STEP signature project reflection

This summer I spent about 6 days in Arizona visiting for a national Respiratory Care conference called the Summer Forum run by the American Association of Respiratory Care (AARC). During the Forum I had the privilege of hearing hospital managers and Respiratory Therapy program educators speak from all over the nation about different topics concerning our growing field. Not only that, but the last 2 days of the conference I was welcomed as an intern to sit in and participate during the AARC’s Semi-annual House of Delegates meeting where they discuss concerns and ways to better our field into the future.

My understanding of myself in the aspect of what my future held, and what I am capable of has changed since my STEP project. Previously, I thought that I had career options in my field of respiratory, but this week spent at the Summer Forum really broadened my vision of how unique I could really make my career path and all of the different ways, like so many leaders there, that I could push myself to be someone who makes an impact. I have grown a motivation and vision to be someone who makes a career out of what I’m passionate about and who looks past any limitations. Two things that really helped transform my mindset were my participation and involvement in the House of Delegates meeting and the networking I did there. The House of Delegates meeting really showed me a different side to leadership in respiratory therapy and allowed me to experience so many other people who are equally, if not more, passionate that I am about this field. Similarly, networking with so many people from a wide range of career backgrounds was really encouraging; I learned that I don’t have to know exactly where I want to end up in my career just yet, but that I should definitely keep my mind open and not be afraid to stand up for myself and be creative with my degree in RT. I have been encouraged and grown a new sense of motivation and passion for my future in respiratory therapy.

During the House of Delegates meeting, there was a specific meeting among the Executive Board where the board members got together aside from the rest of the delegates to seriously discuss some of the bigger topics, like the decision to possibly require a bachelor’s degree to work as an RT. Some of these topics were loaded with controversy, questions, and road blocks. The Board discussed all of these and tried to agree (via voting) on what next steps the organization would take in different topics brought up. It was eye-opening how formal the process had to be and how important it was throughout the entire conference to hear every side and to make the environment as open as possible to hearing each contribution. There were multiple instances during the House of Delegates meeting that they opened to everyone present to ask a burning question, express a thought or concern, or just to give an opinion about something being discussed. This made me feel like there was an appreciation for not only every leader in the room whom obviously have a lot of input from their experience, but also the floor was open to me, as a student, and I was able to go up to the mic and pitch my ideas multiple times. It said a lot about the people in the organization and in our field in general that they wanted to hear what I had to say as the upcoming generation into the workforce.

Both of my program directors were not only present that week for the chain of events, but they were very involved in speaking, presenting, moderating, and discussing topics for debate among others. Because of their mass amount of involvement with the AARC and other major organizations, they were able to introduce me some influential characters. One was the president of the AARC at the time (his term ended this past month). I was put in a position to discuss his very unique career path and to ask about his personal clinical and professional experiences, and to hear his input on some of the different things I had been considering for my future, things I had been learning about in school, and different evidence-based practices. Not only this, but he and many of his executive board members offered, and pleaded, for me to even come shadow or come work for them across the nation.

AARC President Walsh and my fellow OSU RT student

I also had conversations with the now current president of the AARC. She and I talked about many different opportunities that she is involved with, specifically about this missions trip to Ghana that she runs a couple times a year for the last decade. She informed me about this opportunity to travel to an exotic place, teach and train people across that country about respiratory therapy, practice clinically among many developing facilities in a foreign country, and contribute to the global community in these ways all while simultaneously fundraising food and goods to bring there with us for the impoverished. She was obviously so passionate about using her background in respiratory therapy and experiences to lead in creative ways and give back to the people across the world, while also giving back to our field in promoting the importance of respiratory therapy.

My entire experience at the AARC’s Summer Forum and House of Delegates meeting transformed some of personal and career goals and the way I will go about pursuing my future. Meeting so many different leaders and hearing their stories encouraged me to go with the flow more on my career path and to be open to different opportunities that come my way. They taught me to not be too stressed out about the specifics, but to let my passion drive me towards my dream career, whatever that may be. My vision for the field I’m choosing to pursue has changed in terms of how much hard work so many people do for Respiratory Therapy behind the scenes and how many different roles are available to pick up. Because of the broader vision I have for my future, I plan to be more creative in looking for different options along my career path and choose to pursue roles that I’m passionate about so I can continue to hold to my values while also leading in contributions in patient care and RT.

Step Project

 I started my project in June of 2016. My goal was to get prepared for OCS and increase my chances of success there. Given that the Marines set a high standard on fitness especially for their officers, my project needed to be very physically demanding. In the summer of 2016 I excelled in my fitness goals. I even experienced shin splints for the first time because I was running so much. D1 (the fitness center I used) really helped me and it was especially amazing that I got a chance to talk to other people with similar goals. Toward the end of the summer I realized that this project was about more than just getting into OCS but more about just bettering myself both physically and mentally.  During the school year I found that I was able to use the tools that I learned that summer, through self-discovery and mentors. Although I wasn’t able to work out as much as I was during the summer (which was a bummer) I still worked hard to keep my fitness progress in an upward motion. I even signed up for BarBelles (which I loved) to keep me active and also to learn more techniques.


I think throughout this whole project the one thing I learned about myself was that no matter how prepared you are, resources or plans you have for the future; life is going to throw you curve balls at every turn. However, I truly think that every single one of them is just there to make you a stronger person. The funny part about that is I didn’t learn that lesson through my project I learned it through a concussion I had during my project. On March 20, I had an accident and received a concussion from it. I didn’t realize how bad my head injury was when it happened so I just tried to sleep off the pain that night and that morning I even stumbled to my BarBelles meeting. Throughout the day everyone I talked to said that I just didn’t seem right and needed to go to the doctor. After I went that’s when they told me that I got a concussion and that I need to take a week off and be monitored. Later I found out that I was pretty disoriented and was all over the place that day. After a few months my head pain was reduced and I was able to go back to the gym that summer. I joined back up with D1 and also worked out at RPAC. Now that it has been about 6 months since my concussion I am realizing the severity of it. Beyond the occasional pain, my personality has changed. I now don’t have as much patience as I use to and my temper is shorter than before. However, the worst of all is the amount of money I have to spend on doctors’ appointments. Even with all of that has happened I don’t think I would change any part of it. If anything all of the anger just gives me another excuse to work out more. I think the timing with my project and my concussion was perfect. Because of the mental work I was doing over the summer I was able to handle one of life’s curve balls with ease.  The only regret I have is that I didn’t journal my experience as much as I wish I had.

What I Learned On the Road

For four weeks during the summer of 2017, I embarked on a solo road trip throughout the northwestern United States. I set out with the intention of learning new skills in alpine climbing and backpacking, as well as learning about myself and how to be on my own and a better leader for the Mountaineers at Ohio State club. I came back with so much more, and I feel much more confident in my abilities not only to climb and hike, but to be independent and be able to teach what I have learned to people wanting to go on similar life changing, transformational trips.

From the beginning this was quite the unplanned trip. All I had for certain were the flight tickets and a rental car. Everywhere in between was up to me. I was able to decide where I went, how long I was there, and what I did. This was my first time truly being on my own, and it was a humbling experience. I faced many hard times, times when I felt the most alone I have ever felt. My lack of planning led to some dangerous situations, and in the beginning of the trip I thought I couldn’t do it. But, through trial and error, I learned quickly what I was doing wrong, and towards the end of the journey I felt much more self-reliant. In addition to this, through journaling, reading, and meditation, I was able to come to terms with some inner demons and hardships I was facing and, for the most part, find peace. I asked myself tough questions about my life as a whole and my internal motivations, and I learned that a lot of the assumptions I had were wrong. Life isn’t always a linear path, and currently my life is incredibly turbulent, but through this trip I found more focus on what direction I want my life to go. After talking to many park employees along the way, the prospect of becoming a ranger at a National Park became more enticing. But my ultimate career goal is to help preserve the earth, and seeing the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life only confirmed this.

I was born in California, but moved to Ohio at the young age of three months, and this trip was my first time being back to the West Coast. I always knew I would love it there, but I didn’t realize the extent to which I would. After this trip I know that if I choose to live in the Unites States after I graduate it would undoubtedly be in the Pacific Northwest. I absolutely loved the natural beauty of the area, as well as the culture and people I met. My view of the world became so much clearer from this experience. In my opinion, I think all people are good at heart, and this trip solidified that in my mind. I met some incredibly interesting and inspiring personalities, people from all over the world on their own spiritual or personal journeys in all different phases of their lives. I experienced so much genuine hospitality and kindness, sometimes from complete strangers. This made me really appreciate the openness of the world. After seeing the lifestyles of everyone I met on this trip, I now feel I could live nearly anywhere and find people I connect with and a way to live that makes me happy. This comes at an important time in my life because after next May, I want to move far away from Ohio and try out many different places, cultures and ways of living, meeting new people along the way and seeing where I fit in this grand world.

There are too many wonderful memories from this transformational experience to list all of them, but I will try to pick the few that impacted me the most. First would have to be the day that I went alpine rock climbing with an OSU alumnus from the Mountaineers club. There are many different kinds of climbing, and I only have extensive experience with “sport” climbing, which is when bolts are already in the rock. On that day in Rocky Mountain National Park we climbed “trad,” or traditional, style which is where you place your own protective gear in cracks in the rock. In addition, because the route is over 1000 ft tall, it is considered “multipitch” because it requires more than one length of rope. Trad and multipitch climbing are big steps up from sport climbing, so I was out of my league in that regard. However, for some reason I was not nervous, I felt confident and ready to take on the challenge. This was probably the longest and most strenuous day of the whole trip. We woke up at 4 am, got ready and drove to the park, and hiked three hours to the base of the mountain, the last hour of which was hiking over snow drifts. My friend Matt and his friend Zach went over the safety protocol for climbing in an alpine environment, and taught me the technique for anchor building and leading and following on trad and multipitch climbs. Then the long ascent began. We went up the Culp-Bossier route on Hallett’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, and we were by no means fast. It took us about six hours to climb the whole thing. Never had I exerted my body to such extremes as I did that day, the endurance required to be able to climb the entire day was grueling but incredibly rewarding. I felt a wonderful sense of calm the entire day, I enjoyed every second of this once in a lifetime experience. After we reached the peak I felt a great sense of accomplishment. I discovered that my body is capable of so much more than I imagined. And I learned many technical skills in types of climbing that had previously been unattainable for me. Now that I have this knowledge I am excited to return to Columbus and help aspiring climbers in the Mountaineers at Ohio State club be able to go on similar trips.

Being on my own wasn’t always easy. One day in particular comes to mind when I think of hard times I faced on this trip. I was in the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, and I was about to set out on my first backpacking trip of the month. I had learned about the trail from someone who worked at a gear shop in a town a few miles back, and it was quite literally in the middle of nowhere. My initial plan was to backpack about 10 miles to a group of lakes in the mountains, but about two hours into the hike, out of nowhere, it started to rain. I had not thought ahead to bring my rain gear, so all I could do was sit under a tree and wait it out. This was a low point; I felt foolish for not thinking it might rain. The rain lasted almost an hour, and by the time it ended my motivation had sunk so low that I decided to turn around and go to a different lake closer to the car to camp. When I got to that lake, I set up my hammock and started cooking dinner. I was in the process of setting up my tent when it started to rain again. This time my belongings were strewn all over the place, so I scrambled to grab them all to try to keep them dry. But while I was getting my food and hammock, my tent had blown away in the wind! I chased it down the mountain and eventually it ended up in the river downstream and I had to pull it out soaking wet with water inside. At this point, the day was a complete bust so I just went back to the car. Because my tent and hammock were wet, I ended up cowboy camping, just sleeping on the ground, and I saw the most stars I have ever seen in my life. My morale was so low until I looked up and remembered that there is so much more out there. This experience taught me that even in the worst of times there is always a lesson to learn. And from then on, my attempts at backpacking got better and better, until my last solo trip in Redwood National Park where I brought exactly the right amount of supplies and arrived at the campsite at the perfect time. I now have a list of things I should always bring and ways to prepare myself for backpacking trips and I feel much more self-assured in my backpacking skills. Hiking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail is one of my long term goals. This STEP experience solidified my love for backpacking and made me realize that with the right amount of training and preparation I can one day achieve this goal.

Another powerful moment from this trip was the day that I spent in downtown San Francisco. I set out with the intention of exploring the city, but still keeping myself open to wherever the day would take me. Other than the acquaintance whose apartment I had stayed at the night before, I did not know anyone in the city. But after only half an hour of walking around I met someone who changed the course of my day completely. His name was Free, an apt name for someone whose home was a big oak tree in Golden Gate Park. Free told me about this place down the street that was giving out free food, and I went with him – not knowing I was going to a homeless youth shelter until I was already inside. Larkin Street Youth Services provides the homeless population of San Francisco that is under 25 years of age with free breakfast every day, as well as counseling services for issues such as drug use, STDs, or depression, and referrals for potential job opportunities and ways to gain citizenship. I came in for the free food, but I ended up spending the rest of my day with the homeless youth I met there. Their stories were hard to listen to. Hearing how they became homeless at such a young age broke my heart. These kids were younger than me and they did not know where their next meal was going to come from! This day blew up any preconceptions I had and completely changed my mind on the homeless population. Too many times before I had walked by homeless people on the streets and felt uncomfortable by their presence and tried to avoid eye contact. But now I try to stop and talk to them, hear them out, and treat them like real people. Everyone deserves a better life than living on the streets, and while giving money is helpful, the real way to give back is by volunteering your time. Since this experience I have volunteered at homeless centers in Cullowhee, NC and Columbus, OH, and I hope to increase my activity in this field of community service.

This trip was valuable to me in so many ways. First, I learned tangible skills in alpine climbing and I now know how to prepare for backpacking trips and take the necessary safety precautions, which I hope to share with the Mountaineers at Ohio State club. Living and traveling on my own for the first time in my life allowed me to truly look inward. I discovered parts of myself that I didn’t know were there, and not all of them were good. I came face to face with some serious issues I was facing and came out a more confident and open minded individual. Professionally, I made meaningful connections with rangers at Grand Teton, Glacier, and Olympic National Parks, and they all told me that I would love working for the Park Service. I have the contact info of one of rangers, and she told me what website to go to and when the jobs usually open up, so I plan on applying at lots of parks for a seasonal ranger position next summer. I also met some inspiring individuals on this trip, people from all over the world on their own transformational journeys who I hope to stay in contact with for years to come. But the most important takeaway I gained from this experience is that I am capable of so much more than I realized. I am ready for wherever life takes me.


Summiting my climb of the Culp-Bossier route of Hallett Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park


A lake… or a mirror? – Grand Teton National Park


Backpacking in Glacier National Park


The morning light in Redwood National Park


The Valley in Yosemite National Park

Tackling Membership Issues

For my STEP signature project, I traveled across the nation to learn more about a non-profit I am heavily involved in—Venturing. Venturing is a co-ed, sub organization of the Boy Scouts of America. The program focuses on the development of young adults through four main pillars: adventure, leadership, personal growth, and service. While the program is successful in terms of executing its goals, it is beginning to enter a membership crisis. With sharp declines in membership across the nation, I wanted to identify major issues and help develop a solution to combat declining numbers. Lastly, I wanted to be able to better understand the organization as a whole.

Venturing is measured at the local level using a short survey referred to as CSVE (Council Standards of Venturing Excellence).  My journey began in the summer of 2016. Working with a fellow Venturer and data consultant with McKinsey and Company, we began collecting CSVE data from across the nation. Breaking down this, we began looking at the quality of programming in different parts of the country. My research was centered in the Midwest, focusing on Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia.

My traveling saw me attending three major conferences with many other stops in between. One of the first, and more familiar locations was the Area 4 Conference located locally in Zanesville, OH. Here, I was able to interact with Venturers in the Ohio and West Virginia areas. Afterwards, I was able to travel to Chicago for the Area 7 Conference. It was here, that I interacted with Venturers from Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. I was afforded the opportunity to experience a different Scouting culture. Lastly, my travels ended at the National Annual Meeting for the BSA in Orlando. Here, I had the opportunity to meet some of the leading figures in the organization such as former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. At NAM, I had the opportunity to converse with many of the leading experts in the Scouting movement. I was able to hear their stories of success.

Making new friends at the National Annual Meeting

While very time consuming, my year of research was incredibly rewarding. I had the opportunity to visit many places of the country I have never attended. From small towns in Ohio to large conferences in Chicago, I interacted with youth and adults from all different parts of life. We shared stories, discovered common interests, and had fun while doing this. Spending most of my time in Columbus, it is hard to understand understand how an organization can vary so greatly over a nation. What worked well in Columbus, may not be nearly as applicable in Chicago or in rural West Virginia. Yet at the same time, it was fascinating to see youth develop equally. A shared identity was notably present between Scouts even though there may have been more than 300 miles separating them. It was incredible to see the effects of different cultures, yet continually the same output.

One of the most valuable lessons for me was that research doesn’t have to be boring. I had some preconceived notion that research was always boring, mundane, and uninteresting. I have never in my life been able to focus on something for so long. Yet in this project, it was so easy to focus on the goal. I found that it can be engaging if you are truly passionate about the cause. Before this, I had never taken time to meticulously study the world around me, to focus on microscopic traits of individuals. During this past year, I found that the concentration that was needed for this project retained into my daily life. I have been able to apply this to myself. Skills such as journaling and reflection have become a routine in my life, allowing me to focus on my strengths with greater vigor and experience.

Talking with the Central Region Training Chair

While we still have not isolated the exact roots of membership decline in Venturing, we have been able to narrow the causes. With our current knowledge, teams are working at developing solutions to counter the membership crisis. Projects to redevelop goals and better develop resources for the local level have been and currently are being developed. More importantly, however, I have been able to watch myself develop in areas that I didn’t originally anticipate. New skills such as simple analysis techniques to journaling have developed this past year. They have allowed me to not only be more successful in this project, but in everyday life. Looking back, my experiences this past year have been amazing. I have been able to develop an unwavering passion for not only the Venturing program, but for the people that contribute to the shared experience of everyone involved in the program.



Leadership STEP Signature Project

For my STEP signature project, I led the team that created a pneumatic clutch system for the Formula SAE Team at Ohio State. This system allows for more control over the transmission, making the driver more comfortable, which leads to shorter lap times. Because this has not been done on the team before, it was important to effectively lead the team to ensure the project’s success.


Looking at the project from the beginning, it was easy to underestimate the amount of work that would be necessary for this project to succeed. Because I underestimated the work load, I may have bit off more than I could chew, but quickly found help from my teammates. Rather than being the only one working on the project, I eventually found that effective leadership was one of the most important parts of a successful team. I was able to find strong traits in different team members and assign certain tasks, leading to a much more manageable project.


What I found truly rewarding in leading this group was that I was able to see people get very excited about being a part of it. Seeing other people get excited made me a much more effective leader because I was able to see what these people were excited about. This made it easier to delegate tasks to responsible individuals, leading to a complete a well done project.


This project did have a few hardships. The initial intention for the project was overly complex, and difficult to complete in the time that we had. As a leader for this team, I had to make the difficult decision to discard some of the work that had been done in order to still achieve the most important goals. This showed me that being a leader does not always mean making the most popular decisions, but rather the decisions that are best for the team.


To complete this project, I was able to get some parts sponsored which made it possible to complete. I enjoyed working with these companies because they were truly interested in helping. They were so interested that a condition for these sponsored parts was that I send videos of the system. The attitude of these people is truly inspiring to me because they believed whole-heartedly in the goals of a student that they had never met. This gave me another reason to lead the team to create the best system we could.


This transformation is valuable for my life because I will always be working in a team of people and I hope to be the leader as much as I can be. This experience has given me an opportunity to get a head start at being a leader of a team of engineers, which will only help my career through life.

Southern Heat & Utah Exploration

March 10 – 18, 2017

My name is Mackenzie, and I am a senior Nursing student at Ohio State.  In the spring of 2017, I traveled to southern Utah and parts of Nevada with the Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC).  With a group of nine other students, I hiked, rock-climbed, camped and back-packed through many national and state parks.

Snow Canyon State Park, picture here, was the first place we visited, and it was my favorite spot of the trip.

This trip allowed me to grow in many aspects of my life, and it impacted the way that I understand and appreciate community.  Coming into this trip, I was a stranger to these nine other students, and I had never been on an adventure like this before.  I was forced to quickly make friends and build a strong community.  We needed to rely on each other, and the bonds I made with everyone were indescribable.  We shared everything – food, water, gear and shelter.  We laughed and smiled, and we opened up about our hopes and fears for what comes next.  I was hesitant, but vulnerable, and this risk paid off with deep connections and memories that I know will always be with me.

I was pushed right out of my comfort zone and confronted with challenges – from minimalist living in the Utah desert and no showers for over a week, to a ten-mile hike carrying our group’s food and water on my back.  Before this trip, I knew that I could be strong and independent when I had to.  As I experienced Utah and reflected on the trip back in Ohio, however, I realized that I am strong and capable by nature.  Before this trip, I doubted myself: my leadership and my confidence.  I realize now, that I am the only person standing in the way of my dreams.

There were a few key moments during the trip that solidified this change within me.  The one which stands out the most happened on the fifth day when we went climbing in Snow Canyon.  We hiked to the crag and set up our site for an evening of climbing as the sun set.  I chose to sit on the rocks below, encouraging my friends as they climbed the eighty-foot wall.  After most people had climbed, they moved to another route just out of sight.  I was the only one left to send this route.  I was hesitant and nervous to climb, but they convinced me that I couldn’t let this opportunity slip away.  About three-fourths of the way up the route, I froze and quickly asked to be lowered.  I was afraid.  A moment I’ll never forget was when my trip leader yelled up to me from the ground, “No.  You can’t stop now.  Why do you want to quit?”  I paused, and realized she was right.  What did I have to be afraid of?  I continued on, despite my racing heart and sweaty hands.  Reaching the top of the route, looking over the sunset, and realizing that I did it was so gratifying.  I learned that I am capable, and this strength can be applied to situations in all aspects of my life.  I learned that sometimes you need other people to realize that strength is inside you.

Another distinct moment which had a great impact on me was when I was assigned to be the cook for the day.  This meant that I would carry our group’s food in my pack during our hikes and climbs and that I would prepare each of our meals.  This sounds simple, but in the desert with limited experience and resources, I was challenged.  I was frustrated and annoyed that everyone’s food was weighing me down.  I was upset that I had to spend extra time setting up the stove and cleaning while everyone else got to relax after a long day.  But as I stood over the stove making our dinner that night, I realized that each other day, I relied on the rest of my group for the same things.  We needed each other in a way I hadn’t experienced before.  Although sacrifice can be difficult, I learned that it is worth it.  I felt satisfaction and pride as I reflected on the contributions I had made, and I felt excited to contribute to our team for the rest of the trip.

I believe that each experience we have shapes our future in some way, and I know that this trip was no different.  Simply put, my adventure in Utah helped me to define what really matters – and that is human connection, community and being present.  As a future nurse, I want my career to be full of stories, memories and connections with diverse people.  I want to treat the person, not the disease and make a lasting impact on the lives I care for.  In Utah and in the weeks following, I learned that you can form a community anywhere – all you need are experiences and people to share them with.  I hope that both in my life and in my career, I can carry over this mindset.  I want to appreciate the little things, celebrate often and never run out of reasons to be grateful.

In addition to keeping a travel journal throughout my trip, I wrote a blog post where I shared some of my favorite photos.  Taking photos and videos while in Utah was so much fun, and it gave me the opportunity to slow down and appreciate the natural beauty around me.  I compiled my favorite video clips here to remember the trip.

My first experience climbing natural rock in St. George, Utah.






AARC Summer Forum and House of Delegates – Leadership

Name: Allison Priest

Type of Project: Leadership

For my STEP Signature Project, I attended the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) Summer Forum and House of Delegates meeting in Tucson, Arizona. This annual forum brings together managers and educators from all over the country to discuss current events and trends in the respiratory field. At the House of Delegates meeting I was mentored by two delegates from Washington state experiencing first-hand the way decisions and changes are made nationally for our profession.

As a current student in the Respiratory Therapy Program at The Oho State University, this experience was truly transformative seeing the leadership of my profession in action first hand. Through the talks and networking opportunities it opened my eyes to see all the possibilities a career in respiratory therapy can take me. So often I desire a straight path in life and my career. However, after this experience I am even more open and hopeful of where it could lead me. From starting RT schools in Ghana, to educating students and leading hospital departments, the professionals I met during this week taught me a lot about the journey. Hearing people’s stories and how they got to where they are opened my eyes. Most said they never saw themselves being here 20 years ago.  As student graduating this May this experience transformed me to have even more passion and hope for my future as a respiratory therapist.

The key aspects of my STEP Signature Project that led to this transformation were my experience in the House of Delegates, visiting a Benedictine Monastery, and meeting other Ohio State University respiratory therapy graduates. The House of Delegates is the advisory board to the Board of Directors for the AARC. At the house meeting, there are two representatives from each state and I was honored to be mentored by the delegates from the state of Washington. Being paired with these delegates I was able to see our profession in action as topics were discussed and decisions were made nationally for our profession. Brian Walsh President of the AARC said something that will stick with me, here at the HOD “we are planting seeds for trees we many never sit under the shade of.” It was inspiring for me to see people advocating for the profession I am entering.

Another key aspect of this trip which surprised me in the role it played in my transformative experience was visiting a Benedictine Monastery in Tucson. While I was in Tucson I wanted to find a place where I could pray and found this place online prior to my trip and planned to go. Here at the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration Monastery I was able to pray and attend mass.  It was great to have a place to go and talk to God about all that I was learning and experiencing. He is the reason for it all.

Attending the Summer Forum and House of Delegates meetings there were many opportunities for networking among professionals in the field.  From lazy rivers and elevators to formal meetings, I was amazed at how easy it was to form connections with people and everyone loved meeting students! One of the main highlights was meeting so many people who graduated from OSU. One night one of my classmates, who was also attending, and I were invited to go to dinner with Doug Laher the Associate Executive Director of the AARC along with three of our professors from Ohio State. Doug graduated from The Ohio State University’s program.  For me, it was a remarkable and humbling experience looking around the table knowing there are so many OSU RT grads across the country advocating for the profession and supporting us as students and soon to be grads. This May I will be graduating from one of the top respiratory therapy programs in the country.  I am grateful for my education and the doors that have opened from attending the AARC Summer Forum and HOD meetings.                                                                                   

This experience has further inspired me as I begin my career as a respiratory therapist. Now, I will be able to bring what I learned back to Ohio to benefit my classmates on our way to become future leaders of the profession. What I have learned and the transformations I have experienced affect not just me but will have a domino effect as I take the issues and topics discussed back home to the other students in my class and the people I work with. I am grateful for and further inspired by this experience. Right now, I am the future of the profession. This transformative leadership experience was a great opportunity and I look forward to applying what I learned on my path to become a leader in the respiratory therapy field who is able to take an active role in the progress of the profession.

Public Policy Simulation and Leadership

My STEP signature project was to create a mock student government simulation. Participants were able to act as congressional leaders for a day and were presented with an issue they had to address with a bill. The simulation was custom made and allowed the participants to experience firsthand what is was like to create actual legislation.

Throughout the course of my project I had to stop and take a hard look at myself on multiple occasions. With funding going into my project I was able to double my staff and participants meaning that I had A LOT more people to keep track of to make the program happen. This meant meeting with people multiple times a week, getting them the materials they needed, creating other materials, coordinating schedules, printing materials, scheduling events, and much more. As a result I had to be more organized and focused than I have probably ever been in my life.

To accomplish this, coordinating all of these people and programming, I had to work on my leadership skills every day. At first I really thought the biggest thing to focus on was making sure I had everything ready to go on my end of the equation. If I know where everything is and what everyone is doing then I can have complete control over what happens. But as I got into the simulation it became more apparent that I had to trust my staff to help me get everything done. There was far too much to do, and too many people involved, to know what was going on at all times. And that was very difficult for me because I have always been someone to try and control all facets of a situation but this program has taught me that is not always, if really ever, possible. Once I realized that however, I turned my staff loose and trusted them to handle their own jobs with great success. So I would say that my understanding of myself did transform a lot throughout because I had to let go of my desire to control all of the situations I encounter. Not only did this change help me better run my project but it also has helped me better run my life.

It is honestly hard to try and pin down this transformation to one specific person or event or relationship. If anything it happened gradually overtime, a realization that I came to after seeing that things were not running very smoothly. But although it is not something that happened all at once, per se, there were definitely a moment that I could call the “turning point.”

Although I was the person running the simulation, the SIM director, I had an entire staff under me. These people were participants of the first simulation before I received funding to help improve it. They helped me create the rules, design the world (we made up an entirely new world for the simulation complete with everything from maps to religions), organize people, and so on. As previously mentioned I kept a close eye on everything and had a lot of oversight. This made it all the more perplexing when things were not running smoothly with creation and planning for the simulation. Finally, during one of our weekly meetings, I asked my staff if they felt things were running smoothly to which they replied “no.” So I then asked what they thought could be done to fix that and their response was to ask for more latitude and freedom to do their jobs.  Although I was worried about not having control over everything, something told me it was the best move to allow this and I am glad I did because things went so much better after that.

I must say that giving my staff more latitude to operate with was a hard move because it took a lot of trust on my part, which is something I am not very good at. Trust has been a real struggle for me in life, more than just the simulation, and was therefore a huge step when I turned the staff loose on my “brain child.” But somehow I knew that it was all going to be fine. I had a good relationship with everyone on my staff and had known them for over a year by the time of that second simulation. And as it turned out, the staff knocked their jobs out of the park and we ended up having a fantastic simulation.

This transformation has paid off in two main ways for me in my life. The first was the realization that I am only one person and that I cannot do everything. In the past I have tried to control every situation I come into or oversee every phase of a project to make sure things go the way I want them to. I now realize that is not at all realistic. I cannot control everything. I cannot even control a majority of things. And that’s ok because it taught me that I have to trust people. Not everyone in the world is bad or out to get me or harm me in a negative way. There are in fact a lot of good people who can help me, I just have to be willing to accept their help. That was the second big thing I learned because in reality both lessons go together. Everyone needs someone to help them out. I sure did and I am glad that I finally stopped being so stubborn and accepted that. This is a lesson that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Everglades Kayaking Leadership

 For my STEP signature project, I took an Outdoor Activity Center spring break trip to spend a week kayaking in Everglades National Park off of the coast of Florida. During this week, we were completely removed from society, paddling around the national park and exploring the different islands and habitats. We also learned a variety of skills on the trip that would allow us to independently conduct a similar trip in the future, and each one of us had the opportunity to be “Leader of the Day” and help the other kayakers navigate through the water.

I would say that going on this trip completely altered my understanding of myself and the world around me. Going on the trip allowed me to take a step back from society, and realize what aspects of life are truly important. During that week, I could feel all the stressors from my life back at home melt away; my only true focus lied in what was going on around me in that moment. For the first time in a long time, I was able to put my phone away for days at a time and not have to worry about checking my text messages, email, or social media.

A view of the sunset on Whaletail Island, a man-made island built out of shells.

This trip also changed my assumptions on what it means to be a leader. Before going on the trip, I thought that only people with a strong knowledge or expertise in a certain area were capable of being leaders. However, I came to realize over the course of my week in the Everglades that my understanding of this was completely false. Even though I had never had any Kayaking experience and I was not accustomed to camping out in the wilderness for long periods of time, I found that it was easy to be a leader and help out whenever possible. Each night before we went to bed, everyone volunteered to be responsible for a certain task the next day, whether it be cooking, doing dishes, helping with navigation, or making sure that everyone was getting enough water and staying healthy. Overall, I can say that this trip was transformational in the sense that I am more willing to step up and be a leader even when I know that I am not the most knowledgeable or skilled in an area.

One of the aspects of this trip that lead to my transformation was the interdependence between all of the kayakers. Because there were so many actions that needed to be taken throughout the day to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone, it was not possible to endure the week without being given some sort of leadership role, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. With thirteen kayakers embarking into the wilderness for the week, and over a dozen daily tasks to be done between setting up and tearing down camp, cooking and cleaning dishes, getting the kayaks in and out of the water, etc., I found myself leading in areas that I never would have been placed into when I was back in the outside world.

Another aspect of the trip that allowed me to improve on my leadership skills was the fact that all the activities involved were so far outside of my comfort zone. Starting out, many of the other kayakers had at least one other friend from school on the trip with them, so they had the comfort of knowing that they would be able to share the experience through a relationship that had already been previously built. I, however, signed up for the trip with the intention that I would be going into it knowing no one. I see this as being beneficial towards my leadership transformation because it forced me to form new relationships by working towards an end goal, a quality that can be seen in any good leader. Additionally, kayaking and wilderness expeditions are experiences that are completely new to me; I had never once before in my life been inside of a kayak, let alone spend a week inside of one navigating through a national park. The ability to insert oneself into foreign situations and succeed is another quality that can be seen in a good leader, and by going on this trip, I believe that I was able to take a step in the right direction towards becoming a person that others can look up to.

A view of a channel in Everglades National Park from the kayak.

Navigating through the waters every day and being able to see something that I had never seen before was truly amazing, and it was an experience that I will be able to cherish for years to come. I was able to take in the beauty of islands that seemingly had never been altered by a human being; I was able to look at manatees and pods of dolphins as they swam just feet away from my kayak and the kayaks of the other campers; I was able to see beautiful channels and waterways as we navigated between five and ten miles each day to reach the island that would be used as a campsite that night. These are all things that I simply would have never been able to see and experience had I not gone on this trip. By going on this trip and being able to broaden my horizons and array of experiences, I will be able to become a better leader not only in future outdoor expeditions, but also in my professional life.

This trip is significant in the long run for my life because I can use the fundamental leadership qualities I saw during my OAC trip to more efficiently and effectively lead others in a professional setting. At school I am currently working towards getting my undergraduate Business Administration degree, so becoming an individual that others can look up to and learn from is a quality that is vastly important towards a successful career. One day, when I find myself in a situation where I am not the most experienced or run into obstacles or challenges that I have not faced before, I will certainly be able to look back on the lessons that I learned from my week in the Florida Everglades to overcome it through a combination of teamwork, leadership, and dedication.

Creating Change Conference: LGBTQ Leadership and Activism

Name: Eliana Dobres

Type of Project: Leadership

The program book from Creating Change, as well as my name tag and pronoun button

For my STEP Signature project, I attended the Creating Change Conference in Philadelphia, PA. This annual conference brings together LGBTQ leaders from around the country to discuss their work and learn advocacy strategies from each other. At Creating Change, I was able to attend many workshops and panels to improve my own LGBTQ activism, as well as explore Philadelphia.

At the Creating Change Conference, I often found myself challenged to think about the world in a different way than I normally do. Instead of seeing injustice in the world and accepting that that’s just the way it is, leaders at Creating Change want to take action to fix the injustice. In the past, I’ve felt powerless to do anything to address injustice, but going to the conference changed my mindset. Creating Change gave me opportunities to ask myself big questions about it, but also to focus on specific subsets of society where I felt I could truly make a difference. I came home from Creating Change feeling empowered to work harder in my own LGBTQ community and to continue asking the big questions about how I can Create Change.

Being in Philadelphia also forced me to become more independent. Ordinarily, I’m surrounded by family and friends who I can turn to for advice and guidance about just about anything. But at the Creating Change conference, I traveled alone, chose which workshops I attended by myself, and navigated the city solo. This experience helped me to understand what it’s like to rely completely on myself and gave me more confidence in my ability to be self-sufficient.

Me with a flyer listing the many Jewish LGBTQ events happening during the conference

Many events at Creating Change helped me to feel more empowered to make change in my community. For example, one workshop I attended was aimed at people who are leaders in Jewish LGBTQ organizations. In this workshop, we all had a chance to discuss our work as leaders in the community, and also to explain aspects we struggled with in our organizations. Many leaders from well-known Jewish LGBTQ organizations attended and were available to help us brainstorm ideas to work through our problems. Before attending Creating Change, I often felt like I was the only person who was working to create Jewish LGBTQ spaces and I wasn’t always sure where to turn when I needed advice. Attending this workshop helped me realize that so many people are taking initiative to create stronger Jewish LGBTQ communities and that there is a network of people to support my work.

Another workshop I attended was one intended for LGBTQ people in Greek life. This workshop allowed me to connect with other students who were working to make Greek life more LGBTQ-inclusive at their universities. At Ohio State, I am part of a sorority that was created for LGBTQ and ally students, and Creating Change gave me a chance to meet people who are members of the same sorority at other schools. We had plenty of time to compare stories, discuss things we wanted to improve in the sorority, and talk about recruitment strategies. Also, since the LGBTQ sorority at Ohio State is still in the nascent stages, I had no idea what the experiences of a fully-fledged chapter were like. Attending this workshop allowed me to hear about the achievements of established chapters and was valuable in helping me find role models in the sorority. Additionally, several people in the workshop were members of more traditional Greek life organizations that were not originally designed to be as LGBTQ-friendly. It was inspiring to hear about these students’ desires to change the culture of their sororities and fraternities, specifically to encourage their organizations to become more accepting of trans people. And in the past few months since the conference, I’ve actually seen many news stories about Greek life organizations deciding to accept trans people! I have no doubt that the leaders I met at this workshop were key players in making these decisions, and I am thankful that Creating Change made it possible for me to meet these strong trailblazers.

Outside of the conference workshops, I also found myself becoming more self-reliant. Because I was there on my own, I had to take charge of my entire experience and ensure that I was managing my time well enough to achieve everything I wanted to without becoming overwhelmed. This meant that I had one afternoon where I decided that I needed a break from sitting in workshops and went to walk around the city instead. This was the first time I had walked around a new city all by myself, and I was proud that I didn’t get myself lost! (Okay, I had to open Google Maps on my iPhone one time, but only once!) Now that I’ve navigated an unfamiliar city on my own, I feel more confident in my ability to travel independently in the future. I wonder what city I should visit next…

Special rainbow signs just for Creating Change!

Although I was a leader in the LGBTQ community at Ohio State even before I attended Creating Change, being at the conference gave me an enormous boost of confidence to bring my leadership to the next level. I now know that I have the resources and mindset to ask big questions about advancing the LGBTQ community, a network of people I can reach out to if I need support, and the independence to make changes. I want to make my LGBTQ communities as welcoming, open, and meaningful as possible, and going to Creating Change showed me that I am not the only person with that goal. I plan to be involved with LGBTQ communities even after I graduate from Ohio State, so the confidence I gained at Creating Change will serve me for the rest of my life as I strive to be a leader in my community no matter where I am. I am so grateful that I was able to attend the Creating Change Conference and that it provided me with so many tools I can use in my future leadership work, at Ohio State and beyond.