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!