2015 Net Impact Conference

My STEP Signature Project was traveling to Seattle in November to see the Net Impact Conference. This was a unique leadership experience tying my interest in business with my interest in social impact. The experience showed me how leaders in the social impact sector function and I was able to bring back a piece of the experience to Ohio State through a conference I helped run.

Alleviating Poverty Through Entrepreneurship (APTE) was one of my most passionate involvements during my first two years. One conception I had was that the social sector and business sectors were worlds that operated separately from one another. The fact that the Gates Foundation put together this event showed me how my career path could be molded into my ideal as someone interested in social impact. Hearing the speakers and chatting with professionals who had leveraged their corporate experience into the social sector showed me a career path I had not previously understood.

Two experiences that stood out to me were hearing a speaker from Tennessee who started a buy-one, give-one shoe distribution model to the developing world and speaking with a former Morgan Stanley employee working on a water distribution model.

Doing good work around the world is idealized in media and the classroom. It is something I was always interested in but I was not sure the path to take. Hearing Buddy, the speaker from Tennessee, showed me there was no “right” way to find a role in the social impact space. Transferrable skills such as communication, attention to detail, and work ethic were shown as the bare necessities of being successful. Hearing about his dealing with the Haitian government and cooperating with NGOs around the world really accentuated just how complicated many world issues are. To eventually solve these issues, I need to keep in touch with those making differences and find where I fit in.

One role model I met at the event was Nicholas. He had worked at Morgan Stanley in banking but left after 4 years to pursue an MBA. During his MBA pursuit, he entered social impact and began developing a business plan for energy access in the developing world. His logical thinking from the investment banking world helped him add a unique element to the business plan team. This was relevant to me since my interest is in investment banking. Many had told me it was a path irreconcilable with a world outside finance. Seeing how many transferrable skills came from banking to fields outside finance really inspired me to consider exit opportunities and graduate school options.

Understanding the role of people like myself in making the world a better place was an incredible leadership building experience. I was able to bring the speaker from Tennessee to Ohio State to speak to over 1,000 students on campus. Additionally, Nicholas has stayed as a connection and he became a consultant for the UN. This summer in New York, I hope to meet with him and see what exit opportunities are available for business school graduates. This experience overall helped me link my passion to my long term career path.

STEP Leadership- Society of Women Engineers Conference

Step Leadership- Megan Rodewald

What did I do?

I attended the Society of Women Engineers conference in Nashville, Tennessee in October, 2015. During the conference I went to sessions on leadership, sustainability, technology, and many more. I also went to the career fair that had almost 300 companies from across the country.

How did the experience influence me?

Listening to such successful women, I was reminded that, though outnumbered, women can certainly become leaders in the engineering field. Less than 15% of the people in my mechanical engineering classes are women, and sometimes it is easy to think that since it’s a male dominated profession that women aren’t as important. Spending the long weekend surrounded by approximately eight thousand women was a great way to be inspired by not only students like myself who are in the same position, but by the women who have been in engineers for a couple decades. Overall, the conference reminded me that I can make a difference in the engineering field!

An assumption of mine changed due to this conference; I have more opportunities to make a difference as a mechanical engineer than I originally thought. So far in my college career, my experience with mechanical engineering careers has been a narrow one; I have worked in two manufacturing facilities and I didn’t think I was really contributing anything useful to the world. At the conference I listened to many mechanical engineers who have helped not only their companies become successful but also improve the world in terms of sustainability, diversity, and innovation. The conference broadened my view of possible career options.

What led to my transformations in thought?

The very first session I attended was one of the most informational and influential. A woman named Julie led the session called “Building Yourself as a Leader”. She has been very successful at EcoLab, and shared some of her experience and wisdom with us. She emphasized the fact that we need to be confident and be able to ask for what we want. She is now in a director position at EcoLab, and emphasized that a leadership title means nothing without continuously proving that you deserve it. Another point she highlighted was that leadership is amplified through the success of your team. Throughout her career, Julie has mainly worked with men but that did not affect her at all; because of her confidence and work ethic she was treated as an equal. I would definitely like to hold a leadership role in the future, and Julie’s pointers made me more confident that I will be able to do that.

The career fair helped me realize that there are many opportunities for mechanical engineers outside of a manufacturing setting. Over the past two years I had begun to worry that I would be stuck with a career that I disliked. I talked to at least twenty different companies at the career fair, inquiring about internship positions but also how they use mechanical engineers. Two fields in particular that I learned more about by talking to company representatives included research & development and product design. It was also reaffirmed for me that mechanical engineers are very versatile, and can fill many different types of positions. Talking to different companies made me more confident that I will in fact find a job that I will be able to enjoy.

This conference is the largest of its kind, and people from all over the world attend it. I was able to talk to student engineers from London and Spain and also from many universities across the United States. Since it was such a diverse group of people, it made me step back and look at the community as a whole; we are all engineers wanting to make the world a better place. At Ohio State it is easy to forget about the world outside of Ohio State, but the conference put things in perspective. This conference introduced me to a diverse group of women all working towards the same goal.

Why is this transformation significant?

First of all, my interactions at the career fair encouraged me to apply to a lot of different types of companies that do something I haven’t tried yet, such as research & development or product design. Since the conference I have had four interviews with companies that interested me, and two weeks ago I accepted a summer position with a product design company called Design Central. I am very excited about this new opportunity, and I credit this conference to getting me interested in the product design side of mechanical engineering.

Another way the transformation has been important to me involves my choices for some of my senior classes. I decided to enroll in a capstone project that designs assistive devices for the medical field, which is something I don’t have experience with but am interested in trying. A lot of the women that spoke at the conference attributed some of the successes to being outgoing and trying new things, which influenced me to take the capstone that could introduce me to new parts of mechanical engineering.

In conclusion, I was introduced to an enormous network of women in engineering! I learned about opportunities that I can pursue in the field and also learned about how to be a good leader in general. Attending the conference has definitely impacted me and made me more confident as a woman in engineering.

Career fair day!


Career Fair Day

High Sierra Backpacking Expedition

This past summer I embarked on a 26 day leadership expedition run through the OSU Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC) in conjunction with STEP itself. We flew out to Fresno, Ca on June 23, spent a few days driving through Yosemite and Sequoia national park, and then spent the remainder of the trip backpacking through the majestic High Sierra wilderness.

This expedition was far and away the most extraordinary experience of my life. At first I was very nervous about disconnecting with society for an entire month. Part of this was due to the fact that the leaders, whether they wanted to or not, gave the impression that it would be very challenging and potentially dangerous. Also, I did not know anyone else going on the trip beforehand and I am somewhat of a quiet guy. I spent the first few days before we actually got in the back-country constantly thinking about all the things that could go wrong. I was also sort of distressed that I would not be able to talk to my parents or any of my friends back home. However, after the first few days in the back-country, all of the worries were quickly pushed aside by the sense of freedom and awe that the wilderness brought. The mountains, the forests, the streams, everything was just absolutely incredible and so different from urban society, or even the natural scenery here in Ohio. I felt completely liberated from the stresses of everyday life, and had hours to just think and take in the spectacular scenery. I had time to reflect deeply about myself and the world we all live in, which led to a much greater understanding of both.

This experience definitely improved my leadership skills and boosted my self-confidence as well. Each person took their turn leading the group through the back-country. We all were basically given full authority of the group for one day and could lead however we wanted. This real-world experience was extremely valuable and allowed me to understand in what aspects I already excelled as a leader and what needed improvement. Each time someone else led, it was our responsibility to evaluate them and tell them what we thought they did well and what we thought they could work on. By the end, we had a long list of good and bad things that you could do as leader of the day. Finally, I think this trip gave me a much greater appreciation for nature and the simple things in life. We were essentially completely free from technology, something that is so commonplace in our current society that many of us fear to let go of it. Our main form of entertainment was simply talking to one another and marveling the beauty of nature.

I think most of these transformations really just came about naturally as the trip progressed. Since there is only so much you can talk about with other people, we each spent a fair amount of time in silence. Whether this was as we were hiking single file behind one another on the trail, or during one of several designated quiet sessions, we all had plenty of time to ourselves to just think and reflect on the scenery, our own lives, or whatever else our mind wandered to. It helped too that once your leadership day was over, there was really very little to worry about, which allowed your mind to meander freely and not become anxious. It was helpful too that everything was so well planned out by the leaders, so we never had to worry that much about where our next meal was coming from or what to do if we got injured in some kind of way. Somewhere along the way it just comes to you that everyone should take a trip like this, to get away from society and just experience the freedom and clairvoyance that such nature brings. You recognize how crucial it is that we preserve such raw beauty so that future generations can experience it too. You eventually realize how simply you can live and how in a lot of ways this actually makes life better than what we are all used to.

The people involved in the trip also played a large role in my transformations. Without feedback from the others, I would have no idea how good of a leader I was and how I could improve. The leaders were especially key as they organized everything and came up with several different leadership theories for us to discuss to better improve our skills. Theoretically, none of my transformations would have happened without the leaders since the trip itself would not have happened. I think just having other people there that I had never met before forced me to be a little more talkative and outgoing too.

Lastly, I think that STEP itself was crucial to my transformations since I would not have known about this trip at all in the first place if not for those weekly meetings.  At the beginning of STEP, before one of the leaders on this trip came to one of our meetings and spoke about it, I was pretty much dead-set on using my STEP funds to study abroad in Rome. I was a classics major at the time, so going to Rome would have been an extremely valuable experience seeing as most of what I was studying was related in some way to ancient Roman society. However, when Tyler (the head trip leader) came to our STEP meeting on leadership day and played the “hype” video from the previous year’s trip, I started to reconsider my initial decision. It was very appealing as well that this trip was exactly $2000, and after attending a few pre-trip meetings, I was finally convinced that it was right for me.

I learned numerous things about leadership that I had not known before. These will definitely help me in just about every aspect of my life moving forward as pretty much every career requires some sort of leadership. This trip was very challenging both physically and personally, and the self-confidence I gained from overcoming all the obstacles will definitely give me a positive attitude toward future challenges. Although leadership was the main focus of this trip, this did not mean that everything was constantly a one-man-show. The leader would often ask the rest of the group if any tough decisions had to be made, and everyone contributed whenever a task, such as cooking dinner needed to be completed. Team-working capabilities are very important in many careers, and this trip actually inspired me somewhat to change my major to environmental engineering, which is a field that heavily relies on good teamwork. As an environmental engineer, I will be able to play a part in preserving incredible natural areas like the High Sierra.


Mt. Whitney

STEP Reflection – Leadership

My STEP Project involved creating a tangible “Bag of Tricks” for counselors to use as they began the summer with campers. I gathered information from other counselors about their tricks in order to make a bag that would help counselors to be successful. I then gathered the supplies and put together a bag for each counselor to receive during staff training.

While creating the “Bag of Tricks” I was able to reflect on the things that worked for me last summer.  I was challenged to develop these tricks that worked for me into a bag of supplies that counselors could use for themselves. Throughout the summer I was able to observe new and returning counselors use this “Bag of Tricks” in their own way. Each counselor used the supplies in different ways and to solve different challenges of their week. Through this I was able to learn that everybody has a different way of approaching challenges. There is no one correct way to solve a problem, and just because something worked for me doesn’t mean it will work for others. I was also reminded that some children don’t respond to your first approach, and it may take a few tries to solve their problems (such as homesickness, boredom, etc.). Having this “Bag of Tricks” helped counselors to feel more prepared and to have a few different options to pull out of their backpack when a problem arose. 

Some of the most important relationships that led to my transformation this summer come from the campers that arrived each week. Through my interactions with each of them I was able to learn more about what works, and what doesn’t, with different age groups. They taught me more about how a child thinks and feels in different situations. For example, campers can feel homesick in ways that I never imagined. Through conversations I was able to better understand the reasons why they may feel so homesick and I developed new tricks to get them involved in activities and to keep their minds off of home.

Another aspect that led to my transformation during this project was being in the role of Unit Leader. As a Unit Leader I was able to observe other counselors and their interactions with campers. As a counselor last year I was very focused on my own cabin of campers, and didn’t pay attention to how others worked with their cabins. This summer opened my eyes to the many different approaches that a camp counselor can take to solving problems between campers. I learned new techniques that I can use and that I could add to a new “Bag of Tricks” for next summer.

The event of creating the bags also helped to lead to some transformation in my way of thinking. As I was putting together the bags I was reminded to think of items that would be effective for all age groups. Since I had most of my experience with older campers, I also had to pull information from other staff members to know what works for the youngest campers. The act of putting the bags together taught me about the ways that our staff can work together to help each other be successful and solve a variety of issues that may arise.

This change has caused me to think with more of a child’s mindset. I now think of how each thing I do when working with children will affect the child. This has influenced the activities I choose when programming for a group, or the approaches I take when mediating a camper. This relates to my future, as I plan to go into a setting where I would work directly with children. Having this “child first” mindset will help me to be successful as I pursue a career in a school setting or as a social worker. I can also use this new knowledge as I create service programs for my Advocates for Children and Education Scholars group. It will help me to better understand how we, as a group, can serve the children in our community and how we should interact with them while we do service projects.


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STEP Leadership Reflection

This past summer I had the opportunity to serve as a camp counselor for Sanborn Western Camps in Florissant, Colorado. As a counselor, I had two groups of campers that I was directly responsible for over the course of two different month long camps sessions, one in July and one in August. This job required counselors to lead a variety of outdoor trips focused on outdoor skills and outdoor leadership such as fishing, mountain biking, hiking, or backpacking trips.

I’ve always thought of myself as reliable and as someone who can make decisions with discernment. These traits though had really only helped me to strengthen relationships with people around me but had not manifested itself in legitimate leadership roles. Because of this, I never really thought of myself as a leader because the definition of a leader to me involved being in charge and commanding a group of people with authority and respect. And while that is definitely a part of being a leader, I hadn’t placed a lot of thought into how to go about developing that type of respect. I thought that I had to do something large and monumental to be noticed and for people to look up to me. Something that really changed in me this summer was my realization that leadership can be cultivated with a single thought or sentence. When you try to think of life in different ways, people listen and are interested in what you have to say. I found out that I didn’t have to make some huge discovery or accomplish some great task, but mutual respect, kindness, and introspective thought goes a long way in making people listen to what you have to say.

Going into this job, I didn’t know what to expect really. I knew I was going to spend a lot of time outdoors but I had no frame of reference of what to expect in terms of potential coworkers or campers. In all honestly, I didn’t really love my job for the first week. However, on the second week of the first session of campers, I led a trip that was focused on outdoor leadership for older campers around the ages of 13-15. Before that, I didn’t feel like I had any chance of making an impact on any of my campers. During this five day backpacking trip, we climbed multiple 14,000ft mountains which required constant encouragement from me in order to have all of my campers make it up together. At night we would do leadership activities where we discussed how our experiences in nature can translate over to developing leadership skills in our regular lives. For the first two days of the trip, I was pretty discouraged by the feedback I was getting. This was a huge lesson for me in patience because the next day I had a wonderful conversation with a few of the boys on the trip about how thankful they were for the opportunity to experience a place that not many people, least of all people their age, were able to experience and how they didn’t take that for granted. This opened up many other conversations and incredible bonding experiences over the next few days. At the end of the trip, we had a ‘debrief’ where we talked as a group about things we learned that week. To my surprise, many of the kids talked about things that I had done or the example I was to them that they wanted to get better at emulating. And here I was thinking that I was being completely ineffective. This was incredibly humbling and made me realize how I had completely underestimated my campers, but it was also quite an amazing feeling to know that I could make a difference.

Another experience that I had during the summer that reaffirmed by belief that making a difference in someone’s life can constitute a simple sentence happened towards the end of the summer with my second group of campers. On Sunday nights, the camp as a whole would hike up a small mountain on the camp’s property and we would sit and reflect on the week we had just had, or the upcoming week and all of the adventures that we would partake in. On the last Sunday of the month, during this time of reflection, everyone was allowed to write down a quote from anyone that they appreciated or helped them process life in general. These quotes were then read for everyone’s benefit. I had become fairly close with my campers throughout the camp session, but I wasn’t entirely sure how much they had taken away from the summer. Most of the quotes that were read were by important historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi, or John F. Kennedy. To my surprise though, quote after quote was read that was accredited to me and were things that I had said to my campers during serious talks that we’d had throughout the session at camp. I had no idea that the little things I said were making that large of an impact. Obviously I’m not saying I’m on the level of JFK or MLK, but knowing that I was able to make a positive impression on these children at this level was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.

Finally, being a leader amongst my peers has always been hard for me. I think that this experience has equipped with the ability to communicate much better and have more patience with my peers. I don’t have any exact examples of how this came about, but the whole summer was one big learning process that was beneficial for leadership growth on all levels. Usually when people my age get together, it can turn very immature very fast. I think something that helped me develop leadership skills in this setting was putting myself apart from that culture. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun with them, it just means that I didn’t get sucked to that level, and people noticed. This allowed me to gain more respect from my peers because they realized that I was someone who they could look up to and someone who set a good example to follow. Of course I’m not saying I’m perfect in any way, but it’s cool to have another way that the small things in life can help establish you as a good leader.

I wouldn’t change this experience for anything. I met some amazing people and was introduced to some very unique personalities. I went into this job quite skeptical about what I was walking into, but there are very few settings in my life where I’ve been welcomed so eagerly by complete strangers who in a few months turned into some of my best friends. During my time at Ohio State, it’s been hard for me to cultivate my leadership skills because any leadership positions are incredibly competitive to obtain. Never would I have thought that I would engage that side of myself so quickly and competently in one summer. I now know that I can go into any new setting with confidence because I believe that I am qualified to lead others as long as I work hard on developing strong relationships with those around me.

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“The Mountains are Calling, and I Must Go.”

My STEP Signature Project was a 27 day backpacking adventure through Yosemite, King’s Canyon, Sequoia and Inyo National Parks in California. My trip’s focal experience was Leadership, and we demonstrated leadership primarily through being “Leader-of-the-Day,” the day on the trip where each student had the chance to be in charge of the group for the day. Responsibilities included monitoring the morale of the group, arranging camping and eating locations, tracking elevation and weather conditions, teaching the group a wilderness skill and about a leadership theory (mine was Behavioral Theory).

The purpose behind STEP Signature Projects, and STEP in general, is that you leave the program transformed or changed in some manner. For me, this change can be seen in my appreciation for solitude, for being a small part of a much larger world, public parks and the environment, and that sometimes the best leadership can be demonstrated through being a good follower. Before this trip, I do not know if I could honestly tell you that I enjoyed being alone. Being by myself bored me – outside of reading a novel or newspaper. Afterwards though, I relish in having a bit of alone time each day, in which I can ride my bike, read, pray or think.

The purpose behind STEP Signature Projects, and STEP in general, is that you leave the program transformed or changed in some manner. For me, this change can be seen in my appreciation for solitude, for being a small part of a much larger world, public parks and the environment, and that sometimes the best leadership can be demonstrated through being a good follower. Before this trip, I do not know if I could honestly tell you that I enjoyed being alone. Being by myself bored me – outside of reading a novel or newspaper. Afterwards though, I relish in having a bit of alone time each day, in which I can ride my bike, read, pray or think.

Surrounded by mountains for four weeks certainly makes one feel small. Really small. It is humbling to realize that the world is so much bigger than I had ever imagined, even though I had read and seen maps and pictures. But realizing my smallness led me to become an advocate for public parks and the environment, because I was able to feel the impact of being in those spaces, and how valuable those places are for learning, self-reflection and widening one’s worldview.

Appreciating solitude was not easy in the beginning, but it was something that grew on me as the trip wore on. Being in the backwoods of the American wilderness with the same group of twelve people for such a duration makes one seek solitude. Daily required “silent times” allowed each participant the opportunity to reflect separately from the group setting. These times were relished, as these were the moments that I took to pray – for my group, for patience, for my family & friends back home, for strength, and for wisdom -, to read – to lose myself in a novel, giving my mind a break -, and to explore my surroundings.

One particular memory that sticks in my mind to this day is camping at Dollar Lake. We stopped hiking mid-afternoon due to unceasing rain, and we parked next to a little mountain lake to spend the night. While the rest of my fellow backpackers crawled into their tents, I climbed up to the top of a nearby ridge. Arriving at the top, I turned and looked all around at the most captivating view of my life. I heard bubbling mountain streams rushing from the peaks, gaped as craggy stone mountains glistened under the rain and sun peeking out from the clouds, and noticed the stillness of the trees and lakes shimmering below. I had a heart-to-heart conversation with God on top of that ridge, which calmed and cleansed me.

Appreciating public parks and the environment came easily out in the Californian wilderness. On one of the first days, we toured Yosemite and got to stand next to the giant redwoods. As we stood looking at the trees, we were standing on the outline of one of the biggest redwoods that had been engraved on the stone path – we had the entire group standing inside of it, with room to spare. Another moment was the sunset at the Guitar Lake. I have attached that picture; no description that I can write will be worthy of that view. That is why I appreciate public parks and the environment all that much more passionately. I will include the evening at Charlotte Lake as yet another poignant example of environmental beauty. The lake, with Mount Bago rising majestically behind it, was the perfect setting for a cool evening in the woods. The water entertained us as we skipped stones across it, and the wooded site was ideal for hanging up my hammock.

I had always appreciated a good follower growing up and taking part in leadership roles. This adventure brought home the importance of me fulfilling the follower role. Our group comprised individuals with a varying level of camping, backpacking, and outdoors experience. One of the first leaders-of-the-day, who had limited outdoors experience, was stuck with a dilemma of where to camp for the night. After several minutes of tense discussion, I told him that whatever decision he made I would firmly stand by him, even if it was not the option that I wanted. This gave him the confidence to make a decision just a few moments later. I also learned that being a good follower is not being a blind follower. That is, there is a necessary questioning of the leader and his or hers line of reasoning or thinking that can help them grow and better serve the group.

But does this experience actually mean anything? I definitely think so. I recently wrapped up my internship with The Wilderness Society, in which we ran a “Protect Our Parks” campaign. Before this trip, I enjoyed the outdoors, but I was not an active advocate for protecting those places. After this trip, I felt a desire to help protect these places so that others could share in these experiences in the future. I bought a bicycle when I got back, and now I go biking along the Olentangy Trail and around Columbus. Having a bicycle has opened up more outdoor opportunities, especially living in an urban setting.

As for the future, I plan on working with NextGen Climate this summer here in Columbus. NextGen is an environmental advocacy organization based out of San Francisco. By working with them, I would have the opportunity to continue with environmental organizing as I did this past semester working with The Wilderness Society.

In closing, this trip was the opportunity of a lifetime. I further developed my leadership, which is now being applied to environmental advocacy. This is a new direction career-wise than where I was previously headed, but I find this work both invigorating and necessary. I do not know if I would be in the position that I am in today if it was not for being a part of STEP.

All geared up a few days into the trip (somewhere between Twin Lakes and Ranger Lake)

All geared up a few days into the trip (somewhere between Twin Lakes and Ranger Lake)                         

Guitar Lake, a few days before summiting Mt. Whitney

Guitar Lake, a few days before summiting Mt. Whitney

Exploring Granite Basin

Exploring Granite Basin