Learning the Guitar

My STEP signature project was a creative endeavor focused on me finding time to persue something that offered me a chance to rest from the business of school. In this, I decided to further my knowledge of the guitar and take lessons. These lessons offered me a time to relax and focus on something besides homework. It also gave me a way to relax by doing something creative.


While completing my project I began to understand how much music can provide therapy to people. I noticed week after week as I took lessons that I looked forward to the hour I got to sit down and spend time focusing on something artistic.


Even outside of the studio, being home and practicing what I was learning granted me a lot of peace and relaxation in such a busy college career. I had always heard that music can be therapeutic, but I never understood how. Now I do! Practicing focuses your mind on something so much it drowns everything else out. Therefore, when it was just me and the guitar, everything else faded away and it was very peaceful.


My guitar teachers were very helpful when it came to this therapy. They were very understanding and patient with me, and always encouraged me to just enjoy myself (even if I wasn’t too good in the beginning!). They also showed me ways to practice what I was learning in unique and fun ways. Most importantly, every time I would go to a lesson they emphasized to learn the instrument just as a way to quiet my mind, not learn it to create the most beautiful and correct music. They encouraged me not to strive to be good, but strive to just let the time spent on the guitar block everything else out.


This was a key idea for me. I realized there was no way I was going to be playing beautiful music by the end of this. Instead of stressing and being intensely focused on playing music correctly and sticking to an intense regime to learn thoroughly, I used this activity as a way to just quiet my mind. Even if im not the best, if I focused all my attention on just practicing what I could, I don’t worry about anything else. It really helped me to be able to control my stress and anxiety.


By the end of it, I could play countless songs I loved, read music, and just had a more general interest in music. Even when learning, I learned new ways to memorize chords and move my fingers to strum. It was an interesting thing to learn how to use my hands in such a way I never had before!


This project has been really impactful for what I stated above. I have always struggled with a mind that never stops, and picking up the guitar showed me a productive way to calm and slow my mind. Instead of a racing mind, I traded in racing fingers over strings. It is a new way I learn to cope with the stress of my life and I still see that I reach for my guitar when I need a break from my own head.

Learning Guitar

Throughout 2020, I began learning how to play the guitar with no prior music experience. I purchased my own guitar and took lessons through a local company called Musicologie.

I began my project in January of 2020. I was eager to begin learning a new skill, and I hoped to become fluent in music. Looking back, my assumptions about my project definitely changed throughout the process. Before I began taking lessons, I knew that the guitar would require patience and discipline. However, I was not aware of how much discipline it would require. Playing guitar has a much bigger learning curve than I had previously anticipated. I saw my patience and discipline transform throughout this process. Additionally, I noticed that my confidence increased throughout my project. I am grateful for the experience and glad that I began forming foundational understandings of music.

I attended lessons roughly every week. In the beginning, I began learning songs and chords with my first instructor. I liked my instructor, but I did not feel that he was the right fit for me. My second instructor was not through Musicologie, but he helped me start understanding the basics of music theory. I found this extremely helpful. Unfortunately, our schedules conflicted, so I returned to Musicologie. My third instructor was fantastic. He helped me with the basics and my motivation. I was grateful to make new connections during the pandemic when socialization was relatively limited.

Throughout my project, I struggled with motivation as the pandemic had really drained my energy. Learning guitar provided structure in my week, and it pushed me to practice and grow. It helped to have instructors that kept me accountable. I also found the guitar to be a good outlet for stress.

Not only was guitar a good outlet for stress, but it also helped me develop a newfound confidence in myself. I am nowhere near perfect at playing the guitar, but I felt encouraged that I was developing a skill and hobby. I began watching videos and researching guitar on the internet because I was genuinely interested in getting better.

Overall, this experience was beneficial in making me a well-rounded individual. I am not finished learning the guitar because learning guitar is a lifelong process. As I mentioned previously, playing guitar is a great outlet for stress. As someone who is about to graduate and enter graduate school, managing stress is essential to my functioning. I am excited to continue my adventure with music.

Night Skies Photography Workshop in Saguaro National Park


For my STEP signature project, I participated in a Night Skies Photography workshop where I learned about the functions, settings, and art of photography. I traveled to Saguaro National Park to shoot a variety of landscape and sky shots: including stars, dark skies, sunsets, and the milky way specifically. Upon these photo shoots, we also learned how to use the pre-set functions (that I will discuss later) to edit our photos for their full effect with Adobe Lightroom.

Over this project, my understanding of photography, traveling, and myself was transformed and intensified. This project was only the 2nd time that I have traveled in a plane, giving me an opportunity to not only immerse myself in photography, but also another aspect of understanding the world outside of my own “bubble”- in Arizona and the journey to get there. Beyond the experience itself, my view of photography was also made more intense. Through the techniques, settings, and details of photography that I learned, I was able to understand how photography is an art: how photos can tell more than just what is in front of you, how to put your own style on a photo, and how photography can mean more.

With this being said, I specifically learned how to see the world through a lens. I’ve always loved taking photos, but with this workshop I was able to take that to another level and actually understand what I was doing, how to create photos that were accurate representations of what I was seeing, how to see beyond what the eye can see, and how to pull the beauty of a moment into a photo. This could not have been shown to me without this real-life opportunity.

Here you can see how different the photos I had taken appeared compared to what you would see me shooting– due to the knowledge and tools I had

This change was formed through the culmination of everything this project gave me: the travel, the new environment, the expert knowledge, the trial-and-error, and my new camera. Specifically, I would not have been able to adjust the colors, saturation, light, focus, etc. of the photos I took without the experts explaining this to me. I would also not have been able to test this out without the Canon camera I was able to purchase. With these tools, I was then able to truly transform my mind because I was able to actually practice and shoot in a new location, where I learned the best time and locations to shoot certain things.

In addition to the knowledge and tools I was given that encouraged this growth, the ability to actually prove the claims told to me was especially transformational. For example, because of research, learning, and understanding that the camera can pull out things our eyes can’t see if there is little-to-no light pollution, we were only able to shoot and see our Milky Way shoot in a specific location known for no light pollution. However, what really impacted the shift in my understanding of how amazing this was: was when it actually happened, and I shot a photo that showed the Milky Way even though I had no faith it was there.

With all of the broad concepts, beauty, and understanding of photography that I gained: I was also given the education of physical settings and technical skills to shoot accurate, beautiful photos. In photography there is an “exposure triangle”, containing the 3 settings necessary to control the camera exposure while shooting. The workshop allowed me to test this out when I would adjust each setting one at a time and actually be able to control and see a difference in the photos that was made by this simple adjustment.

Here you can see a side-by-side of the same photo, where the different exposure settings can actually pull out the colors of the Milky Way. 

Finally, another huge takeaway that contributed to my enhanced understanding and worldview of photography is the ability of post-production. One of the technical tools we learned was how the format of the photo when taken can control how much you can edit the photo after its taken. When photos are taken in RAW format: you can pull out colors or change exposure later as if you took it with different settings in real time. When photographing, this is so important to understanding how much of an art it can be to control how you want a photo to be portrayed. For the workshop, I found myself spending almost too much time getting entranced in the editing and how drastically I could adjust my photo to portray such different emotions and perspective- teaching me so much and, once again, enhancing how effective photography is at how we view the world through our lens.

Here you can see the same photo, four times, where the colors have been adjusted post-production to portray a completely different perspective. 

This transformation on my view of art, photography, visual representation and the effect it can have completely on the mood of the viewer could directly impact my education and career. As a computer science major, we often deal with the User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) of our products. With my enhanced understanding of how these colors can be pulled out and completely change a viewer’s perspective: I can create better products with better UI. The file formatting and how that controls storage size, color effects, etc is also very important when building a software product- and I can now understand when to use RAW vs JPEG more effectively. Finally, in my graphic design class I took, I would have been better able to understand what the toolkits would change in my images and how I could represent my art and style.

However, in just as important way, this project has impacted the way I view photography as a personal hobby. I have a huge passion for traveling, hiking, exploring the world, etc. and have always been sad that I cannot describe to others just how amazing something is in person. Although, experiences and moments are always going to be more immense in person– now I can use this photography knowledge to better document and portray my experiences, adventures, and sights more accurately, showing my art, perspective and what the eye cannot see.

Alexandria Howell, 2020

Photography Project (STEP)

My project for STEP was taking photography lessons during fall semester of 2020. I took two online courses, one for beginners and one to improve existing skills, bought a camera, and got the chance to take pictures of my friends and the places we explored during quarantine (safely, of course). I attended online classes once a week for a total of 10 weeks and learned about the technicalities of photography and how to best take advantage of my camera’s features.

Going into this project, I really had no idea just how many settings I could change on a camera. I had no idea what aperture or ISO were, or how they would affect the final image. These classes were so interesting and taught me more than I imagined I would. I have always been the photographer of my friend group, but other than that I had no experience in photography. Now that I have completed these two courses, I know so much about photography! The classes combined with my practice helped make choosing settings almost instinctual. I have a much deeper appreciation for photographers and the amount of skill and knowledge that goes into their craft.

The interaction that affected me the most during this project was the conversations I had with the other students in the second course I took. Every module had a discussion page where we could share our thoughts, questions, and even ask for feedback on pictures we had taken. I got to look through other people’s comments and questions and learn from their experiences as well as mine! It was so interesting hearing from people all over the country who were learning the same information as me, but interpreting it differently.

This project has also helped my creativity flourish. This summer in quarantine was a strange, repetitive time, and the opportunity to take pictures of the hikes I took, the parks I visited, and the few friends I saw helped me see the world around me in a new light. Now when I go on hikes I think about different angles I could use to achieve the perfect shot. When my friends and family come around, I end up thinking about different candid shots I could take of them (and often do). This change in my creativity is so valuable! I am going to be a teacher, so the ability to be creative in my instruction is crucial. Being able to change my approach to students as they need will help me be a more effective educator.



Learning How to Play the Guitar

For my STEP Signature Project, I decided to learn how to play the guitar. I have been playing the piano for about fifteen years now and wanted to try a new instrument. I received guitar lessons from a professional at Musicologie one hour per week for three months, practiced what I learned about one to two hours a day, and now can play multiple songs. As well as this, I have touched up on my music theory, allowing me to begin composing songs of my own on the guitar.

In order to learn the guitar properly, I had to stray away from some of the habits I picked up from piano. For example, to play most piano songs, a stiffer wrist is required; however, for the guitar, a loose and relaxed wrist is required for strumming. On a deeper level, I learned the value of patience. After having played the piano for so long, I assumed that picking up guitar would be a breeze; however, it took many hours for me to even just get the hang of it. While it was difficult at first, I put in a lot of time practicing, which allowed me to slowly grasp the basics of guitar.

There were a few events that showed me the importance of patience, especially while learning something brand new. It took me forever to break my “stiff wrist” piano habit and adopt a looser wrist while strumming. My guitar instructor pointed out to me my stiff wrist every single week, which was, honestly, a bit frustrating, as I had little patience in myself and in my abilities towards the beginning of my lessons. However, I worked on my strumming hand each week, and, now, my strumming hand is more relaxed; with a little patience in myself, I was able to learn proper guitar strumming techniques.

Furthermore, I had to remember the value of patience while learning the first song that I was taught on the guitar: “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd. It was difficult for me to pick up the quick fingering of the chorus of the song. However, again, with a lot of patience and practice, I eventually was able to correctly play the chorus.

I also had to remain patient as far as COVID-19 goes. As cases grew worse, my instructor and I transitioned to lessons over Zoom. While these lessons were useful, it was much more difficult for me to learn, as my house’s Wi-Fi tended to cut in and out during the lessons. I had to remain patient during these times and maximize on the times where Zoom was working properly.

In conclusion, patience will be important to me later on while I become a Speech-Language Pathologist. I hope to be working with adults who have lost elements of their language after strokes or traumatic brain injuries. I know that for them, it will take a lot of patience while they work on regaining as much of their language abilities as possible; in order for them to succeed, I will need to remain patient as well, encouraging them every step of the way. I am glad that I learned to play the guitar, as I plan on implementing music into my future practice as a Speech-Language Pathologist, utilizing songs to and rhythm to help adults regain what they have lost.

Learning the Basics of CNC Machining

My STEP signature project was learning CNC machining after being inspired by the youtuber Wintergatan and others using their machining talents to make custom parts for their own creations. In the industrial world, CNC machining is often used to create custom metal parts that are used in machinery. Being a college student that cannot afford either a fancy machine and the pure carbide bits, I wanted to learn the basics of machining with a basic router and wood.

One thing I learned beyond educating myself on machining, is that people are often more helpful than companies. The company  I bought my CNC machine was very unhelpful after purchasing my product, while they would provide parts to fix the machine, they would do nothing on their part to help me fix or prevent future problems. The machine I had gotten did not work out of the box, and did not work as intended after that, without me modifying it from its original design. The company did nothing to answer my questions on fixing, I had to reach out to the community of CNC hobbyists that solved many of my problems in minutes. The company would not put any of my review or suggestions on their website and I do regret having been bond to buying from them, as I was locked into no refunding it after having used the machine. The company had my money and that was all they wanted, but the community was the one that wanted to help me to progress in my project as they had in theirs.

The other difficulty throughout my project was finding live classes to try and learn from. I reached out to multiple companies that did both hobbyist and industrial CNC machining, but the frequent response was that I was not a customer and could not take their classes. They wanted you to buy their $10,000+ machines before they would think about educating you on how or what you can do with them. Woodcraft was the one place that had in person classes that had instructors that were kind enough to allow me to take a class on engraving with a CNC machine. This project really changed my view on how companies try to earn, keep or lose your business. But individuals want to help you learn and grow in learning as they did. The lessons at Woodcraft with their instructors were helpful in learning the basics of the software and designing part of the project, but I still had to learn the machining part on my own from having a different machine, bits and material.

The main thing I learned during this project is that it takes a lot of fine tuning to get everything to run correctly. And this did take longer as since I bought a cheaper router from a very unhelpful company I had to research quite a bit to fix the machine into working condition. Cheaper does not always equal better, as many of the cuts in cost, I ended up having to fix. What you don’t pay for up front, you may end up paying for later, as I did with how many repairs or modifying I had to do to the machine. Because of COVID and shipping delays, I had to wait days to weeks for parts to come from here or China. I now at least have a stash of spare parts to keep the machine in running order. One simple issue I had, the company sent me bend pieces twice, machine Y-axis could not move, had to sand and shim. One set of wires to drive the motors was also bad on unboxing.

Another problem with the machine was after several hours of working, bearings started to come lose, the company had no other solution than to send me a new XZ axis (twice). A community member suggested loctitie, and the original parts have held since. One of the times the bearings failed caused the board to burn from the spindle motor dropping straight into the board. The bit in the picture was gold in color and is black from burning.


The control board also caught fire once because of a bad wire adapter the company sent me


I ended up making over 30 different parts using scrap wood, learning something different from each run. I used gears and simple shapes to learn from. Most of my learning came from making mistakes and learning how to correct for them. (Parts were made following the order of left to right, top to bottom) the first 6-8 runs were used to get the correct speeding for running each bit, as the company provided no information on what bit is for what. The next dozen runs focused on getting the correct shape and spacing. The final runs were perfecting more details and cleanness.

Picture should be rotated to the right

The goal with this project was to learn the process on how to make custom parts using CNC machining. I learned much of this project through making mistakes. Even at the end, the “final” gears are not perfect. I dropped the piece, broke the handle and replaced it with a nail. The gears are not perfectly flat on the bottom either because I used scrap wood and I do not have a planner to smooth both sides. Something I continued to learn with this project, nothing is ever perfect and ever will be. I worked to make this project the best I could in the time I had it, but every time I look at it, there is something I could have done better with it, some little thing I could have improved on. None of this went as planned either, from waiting for parts or the few fires I made on the machine. Life is unexpected and you just have to make the best out of it.

This is what the machine looks like when it has finished a single gear and has drilled the center hole for the next.

Vocal Lessons

1. My STEP project was a creative and artistic endeavor where I was taking vocal lessons. I did virtual lessons once a week and practiced the other days of the week by myself. 

2. Something I wasn’t expecting was how challenging it was to learn how to sing. I had no prior experience, but I thought I would pick up quickly (I was definitely wrong). I was prepared to be able to sing well by the end of this, but that was just not the case. I can sometimes be an impatient person. I like to see results quickly and when things take a while I end up getting frustrated. This experience has forced me to really put in the time and effort in order to learn this new skill.

My singing ability has definitely improved since beginning vocal lessons, but I have a lot to learn in order to be a good singer. I have also learned that my confidence needs to improve in order to really improve my voice. Even though my vocal lessons are over, I am still practicing weekly to maintain my abilities and to hopefully improve. Singing is definitely a skill that takes many hours and days and months to get better. I want to continue working on it to improve and better my technique, voice, and confidence.

3. My relationship with my vocal instructor was extremely important in bettering my confidence. In our first lesson, I was nervous and anxious over my voice and I constantly felt like I was embarrassing myself. Chris was super patient and reassuring that I could do it just with the proper practice and time. I am thankful for her experience in voice. She has been a performer, a music teacher, vocal instructor, member of multiple choirs, and band member. All of this aided me in my confidence that I would be able to improve. 

One event that proved to me just how challenging vocal lessons would be was when I was practicing my scales. I would practice up five notes then down the same five, which I thought was going to be an easy task (it was not). I struggled to stay on pitch, to not slide from note to note, to not be sharp or flat, to not skip notes, and every other mistake you could possibly make. I practiced with Chris and I practiced everyday by myself. I kept doing this until one day I was able to get at one scale on pitch and hitting the correct notes. This lead to me being able to practice scales more or less on pitch when I practiced. Of course, I would slip up here and there but I was able to hit more notes than I previously thought.

This experience helped my confidence in singing immensely. Although the feat I achieved was fairly small, I felt super accomplished when I was able to do something that I struggled on for so long. This confidence carried me into wanting to practice more elements of singing and vocal technique. I have since practiced several songs. Although I do not think I will have the confidence to perform or complete an entire song yet, I know with more practice and effort into this skill I know I can achieve a lot. 

4. This transformation is significant to my life for several reasons. This change is not one I was expecting. The transformation in my confidence levels was not just for singing, I know it has improved my confidence in other areas of my life. This experience showed me that I can have no prior knowledge of something and I can work my way to be able to achieve a goal.

I plan to apply to graduate schools for occupational therapy programs this fall. With applying, I will need the confidence to perform well in interviews. Then when I am in my occupational therapy program, I will need to confidence in order to do well in my classes and to pass my certification exam. Last, in my future career, I need to be confident in my ability to help my patients. I will be helping people get back to their activities of daily living, but I need to be confident that I can aid these people. Thanks to my experience with this project, I can feel more confident in my ability to do something I have never accomplished before.

A Tale of Two Hobbies: Building a PC and Creating Cooking Videos

I’m Kevin Dong, a current 4th year Computer Science and Engineering Student, and my STEP project was a two parter, consisting of a technical build, as well as a creative endeavor.  I first built a PC following second semester second year, and used the computer to create and publish cooking videos through the next year, however not without complications.

The purpose of the PC wasn’t to just edit videos, but to also provide me with a powerful machine to use when programming and working on class materials or other projects. The fulfilment of the project also gave me an opportunity to learn more about computers and computer hardware since coming into the STEP fellowship I had very little knowledge on what I would be working with.

The Build:

Starting from basic Google searches on what made a computer work, I created an initial build on pcpartpicker.com, an excellent resource when planning a computer build. It provides checks to make sure the components you add to your build list are compatible both physically and software wise. Learning from tech YouTube channels and other guides, I picked the most appropriate parts while considering budget, and came up with the following build list:

CPU: Intel i7-8700k OC @4.6ghz

GPU: Gigabyte Nvidia RTX 2070

RAM: Corsair Vengeance DDR4 32 GB 3200hz

And other parts as mentioned in the proposal, etc. While the other parts could be swapped out with marginal differences, i.e. different cooler for different temperatures or different hard drives or cases, these parts are what give the PC its purpose. I chose the CPU as it was the most budget friendly for performance, important for rendering videos, and it allows for CPU tweaking, as I planned to learn how to overclock as well.

I chose the GPU for various reasons. As the then most-modern line in Nvidia graphics cards, the RTX 2000 series were optimal for future longevity. In retrospective however, it may have been more beneficial to have waited for the next time of cards which were cheaper and more efficient. Additionally, more on this later, but this specific card also caused to me to delay my project due to performance issues. The card also had plenty of CUDA cores for coding computation and future machine learning, and the impressive 8 gb of video memory also helped with loading and displaying video while editing.

Along with the 32 gb of RAM, I also elected for a 1TB SSD for booting up my machine and navigating the computer faster, as well as making virtual environments more useful my providing ample resources. For video editing and general use, this meant less delay with performing more menial tasks, as well as increased capacity for switching between tasks more often. I also chose a 4TB hard drive for storage.

Motherboard before CPU

Motherboard with cpu










What went well:

In retrospect, the final build went smoothly, when it eventually happened.

When I received all the components ordered, I had believed I had prepared sufficiently for the build. Get motherboard, install CPU, install RAM, install GPU, install motherboard to case, etc. The process, while initially daunting, was actually fairly self-explanatory. The concept of opening a CPU, placing it within a bracket for mounting onto a circuit board, then applying paste before attaching a giant aluminum radiator was alien but not at all complicated. Squeezing some components into their sockets was a bit scary given the price of the parts, but all the pieces fit. I even found it fun to connect all the cables and mount the components, learning about electrical safety and the right way to discharge electronics. The final build ended up taking only 20 minutes, and by an hour I had installed my operating system, and begun to configure my PC’s software. That being said, this was the final build. The initial build did not go so well.

Motherboard with a cooler and RAM

What didn’t:

Long story short, one of the rarer problems users run into is receiving damaged parts. While it is more common for bad parts to break down faster, components can arrive already in a state that already makes it unbootable.  My motherboard came unknowingly damaged, and seeing as how problems don’t show up until after you get a PC built, I spent quite some time trying to figure out which component was causing the problem, or if it was user error. This involved the purchase of a “mobo speaker”, a little speaker that plugs into the motherboard and beeps out error codes. Since my computer was turning on but not doing much else, I installed said speaker after a week of troubleshooting and waiting for shipping, and finally identified the motherboard as the source of the problem after putting two and two together with the error code identifying a power issue preventing the CPU from starting. After another week after shipping out the broken motherboard and getting a “new” one, I was finally able to complete the final build.

PC after first booting

Ready for setup!










Build Recommendations:

Despite problems that were ultimately out of my control, the build process went as well as it could, and I build a high-end PC that was able to perform tasks that it was meant to do. While I did run into another issue where I had a nonfunctional GPU for half a year, the issue was with the manufacturing of GPU rather than something that could happen to the average PC user. That being said, tips for PC building:

Get a motherboard speaker before you build,

Wear gloves.

The build really did go smoothly baring the initial issues, and watching building videos from any source gives an idea of what things should look like. Having a mobo speaker on hand lets you troubleshoot ASAP, and wearing gloves prevents you from getting your hands cut up while working with radiators in tight spaces. Building a PC has a fairly low barrier for entry, and I was certainly lucky enough to be able to build my first PC with little worry for budget and plenty of resources like pcpartpicker to use.

The Project

Following the build, I spent the last month of summer before school started to prepare my cooking videos. Writing the scripts, learning the video editing software, testing camera footage, and editing down recipe lists was the logistical work that I was able to accomplish before I moved in as a first year off campus student. Seeing as the focus of the cooking videos was for meals for college students, I wanted my videos to take place in the kitchen of a college student. So, after moving in and recording my first cooking video, I was ready to start creating.

I designed custom logos and artwork for my videos with the Adobe suite the third week of August, and immediately my graphics card died overnight. A quick google search revealed that for RTX 20XX buyers, this apparently was less rare of an issue, and that A new line of cards, the RTX 2000 Supers would not have this issue. Seeing as I had already reached the budget on my fellowship, I opted to RMA my card, beginning a 6-month process of shipping out a broken card, receiving a refurbished card up to a month later, only for the same card to be shipped back again, after testing caused it to fail.

Eventually, about a month before COVID-19 became a global pandemic, I received my final GPU. After filming my videos, I was finally able to start editing, until Spring Break was extended and my computer was left in my apartment in Columbus.

I am proud to stay that now, the first of my videos have been uploaded, with many more on the way.

One of many recipes that I’ve recorded

another one




















Project Thoughts

Especially with the onset of the coronavirus, this project has been very transformative. While the build opened me up to new knowledge and technical expertise, my goals and tasks for the project as well as its obstacles have made me a more patient and flexible person, able to deal with things as they come and find alternatives. This project has been a long-term commitment, and sticking to it for this long has only made me think of more ideas for it. While I was not able to adhere to my original plan, I adapted to the circumstances and plan to continue my videos into the future.

This applies professionally and academically as well, in the literal sense that I’ll be using my project build more often now that everything is virtual, but also in the sense that we now live in times where it pays to be that much more open to change and to be more adaptable.

The project has also definitely made me more open to this sort of creative endeavor in the future, especially for hobby that is useful and universally appreciated like cooking. As I make more videos, I ‘m already of thinking of how to make improvements as I go, and am very excited to see what else I can do.

STEP- Cooking with Maia (Cookbook)

For my STEP project, I wanted to pursue an artistic endeavor alongside my grandmother, Elena ‘Maia’ Naum. With my grandmother, I created a cookbook called Cooking with Maia which included traditional Romanian meals. All proceeds from the cookbook go towards Eastern Lighthouse, a Romanian non-profit based in Cincinnati that donates to Romanian orphanages in Romania.

Cookbook Title Page

Prior to my STEP project, I assumed that I was a bad cook and would be doomed to eating pasta for the rest of my life. However, these past two summers, I learned that cooking takes dedication and that anyone could do it. From my experience, I gained a new passion for cooking and realized the importance of maintaining a balanced diet, especially while in college. Additionally, I learned the importance of using natural foods and learned how to incorporate Romanian spices into my meals.

Through my project, I learned how to use a camera as I took pictures of each meal for the cookbook. At the very start of the project, my pictures were not great, however, after using SkillShare and watching videos on how to use my Canon EOS M50, purchased through STEP, I slowly understood how to change aperture, lighting, and framing. I am very proud of my growth throughout this project and it is very rewarding to see my progression through pictures.

Through my STEP experience, I worked alongside Amazon’s publishing company for assistance with final reviews and printing. The experience and help I received from Amazon were great and I really enjoyed working alongside the different publishing consultants. I am very grateful for the relationships formed through this experience and I never would’ve had this opportunity if it weren’t for STEP.

In addition to the relationships made through the publishing company, I grew much closer to my grandmother during this time as we cooked together. I learned a lot about Romanian cuisine as we created recipes ranging from ardei cu branză (bell peppers with feta) to sarmale (Romanian cabbage roll). My grandmother described the importance of each recipe and together, we were able to create an experience for others to try.

Supa de Tiatei cu Piu

Furthermore, I would like to thank my sister, Helen Sotropa, who helped a great deal with the design of the cookbook. Helen is a fashion student at Parsons who has a background using different design software such as InDesign. Thanks to Helen, the cookbook ended up looking very professional and presentable. My relationship with her strengthened during the making of the cookbook as we both learned more about our Romanian heritage and cuisine.

My transformation through STEP has allowed me to develop a better understanding and appreciation for Romanian culture while working on my speaking skills. Although this project was a lot of work, I am very proud of the final outcome and result of the experience. I cannot wait to make this cookbook available for purchase and further give back to the Romanian community by donating all proceeds from the book to the St. Leontie orphanage in Radauti, Romania.

STEP Reflection

For my STEP Project, I decided to take cello lessons. Although I can play several different instruments, I had never played a string instrument before and was very excited to learn something new! Over the past year I took weekly cello lessons through Vaughan Music Studios in Upper Arlington. As I had never played a string instrument before, it took me a long while to learn all the basics of playing, but once I understood those, it was easier to start playing more complicated pieces. It was a wonderful experience and I am so glad that I chose cello as my Signature Project!

When I first began this project, I do not think I was quite ready for all the work that would come along with it. I was having a weekly lesson in which I was expected to have practiced a decent amount to better my skills on the cello. Throughout the year I found that this new routine was something I needed in my life. Cello was a way for me to escape from my usual responsibilities, even if just for a little bit. It was a structured part of my week that I could depend on even in the midst of chaos that ensued when COVID hit the U.S.

Music has always been a way for me to cope with stress and anxieties, so I am so glad that I was able to have cello as a coping mechanism. Those lessons each week were an opportunity for me to just step back and not worry about anything else going on in my life. I could simply play music and enjoy my time.

One of my goals when starting this project was to one day be able to pass on my knowledge of cello to others. As I have used music in the past to help cope with my own anxieties, I have made it a mission of mine to help other people realize how music or other creative outlets can help them as well. Now more than ever, I believe that people need a way to help them through depressing and difficult times in their life. In my opinion, music is a fun and creative way to do this. Through this STEP project not only have I been able to cope better with stress, but I have been able to pass on this knowledge to other people.

At one point this past spring, one of my friends was having a really difficult time and was dealing with a lot of anxieties and worries related to the pandemic, so I offered to help her learn the cello along with me. Not only did the cello help us work through issues in our lives, but our relationship grew even stronger and we were able to help each other through it. I had not even completed the project, and already I was achieving the goals that I had set. I can only hope that I can continue to help other people in this way and spread my knowledge of music and coping mechanisms.