Exploring Ohio Through Photos

Hocking Hills State Park

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

My STEP Project took place from May 1st – July 31st of this year, and it involved me learning the art of photography and exploring different areas of Ohio to create my own photography portfolio. Over the course of three months, I captured moments of cultural, environmental, and historical significance while practicing new photography techniques and camera settings.


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

Through this project, I was able to explore more of Ohio than ever before. This changed my view of the state because I realized that there is so much more history and tradition than I have seen from campus.

This trip was also an amazing opportunity to explore an art form that is very technical and complex. It was exciting to see the progress in the photos I took at the beginning of the project compared to those I took toward the end. I learned so much about myself spending hours in gardens and at historical sites playing with settings and trying to capture the exact photo that I envisioned. I have a new appreciation for angles, positioning, and lighting and how each aspect interacts with the others to create unique interpretations of the same scene. While this project was short, I am looking forward to continuing to explore cultures around Ohio and the rest of the world through similar self-guided trips in the future! I owe this new confidence to the life experience I gained during this STEP project.


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?

Traveling around Ohio, it was interesting to see how culture impacts all aspects of life; I loved exploring new cultures in food, buildings, art, and nature. Exploring new areas and meeting new people introduced me to identities and experiences that I have never interacted with before. I met a number of other photographers while out on trips, and I was able to talk to many of them about their techniques and interests. While hiking in Hocking Hills, I had an opportunity to meet a young honeymooning couple with the same camera as me. As we talked, I was even able to show them some of the techniques I had learned in my photography classes to get better portrait style photos!

I also really enjoyed the opportunity to work one-on-one with my mentor during this project. It was nice to have an expert to talk to as I searched for a camera and lens that would be easy to work with and suit my photography interests. I was also nice to be able to show someone else my progress and get advice on new ways to frame a shot or play with natural lighting. Our discussions really helped me to learn from my mistakes and improve my speed and technique, and they were a huge factor in increasing my confidence behind the lens.

The photography classes I took over the course of this project also served as a great tool as I explored my camera and how to take advantage of certain subjects and lighting scenarios. While I initially planned to take a different set of in-person classes, that program filled up quicker than expected. To rebound from this situation, I found a similar set of online courses offered that were designed specifically for the camera that I purchased. What started off as a setback quickly became a highlight of my experience because I was able to watch and rewatch the class lectures as I became familiar with every knob and button on my camera. It also found it very helpful to rewatch lectures about certain subjects before going to each site. This allowed me to remember and apply the advice given from the lecturer during each shoot.


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

My main goal for this project was to be able to rekindle my love for art through photography, a medium I was never confident that I could pursue. This transformation is significant to my life because I now have a new outlet for releasing stress and taking time for myself. Art, photography in particular, is therapeutic because it allows us to look at the world differently. As I stood behind the lens of my camera, I often found myself paying attention to details that I don’t normally notice in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. 

This experience was also socially expanding because I built relationships with people of varying ages and backgrounds. This was transformational for me because I had the opportunity to become more confident in my ability to connect with new people and learn from their experiences – a skill that I will be able to use in my future personal and professional life.

The Columbus Park of Roses

Woodstock Reimagined: My STEP Experience

1. For my STEP project, I attended Lollapalooza, an annual music festival held in Grant Park, Chicago, on August 1-4. I adopted the role of a photographer and I took photographs of festival-goers and am composing a portfolio comparing the pictures I took from Lollapalooza to iconic pictures from the 1969 music festival, Woodstock. My goal for this Artistic & Creative Endeavors project was to analyze generational, fashion, pop-cultural, political, and self-expressional disparities evident in the photos that exist between two generations.

2. Partaking in this STEP project was undeniably life-changing. Through my past experiences with videography and photography via a personal YouTube profile and my role as Visual Imaging Program Coordinator for Student-Alumni Council, I have developed a passion for capturing moments through a lens, and through the development of my portfolio, was able to bring the quote “a picture is worth a thousand words” to life. The project was the perfect harmony of my passions for photography, for music, and for analyzing artwork with a critical eye.

Furthermore, partaking in this project was an excellent practice in expanding my horizons and getting out of my comfort zone, as engaging other festival goers in being photographed and understanding the premise of my project was a critical aspect of this project. Developing these interpersonal skills will undeniably benefit me as I work toward a career in the healthcare field, where I will be expected to communicate efficiently and clearly with patients of all socioeconomic and educational backgrounds.


3. For a project with traveling at its foundation, I was forced to “fledge the nest” and fully immerse myself in the world of public transportation. I became keen on navigating the airport, ordering rides in Lyft cars, and interpreting railway maps for trains that run through the Chicago metropolitan area. Creating a budget in the proposal portion of the project and adhering to it was an excellent practice in conscious money spending and is a tool I will use in the future to hold myself accountable for the things I purchase.

Though my true passions for both music and photography/ videography were the motivators driving the design of this project, there were other aspects of the project that were uncomfortable at times. The act of engaging other festival-goers, explaining my project, and photographing them was more challenging than I had initially expected. I hadn’t considered how fast-paced music festivals are, and how most people are in a hurry to get from one stage to the next to maximize the number of artists they see perform in a day.

Ultimately, my desire to see this project through and collect the visual data necessary to compile a compelling portfolio overcame my feelings of shyness. After asking several people to be photographed, and receiving positive responses from (almost) everyone, my confidence grew and I was able to reclaim the identity of an investigative photographer throughout the festival. It is indisputable that being a lifelong learner with experience in photography and videography gave me the tools necessary to document the world and criticize captures in a creative yet analytical manner, but it is through the lens of the camera that I have discovered who I am and what I’m passionate about. In retrospect, it is undeniable that the aspects of this project that made me feel uncomfortable are those that have transformed me the most and pushed me to adopt a comfort level with others that will serve me well as a future health professional.

4. Though the course of my STEP project spanned five days, the lessons I carry with me as I take off on my senior year, graduate, take a gap year filled with travels, and attend dental school, are innumerable. The ability to budget my money, navigate big cities, interpret transportation systems and maps, get out of my comfort zone, and communicate effectively and efficiently with others are invaluable aspects of my STEP project that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. As a student, I need to be comfortable asking my professors questions when I’m unsure of a concept, I need to be confident in communicating with my peers to set up study groups, and I need to be able to listen to and communicate effectively while establishing treatment plans for my patients. These are all notions that I’m much more comfortable and confident in achieving thanks to my experience with STEP.

A Summer of Ballroom Dancing

For my STEP project, I chose to expand my knowledge and skill in ballroom dancing (called DanceSport) through a summer of private lessons and one Pro-Am competition. This project took place during the summer of 2019 and the competition took place on June 29th. DanceSport encompasses many different types of dance, so I focused on the American Smooth style, which includes American Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, and Viennese Waltz. The lessons and Pro-Am competition were with my coach, Jeffrey Goltiao from Dance Edge ballroom dance studio.

I had started dance only a little over a year before I began my STEP project. I learned and grew quickly during that year, but my growth was limited to what I could learn from other students. During my lessons this summer, I had the opportunity to study under a professional coach. I was able to learn the techniques involved in the dances I studied more deeply than I had been able to in the past. This study of technique not only helped me to become a better dancer, but also allowed me to understand why certain things are done in dance. For example, when before I had simply memorized when to step leading with the heel or the toe in a figure (or dance step), I can now intuitively determine this type of footwork for figures I had never done before.

Practicing the Waltz routine.

This experience also had some unexpected transformational value. One of my goals in dance was to compete at the Open Novice level, which is the first level where dancers are allowed to stray from the written syllabus and created new choreography. My coach was able to get me to this point in my dance. The unexpected result of this was that my confidence increased significantly. After this program and the lessons with my coach, I feel I can classify myself with the upper-level dancers that I’ve looked up to since I started dancing.

Another major component of my transformational experience was the Pro-Am competition. Pro-Am stands for Professional Amateur and is when a student (amateur) competes with their coach (professional). This being a very expensive way to compete, I had never been able compete Pro-Am until participating in the STEP program. Having competed at the collegiate level only, this opportunity opened me up to the world of amateur DanceSport. The competition excited me, causing me to now be more driven than ever to improve my dancing. In fact, it has helped to shape my view of my future to ensure that Amateur DanceSport will be a part of it.

The Pro-Am competition also helped to boost my confidence in my dancing abilities. At the competition, I danced in five different events. The first four events were four individual dances, one for each dance in the Smooth style. The fifth event was a 4-dance challenge, where I danced all four dances back to back and was judged in all of them collectively. I placed 1st in all five of these events. Off the floor, I had other dancers, both professional and amateur, tell me that they thought I had good potential. Hearing the approval of other dancers, often at higher levels than myself, helped me to feel that all my practice and lessons had paid off. My confidence in my dancing grew along with my motivation to continue to work hard.

A picture from the Pro-Am competition.

In the end, this experience has been valuable to my life. As my confidence in my dancing grew, it helped to boost my confidence in my daily life. This has been very beneficial as I am taking on a leadership position in the OSU DanceSport club I am a member of. In addition, the skills I learned and improved during my lessons has helped me to find an upper level collegiate partner to compete with in the upcoming competition season. Finally, through this experience I have solidified my love of DanceSport, which has shaped my future goals to include it.

After awards at the Pro-Am competition.

Underwater Exploration Through Videography

  • Brief Description:
    • This Artistic/Creative Endeavor has allowed for me to obtain three PADI Scuba Diving Certifications and to work with Russel Hoeflich, the head of Video Services for Ohio State Athletics, to ultimately create a videography project illustrating my experience examining a WWI shipwreck. The process required eLearning through PADI and in-person instruction for each of my certifications and check-out dives. Also, I learned how to effectively use a GoPro underwater and create a video that people will engage with.

  •  Change/Transformation Due To STEP:
    • This creative endeavor has allowed for me to obtain lifelong skills and certifications, such as open water PADI scuba diving certifications, underwater videography skills, and knowledge on naval technologies of the US in WWI. I have also had the opportunity to gain invaluable connections through the assistance of the Director of Video Services for Ohio State Athletics, Russel Hoeflich, who has advised me on the videography aspect of my project.  With this, though, I have also had a shift in other, unanticipated aspects of my life which have ultimately allowed for this project to enhance my outlook on the world around me. Specifically, I have found that life is unpredictable and that it is never too late to find a new passion. Underwater, too, I have found has the ability to place people in a whole new playing field in which individuals are placed in a much different setting and can have a whole different set of capabilities. Overall, I have also greatly improved upon my creative abilities, a personal weakness that has been identified by a professional source, DiSC, and have been provided with a unique perspective that has allowed for a newfound passion and appreciation for art.
  • How the Change/Transformation Affected Me:
    • These invaluable academic experiences include that of the improvement of the quality of my underwater videography capabilities. Beyond this, through the assistance of Russell Hoeflich who is the Director of Video Services for Ohio State Athletics, I have gained further connections in the athletic department that I don’t believe I would have been able to make otherwise and has ultimately greatly enhanced my professional network and provided mw with a newfound passion for photography and videography. This was, more specifically, through learning how to effectively shoot videos underwater as well as how to edit these videos with the help of Mr. Hoeflich.
    • Also, my personal knowledge on the US History of WWI, specifically the naval capabilities of the US at the time, have been improved by learning of the various shipwrecks that have occurred just off the coast of the US. Seeing this wreck in person has also furthered my education in the history of WWI, which I feel very passionate about because it is the war that my great grandfather fought in. I was fortunate enough to have staff on the boat that took us to the wreck who were very knowledgeable about the wreck and were able to guide me toward important features of WWI naval ships. Also, I was able to find a screw that the ship was carrying before it was sunk, which I was able to take back to Columbus and is a treasure I anticipate to have for the rest of my life as I feel very lucky to have been granted a piece of history.
    • Lastly, my education on PADI scuba diving protocol has greatly advanced, as I previously have had no experience scuba diving.  With the assistance of my various instructors at Columbus Scuba, though, I have been able to gain a lifetime scuba certification which I can continue to advance as I take more courses. Through this aspect of the project, I truly feel as if I have found the most impactful change in my life as I discovered a hobby that I am naturally talented at, likely due to my background in swimming, and which I have been asked to pursue a part-time career as an instructor. Additionally, I really felt as if my life had changed the first time I took a breath underwater and it’s something that I would love to add to future trips/experiences since I personally feel like I will never get bored of exploring the 71% of the Earth’s surface that is water-covered.
  • Why The Change/Transformation is Valuable:
    • This endeavor that took place in the summer of 2019 was designed in a way that it aimed to directly assist in improving my knowledge on three things: videography, WWI, and scuba diving.I also feel that creative thinking and artistic ventures are the missing puzzle pieces when it comes to finalizing my resume. With this project on my resume it will show to my future employers that aside from my academic accomplishments that I am committed to improving upon my deficiencies, passionate about expanding my horizons, and certainly not afraid to go out of my comfort zone. This information I firmly believe will continue to benefit me for the rest of my life. Ultimately, too, this STEP project has provided me a unique perspective that will allow for me to stand out on future law school applications and in various class discussions, which will conclusively increase my chances of getting into law school and succeeding when I am there.

Enriching Creativity through Drum Lessons

For my STEP project, I took weekly drum lessons during summer 2018 and the 2018-2019 school year. I practiced on an electronic drum kit and learned from two instructors, one back home in Cleveland and one here in Columbus. My lessons were a mixture of learning rudiments, how to read music, and how to play the kit.

Learning how to play the drums was something I had wanted to do for many years now. I had taken up a few instruments in the past, but never stuck with something longer than a year or so. Going into my first lesson, I wasn’t sure if the drum kit was going to be the instrument that would finally stick with me; after this entire experience, I can say that it has. I assumed that I might give up after it got too hard or frustrating, but my interest in the instrument and my desire to get better pushed me to keep going. Additionally, I felt like I had lost my ability to read music since I hadn’t played an instrument in years. Trying to read sheet music was challenging at first, but I soon realized that the basics were coming back to me. Through practice, I got better at reading music, which was another transformative part of my experience.

These transformations mainly occurred during my weekly lessons and (almost) daily practice. Every week I would have one half-hour lesson with my instructor. During these lessons, we’d start out practicing rudiments on a practice pad and reading sheet music. This was often one of the more rewarding parts of the lesson, because at that point I would be comfortable performing these rudiments after practicing them over and over throughout the week. This not only helped strengthen my sheet-reading skills, but also my desire to keep learning.

After rudiment practice, my instructor and I would work on skills on the kit. There were many things that we would practice: more rudiments, limb independence, different grooves, and fills. One of the books that I purchased was entitled “Groove Essentials,” which was a collection of a bunch of grooves in different styles of music, such as jazz, hip-hop, rock, country, etc. Some of these were relatively simple, and others got very challenging. This helped with limb independence (moving my hands and feet independently of each other) as well as reading music and keeping time. Practicing rudiments on the kit also helped me create different fills (a drum pattern that is in between sections of a song) and learn how to get creative behind the kit. This again only heightened my fascination with the instrument and desire to learn more.

Finally, during the week between lessons, I would try to practice daily. This usually consisted of an hour or so of rudiments on a practice pad and a song, groove, or general exercise on my electronic kit. It was hard trying to hone in on these skills, especially when it came to sticking (figuring out how to effectively play a pattern by seeing which notes should be assigned to which hand) and limb independence. Certain patterns were difficult because sometimes my right foot (which plays the bass drum) would want to move at the same pattern as my hands, and vice versa. This led to a few hours of patient practice throughout the week. Once I got a song, groove, or exercise down, I felt accomplished and proud, which only increased my interest in continuing to learn the instrument. As one can see, through my weekly lessons and practice, I learned that I am capable of developing the necessary skills to play an instrument (such as reading sheet music) and that the drum kit is an instrument that has held and will continue to hold my interest even when learning it can be challenging.

This transformation—from being unable to read music or play the drums to being able to read and play the basics—is significant because, as stated before, the drum kit has been an instrument that has held my fascination for years. I’ve always wanted to try to learn how to play along to some of my favorite songs and other cool grooves. I also decided on completing a project in the creative and artistic endeavors category because I wanted a chance to do something outside of my major. Studying astronomy and astrophysics means that I am constantly in difficult physics and math courses. Learning the drums was a way to fuel my creative side, which is not always stimulated by difficult equations and problems. I also wanted to use the drums as a good stress relief, especially when my semesters got overwhelming. This experience provided just that: it fulfilled my desire to play the drums, fueled my creative side, and helped relieve my stress throughout the semester. It gave me something extra to look forward to during the week, and provided a good way to break up studying and working on assignments during the day. I believe that this experience has had a positive effect on my life both academically and personally, and I can’t wait to keep developing these skills and getting better in the future.

The drum kit that I used during my lessons.

One of the books that I used to help me practice rudiments, learn how to read sheet music, and develop sticking techniques.

Coral Reef Crisis

For my STEP signature project, I traveled to Oahu in order to study and document the failing conditions of the coral reefs there. To do this, I took two different scuba diving trips and snorkeled at eight different beaches across the island in order to get a more holistic experience. 

After hearing so much about global warming and dying coral reefs, I felt as though I was ready for what I was going to see during my time in Oahu, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was expecting to see spots of flourishing reefs with an abundance of fish, but instead experienced dead, dark coral everywhere I looked. Seeing this in person, and not just on my TV screen over a thousand miles away, really hit home because it suddenly became real. This transformed my opinion on climate change, global warming, and plastic/chemical waste. Not only did it change my own opinion, but it also inspired me to enlighten others on what I had just experienced, and how we all as a society should feel, and must, do better. 

On my second day in Oahu, I went snorkeling in Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. Formed from a series of volcanic bursts, this bay was originally a crater which eventually flooded. The shape and location of the bay creates a perfect habitat for marine life, making it one of the most prosperous reefs in Oahu, well, it used to be. As the years went by, fishing and tourism increased to the point where the island of Oahu made Hanauma Bay an official nature preserve in order to salvage what was left of the reef. Unfortunately, in my experience, their actions were a little too late. From what I saw, there were hardly any thriving reefs, with not as many fish as you would expect in such an ideal location. 

The bay was the worst spot in Oahu for the coral reef conditions that I had experienced, with the majority of the bleaching and death of coral being caused to ocean levels lowering and overuse of the preserve, according to a Marine Life Educator at the bay. During my short time at the bay, I witnessed plenty cases of careless, including using non-coral reef safe sunscreen and swimmers blatantly stepping on the reef. To prove just how careless people can be, I even witness tourists throw their trash directly into the water. The nature preserve tried to make the best of the tourism, they get approximately 3,000 people a day (this is even with limiting the number of people that can come in at once), by requiring each guest to watch an educational video on how to treat the reefs. Furthermore, at the store in the preserve, reef safe sunscreen is also sold at a discount for guests who trade in their non-reef safe alternative. This bay is proof that no matter how hard we might try to prevent, there are always going to be people who have no appreciation for the environment. 

Another main contributor to the downfall of the reefs is island wide mass pollution, this time not from tourists. During my time in Oahu I also participated in a beach cleanup, and this is where I spoke to Michael, one of the co-founders of the 808 Clean-up organization, about Hawaii’s increasing homeless epidemic. While volunteering, my mother and I picked up five one gallon buckets of trash in just 2 hours. Most of this trash was from either native parties (lots of beer cans), or homeless that make camp and live on the beach. It was shocking to me to see so much waste, because in my mind, Hawaii is this beautiful place where everyone loves/respects the land. In Michael’s opinion, the homeless problem arises from people trying to live in Hawaii, not being able to afford it, and then having no money to get back to the mainland. Having this volunteering experience was almost as eye opening as the reefs, because it showed me in order to stop ocean pollution, we as a country are going to have to do a lot more than just use metal straws. 

On the island, the deterioration of the reefs and the pollution of the waters mean a decrease in the number of fish, which is what a lot of local businesses rely on. Since the reefs are affected by climate change, pollution, and careless tourism, the local Hawaiians are suffering partially at the fault of the rest of the world. Here in Ohio, the coral reefs may not have a direct effect on us, but do in long terms. Sure pollution and careless tourism have affected the reefs, but a major cause is the warming/lowering of the water levels due to climate change. Therefore, if climate change is affecting reefs in Hawaii, it is telling us that we need to change our daily lives and habits to try and keep this planet healthy before it takes its toll on the rest of the world. Another point that a Hawaiian local made to me that I found interesting was that we all breathe air, and that air, in some way, comes from our oceans.

STEP Reflection

My STEP project was an independent domestic travel project in which I traveled to and hiked the Grand Canyon individually. I used the funds to cover the cost of a guided hike so I could learn how to hike on my own, plan for long trips, pack properly and experience the Grand Canyon with an experienced guide.

This STEP project required that I plan and execute a whole trip on my own. That was the first time that I had ever been 100% responsible for the logistics and costs of a trip. Next, I had to figure out how to budget the whole trip to be nearly all covered by the STEP grant so that I could afford it. The project itself showed me how much I am interested in continued independent travel as well as adventurous outdoor activities. I learned how easy it is to do something I’ve never done before, seeing as I had never gone hiking before. I learned that my body can do more than I normally make it do, thus I can and should be more active in my everyday life. In addition, I also learned that, although I would like to continue my travel with adventures abroad, that the United States has many destinations here that should be added to my list.

This trip came at a time in my personal life where I was just getting past some stressful times and also anticipating more stressful times that I knew were going to begin in the coming semester. While I have typically had efficient coping mechanisms for stress, I felt as though I was beginning to be overwhelmed by my life and my grades, personal relationships, and mental health was suffering. That’s why I thought I needed a trip that was mostly on my own, because I needed to get myself away from everything and have a small check in where I could regroup and move forward. The trip was a success in that sense because I had more than enough time to work through all my thoughts and an environment, created by both the scenery and the company, that facilitated this. Being in the Canyon all day every day put the size of my problems in perspective while the other hikers on the trip, mostly older adults, told me about their lives and lessons they had learned. However, on this trip I did learn that I like more fast-paced physical activity than just hiking, so in the future I am going to incorporate more dynamic experienced and activities to remain engaged.

Among the hikers were father/son pairs, empty nesters, solo hikers like me and, of course, the guides. Ages ranged from youngest, 21 (me) to oldest in their late 50’s. Because I was the youngest, I got to benefit from the maturity of those around me. When we were hiking there wasn’t a lot of goofing around so we could all keep to our thoughts, and when we made camp at night, I got to listen to the stories of their lives. Some of them were traveling while their kids are at college. I got to ask them questions and receive some insight into their mentality, which, probably, is similar to that of my parents in regard to me. There was also the father/son pair from Canada who were completing a bucket list trip. As I saw them interact, I was reminded of the importance of family and how I normally use that to deal with stress in my life. I used that as a reminder, and it helped me move past some of the stress I had.

The activity of physically hiking all day and being outside for a week really helped to clear my mind of any of the negative energy that was lingering with me from the previous year. We hiked down 7 miles on the first day. Then, the next hikes were 2day hikes, then a 3 mile to Indian Garden and finally a 4 mile back to the South Rim on the last day. The first 7 mile left everyone’s legs sorer than they had ever been before. Still, the incline on the final mile of the exiting hike was one of the hardest for me. Despite being tired from the hike, and sad that my little adventure was about to end, I had to push myself to finish the last portion of the hike. It made getting to the top even better.

Together, getting to experience the Grand Canyon with people with a different view on life than I currently have offered me a lot of ways to contextualize what I was experiencing prior to my trip. Further, the physical activity helped to clear my negative energy by allowing me to work out my stress and focus my mind.

After the trip, I was able to more clearly identify the stressors of the previous semester and the ways in which I had failed to deal with them. The information I learned on the trip helped me to prioritize certain things in my life and tackle the small hill of responsibilities I had waiting for me back home. I hope to keep employing these lessons and perspectives that I developed on the trip in my everyday life to prevent stress build-ups like those prior to my STEP trip.

Esalen Big Sur

  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 from May 15 to July 31 as a yoga meditation practice with one week spent in Big Sur, California at Esalen Institute (retreat dates ran from June 16-21). In Big Sur, seven other Ohio State girls and I attended yoga classes each day and had time to ourselves outside of the class for self-reflection. After returning from Big Sur, each of us practiced yoga in our own time and wrote about our growth, whether it be physical strength with poses or more mental by giving mindfulness.


  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.

Looking back, Esalen gave me a new outlook on life and the way I choose to live it. I love keeping myself busy and feeling productive, but Esalen really got me thinking why I choose to do that. I was able to “slow down” mentally and realized just how much pressure I put on myself to get everything done well. I am pretty competitive as well, but there is no competition in something like yoga. It’s all about connecting your mind and soul to the poses and taking control of your thoughts, and I really think that happened for me during the trip.


Most of the other individuals at Esalen were a bit older than us, but they were all so friendly and excited for us to be having such an amazing experience at a young age. Having conversations with some of them was so eye-opening to me, as they had more of a realistic mindset about serious topics, like racism or sexism, than many other adults I have spoken to outside of the retreat. It gave me hope for the future generations in a way, as they seemed to get where I was coming from. They really made me change my beliefs about older generations’ views on pressing issues in our world today.


  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 clarifying moments of my life happened on the ride to Esalen from San Francisco. I had been reading the book “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga” by Deepak Chopra in the days prior to flying out to California. However, I went back to reread a chapter that had stuck with me for reasons I couldn’t comprehend at the time. In that chapter, Chopra wrote about being uncomfortable and vulnerable – he said to take a deep breath in, and then to hold it for as long as you possibly can. He said to notice how uncomfortable you felt, and how it was all you could focus on. Take note of the wave of relief you felt once you let go of your breath. Chopra said we can compare that to so many things in our life that we have been holding onto for too long – grudges, physical objects, the past, etc. It resonated with me as I had been looking for a sign to cut ties with someone for a long time but was worried how they would view me afterwards. It had caused so much pain and anxiety that it wasn’t worth it to me anymore but reading that one page got me to do it. That alone gave me so much peace during the week at the retreat; I felt free from my thoughts and anxieties much like I usually do during yoga.


Regarding interactions, so many of the people I met at the retreat (other than the other girls who were on the trip with me) made me feel more confident in my abilities and focus on the present and what I can do in the current moment. I am taking a different career path than I had originally planned, and being a senior in college it was too late to change my major entirely. One man in particular told me his personal success stories as well as some of his failures in his field, and I didn’t feel so lost. They reiterated that I have so much time to figure out what I want to do and who I want to be both for myself and others. On another note, hearing their insight on sensitive issues was so encouraging to me. Knowing that there are other people besides the younger generations who still fight for equality despite growing up in different times is amazing. These people didn’t see color, age, gender, salary – you name it, they accepted you. It was refreshing as we grow up in a culture where everyone seems to be offended rather easily and are very money-oriented.


The other Ohio State girls on the retreat were what made it so special for me. I truly don’t know if I would do a retreat like Esalen alone, but I’m glad I didn’t have to. By the end of the week, other attendees were joking about how we should make a sorority or club for just us girls as we fit together so well. Though that was funny in and of itself, it was cool that other people saw how strong our bond had become. We had all gone through change during the trip, and talking about these with the other girls outside of yoga classes was great.


  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 entire trip left me feeling more mature and very excited for the future. I’m graduating in December, and I’m now more confident in my abilities – especially my interpersonal skills. It also changed my thought processes and how I view mindfulness. Before the trip, I had been holding onto ideas or people that I wanted to let go of but wasn’t sure how to do so. I wanted to change my major and overall career path, and after speaking with some retreat attendees I am confident in my ability to take charge and start making moves in the direction I’d like to go in.

I’ve always a very anxious and restless person, but Esalen made me feel a sense of peace that I have never felt. I was in a beautiful place with amazing, understanding individuals and the timing was perfect for a big transformation. Letting go of so much emotional turmoil during the week, both in and out of the yoga classes and meditations, was so uplifting. I continued with my yoga practice at home after the retreat, and am happy that my outlook has remained the same since leaving Esalen. I felt a lot of personal and mental growth during the entire project, something I strived to obtain for a while.

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!):