An East Coast Adventure!

  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 Project took place over the period of time from June 8th-June 22nd, and it involved me and my travel partner Emily Akkari venturing to a number of national parks along the east coast – namely: Cuyahoga Valley, Shenandoah, Congaree, Smokey Mountains, and Mammoth Cave. At these parks we hiked, explored, and participated in ranger-led events, all the while documenting our experiences through photography.

  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.

This trip was a wonderful opportunity to get out of familiar territory and leave my comfort zone. Because of the success of this trip, I am very much looking forward to going on similar trips in the future – and they will be much easier to plan now that I have this experience! It was truly liberating to be able to travel on my own, following my own agenda; and the time spent with my travel partner helped me develop my personal skills and teamwork, while also offering me new and different perspectives as we travelled.

The cameras that we were able to purchase with our STEP funds really enabled me to see the world in a way that I hadn’t been able to before; as we travelled through the many, beautiful national parks that the east coast has to offer, I was able to view the natural landscapes in a new light. I found myself paying even more attention to angles and lighting, with a new appreciation for the aesthetics of nature that I had not previously been able to notice. When you start looking at the world through a photographer’s lens, you start noticing all of the little views and opportunities that the world has to offer. You can take a snapshot of a beautiful view, or touching moment, and then reflect on it in a way that would otherwise not be possible.

  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.

One of the most transformative of interactions throughout the course of the trip was my interaction with two of the volunteer rangers in Congaree National Park, Steve Dennis and Bill Wilson. Out of all of the people that we interacted with throughout or project, they were the two that had the greatest passion for knowledge and sharing that knowledge. As we walked the boardwalk in Congaree, they would stop and identify birds by their song, identify and share information about the plants and trees of the park, and point out all of the hidden wildlife that we were passing without even knowing. We saw all manners of birds, insects, fish, and turtles and other assorted wildlife that we encountered. Their clear passion for nature, wildlife, and educating visitors about the national parks was truly inspiring and made me appreciate my surroundings in a way that would otherwise have been impossible. In addition to this, they also shared a passion with photography; Billy Dennis and I spent a portion of the boardwalk hike photographing birds, and he showed me a thing or two about how to use my camera.

My favorite of the personal hikes that we took was probably in the Smokey Mountains. Emily and I had just gone through a rather long day of driving through the more commercial areas around the Smokey’s and were somewhat disappointed that we didn’t get to spend more time out and in the thick of the park, when we decided to go up to Clingman’s Dome – even though the hour was growing late. As we drove up the scenic drive towards the dome, we were reminded again about why these mountains were called Smokey; the clouds seemed to bleed out from amidst the trees, and we found ourselves driving higher and higher towards them. When we finally reached the top, and arrived at Clingman’s, we found it virtually abandoned. There were only one, or two other cars there at most, and we were greeted with the still and quiet of the landscape around us. A thick fog had settled atop the mountain, and as we hiked the rest of the way up to the observatory, we had only the odd trill of local birds and small snails sluggishly moving across the path to keep up company. This was by far the more serene and unique experience of the trip. Lastly, our interactions together as a partnership. We urged each other on and waited for the other, making sure we were safe along the trail and any other excursions we went on. We helped each other take photos, took turns driving our long drives, and tried to accommodate each other’s needs as best as we could. This, most of all, was the most important, I think. It showed what it’s like to interact with only one other primary person and how to best adjust to these interactions.

One final aspect of the trip that we life-changing was the dynamics of travelling with only one partner. As Emily and I travelled along the many highways that  the eastern United States had to offer and hiked the many trails and pathways in the park, we had only each other to lean on. This was a great team building exercise of a sort, as we relied on only each other to ensure that we had a pleasant and effortless trip.

  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.

This was an incredibly transformative trip for me, personally. I feel that this experience has allowed me to develop a new perspective on the world around me, and the United States as a whole. I was able to travel on my own, and be responsible for my own transportation and well-being, truly, for the first time. I have a newfound confidence in my abilities to carry myself through the adult world and find success wherever I am –geographically or otherwise. I also see the true value of the national parks; whereas before I saw them merely as a tool or opportunity for leisure, I know understand the inherent value that they provide to not only our nation, but to the world as a whole.

National parks are a gateway into a world that many people nowadays do not get to experience; they are a portal into the natural world, unadulterated and untainted by the pollution that cities and large masses of people in general inevitably produce. They are a look back at how the world used to look, and they are is truly a luxury that many of us take for granted.

I will be adding more specific details of my trip to this story map: https://arcg.is/1Oy4zP

Stopping to Smell the Flowers in Acadia National Park

  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.

Acadia National Park is a unique and beautiful ecosystem located on the coast of Maine. The park is known for its beautiful spring a summer wildflowers. However, many non-native species also co-exist and out-compete the native plants. My project consisted of visiting the park and photographing and filming many of these native and non-native species. I also interviewed researchers and park staff about the greatest issues facing the park and how they deal with them. From this, I will produce a blog and short documentary about the plants in the park.

 

  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.

Before this I had assumed I was not a creative person, and that I was not very good at identifying and describing plant species. I’ve always had problems remembering the names of plants and this is always something I have wanted to get better at. This project helped expose that I am able to have a creative vision and that when I put my mind to it, I can identify and describe many of the species in an area. As a result of the project, I was also able to become much more confident at using the camera I purchased to complete it. As I began the trip, many of the photos and videos I took were low quality and not worth sharing. However, as I progressed I became much better at adjusting the settings of the camera, focusing and holding it steady. I still have a long way to go as a documentarian but I am happy with the progress I made at my first attempt.

 

  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.

It was extremely impactful to me to meet with so many people involved in the park on a daily basis. I had the opportunity to participate in a restoration project on Cadillac Mountain, where I met park rangers, researchers, and community members. Before visiting the park, I didn’t have a true understanding of what it was like to manage and study a national park. The variety of perspectives and interests each person had when I talked to them about the park was extremely interesting, and not something I would have expected.

Going into the trip, my perception of Acadia was as a park vastly overrun by deadly invasive species, choking the biodiversity and limiting its natural beauty. What I found was an extraordinarily successful partnership between management, researchers, and community members who had a remarkably holistic view of the park. This symbiosis resulted in an ecosystem in which the non-native species were monitored and controlled, and native plants where protected and prevalent. In fact, for the majority of my trip I didn’t even see any invasives. Nothing like the monocultures of honeysuckle and reed canary grass I am so used to seeing.

Overall, I felt extremely grateful for the time my interviewees took to speak and educate me on the park. The ecosystem of Acadia transforms from ocean and intertidal, to forest and wetland to small mountains, only in the span of a few miles. Seeing that environment for the first time was very impactful and I am very excited to share what I saw. It is my hope that other people will be excited by what I have seen, and decide to visit the park themselves.

 

  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.

Personally, any opportunity to visit a new park and see a novel ecosystem will always be valuable to me. I am extremely grateful to have spent a few days in such a beautiful place and take some time away from the bustle of work and the city. Looking ahead, I hope to continue to visit such places and see plenty more parks and plants.

Professionally, this project helps mainly with my communication skills. As someone interested in pursuing a career in science, communicating my research and the work done by others is very important. This project helped me help decide the best way to interpret information from professionals and disseminate it to an audience. Forming stimulating questions for conducting interviews was a new experience for me and one that I can carry on into my professional career. Learning to use a camera to document a research project is another important skill that has already come in handy for my academic and professional life.

 

Here are some pictures from my trip:

 

My blog will eventually be available from this link (not currently though!):

STEP Reflection Prompt Responses

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 project involved traveling to several national parks with Mitchel Green, another OSU Student. Together we traveled to: Cuyahoga Valley, Shenandoah, Congaree, Smokey Mountains, and Mammoth Cave National park. At each of these parks, we went on Ranger-led hikes and our own individual hikes, as well as taking pictures of the views and animals that we stumbled across our hikes.

2. 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.

The biggest difference in our trip’s overall feeling was when we each got our cameras to work with.  They are DSLR cameras that let you make the views of bugs look large and close-up, as well as showing how different camera settings can change the feeling of a photo. Having that opportunity to attempt to capture exactly what I was seeing and experiencing changed the  trip, making it more enjoyable and much more of a creative-feeling project rather than mainly an athletic endeavor. Taking photos also helped us to (literally) stop and look at the subject of the photo, be it an animal or a landscape, and think about how to frame it to capture the best image that we could so that we could appreciate the photos to their fullest. Having to take multiple photos of a subject really drove this home, as we would each stop in our tracks to appreciate the view or animal we were seeing, and began almost problem-solving the angle, light, and settings that would need to be used, rather than just pointing and shooting. It made me appreciate the world around me a little more, both big views like the mountains and the small views of the many interesting bugs that were stumbled upon in our hikes.

Outside of the camera, though, the trip helped me to understand what it was I needed to enjoy trips similar to this in the future. I discovered that I really, truly, did not enjoy being in crowded areas such as Gatlinburg and some of the popular trails around the Smokey Mountains, and much preferred being on a more secluded trail so that I didn’t have to feel like I was being stuck in a traffic jam of sorts. Having too many people around took me out of the experience of being outdoors in a wild habitat, and instead put me in a mindset of “only humans are here”, which was particularly off-putting since I did want to get pictures of wildlife. In the future, I will have to plan around busy times of the years for parks like Smokey Mountains to get the most out of the park as possible.

3. 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 biggest interaction that had an affect on how I looked at the world around me, especially through my camera, was meeting two rangers in Congaree National Park. Their names were Steve Dennis and Bill Wilson, and they lead a large group of visitors throughout the park showcasing their knowledge by identifying birds by their songs alone, pointing out all the different plants around us, and talking about the history and ecology of the park. They pointed out animals I wouldn’t have spotted by myself and helped me to identify them. We spent a good four hours with them along with a couple that stayed along for the long walk. Together, we spotted countless species of birds, bugs, and reptiles and lizards. I was able to photograph almost every animal that we came across, and it was by far my favorite experience in any of the parks. Steve and Bill’s knowledge felt as though it was overflowing, as between the two of them it felt as though they knew every species of plant and animal around us.

Out of everything that we did, though, our hikes were the most fulfilling. My favorite one that we went on was in Shenandoah National Park, where we hiked down to two large water falls. On our hike down, we saw signs of the bears that live in the area (namely, claw marks on the trees), and came across many gorgeous, serene locations on our way down the winding path. We crossed a small stream over stepping stones and watched as the stream slowly began to change and open up until it became the water source for the large waterfalls we had heard about. Because of the rain the past day, the falls were truly magnificent to take in. It felt as though we were discovering this place for ourselves and making it what we wanted it to be: a haven to rest, appreciate, photograph, and be in awe of.

Lastly, our interactions together as a partnership. We urged each other on and waited for the other, making sure we were safe along the trail and any other excursions we went on. We helped each other take photos, took turns driving our long drives, and tried to accommodate each other’s needs as best as we could. This, most of all, was the most important, I think. It showed what it’s like to interact with only one other primary person and how to best adjust to these interactions.

4. 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.

These changes of appreciating the world around me, hunting for even the smallest of creatures to capture in a photo, interacting with and learning from others, and making trips that are quite common feel like my own, unique experience is important to my personal life in the future. I hope to take many more trips throughout my life, and don’t want to just do what most tourists do, but want to appreciate the land around me as best I can and get the most out of what it has to offer me. Going on this trip showed me what it’s like to organize your own, individual trip and gave me the experience of going through with it. This experience will prepare me for the trips I plan later in my life, perhaps even those on a more global scale as well.

This trip also helped me academically, as I learned so much from the rangers that I interacted with on all of the ranger-led activities and hikes that we went on. It gave me hope to see adults that were interested in what I was interested in succeeding and truly seeming to enjoy what they were doing and saying, and made me excited for what my academic future has to offer. It made it clear to me, as well, that I made the right decision in the classes I’ve taken and the direction that I have put my education. The world around me really, truly interests me and I want to understand it and identify it all, as well as help it the best way that I can: through research and spreading my own knowledge.

I will also be adding details of my trip onto this story map

Use on the link below to view the Story Map outlining my East Coast trip to the national parks!

http://ohiostate.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=a9332ca777d3445a84ccc7eed5e442a0

Montana Yoga Retreat

For my STEP project, I went to Helena, Montana and participated in a yoga retreat taught by Nat Kendall at The Feathered Pipe Ranch. Each day we had a morning mediation and yoga practice from 7:30 am to 930 am. Our morning practice was done on blankets which was a new experience I thoroughly enjoyed and embraced with an open mind. We then had the day to share meals together in the dining hall, enjoy nature, read and reflect. Evening practice began at 4:30 pm and lasted until 6:30 pm. Songs and chants were always included in practices and helped to invite unity and energy. Then, we all ate dinner together and relaxed. The meals at the retreat were vegetarian and cooked on site using local ingredients. The staff was extremely generous and some of the nicest people I’ve met. In addition, there is a sauna, hot tub and massage therapists on the ranch to help enhance our retreat experience.

While on my retreat, I truly understood that simplicity is the key to happiness and living a full life. At its core, life is simple. Finding happiness in the simple things is extremely important. I lived a week of simplicity and could not have been happier. The vegetarian meals we ate were prepared with love by the staff, the music by Nat was sung with joy, the rooms we stayed in were rustic, time on my phone was limited and the conversations with people were wholesome. I enjoyed hiking, reading outside and chatting with friends in my spare time. Through the little simplicities of the week, I realized that in people’s desire to reach some “happiness,” everyone is unhappy. Let me elaborate.

Nat would engage some reflection at the beginning of each practice. I would be settling into a pose as he would say something profound or something that made me think. One day he said something like “What if all we had was right here, the present. What if there wasn’t anything else.” He repeated this a few times. I really thought on this as I began my practice for the day. Initially, I was triggered by the phrase. I thought, “That’s settling! I’ve been taught to never settle. I always must be striving for something more.” That’s the problem, though. During the struggle to “always be striving for something more,” what’s truly important is lost in the mix. The little simplicities like love, relationships with others, feeling happiness on a sunny day and peace of mind are all sacrificed in the battle. Nat wasn’t suggesting we settle for a mediocre life, rather, he was saying was that we must be happy with the present. If we die tomorrow, would we be satisfied with how we treated others and ourselves in this life? What he said hit home for me because living in the present is something I wanted to improve upon attending this retreat. He was challenging me to find that true happiness in the most basic of poses, in the energy the chants brought out group and in the fresh Montana breeze. Happiness isn’t an A on every chemistry exam, looking the best at sorority formal or running as fast as others. Those things may create momentary happiness, but if recognition and love for the core simplicities of life are not present, true happiness is not there.

During our morning practices, Nat would encourage us to dedicate our practice to someone or something. I really enjoyed this aspect of the retreat because I treated it as an active mediation. Whoever or whatever I chose to dedicate my practice to was kept in the back of my mind for the duration of the practice. One day, he told us to dedicate the practice to something you are letting go of. “Honor it,” he said, “then respectfully let it go.” This was a really unique way to put it. At one point, what I was letting go of, perfectionism, served me. Instead of letting it go out of spite, I honored its presence in my life, then let it go.

Yoga is a practice of peace and serenity. I felt extremely rooted during my practices. I want to remember to remain rooted regardless of what is happing externally. I felt that my practice was deepened through a better mind body connection. I liked having something to lightly meditate during practice. In addition to my stronger feeling of being grounded, I felt that I have a greater respect for what is happening in the presently. We must respect the present and all it has to offer.

The atmosphere of the Feathered Pipe Ranch greatly contributed to my overall experience. It was secluded in the middle of the national forest near Helena on the base of the Rocky Mountains with no cell service. I loved being “unplugged” for the week. In addition, the ranch had a calming, welcoming feeling. The workers were all family and I felt comfortable and well-taken care of there. The vegetarian meals were made with love by the chef and his staff, the rooms were cozy, and the staff enjoyed interacting with us at meal times.

In addition, Nat’s yoga and meditation practices really enhanced my experience and fostered transformation. Due to the environment I was in, I was able to fully immerse myself in practice without having to worry about what assignment needed to be turned in, what errand needed done or what time I had to be in for work. All I had to focus on was yoga and being present at the retreat. Nat helped me in this process by being fully engaged at all times. I was able to truly feel his love for yoga through our practices. His calming presence helped me grow through my practice. I wasn’t afraid to make a mistake because I knew it was all part of the process. Like I mentioned, I enjoyed the questions Nat would pose throughout practice. Active thinking is something I enjoy, and I believe it definitely helped me with self-reflection. Nat asked the difficult questions like, “What do you want to let go in your life,” “What is holding you back,” and “What if you could be fully present, right here, right now?” Days get busy and long and I oftentimes forget to reflect and check-in with myself.

The third factor that played a large role in my transformative experience was the people I met on the retreat. Everyone was extremely open-minded, kind and excited to be in Montana practicing yoga. It was eye-opening to hear stories of what brought people to the ranch or how they got into yoga in the first place. To me, the best part was being able to make 38 new friends for the week. Talking about life, future goals and past struggles was unique because everyone has had different experiences. I learned that everyone has their own struggles they are dealing with and no one is ever alone in that struggle. Being in such good company made me more comfortable admitting my weaknesses, making small changes that I would take home, and being able to be one hundred percent myself.

Lastly, my openness to this experience greatly helped me get everything I wanted to out of this retreat. I went outside my comfort zone a bit and I couldn’t have done that if I was closed minded. I was open to learning to meditate, open to relaxing and taking a break from my routine. I learned many new songs and chants used in yoga as well. These were all new to me, and at first, I wasn’t sure what I thought about them. However, as the week went on, I became more comfortable with the musical aspect of yoga and I learned to love and appreciate it. Nat is an extremely talented musician who, along with Peter, Hannah and Lauren, brought beautiful music to the Feathered Pipe Ranch for us to enjoy and engage in. With this music came a sense of energy and unity amongst the group. Singing and chanting along was freeing an helped me to fully immerse myself in the practice. I’m blessed to have been able to participate in such a beautiful week of self-reflection, song, nature, yoga and friendship.

This change in my daily life is extremely important and affects all aspects of my life. Being a more grounded, less stressed person that isn’t as stuck to a schedule will help me far into the future. When I’m more at ease with myself, I’m able to better handle issues that arise, I’m able to give more to my relationships with others as well as my work life and school work as well. None of this gets easier as I get older so developing these techniques right now is very beneficial. Going on a yoga retreat has always been a goal of mine because I knew I would learn valuable things about myself, my practice and ways to mediate that would be helpful and benefit all aspects of my life.

People of the National Parks

Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

The STEP Project that I conducted was titled “People in the National Parks,” and was intended to help me to better understand how people came to become rangers and administrators within the National Park System.  This involved a cross country tour of eight of the nations National Parks, while meeting and conducting small interviews with some of the park’s employees and rangers and share their short stories on social media.

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

While I was planning this trip one of my main goals was to see if there was a particular path people took to becoming an employee at one of the various national parks I traveled to.  I found that the answers varied, but all stemmed from one common love for the national parks and conservation as a whole.  The first person I had the pleasure of speaking with was a young woman named Kaitlyn (pictured below) who was working at Arches National Park in Utah. She was initially from Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburg, as asked about my Ohio State sweatshirt after saying her boyfriend went to Ohio University.   She came out on a trip and fell in love with the scenery, and ended up going home, packing up, and moving to Moab, UT three weeks later.  Many of the other stories were similar and were documented in posts shared through the Instagram page “nationalparkspeople.” ( https://www.instagram.com/nationalparkspeople/?hl=en )  I found that their stories showed me that there really isn’t one path to becoming an employee at one of the parks. From college students to former English teachers, the people I had the chance to meet and speak with really helped me to understand the impact and draw the parks have on the citizens of the United States.

I found that another change came through increased confidence in travelling alone, especially since some of the areas I traveled to were so remote they didn’t have cell coverage.  I found that throughout the duration of my trip, my ability to problem solve and figure out how to get what I needed became more efficient, and I was able to learn to find my way through these areas without the aid of a cell phone.  I found that some of the people I met outside of the parks had very interesting stories as well, and finding out about their stories made me want to travel and learn how other people were able to get to where they are today.

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?

From day one this trip was an incredible learning experience.  As stated previously, one of the most impactful and relatable stories was at my first stop in Arches.  Kaitlyn seemed to really have a similar love for the National Park system as I did, and while it didn’t draw me to drop everything I planned on doing and go work for the NPS, it did help me realize that you don’t need much to live an extremely happy and fulfilling life.  She said she had majored in physics, so she turned down what could have turned out to be a lucrative career in favor for one that made her happy.

Another amazing story was from a park ranger named Adam (pictured below) who I met in Sequoia National Park in California.  Adam was actually from Ohio too (I found it incredible how many Midwesterners I met throughout my journey)!  A few years back, Adam was teaching English in Spain but decided that the flying back and forth was too much to handle and missed this side of the world too much.  He quit his job, but not before he saved up enough money to be able to live for a while until he figured out what he wanted to do.  He always had a love for the outdoors, and decided to hitchhike across Canada, and visit all their National Parks.  While in a park called “Waterton Lakes” he ventured south back to the US to Glacier National Park, where he ended up becoming a ranger until moving to Sequoia more recently.  His story showed my how flexibility can end up changing your entire career and life path, and that taking some time before jumping into the next phase of life can make that drastic of a difference.

Another story that didn’t come out of the parks, was from an older gentleman I met at one of the campsites I chose near Glacier in Montana.  I was just sitting by the river next to my campsite when a dog ran up to me!  His owner, Bill, was a former pilot (my new career path) who was able to retire by 55 by saving and investing all his earnings and buying a cheap plot of land in the middle of nowhere Montana.  His advice resounded with me, and paralleled one of my favorite quotes from Bill Nye, “Everyone you meet will know something you don’t.”  His advice was, wherever you are and wherever you go, make sure to make a connection with at least one person, because you never know where that connection might lead.  Bill apparently met his wife this way, and after hearing what I was doing, wanted to pass that on to me.  I found his advice interesting, because it was pretty much what I was accomplishing without knowing it, making connections throughout the US, and learning what I don’t know from people I just met.

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

When I began planning this trip, my planned career path was to become a real estate agent, and I thought that the biggest takeaway from the experience was that I would learn to talk and communicate better with people.  My career path changed to becoming a pilot, but I still want to invest in real estate and start a property management company.  I think that while I will not be using the communication and conversational skills I learned to sell property, I will be able to use them to speak to passengers, and hopefully be able to learn about some of their adventures, wherever they may be going or coming from in the world.