with me for years to come.

My project also helped change me on a more personal level. I always knew this project would give me a way to give back to an organization that helped my family in a difficult time, but I never expected my time volunteering at Community Hospice would be so pivotal in my personal grieving process. Considering that only a little over three months had passed between the time we lost my grandma and the start of my project, I should have known that parts of my project would be emotionally difficult, but I had no idea how healing it would also be for me. I have to admit that is was very difficult repeatedly going back to the building where I last saw my grandma, but it also gave me the opportunity to reflect on my family’s experience. I never expected my STEP project to be an instrumental part of my personal grieving process, but it truly was.

 

Key Parts of Transformation

           

            One key part of my transformation was the classes I took to learn my new artistic skills. The staff I had at both sessions were passionate about their craft and made it possible for me to learn some of it in a short amount of time. I was lucky enough to be one of two students in my knitting class, so I was able to have a more individualized learning experience. I learned how to better express myself through these two different forms of art.

My personal transformation would not have been possible without the staff and volunteers at Community Hospice.  During my time at the organization this summer, I had the opportunity to meet many amazing people that give their time to Community Hospice. I was truly amazed to see the amount of people that wanted to give back. I was pleasantly surprised to see a wide range of volunteers from teens in high school to retirees. Connecting with these people and learning what led them to volunteer was an integral part of my transformational experience. It was interesting to see the way each person decided to get involved.

One of the largest influences on my transformation was Community Hospice’s Bereavement Camp. Each summer, the bereavement department of Community Hospice holds a day camp for children in the community who have lost a loved one and this year, I had the privilege of volunteering there. Each day, the children played games, had music therapy, made artwork, and experienced nature. I never expected that while I was volunteering there I would find the camp so helpful for my own grief. I found that the music therapist was wonderful at choosing just the right songs to promote reflections and that nature served as the ideal backdrop for discussion. Being in an environment focused on bereavement care gave me the opportunity to reflect on my family’s experience.

Another important factor in my transformation was my volunteer coordinator, Kait. Kait generously agreed to be my project advisor for my STEP project. It was a joy to get to know her and I could not have found a better person for the role. Her encouragement and guidance was instrumental to the success of my project. I am looking forward to working with her again, as I plan to continue serving as a volunteer of Community Hospice whenever I can.

 

 

Significance of My Transformation

           

The personal transformation I experienced during my project is extremely valuable to my life. This project has given me an outlet for my grief over this past summer and has allowed me to honor the memory of my grandmother. Throughout this project, I have grown in more ways than one. I found a love for knitting and sewing that I never knew existed, I nurtured my love for service, and I found a way to give back to the organization that gave so much to me and my family this past year. I am extremely grateful that The Ohio State University Second-Year Transformational Experience Program and Community Hospice gave me the opportunity to see my project come to life. This is an experience that I will remember forever.

 

 

Photography Portfolio Project

Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

My STEP signature project was designed to develop a diverse photography portfolio. Over the course of two months, I created many portrait, food, commercial, architecture, and street images. In addition, l watched online lecture videos that taught me new techniques and terms.

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

At the beginning of the project, I assumed that each portfolio could be completed in a similar way, with similar techniques and levels of interaction with others. This was not the case. I had to research and plan for each photo shoot to understand my role. Food photography required another mindset than portrait photography. On a larger level, the project was able to broaden my knowledge of new types and styles of photography; from newborn photography to black light photography. My understanding of myself and what kind of photography I preferred to shoot was able to grow from this experience.

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?

As an introvert, certain types of photo shoots were more challenging than others. The food photography required attention to detail, timing, and was a solitary job. Although this did not require social skills, it allowed me to be immersed in my work without distraction. Architecture and street photography were also focused jobs that did not require much interaction. This contrasted portrait photography that required me to be personable and constantly interact with the subject; from asking to take their picture to posing them. This taught me how to adjust myself and the way I approached the situation to get the results I wanted.

New places allowed for growth and learning opportunities. Each new place had unique lighting, subjects, and time restraints. I had the opportunity to take pictures at the CCAD fashion show during the time of the project. This presented challenges due to the darkness of the room. This situation taught me how to adjust to the environment in order to get the images I wanted. Where I stood also had a large impact on the photo so I had to experiment by walking around the room to find the best angles. Additionally, I was able to strengthen my time management by scheduling the photoshoots and meeting deadlines. These are skills I need to use every day.

The project led to a better understanding of my own preferences. It gave me the flexibility to explore something that I am passionate about in greater detail. After exploring new methods and researching photographers, I had a better idea of the kind of work I would like to do. Some of the information that I gained from the experience surprised me and encouraged me to look further into the subject.

 

 

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

This project provided photography experiences that I will continue to use in the future; both in business and personal use. Most of the time I am confined to a single style of photography depending on the project or job I have. This can be confining and sometimes inhibits creativity. The project gave me the chance to explore new styles and try new things I may not have taken the time otherwise to do. I was additionally able to strengthen interpersonal and budgeting skills. All of these factors provided me valuable growth as a photographer and student.

 

My Website 
https://oliviae33333.wixsite.com/oliviawilfordphotos

DisCovery

My STEP Signature Project was a film I created using the STEP program. I learned about film making by traveling to DC and filming my favorite areas then editing the clips into one larger movie.

This project stemmed from me wanting to face a lot of my fears about big cities head on. I wasn’t originally expecting to go as deep as I did with this project. I think the film really helped me understand a lot more about my own anxieties and allowed me to open up myself to opportunities I would not have before starting this project. Simultaneously I learned a lot about DC and its ever-changing nature.

I was surprised by how much I feel like this project allowed me to grow as a person and taught me how to face a challenge head on. Creating a film was a huge undertaking, I had to learn how to operate the camera, take a steady shot, insert sound, and edit it all together in post. Overall this was an incredibly rewarding journey and I was able to learn a lot about myself and the art of film making.

My STEP Signature Project was centered around my anxieties with large cities, specifically DC. I knew that this fear stemmed from a certain traumatic experience I had when I was a child in the District. So, I set out to create this project documenting how I was going to face this issue.

One of the hardest interactions I had during this project was at a restaurant, Comet Ping Pong. My fear of cities stems from an irrational fear I’ve always had of mass shootings. I didn’t like the notion that in such a small, highly populated area of people I didn’t know the majority of them and I didn’t know their intentions. This fear was perpetuated in December of 2017 when a man opened fire in Comet Ping Pong, a restaurant I had frequented. So, for my project I decided to go back the restaurant despite my reservations and face my fear head on. The restaurant was the same as before, no one seemed bothered by the fact that less than a year before a deranged man had entered with malicious intentions.

This experience brought me to the conclusion that I don’t have to be afraid or skeptical of the people surrounding me. It showed me that I needn’t worry about situations I can’t control. It brought me peace.

I have always been an anxious person, it’s a part of my nature. I had lived with this fear for so long, I never realized how much it was impeding my life.  I hated DC before I started this project. I was scared to death of it. And this fear and anxiety began seeping into other parts of my life. I never deviated from my routine, I was safe in what I did, and I didn’t need to branch out.

This project taught me how to explore and adventure. It taught me the value of DC and its history. This project brought me peace. It mended a wound that had been bleeding for far too long. Along the way I got to pick up a new skill, film making, one that I genuinely enjoy and hope to pursue in the future. But, most importantly this project brought me sanity.

 

 

All the Way Up the East Coast

During my eight-day STEP journey I traveled up the east coast starting in New York and ending in Bar Harbor, Maine. I had the privilege of not only capturing the beautiful beaches along the coast but various harbors and lighthouses along the way.

I feel that I have transformed as a traveler, photographer and observer. All of the beauty and nature that I have seen has opened my eyes to how vast and stunning the world is. I now know how capable and independent I can be, now that I have planned and executed an entire trip from start to finish while keeping track of all of my finances and personal goals. My confidence and belief in myself has definitely increased throughout the course of the trip because I realized that I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to. I discovered beautiful destinations off the beaten path and figured out ways to get out of any issues that arose on the road trip.

While in Bar Harbor, Maine, we found out that there was a sand bar that led to an island that can only be accessed during certain times of the day due to the tides. Katharine, my fellow STEP participant and I decided that we wanted to find this sand bar to the island and coordinated the time so that we could walk over and explore without getting stuck on the island during high tide. We had to ask numerous locals were the entrance to the sand bar was and after a couple of people we located the entrance and went to Bar Island during low tide. We had the opportunity to not only explore the island, but view Bar Harbor in its entirety from the island. This moment was extremely memorable because we were able to execute a unique experience with the help from locals.

Keeping track of all the experiences we wanted to have and all the expenses that came along the way was at times challenging but led me to have confidence with money that I never experienced before. I had to make sure we found places to eat where I only had to spend a maximum of twenty-five dollars a day. At times it was challenging but I was proud that I accomplished staying under budget. I found hotels along our road trip that served complimentary breakfast in the mornings to cut food costs. When in Boston, we stayed at an adorable bed and breakfast called the Winthrop Arms and not only did we save money by not staying directly in Boston, but we got to see more of Massachusetts. We even discovered a hidden beach on the property were we watched the stunning sunrise before further exploring Boston.

One of my favorite moments from the trip was when I was on the road from Portland to Bar Harbor. We were on the road and saw a sign for another lighthouse so we decided to be spontaneous and check it out. Katharine and I traveled for twenty minutes and finally discovered Bug Light Park Lighthouse was located on Cushing point as we drove down Cushing Court. The whole peninsula was named after my last name. This was such an cool find and such an interesting moment to document and send back to my family. I never usually take risks or deviate from a plan so this trip allowed me to get outside my comfort zone and find that its ok to take risks because the reward may be worthwhile.

These changes are extremely valuable to me because I needed to expand my view of the world and allow myself to explore my more artistic and creative side. This trip was a nice change of pace from all of the science and data analysis I study on a day to day basis. I feel as though it protected me from burning out from all of my premed courses and rekindled my love for photography and the arts. I know that this transformation will help me to become an even more well-rounded student and future health professional. Balancing artistic and academic passions are the key to living a fulfilled life and I am very grateful to STEP for allowing me to have this opportunity to discover my balance.

https://vsco.co/ecushingtravels/journal/p/1

 

Puerto Rico STEP Trip

For my STEP project I traveled to five different cities throughout Puerto Rico over a two-week period to talk to Native Puerto Ricans about the biggest socioeconomic problems facing the island today.  The three main goals I had were to improve my Spanish-speaking/comprehension skills, learn more about how native Puerto Ricans feel the island is doing, and learn how other Americans can be a part of the solution to these problems.  I visited 5 different cities across the island: San Juan and Ponce (San Juan is the capital and largest city on the island and Ponce is the second largest city, both on the coast), Luquillo and Cabo Rojo (smaller cities on the coast), and Cayey (a small city in the mountains towards the center of the island).  The interviews involved both formal recorded interviews and informal conversations with people I met.  Eventually this footage along with the other information I learned will be compiled into a short video documentary.

Although I had been to Puerto Rico once before on an educational Spanish trip, I wanted to ensure that I did my research on the history of the island and its unique relationship with the United States.  It is one of very few modern day colonies and I wanted to understand this political position better.  My topic advisor Dr. Miranda Martinez, an associate professor in the college of arts and sciences who focuses on Central American and Puerto Rican studies, recommended the book “Puerto Rico in the American Century” by Ayala and Bernial.  It presented a view on the island’s colonial position based on culture and economics that have affected the island and different countries associated with it for the last several hundred years.  Here is a brief history of Puerto Rico that was presented in the book, and was confirmed by the historical information presented at the two forts in San Juan that I visited (Castillo San Felipe del Morro San Juan and Castillo de San Cristobal).

  • Originally home to Taino Indians
  • Became Spanish occupied in 1512
  • Invasions by the English and Dutch in the 16 and 17 centuries
  • 18 century: agricultural and industrial revolution
  • 19 century: wars for independence, Spanish-American war lead to America colonizing PR

The book also discussed the modern economic crisis and what is now being called the second Puerto Rican migration, which is a result of many different factors, largely including the hurricane in 2017 and the effect of the Jones Act on the island’s trade abilities.  Many of the people that I talked with brought the Jones Act up on their own when I asked them about the current economic crisis, and everyone I talked to agreed that the US federal government was severely stunting Puerto Rico’s ability to recover economically on their own because of their limited trade abilities, and yet the US government is not taking responsibility for this and allowing them to expand their trade.

My worldview was completely transformed over the course of this trip.  I grew up in a very privileged environment and always viewed poverty as a serious problem that I one day would need to help fix.  While Puerto Rico has the largest poverty rate of any other area in the United States, many of the people there don’t view this as a problem.  They believe anyone who goes hungry or doesn’t have housing is in that position because they choose to be.  There are plenty of natural resources all over the island, as well as people willing to help each other, that it is always possible to improve one’s quality of life.  Additionally, what we view as poverty in the continental U.S. looks very different than how Puerto Ricans view it.

Along with this view I realized just how much has been given to me in life.  Never once did I have to worry about healthcare or having enough money for food and clothes.  I was well taken care of by my family and never faced a fear of getting involved with the drug cartel.  These fears are increasing realities for many Puerto Ricans as the economy continues to decline and the U.S. government doesn’t come to their aid.  This problem of economic decline is only further worsened by the Jones Act which doesn’t allow Puerto Rico to export goods anywhere else except the United States (where it is highly taxed as international goods even though they are a U.S. territory).

Most of the information I gathered throughout my trip was from simply listening to the people of the island.  I interviewed/talked with around 25 people total throughout my trip on these topics; the ones that stood out the most to me were with a 10-year old Puerto Rican girl who came with her mother to work during the summer in San Juan, a 36-year old Puerto Rican man who recently started getting involved in the agriculture industry, and a 48-year old Puerto Rican woman who spent the first half of her life in NYC but returned to Puerto Rico to be close to her sister.  Whenever I gave people a brief description of why I was there, people always had something to say and their own opinion to contribute to the questions I had.  This desire to share their lives with a complete stranger like me was fueled in part by the ways that they were still suffering after the hurricane.  But while I originally thought I would be traveling there to hear a solution and the U.S. government’s role in this recovery, the people talked about how the island would only truly recover once people who lived there took initiative.  This would be done through an increase in agriculture, tourism opportunities, as well as helping those who still needed recovery resources and materials.  They believe the best way to help the island is to recover it themselves. This was incredibly eye-opening to me as it reminded me of the “white man savior” complex that I can get all too easily.  Rather than just giving people the answers, sometimes the best way to help someone is to let them help themselves.

I will remember the memories and information I gained on this trip for the rest of my life.  I was not only extremely humbled to have the life that I have, but I was also reminded to always ask people directly about their lives before assuming things about them.  Along with my change of mindset, my Spanish improved greatly almost to the point of fluency which is an invaluable skill that I will be able to use both internationally and domestically for the rest of my life.

Architecture From New Perspectives

For my STEP Project, I requested a DJI Spark drone that I used to study buildings and landscapes from an aerial perspective, effectively challenging myself to explore new ways to think about architectural documentation. I travelled from Columbus to Venice, Italy; Munich, Germany; Sydney, Australia; and Chicago, Illinois. I really enjoyed getting to travel the world and it made me realize how my studies at OSU can be applied to different artistic fields. This project was also led in conjunction with an architectural internship in Sydney. I had a great time exploring with my drone and I’m excited to see where my studies and new found interest in videography will take me!

Photography in the Wild West

For my STEP project, I traveled out west for a week and a half, visiting Boise, Idaho, Craters of the Moon National Monument, Yellowstone National Park, Jackson Hole, the Grand Tetons, and Salt Lake City. The main purpose for visiting all of these places was to photograph them in a new light, and really capture the essence of the wild west.

Craters of the Moon National Monument

Grand Tetons, WY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This trip pushed me as not only a photographer, but also a person and as a traveler. I will start by explaining the first- I usually focus on portrait photography (people and animals), but I wanted to redirect and work my skills on the beautiful landscapes and details of the national parks I visited. One of my goals was to try my best to capture the essence of the national parks through non-touristy photos, which was definitely harder than I expected. Upon arrival to our first day at Yellowstone, I was a bit deterred because of how long the lines were to see certain features of the park and everyone seemed to be standing in the same spot to get the same exact photo, and when I looked around, there wasn’t really much place else to stand to try to get a unique photo. I encountered multiple places like this, especially in Yellowstone, and this forced me to think through my shots and compose them even before turning my camera on. I had to figure out what would make the photo interesting and different than the one’s everyone else were taking. Additionally, I was working with 3 different lenses so it was necessary to have quick thinking for which lens would fit the idea I had in mind for the photograph. For example, I would frame my landscape shots with foreground details, or if someone was in the way of my shot, I would try to incorporate them into the picture- and this ended up being a lot more fun and exciting as well. I even tried night photography which I have never done before – a lot of research and planning went into how to set up my shot and what tips and tricks to use for the best lighting at the best time of night. I’m more than happy to say I went out of my comfort zone to get intriguing pictures. I even decided to use my knowledge of portraiture to photograph animals- with a lot of patience, the will to wake up at 4am, and also hang out of a moving car with my huge 70-200mm lens, I managed to capture hundreds of amazing photos of bison, elk, coyotes, fox, moose, and cows.

In addition to just taking pictures, I got to use new Adobe Lightroom techniques to process my RAW photos, and enhance the colors and lighting to make something exciting and eye-catching.

Through my photography and traveling, I gained a much deeper understanding of nature and the world around me. I’ve never felt so close to nature and so educated about how a tiny bit (Yellowstone and the Grant Tetons) of how the world works. Sometimes I take nature for granted, but this trip has opened up my eyes to all the wonders our Earth can do. I could capture everything that I saw and experience through my photography to (hopefully) give everyone that see’s my photos the same feeling – that earth is a wonderful place that works in extremely perfect, but mysterious ways to bring us life. Sometimes I didn’t even feel like I was on planet earth because I had no idea these places existed on the same world I lived on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All in all, this trip was a needed change of pace- not just for a little bit of my life, but also photography as well. With such a busy summer work schedule, and photographing portraits for upcoming high school seniors, I never really had the time this summer to just go outside and create something new out of the places/things around me. I got to do exactly that on this trip, and more; reflect on myself, my life, and this wonderful Earth. I have a whole new perspective on the west, traveling and planning a trip start to finish, and nature. Each place I visited was drastically different; culturally and geographically. But every location I went to, I found myself eager to learn more about the city, the history, the culture, and how exactly it came to be how is it today. This trip has lit a spark in me to keep trying to travel the world for many years to come. As this relates to my studies, I would love to work in the FBI or another government agency down the road and will know I will have to travel a lot for that, and I am now a little less nervous and a lot more excited to begin that journey. Additionally, art has always been a huge part of my life, as a hobby and passion, and I know I will always continue to pursue it, along with my computer science studies.

I’m forever grateful I had this experience; as I mentioned earlier, I not only grew as a photographer, but also as a traveler. Prior to this trip, I never considered myself a “traveler.” But after visiting so many unique places, I have found a love for traveling. Every night I would stay up late planning my next day and try to squeeze in as much as possible, because it was so exciting exploring the national parks, or a new city. I even got to go out of my comfort zone and go on some hikes (with bear spray in hand, of course) in Yellowstone. I know for certain, I have become a better planner, and more aware of what’s going on around me, which I know are necessary skills for the future.

My STEP Trip

My STEP project in the Smoky Mountains entailed capturing both the stunning sceneries of nature and everyday life through photography and videography. Utilizing my DSLR camera, I spent most of the trip learning how to use it, finding my style of photography, and discovering memorable parts of Tennessee.

 

Ohio State’s STEP gave me the opportunity to explore other interests of mine and take further action upon them. In this instance with photography, instead of having a simple appreciation for it, I took the initiative to finally engage myself with personally taking the photos. From this experience, I gained a deeper admiration for the creative process behind each photograph, for each one has a message or portrays the beauty of something. I thoroughly enjoyed the new perspective I got to experience from being behind the camera, so I learned how different camera lenses can change what the camera captures and tested various angles to see what I believe best captures the subject or scenery. Aside from the angles and lenses, photographers must examine the subject, background, settings on the camera, and the editing process after the photos are taken. Rather than a simply snap of a picture, separate components that go into each picture are considered. Additionally, receiving such funding from STEP to complete this trip made me realize how much I enjoy traveling, whether that be by plane, boat, or car. It reaffirmed all the traveling I hope to do in the future, especially once I become a dentist in the future. I have always enjoyed experiencing other cultures, even within the US in the southern states, so I look forward to traveling more as a dentist and photographing my journeys.

 

As I previously mentioned, I always had an appreciation for photography, but I never personally knew any photographers who had been in the business for several years. Then, I took my first photography class, which started to shape my appreciation for it. I finally had the chance to interact with professional photographers who had years of business and could offer helpful advice about the foundations of photography. I had only ever witnessed the final product of photographs, but seeing where the process started was a valuable lesson. It was also inspiring to hear how they had turned their passion and hobby into their full-time career, which is similar to what I hope to do one day.

Throughout my STEP project, I wanted to photograph and create a video compilation of it, so any time I saw something worth capturing, interesting, or scenic, my first instinct was to bring out my camera. Since it was my first time taking pictures and videos with a purpose, it was a new habit I quickly developed in order to create the kind of content that I wanted. I also realized that I was much more observant and aware of my surroundings because I needed to stay alert about what I want to capture, so I always kept my camera within close reach. While I was doing this, I never stopped creating and never wanted to stop. I constantly had a desire to take better pictures and continue to improve on my photography skills. I was also worried that if I did see something worth capturing but did not have my camera, it would have been a lost opportunity, so I recognized that photography was a continuous process and photographers would never know when their next opportunity would arise. It was essentially a gamble and I just had to prepare myself for the next chance.

While taking photographs and videos, I traveled through Nashville and the Smoky Mountains. I had always enjoyed traveling since a young age, but I realized I could do more besides just visit places and absorb the culture. I could actually take pictures while still enjoying myself. I had always believed that I should put down my phone and “live in the moment.” Though it is important to do that from time to time, pictures and videos are the only physical memories I can look back on years from now and share with others. Photography is ultimately about sharing it with others to also appreciate, so I hope to take more chances with traveling and photographing memories.

 

I always heard people saying to follow your passion and I dreamed of doing that, but it is often a lengthy process to fulfill those aspirations. Though I am still an undergraduate student hoping to become a dentist one day, I believe that I take the appropriate steps each day to become closer to my goal. I have confidence that I curated a new passion to eventually coexist with my desire of helping others through dentistry. Since STEP provided me with the means to learn more about photography, it enhanced what I want to do. Thus, I envision myself practicing dentistry in third-world countries while taking photographs and videos to share and inspire others. In terms of my personal goal, I assumed photography was a skill I never needed to learn and could simply enjoy other professional photographers’ works. However, this opportunity proved me wrong and I finally had a reason to do so.  I’m grateful for this amazing opportunity provided by STEP because it pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and try something new.

A Trip to the West

My STEP project was an examination of how national policy affects the conservation of national parks. To document this I took pictures of all the national parks I visited as well as tried to talk to local employees of these national parks about the policy that was in action.

 

In terms of personal growth, this trip was tremendously impactful. We had an incredibly disruptive event in the middle of the trip as a small butane canister exploded in the back of my car and we had to figure out how to deal with an un-drivable car. After collecting myself and evaluating what options I had, I managed to collect myself and my friends and figure out a way to get to the town of Flagstaff from the Grand Canyon. From this experience, I definitely learned how to handle pressure and uncertainty in the face of adversity and ultimately a greater self-confidence. In addition to this, once I was able to resume my project at other national parks. My view of the current administration’s efforts to conserve these precious national treasures that are national parks was ultimately emphasized. I found that no additional help had been given to some of the smaller parks we visited and some feared the implications of a potential loss of funding or loss of national park status.

 

As stated earlier, I felt that the most impactful experience on the trip was actually when the trip went wrong. When the car that was the lifeblood of our trip exploded, I initially thought that the whole trip was done for. It had completely blown out the back window and interior of the car had blown out and after the park rangers and fire department had vacuumed out the glass we were 80 miles away from any hope of repair for the car. We were faced with an incredibly difficult decision, do we continue trying to fulfill our STEP project or do we turn back and end our trip early. My other friends that were on the trip with me were unsure what to do and had no idea what to say. While I was initially very angry and upset that the accident had happened but I decided that if one of us did not take action we would be in even bigger trouble. So I collected myself and tried to lead the group of us to a viable solution and hopefully not end our trip prematurely. This experience definitely taught me how to keep my head and how to lead in times of difficulty.

 

The time I spent camping and investigating the national parks during our trip, definitely increased my appreciation for the natural beauty that the U.S. posses. Being able to go experience the true beauty of some of the U.S.’s most iconic national sites, gave way to some of the most introspective experiences of my life. Seeing the grandeur of Zion or the Grand Canyon up close not only allowed me to recognize the precious nature of such, but talking with local officials also helped me understand the impetus that is on the upcoming generations to preserve these national treasures in the face of climate change. It also made me realize that I believe that every person in the U.S. should experience the national park system. I believe that these sites should be a focal point of national pride and too often people from around the U.S. never experience these. This was emphasized by the fact that the majority of the people that I met and talked to at the part were either locals, citizens from within a hundred mile radius, or international tourists. I think that as I grow old I would like to be a driving force behind enabling experiences at these parks with citizens from all over the United States.

 

The final experience that I took away from the trip was the unwillingness of local park officials to comment on the current policy. This was especially noticeable at the parks in Utah as well as Arizona where the current administration has slashed protections on lands that were formerly national parks (Bears Ears) as well as the proposed opening of land next to the Grand Canyon for Uranium drilling. The most I could draw from the conversations were that the officials expressed disappointment to encroaching development as well as potential loss of surrounding land. These sentiments made me realize that as a voter I definitely must vote for potential candidates that will protect and conserve these what natural untapped beauty remains in the U.S. In addition to this I noted that while passing through Native American reservations, these citizens who are often within close contact of local officials and tourists to these parts also expressed disappointment in these policy changes. To these people, the parks not only represented a beautiful location, but also were often times sacred sites to these cultures.

 

I think that this trip was imperative for me to have as it gave me an opportunity to see the natural beauty of the U.S. and to witness some of the most iconic sites was a life changing experience for me. As I pursue internships and other endeavors crucial to my professional development, I fear that I will never again have the opportunity to experience these sites with the physical tools I have now. The challenges and planning of the trip taught me how to be a leader as well as how to be a responsible adult. Between the mishap with my vehicle and the constant moving and planning of each location I think that the trip most definitely acted as a coming of age trip for me. As a future business leader, I have decided that for a social aspect of my business I would like to be an active champion of conservation and continuation as well as expansion for not only the U.S.’s national beauty but also the world’s. In addition to that I think that the growth gained from this trip will not only be useful professionally, but also personally as it taught me more about who I am as a person, the relationship between my friends and I, and more importantly a little more about America.