STEP REFLECTION- Samuel Richards.1260

Name: Samuel Richards

Type of Project: Artistic & Creative Endeavour

Western United States Photography Expedition- Reflection

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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