My STEP experience was Scholars DC, a one semester, one credit hour course that culminated in a two week trip to our nation’s capital. We studied a new topic each week of the semester, which ranged from meeting with the former editor of the Columbus Dispatch and Colleen Marshall, a local news anchor, to talk about the media, to a guest professor from the College of Architecture who taught us about the history of city planning in Washington, D.C. The trip to DC was by far the best part of the experience though.
The first week, we were divided into groups and attended visits that were coordinated by the instructor of the class and creator of the program. While we had the opportunity to visit Congress to speak with two Senators from Ohio, tour the Pentagon, and explore the FBI Academy at Quantico, among other things, the most memorable part of this week was definitely the day when we visited agencies within the Intelligence Branch. Although hours were spent packed into a van traveling in rush hour traffic from our hotel, located directly across the street from the Pentagon, to the agencies we were visiting, it was well worth it. From meeting the man who helped capture Osama Bin Laden at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to speaking Russian with a Director at the National Security Administration (NSA), it was truly a once in a lifetime experience. I learned new things about myself that day, discovered qualities I wasn’t aware I possessed, and began to think differently about my intended career path and my future in general.
Going into the second week, I was not sure it was possible for the trip to get any better, but I was wrong. I had twelve individual meetings that week, as we were supposed to take it upon ourselves to meet with leaders in our chosen fields. Probably the most terrifying thing I had to do in preparation for my individual meetings was dial a number for the White House. I did not understand the meaning of “outside of my comfort zone” until the White House operator picked up the phone and I actually had to speak. It was entirely worth the risk though, as I was able to meet with the Senior White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, Lynn Rosenthal. Being directed to a room labeled “Office of the Vice President” for a meeting is something that I’ll never forget. I remember one of her employees meeting me, as she was rushing back from Capitol Hill to see me. I will be eternally grateful to Lynn for taking an hour and a half out of her clearly very busy day to squeeze in a meeting with me, a nervous college student from Ohio, just so she could answer my questions, encourage me to pursue my goals, and provide advice about college and my life beyond. I walked out of that meeting on cloud nine, realizing I was in the White House Complex, twenty feet from the West Wing, and I’ve had a newfound motivation ever since.
While I found it hard to believe that subsequent experiences and meetings on the trip would live up to that particular appointment, I was not disappointed by any of my other commitments. I had a series of meetings with officials at the State Department and that was another truly transformative experience for me. I had the privilege of meeting with another individual who had served as a White House Advisor, this time on Nuclear Regulations. He serves at the State Department as the Chairman of the New START committee and was able to provide so much insight about our Nuclear Treaties with Russia. I was a Russian minor at the time, and I was fascinated by the entire department. We were even able to visit a room where they have a Russian translator, among other employees, twenty four hours a day to aide in our communications with Russia. While at the State Department, I was also able to talk about a fascination of mine, Bioterrorism, with a Colonel who runs a committee. He gave me some new book recommendations to add to my reading list and told us a lot of funny stories, one in particular about a pen and John Kerry that was absolutely hilarious. I went on from that department to meet with a woman who works in Central Asian relations. She was particularly invested in helping us learn about all of the opportunities we could explore if we would like to work for the government, including fellowships I had never heard of and other programs I would not have discovered on my own.
Overall, the entire two week experience was eye-opening for me. I did not want to leave when it was time to pack up, board the bus, and head back to Ohio. While I learned how to navigate Chinatown, where the DC tourists never go, and how to use the Metro, the impact of this trip in my life was much more profound. I’ve never met with so many individuals who were impressed by me, my skill set, and the potential they believe I possess to do great things with my life. I left DC with a newfound sense of confidence and so much support and encouragement.
Before the trip, I was constantly playing it safe. I was convinced that I would go to Law School and become a Lawyer, most likely never leaving Ohio. Upon returning from DC, I had an entirely different mindset. I was encouraged to pursue what I was passionate about, not what I thought would be comfortable or easier. I started to breakout of the small little box I’d previously inhabited, becoming the Vice President of the Russian Club here at Ohio State and applying for a National Fellowship with the help of the Fellowship Office. I switched my degree plan from a History major with a Russian minor to a double major in History and Russian, and I have not looked back since. I may be a little uncertain about what the future holds, or even if I’ll be able to graduate on time, but I have the confidence now to pursue goals I never would’ve dreamed of before the trip to DC. I hope to finish my degree at Ohio State and apply for fellowships to further my career goals or Russian language skills. It is my intent to receive the Fulbright Scholarship, which entails a year of living in Russia and teaching English to college students, or the Presidential Management Fellowship, which would allow me to work for the U.S. Government in a variety of positions for three years in DC. My ultimate goal is to continue my Russian education, move to Washington, D.C., and pursue a career of public service, and that is all thanks to my experience in Scholars DC.