There and Back Again: A STEP Leadership Reflection

On June 24, 2015, I set off with 13 strangers to travel cross country for a 26 day, 130+ mile backpacking trek in the back woods of California to summit the highest point in the lower 48 state, Mount Whitney. On July 6, 2015, I returned home, alone, after 13 days, only 43+ miles and the only summited was my fear or oatmeal.

I had never backpacked before; I had never even camped before I set off on this crazy trip. I was nervous and excited. I felt in over my head from the moment we had started packing our packs; the group had Eagle Scouts and Golden Girls, and people who had gone on multiple Outdoor Adventure Center trips before. Although I felt this overwhelming feeling that I was about to step into a territory I had never even come close to being near with the weight of the world on my shoulders, I had never been more determined or thrilled.

Anticipation and nerves were in the air, literally. We flew to California soaring over flat fields of the Midwest and banked around the ever imposing mountains of the National Parks that we were supposed to summit. Our first few days were meant to get us acclimated to the elevation difference between the High Sierras and the smooth land of Ohio. We took this time to see the natural wonder – El Capitan, General Sherman, Half Dome, Glacier Point, Mariposa Grove, In-N-Out Burger. Walking among these trees, that are hundreds and hundreds of year’s old made feel so small and so insignificant, only a small blip in their lives. Gazing upon these unyielding land masses that can be rewritten by the tiniest of droplets, made me feel as though I could do anything. My soul had ignited with a flame that I never knew existed, let alone ever fathom it could burn so searing hot.

Being immersed in the grandeur of nature made my allergies rage, which was particularly strange considering I don’t have any allergies.

The walk out of the camp and into the wilds of Yosemite National Park was like walking the gauntlet towards Death’s Door it seemed. This was the last chance to turn back, last chance to take off this heavy as hell pack that was breaking my shoulders, crushing my back and weighing down my I’m-a-rain-drop-I-can-beat-this-mountain spirits.
The first three days on the trail were wonderful, they went by quickly, and my pack seemed to be not even there at all, I could not have been happier! Ha, just kidding. Those three days seemed as if I had actually crossed through Death’s Door and into the 9th circle of Hell. I was miserable. I continuously thought with each dragging step that I had made the biggest mistake of my life, and there were over 20 days. My back and shoulders felt like they belonged to a circus pony after years of being ridden by screaming obese children. My legs felt like they belonged to the pony too. I wanted to cry ever few minutes, luckily I was always so thirsty that I never did, could not waste the precious fluids. It did not help that mutant swarms of blood-glutinous mosquitos blanketed the entire landscape like a nefarious insect blizzard. On top of all of this, my dang allergies would just not let up, no matter the amount of Allegra I took.

It is often said that the 3rd times the charm, in my case, the 4th day was just that, a charm. When I awoke on that morning, it was as if I had crystalized into a new person. The miserableness and negativity had cycled out of my being. Not once from then on did I feel I had made a mistake by coming or reconsidered my choice of going, I enjoyed myself every second from that moment on. I had finally found my trail legs and spirit. For the first time I had my breath taken away, well actually I was out of breath most of the time but metaphorically speaking, it was the first time. I saw the vistas not as a certain amount of steps or minutes until the break, but for what I believe they are, the souls of the Earth. Plus I ate oatmeal for the first time ever! Grant it, I was starving and probably would have eaten pine cones, but this was a huge breakthrough for me, one I will never forget, or do again.

The next few days on the trail were actually wonderful! They went by quickly but not fast, the conversations on the trail were hilarious, heartbreaking and humbling while the views were just as equal. My pack was still super heavy, but 50 pounds of gear will always be heavy. Just as I began to experience what I thought and hoped I would, it was all taken away.

Those allergies I had, well they were actually a severe cold that I had gotten from the plane ride. Hiking up one of the passes on a sandy trail in 108⁰ weather, I had my first asthma attack in years, and then just a mile from out evening camp, I had my second one. That night across a bridge, far from the laughter around the fire, I was told I would have to leave. Asthma attacks are cause for immediate evacuation. My heart broke. I felt an ache I had never felt in my life. It was so deep I knew it would stay with me forever, in some shape or form, a regret and hurt you remember well into age even if you don’t remember what it is from. The next day was supposed to be our group toughest yet. Over 11 miles up Avalanche Pass and down the other side comprised of a dizzying staircase of stone.

I set out early before the rest of the group with two of the group leaders. A thunderstorm pursued us the entire way up the pass, but it never caught us. I suppose there is a metaphor or a great analogy to life in there somewhere. Summiting the top of my own little Mount Whitney, I felt I had done what I came there to do. Yes, this was an infant compared to the real thing, but it was the best I was going to get, and I couldn’t leave this place empty handed or hearted.

I spent the July 4th weekend alone at a campsite while the others celebrated together in the wilderness. But just because I was in civilization doesn’t mean my time was any less wild. I had three days to get from the middle of Yosemite National Forest to the Fresno Air Port. Armed with no cell phone, no previous knowledge of the area, no idea how to get there and a handful of quarters, I set out to go home. This is where I should mention that I typically am a very composed person and hardly ever cry to strangers.

I was able to book a hotel room and shuttle for the night before my fight with the help of the wonderful people at the Cedar Grove Lodge, and I had a bus ticket to go from the edge of the park into the city. The only problem was that I had to get out of the park to a bus station over 30 miles away from a place where the closest thing to Uber is a donkey. Only one option: hitchhike. After $7 worth of quarters were eaten by this horribly antiquated contraption called a “pay phone”, I finally go through to Ohio. Now just to put into perspective, I am a 20-year-old, 115-pound girl, in a strange place, all alone, disgustingly sick and had to ask a stranger for a ride to a bus station. This may actually be the definition of unsafe. My mother also decided to remind me of this. After the pay phone had cut off our run around I-can-yell-louder, no-I-can-yell-louder phone call, I went to a bench by the river and sobbed. And sobbed. And sobbed. Oh yeah and I sobbed some more. I was in a full three-year-old missing their teddy bear meltdown. And that my friends, is when it happened, like an angel sent by God himself, bathed in the golden midday sun of the river bank, Mamma Weasley asked if I was alright. Just like a three-year-old finding their teddy bear, I was shocked into calmness, for about five seconds. Once I tried explaining my situation I began to sob again; it is amazing she understood any of it at all, to be honest, or that I hadn’t died of fluid loss yet. But somehow that yellow haired ethereal spirit did understand my incoherent bawling babble and she spoke to most wondrous words to ever be spoken aloud: “We can give you a ride if you’d like.” Well, that was easy, I didn’t even have to put my thumb out, only cry and lose the little remaining pride I had left.

At 8 o’clock in the morning, the real life Weasleys picked me up. When I say the real life Weasleys, I mean it. First there were a million of them, all boys, one girl. Second they all had bright red hair and adorable faces covered with freckles. Now I know I am no Draco Malfoy, but they must have been Weasleys, Mormon Weasleys from California, who like to give stranded hikers rides to bus stations.

After a sickening bus ride up a winding road, an awkward shuttle ride to the hotel, an evening of nonstop showering, two long airplane rides and a billion tissues, I was finally home, again, after only being gone for 13 days.

I expected to use my STEP money to go on an amazing journey of pushing my physical limits, discovering the parts of myself I had never known existed, and to meet amazing people I would never forget. And, you know what, I did just that. Though it turned out much differently than what was on the itinerary, I had an amazing time that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I still feel that deep ache, I still wish I could have done what I originally set out to do, but I see this as an excuse to return one day to summit that great mountain, and to fill that ache that’s still there. This was not the journey I expected or wanted, but I feel like it was the unexpected journey that I needed.


Name: Allison Noonan

Type of Project: Leadership


My STEP project focused on developing leadership skills in conjunction with holding the position of Daily Operations Manager for Summer Conference Housing at The Ohio State University this summer. Using the funds I was able to improve my leadership and management skills.

I really enjoyed my time being employed by Summer Conference housing. During my three months of being a Daily Operations Manager, I have learned so much. Learning how to lead a staff of forty-five and maintain a professional environment was challenging but yet very rewarding. I have learned a great deal about how to handle complex situations, confronting a problem, and maintaining staff morale. Each day brought new changes and overall it was a very rewarding experience.

Although I had training that I had to do to work for Summer Conference Housing, I feel as though I learned more through the everyday experiences than through that training. After every situation that I handled I would always ask myself if there was a better way to handle that situations. If there were a better way I would implement it into the next time. I learned that sometimes things may not work out perfectly but if you take time to review everything that happen you can figure out what went wrong and change it for the next time.

With this experience, Summer Conference Housing has changed me through the experiences that happened and the wonderful co-workers that were there to help if need. From this I learned that you have to go with what you have and to be open for new experiences or change. Since this summer I have been looking into adding a minor. The minor would be in leadership.

I have been going back and forth about this because it would mean staying at Ohio State for an extra semester or taking summer classes. I have looked up the classes that I need to take for a minor. It would require a minimum of 15 credit hours. I will make the decision of adding a leadership minor over break when I will be able to talk to my parents about it.

The skills that I have learned will help with me future career in engineering. The leadership skill along with some others like working in a group and problem solving will be necessary for a career in engineering. When applying for internships this would be a huge help in showing the skills that I have learned over my years at Ohio State and my time working for Summer Conference Housing.

STEP Reflection Post

Tricia Nagy

Leadership Experience

My STEP project entailed me taking a trip to California with a few of my other sorority sisters to our national conference. While there I went through leadership workshops and other workshops to help my grow as both a college student and a sister of my sorority.

While on my experience, my view of both myself and the world around me changed. My view on myself was altered as I met other sisters and was given the chance to be who I wanted to be while in a different state. I met so many people for the first time that I was able to choose what version of me they were going to see. My sisters have a saying to give the best version of yourself, and as a Columbus native, it is sometimes hard to change the perception of people who I have spent my entire life around, but in California I was able to be myself and people took that for what it was. I was able to give the best version of myself with no pre-conceived notions, and that allowed me to be a happier version of myself. I was able to connect with people from all over and was able to better learn how to be myself, and to even return home a better version of myself. As someone who cannot wait to leave the state after graduation, this trip allowed me to see how much else was out there, and even lead me to return to California later in the year to explore my options for after graduation.

This experience changed my view on the world around me as it showed me just how much more is out there. I was able to travel to the other side of the country and see a whole new lifestyle. I was able to connect with people from all over the United States and parts of Canada and it helped me to realize that there is more than just the small college town in Ohio where I have spent my entire life. It also made me realize that things could be much worse, and allowed me to step back and appreciate the life I live, no matter how bad I want to leave Ohio it is a place that has given me the opportunity to be able to leave and live a life that is pleasing to me once I leave. Overall this trip changed my view on myself and the world and gave me a reality check while also making me excited for my future.

As I discussed a little bit above, the new relationships, new atmosphere, and the overall event are what led me to these changes. The relationships I formed with sisters both new and old allowed me to experience life through different lenses and learn from them. I was able to hear how other chapters do things and that allowed me to come back and help my chapter to evolve into more. I was able to gain insight on what works and what doesn’t, and to also learn how people have used organization not only to help become a better college student but to transform into the working world. I was able to better appreciate my organization, as more than just a social aspect to my four years here at Ohio State, I was able to learn how to utilize it and become a better person overall due to these relationships.

The new atmosphere also allowed me to change as it allowed me to be myself and see a city so much greater than what Ohio has to offer me. It showed me new job opportunities, living opportunities, and the opportunity to live a life that is so different than the one I currently live. The atmosphere allowed me to be myself and pushed me to always show the best version of myself. It gave me an opportunity to experience business like situations and brought me closer with the members of my chapter in a way that changed our day to day interactions with one another.

The overall event led me to this change as it is what gave me the opportunity to grow. Being chose by my chapter to attend the conference was a dream come true and and opportunity that I will always be thankful for. I was able to go live a different life for a week and experience things that I had only dreamed of with some of the greatest people in my life. I was able to meet the executive board of my sorority and to grow not only as a member of my organization, but as a college student and as a person overall.

This change is important to my life because it gave me the drive to come back and be a better student, to live a more positive life and to enjoy everyday of my college experience. It gave me an outlook on life that has changed my day to day life, and my goals for my future. This trip changed my entire life and I have STEP and my sorority to thank for it. This was the opportunity of a lifetime and I got more out of it than I truly thought was possible. Because of my experience I am a better student, daughter, friend, and person.

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Matt Davis’ STEP Reflection

For my STEP Signature Project, I selected to pursue leadership development.  Throughout the course of the year, I have had the chance to attend leadership development conferences throughout the country in Chicago, Richmond, Nashville, Chicago again, and even right here in Columbus.


My view of the world was profoundly impacted through my year of leadership development.  I really learned a lot about others from all of these opportunities.  The most profound realization I have found is that I must encourage the heart of those I lead.  It is necessary to take the time to say thank you, to express appreciation, and to celebrate small wins with your team.  People will not continue if morale is low, so it is essential to encourage the heart of your team members in order to continue pushing forward.


At the Ruck Leadership Institute in Richmond, VA, I met two of the best men I have ever associated with.  Brad Nahrstadt and Adam Seiber have had a very large impact on who I am and how I lead.  I am honored to have been mentored by them at Ruck over the course of 5 intense days of 18 hours of daily programming.  They asked me to take a step back and assess my team instead of charging head first into the fray.  I learned that I am different from the vast majority of people and cannot base my leadership style off of purely my own experience; I must draw from the collective experiences of those around me.  Despite that fact that I enjoy working even without praise, breaks, or celebrations, the rest of the world does not operate that way.  I must take the time to celebrate small wins in order to keep my team moving forward throughout my life.

One of the activities I greatly benefited from was the Resume 201 workshop at Life After College – Chicago.  I knew that my time at LAC was not about me.  I spent nearly the entire session mentoring other young men on how to put together a resume and how to make it look professional.  It was a different experience for me because I am only 20 years old yet I was teaching others that were my own age.  I have never formally taught a class or anything of that nature so it was odd to take the majority of the time in the session to teach those around me because the facilitator could only help so many people per hour.

Even though it is not necessarily related to the change in my perspective, I forged two important relationships at Sigma Phi Epsilon’s 54th Grand Chapter Conclave.  I had the honor of meeting Jay Hurt and Bill Tragos at Conclave.  I had never met either of the two outstanding men before and had only heard of Bill.  It was a privilege to get to know them and hear about a vision for the future of SigEp.  I cannot help but think about how the shared bond between us, wrestling, played a role in our chance meeting.  Bill’s father wrestled for Greece nearly a century ago, and Jay’s friend and brother in Sigma Phi Epsilon was Frank Rader, a fellow alumus of Davidson and former Board Member of USA Wrestling.  I would not have had the chance to meet both Jay and Bill if it were not for the sport of wrestling.  I now look up to Bill and Jay and aspire to one day be able to give as generously as they have given.


Leadership development is intrinsically tied to my future plans and goals.  I want to be a Regional Director for a year after graduation.  Following my time as an RD, I intend to enroll in an M.D./M.H.A. program.  Leadership is necessary for anyone desiring to enter into an administrative role.  As a result of this past year, I firmly believe I am better prepared to serve my Fraternity as an RD and to serve my fellow people as a leader in providing healthcare.

The Sigma Phi Epsilon - Ohio Gamma Chapter at the 54th Grand Chapter Conclave in Nashville, Tennessee

The Sigma Phi Epsilon – Ohio Gamma Chapter at the 54th Grand Chapter Conclave in Nashville, Tennessee

The Buckeye Leadership Fellows Fifth Anniversary Reception

The Buckeye Leadership Fellows Fifth Anniversary Reception

Great Commission Leadership Training

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Nora Ofei


In my experience   with Great Commissions Leadership Training, I learned how to be a servant leader through faith based interactions with my community and city. In Leadership Training, I engaged with this city through service and discovering different parts of the city.  I learned how to be more outspoken about my faith and thoughts.

Prior to this experience, I had trouble communicating with others, I have grown bolder in my communication skills. My ideas of a leader consisted of someone who tells everyone what to do and is rarely wrong. I learned a different form of leadership, servant leadership. Leading by putting others before myself, taking the time to understand those around me, their strengths weaknesses and personality quirks. I was taught how to resolve conflict with others.

Through large, medium, small group and one on one positive interactions, my communication skills have been bettered. In group settings I was challenged to share my personal experiences. Through sharing more personal information about myself, simpler conversations are now easier for me to engage in. My connection with people has improved my quality of life.

The biggest impact of Leadership Training, was learning about Jesus, his form of leadership and how I can live that out in my personal and professional life. I gained a deeper understanding of every person’s inherent worth, including my own. I also learned how to incorporate positivity into difficult, overwhelming tasks.

Reciprocally through many meals and activities together, I learned to engage in simple and in depth conversations with my peers. I’m thankful for this experience and my willingness to connect with my peers because I have gained deep friendships and bonds. When doing community engagement activities, I was challenged to start up a conversations with people I did not know.  Though I have been in Columbus for a few years, talking to people in this community has made this city more familiar to me because I have witnessed it through other’s experiences.

All the qualities I gained from this experience such as my improved communication skills have allowed me to work in group settings academically and professionally.  I am better equipped to form strong connections with people in different aspects of my life. My goal is to be a leader by providing an atmosphere of understanding between myself and my peers. In my professional aspirations my prayer is that I can use the tools that Leadership Training has given me to be a better team member, to understand the skills of my coworkers and people I manage. I want to be someone that people can trust.

Bennet Stuffel-STEP-Camp Starlight

Bennet Stuffel

STEP Reflection

December 9, 2015

My STEP Experiment

My STEP experiment, was one in the area of leadership. I set off to Camp Starlight, a summer camp in Starlight Pennsylvania. I spent my first few weeks working as part of a crew to prepare the camp grounds doing everything from simply mowing a lawn to building brand new decks for lodging. After a few weeks, the kids arrived and my second job as camo counselor began. For that job, I spent my days going activity to activity, personally in charge of 10 kids in my bunk. We spent our days doing anything from swimming, waterskiing, to rock-climbing.

My time at Starlight transformed me in many ways I was not anticipating before the start of this project. I arrived at camp, fully prepared to meet some counselors that were like me, however, what I found was something completely different. I met over 120 other camp counselors from places such as Australia, England, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland, and many other places all across the world. I gained insight about others that I didn’t have before my time at camp. I had the idea that people in other countries were not like me at all. However what I encountered was mothing like I expected. Although we were different in many ways, we were more alike than I thought; that people all across the world are just the same as us. I made friends in so many countries that I feel as though I can travel the world and always have a place to stay and friends to show me around. The most important piece of information I gained is that the world, no matter what you do or where you go, is about people and about the relationships we form.

My time at Starlight and the transformations that have affected me cannot be narrowed down to a single moment rather, the experience as a whole is what changed me. Much the same, it was not simply one person who changed my life, but the multitudes of people that I met and worked with throughout the summer. The first people that changed my life were the ones that I spent the most time with, my bunk. We were Bunk 12, a bunk of 10 sixth graders and 3 counselors crammed together in a very tight, very hot wooden bunk in the middle of the woods. The kids that I met were some of the most amazing people that I have ever been lucky enough to spend time with. As a sibling, I am both a big and little brother, so I know what kind of affect these roles can have on the other. As I entered the summer, I didn’t quite think that I would form such an attachment to a group of kids from some area and circumstances much different from myself. However, as the summer went by, and I spend every day with these children, they grew to be like little brothers to me and I was a big brother to them. After only a week or so I found myself ecstatic for each and every accomplishments my kids made and I was devastated after some shortfall they would have. We became so close that saying goodbye was something that was so emotional not only for me, but for every camper and counselor that there were tears in the eyes of almost every camper and counselors.

The second most important people that made an impact in my life, were my “bosses” also known as the Division Leaders, Head Counselors, and the owners of the camp. At this point in my life, I’m not quite sure that I know exactly what I want to do with my life. My immediate bosses at camp all come from different backgrounds, having different jobs, at different stages of their lives. It was really enlightening and reassuring that all of these people, in different places can find their way in life. What I liked most about what the stories of how my bosses came to be where they are is that they were not much different from myself. What I realized is that I don’t really have to be certain about my future right now, it’s okay if I’m still finding my way and its okay that there is a lot still unknown. The only thing that matters is that while I’m trying to find my way, I keep in mind that it’s not all about where I end up, but how I do things along the way, and take every opportunity to live a life I’ll be proud of in the end.

The last and most important part of what makes Camp Starlight such a magical place, is the staff members. I met so many people that have changes my life completely. I went into camp with the expectation of making one or two good pals for the summer to make it a fun time. But, what I left with, is friendships that will last a lifetime. I can’t really put it into words the impact of the relationships I created. These people I met, gave me the push I needed to be myself fully and completely. While at camp, I was pulled out of my shell by my co-counselors, to just let myself loose and have fun. This is something that I feel has creeped into my everyday life. After coming back, I found myself more free than ever, more myself than I have ever been and that is something I will be forever grateful for. I feel so strongly that people in our everyday world do so much to fit in and to conform to the normal that they hide who they truly are.  Getting to spend day after day with friends that pull out the best in me, is something that I cannot be thankful enough for and is something that I will try to bring into my everyday life.

The changes that I have made in my life since this last summer at starlight are something extremely valuable to me on a day to day basis. To say it bluntly, I worry a lot less and have a much more stress free life. Without having to worry about what exactly I’m going to do in the future, or who am I trying to pretend to be for other people, I don’t have half the anxiety I had before this last summer. Also, I know now that people in my life can have an impact on my life, no matter what they look like, can surprise me and change my life. Just the same, I know that I have the ability to change the lives of others just as equally. Life is all about people. That is the biggest thing that I could have ever taken away from any experience.  No matter where I am and life, I will always have the relationships that I forged over my life. And nothing should ever come before those relationships.

STEP 2015 Leadership Reflection: Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership

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Name: Charles Jacob Perry

Type of Project: Leadership

In June of 2015, I took part in the 2015 College Leaders Program through the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. This is a nationally recognized and highly competitive program on public service and leadership for college students, and is held each summer for two weeks on grounds at U.Va. in Charlottesville, Virginia. The College Leaders Program is based on a Virginia-focused, multidisciplinary curriculum oriented around ethical and responsible citizenship and public service in the Commonwealth.

My view of sound policy making changed dramatically as a result of being a member of the College Leaders Program Class of 2015. I came into the program expecting to learn only about the nuts and bolts behind governance in the Commonwealth of Virginia, my home state, and to gain a better understanding of the technicalities behind writing and pitching legislation. I came into the experience with a hypersensitivity to partisanship, doing my best to detect the political views of my fellow students despite the program’s emphasis on keeping party affiliation private until graduation. I initially saw the policy process in only a game theoretic light, and saw the program as an opportunity to learn how to build on and remain true to my own political philosophy. While I certainly learned a great deal about Virginia public policy, modern issue advocacy, and the underpinnings of partisanship in lawmaking, I came to view the entire policy making process from a new angle. Rather than viewing my fellow students as members of Party X or Party Y, I got to know them as individuals first. The program was intentionally relational, and I spent time learning about leadership and getting to know the other students as we spent virtually every minute of our time together. We came to trust one another as sincere friends, and as the program progressed we were asked to apply our knowledge in legislative simulations or debates. Discussions were so much more productive when they were grounded in mutual understanding and respect without any preconceived notions rather than a bitter clash of arguments and political jockeying. Although I had assumed that the most successful politicians and policies were those grounded only in firm conviction and unshakable on their issue stances, I learned that truly good governance is born out of problem solving from a place of shared commitment to broader ideals and deep respect amongst policy makers. While conviction is an admirable quality in a lawmaker, so too is the ability to wholeheartedly consider the viewpoints of others and incorporate them into one’s own way of thinking.

Connecting personally with my colleagues was the central factor behind my transformation. All 16 of us lived together throughout the intensive two week program, and spent time sharing our diverse perspectives and philosophies with one another late into the night on numerous occasions. By structuring the program in a way that emphasized personal connection with one another, the program staff facilitated the development of relationships grounded in common ground and shared experience as well as the appreciation of a plethora of viewpoints and past experiences. From overtly relational activities like our day at a ropes course together to more subtle opportunities for bonding like suite-hosted meals, the program fostered new friendship and understanding that underscored all other aspects of our time together.
In addition to interpersonal relationships, the opportunity to learn about Virginia government and politics, public policy, and issue advocacy in a relevant way was particularly impactful. We learned about the core functions of state and local governments and related policy issues from seasoned faculty and guest lecturers based on our Commonwealth’s unique history, making what might have otherwise been merely a dull study of textbooks become a practical and incredibly engaging way to understand our political system. From here, we partook in in-depth study of the major public policy issues facing the Commonwealth and learned how legislation is written, advocated, and debated with a focus on student discussions, simulations, and debates. I was elected “Senate Minority Leader” as we worked through legislative committees to promote our parties’ agendas in a mock General Assembly session, and served as “House Committee Chair” in a mock hearing to resolve a fictitious billion dollar budget shortfall in the infamous “Budget Game”. Having learned about functions of Virginia’s government and the challenges facing it, we turned to practical advocacy skills including op-ed writing, lobbying legislators, and employing grassroots campaign techniques. We engaged in workshops with relevant experts to better understand our personal leadership styles and the issues faced throughout the Commonwealth.
With a strong knowledge base, we traveled around the Commonwealth to learn more about policy issues. We studied economic development in Danville, criminal justice policy at Greenrock Correctional Facility, the inter-workings of the General Assembly in Richmond, and best practices in law enforcement at the Virginia State Police Academy. Perhaps one of the most important applications of my experience with the program that influenced my transformation was the opportunity to present a concrete policy proposal to a panel of experienced government and business leaders. Three colleagues and I worked together to research and write a full report with recommendations for our proposed legislation to promote economic development in Southwest and Southside Virginia. We received invaluable critique from a panel that included a prominent state senator, a well-regarded academic specializing in Virginia politics, a vice president from Rolls Royce North America, and the executive director of the Sorensen Institute. Writing and presenting legislation served as a fitting capstone project to apply my skills acquired and honed throughout the program. I was nominated and elected Class President by my peers, and was one of two recipients of the Spirit of Citizenship Award given by the program staff at the conclusion of the CLP as well.

This change in the way that I view the legislative process will undoubtedly shape the way that I approach my career. After graduation I hope to work in a political field that ties together my interest in government finance and public policy- this may include working on campaigns, as a staffer on Capitol Hill, as a liaison for a private company or advocacy group in their governmental affairs division, or in a policy think-tank to advise policy makers and executives. After gaining more real world experience in this sphere, I hope to learn more about what field I would like to specialize in and pursue a relevant Master’s degree in Business Administration or Public Policy. Ultimately, my goal is to one day serve as an elected official. I am confident that in any of these capacities, I will be a more effective advocate after learning just how valuable the appreciation of decision makers’ diverse experiences and backgrounds is to any organization tasked with complex decision making.

Photo Credits:

Panel Presentation, University of Virginia. Personal photograph by author. 2015.Photo taken by Ms. Sarah Lewis (fellow CLP 2015graduate).

CLP 2015: Day 12-Wednesday, June 24. 2015. Newsroom, Richmond, VA.Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership. By Sorensen Institute. Web. 8 Sept. 2015.

CLP 2015: Day 3-Monday, June 15. 2015. Newsroom, University of Virginia.Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership. By Sorensen Institute. Web. 8 Sept. 2015.

CLP 2015: Day 5-Wednesday, June 17. 2015. Newsroom, Danville, VA.Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership. By Sorensen Institute. Web. 8 Sept. 2015.

CLP 2015: Day 6-Thursday, June 18. 2015. Newsroom, University of Virginia.Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership. By Sorensen Institute. Web. 8 Sept. 2015.

Leadership Academy

A year ago, I started to think about how I would use my STEP money. After much thought, I decided to attend Leadership Academy during the Summer of 2015. Leadership Academy is a week long camp for college kids around the world who are in Circle K. Circle K is an international service organization for college students across the world. This camp took place in the middle of nowhere Indiana where for the whole week I had no cell service or WiFi. Leadership Academy only accepted 60 applications and I was one of the 60 to be selected to attend. The trip started with a fun four hour car ride where I got to know two of my fellow friends more.whole group

While talking about servant leadership for the week, I realized that I am still not the best leader. As a servant leader, you need to step back and allow others to lead. You can not do everything on your own but ask for help. Also opening up to others is really important and creates the strong bonds in whatever group and/or club that you belong to. We also spent many hours writing in our journals. It started with our definition of leadership in 6 words. I have learned that everyone has a different definition and needs to be accepting of all.

All of our thoughts were written in our journal. In this journal was my life during the week. This helped me to learn how important it is to reflect. Everyone is so busy, that we never stop to think about our actions. One writing prompt was picking 5 of our favorite quotes from great leaders. These quotes helped me to think deeply about what I believed in. Another was to write about a hero you have; here it made me realize how much I love my dad and do not show it enough to him.

Everyday, I spent the morning in the Great Hall with all of the other 59 Leadership Academy members. We had long discussions and mini lessons about servant leadership. One whole day we had a guest speaker come who talked about staying positive as a leader. One game we played with him was not to say the word “no”. For many, this was hard to do. We also played a trust game  to help us learn that everyone is a leader. With the guest speaker, we played the game cross the line. In this game, it made us think deeply about what we value in and what our beliefs really are. It also helped me to realize that I am not alone.

We also were in our neighborhoods where we got more personal with each other. In my neighborhood, we were called the Lightning Strike. One day we talked about a game we all played where other teams were mad at us for worrying about ourselves first. During this time, we reflected how we were right to do what we did despite the negative attitudes from everyone else. Sometimes, you have to go against the norm. We also talked about action plans to improve our own campus about one issue. This gave me ideas to take back to my own Circle K Club such as making everyone feel

In the middle of the week, we all did different service projects. Circle K focuses on the tenets of service, leadership, and fellowship. During my service project I was with one friend who I had met from Washington State. She and I stained picnic benches for the camp that we were staying at. Here I learned that everyone is different and comes from different places. Another fellowship activity that helped me connect with other and how to work as a team was the Amazing Race. We had to earn the most points doing different activities. Here you had to be supportive of each other.

Now six months later, I am busy with classes but what I have learned from the seven days at Leadership Academy I will never forget. Life is all about the little moments, showing people that you care. I am a district secretary for the Ohio District for Circle K. This week showed me how important it is to be accepting of others. It is okay not to always be in charge of something. I am becoming a teacher and during the first year, it will be rough; the week reminded me how important it is to journal and to stay true to yourself. I am now part of the 2015 graduating class of Leadership Academy and now have 59 close friends around the world I can talk to anytime,

High Sierra Leadership

The High Sierra Expedition was an intense 21-day backpacking trip through California’s High Sierra Mountains. The group traversed over 100 miles of trail across Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks including sections of the John Muir trail, culminating with the summiting of Mount Whitney.

I usually do not consider myself an outdoorsy person. I like having my cell phone at all times and shower at least twice a day, but living in the backcountry helped change that. It is truly amazing what a little bit of time removed from the rest of the world can do for you and I was able to really take a deeper look at myself and the things I needed to change in my day-to-day life. Having to medically evacuate from the trip due to achilles tendinitis was honestly devastating and it took me a good amount of time before I stopped feeling like I was a failure. That experience taught me that I have limits, psychically, mentally, and emotionally, some which can be overcome while others cannot. I am not someone who quits at anything and I pride myself on being so stubborn, but I learned that I am someone who is able to mentally break very quickly. This experience also taught me to enjoy life and the things I am able to do. Even though I was only able to backpack for a little under two weeks I have no regrets. My time in the High Sierras was amazing and something I hope to do again later in life.

The main leadership curriculum on the trip came in the form of Leader of the Day, where each person in the group was in charge of the mileage, wake up time, food, tasks, etc. for a whole day. A few of the group members decided to enact silent time on the trail, which could range from 10 mins to and hour where no one was to speak unless it was imperative to the success to the group. I loved this time during our hikes because it forced me to reflect on the previous day and take in my surroundings. Being on the trail it is easy to forget to admire where you are and the beautiful things you are seeing because you are exhausted and just trying to keep going. Another activity I found relaxing was writing in my journal throughout the day and in camp at night. I had never journaled before and at first struggled to come up with anything to say. I think my first entry went something like ” Didn’t die today so thats good. The weather is nice.”, but over time it became my own personal space to unwind and reflect on how I was doing physically and mentally.

Surviving in the backcountry requires you to place your life in the hands of those around you and demands that you give 100% for the success of the team. The hardest day for me on the trip was when we went over Avalanche Pass. Waking up something in my leg did not feel quite right but I chalked it up to just being sore from the previous few days, however I was very wrong and upon reaching the top of the first set of switchbacks I collapsed in pain. Nothing will ever compare to continuing to hike 11 miles over a pass while crying but I did it and learned that I am capable of so much more than I ever thought. It was genuinely the hardest thing I have ever done but setting up camp that night was amazing even though it poured and we ate dinner huddled under a tree.

Surprisingly the most memorable part of my trip happened off the trail. I needed to hitchhike from Cedar Grove to the bus station that could take me to the airport, but after an hour no one had picked me up and I had missed the bus. With no other way home my anxiety set in and I got extremely negative, however a woman we had met earlier in the lodge told me she was going to Fresno and offered me a ride. In that moment I would never guess that she would change me forever. She and her son gave me snacks and told me about their lives in Phoenix as we drove out of the park. We stopped by a waterfall and she took my picture, visited the gift shop, and went on a small easy hike to see a special tree. I spent over four hours with them in their minivan and learned so much like how her father used to pick up hikers and that her best friend owned an almond farm. Once we arrived to the airport I got out crying and we hugged for what seemed like forever before I had to leave. To this day I still think about them and how they went out of their way by three hours to pick up a random girl on the side of the road just because they felt like it was the right thing to do.

Going on this backpacking trip with a bunch of OSU students I didn’t know was something that pushed me far beyond my comfort zone. Relying on others is not something I was comfortable with but I notice this has changed and I am quick to focus on working as a team whether at work, home, or in class. I plan on continuing to improve my leadership skills in order to better myself academically and professionally. Before I left I was quite superficial, always having to wear makeup, do my hair, and snapchat everything I did. Since coming home I find myself slipping back into some of the habits I developed on the trail. Existing with no mirrors or phones and two pairs of underwear can really change a person and your perspective on what is most important in life.






STEP: Leadership, World University Games 2015

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My STEP signature project was to compete with Team USA in the World University games in Gwangju, South Korea this past summer. I am currently on the Ohio State Pistol Team and have been training for several years to have this opportunity, to not only compete for the United States but also to broaden my leadership skills.


There were several changes that occurred while completing my STEP signature project. I realized many things about who I was as a leader, who I want to be as a leader, and who I want to be as a person. The largest transformation that occurred was with what I see as a leader and consequently what I want to be as a leader. I have been in several leadership positions before, but often they are very controlled in what I could do. This led me to become very stagnant in what I viewed as a leader.


There are many things that I learned about being a leader that has transformed how I see leaders, and want to be as a leader. The first is that a leader is not a part-time job; it is something you are constantly doing. The second is that as a leader you have to ignore some of your own feelings in order to better support those around you. Finally, I learned that a leader can never be perfect, even given years of training and practice you will always make a mistake.

My first experience that led to me recognizing that a leader is not a part-time job; it is something you are constantly doing happened in the beginning of my trip. After my parents dropped me off in the Washington International Airport, and several hours of arguing, I found out that the airline was not going to let me on my flight for a list of reasons revolving around lack of understanding from the employees. I realized that my team would be competing in only a few days and I needed to be there. After several phone calls with my coach, airline companies, and the head director of Team USA travel for this event, I was able to get on a flight. Aside from this event I witnessed my coach and the director work together with me to find me a last minute way to get to my competition. I saw my coach answering emails and calls between his own flights, the director was on vacation at a funeral taking my calls and making connections to get on other flights. I had never seen two leaders completely disregard what they were doing to help me; this made me realize that leaders are constantly working—even on their vacations and breaks.


Another experience I had that showed me that as a leader you have to ignore some of your own feelings to better support those around you happened on my fourth day in South Korea. I entered my competition alongside many of the best competitors in the world—many of which had already been to the Olympics. I ended my day far below my average, it had taken me years to get to this competition and in the matter of two hours it was over and I felt that I had not performed to my abilities. My immediate reaction, and one I had often done before, was to take personal time to feel better and then come back to my team. The problem with this was that there were other competitions occurring shortly after my event. I recognized that as a leader you can’t let your personal issues compromise the support for those around you. I decided that I had to change my previous reaction, walking away from my team for several hours was not an option. I forced myself to go encourage my teammates, which ended up being an amazing decision. This decision and situation showed me that even though I can be upset, a leader will always be there for others.


The last experience that I had that made me realize that even after practice, training, and experience you can always make a mistake or encounter unexpected events occurred on my flight home. Our team arrived very early to the airport, due to unknown timings for when gates would open our team had a very short time between gates opening and boarding our flight. Our coach had planned for the potential problems with the gates, but did not account for security holding our weapons from us until they were checked several times. I had to stay with my coach as our time slowly diminished from when our flight would take off. The main problem became with the work our coach had delegated was done incorrectly causing the security to stop and try to validate our paperwork. In the end my coach and I barely made our flight, but more importantly I learned that perfection is unattainable. Had my coach not delegated the responsibility he may have avoided this problem, but I realized at what cost would this have happened? He may have missed another issue, or supporting a teammate about to take her last shot. Leaders cannot be perfect, all they can do is try their best and when something goes wrong do everything in their power to fix it.


This change in how I view leadership is something that will hopefully be carried with me for the rest of my life. My personal and professional goals are to one day own a consulting business for Industrial Engineering. In order to own and run my own business it is crucial that I am able to be a proficient leader. This trip has given me knowledge about being a leader, and what it means to be a leader, that has transformed how I view leadership. I plan to be able to capitalize on this when I eventually am in charge of other people in my future. Leadership is something that cannot be found overnight, but instead grows and STEP has offered me an opportunity for personal growth that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.