University of Colorado Pre-Med Wilderness & Emergency Medicine Course

Name: Molly Cogan

Type of Project: Leadership-University of Colorado Pre-Med Wilderness & Emergency Medicine Course

For my STEP project, I attended the University of Colorado Pre-Med Wilderness & Emergency Medicine Course this past August. This two week intensive course included one week at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus where we had many lectures, skills labs, and guest speakers regarding the field of Emergency Medicine. During the second week, we backpacked in the Rocky Mountains at Camp Granite Lake where we practiced our Wilderness Medicine skills through many hands-on scenarios. After completing over 100 hours of training and passing the Wilderness First Responder certification test, I became a certified Wilderness EMT.

University of Colorado Wilderness First Responder Graduates

Going into the program I was very confused with what I wanted to do with my life. At the start of college, I was set on going to medical school after graduation and becoming a doctor. However, since freshman year, the more experiences I gained in the healthcare field, the more I began to question whether or not medical school right after graduation was really the best choice for me. Over the past couple of years my vision for a future career in medicine has become very blurred. Depending on the healthcare professional I talked to, I would be swayed to pursue a career in their field whether that be as a PA, MD, NP, paramedic, or nurse. With all of these options tossing around in my head, I was not sure what the right path to choose was or even if a career in healthcare was the right path at all.

Thus, I came into the program filled with questions and doubts about myself and future aspirations. However, over the two week program, I was able to hear from dozens of physicians, nurses, paramedics, NPs, and PAs about their careers in Emergency Medicine. I also got to shadow in the Emergency Department and participated in a variety of lectures where I learned clinical skills such suturing, doing a FAST ultrasound exam, splinting, and so much more. Hearing and seeing firsthand what work is really like in the Emergency Department helped me really hone in on my deepest passion that I want to pursue in my future: Emergency Medicine. Regardless of what position/career I decided to pursue, I am 100% sure that I want it to be in Emergency Medicine which is a decision I never would have come to without this program. After narrowing down that Emergency Medicine would be in my future, I also confidently came to the decision that after graduation I want to go to paramedic school and work as a street medic for a couple of years and then will apply to MD or PA school down the road. I went from having no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life to knowing with absolute confidence the career I want to pursue in the future because of my STEP project and I am so grateful for this experience because of that.

Shadowing Dr. Brown in the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Emergency Department

The first aspect of my STEP project that led to my transformation was the opportunity to have many conversations with doctors and paramedics who work in an Emergency Department or EMS. Listening and talking to dozens of healthcare professionals who were once in my shoes, but now working in their respective positions was so valuable. What I found even more fascinating was that several of the ED doctors, nurses, and PAs, worked as street medics in EMS for several years before advancing their careers in the hospital. I also got to shadow in the ED and experienced firsthand everyone involved in the treatment of a patient from the moment they are brought in by EMS to the moment they are discharged. I was able to learn what life was really like working in Emergency Medicine. The adrenaline rush of not knowing what comes in the door every day and the wide span of injuries and illnesses that you see in the ED is incredibly appealing to me. Not to mention, Emergency Medicine is one of the most unique specialties because ideally, you will only be seeing your patient once in their lifetime and as a caregiver you have to learn how to gain their complete and absolute trust to best help treat the patient in a short period of time. All of my relationships with the Emergency Medicine professionals and shadowing in the ED helped me solidify that Emergency Medicine is the field of medicine that I want to pursue in my future.

After our ED tour, we went up to the helipad that is used for Life Flight transports to the hospital

Another aspect of my STEP project that helped me transform my plans for the future was participating in intense, realistic scenarios while backpacking in the Rocky Mountains. From simulated drownings to cardiac arrests to bear attacks, every program participant had the opportunity to practice hands-on clinical skills regarding the Emergency Medicine and Wilderness Medicine skills we learned. We each had the opportunity to act as patients, contribute as a team member, or be the leader for a multitude of scenarios. Some examples include the program instructor collapsing on our hike to simulate going into cardiac arrest or our TAs falling out of a canoe to simulate a drowning. I also was a leader for a mass casualty incident in which there was a simulated helicopter crash with multiple patients. All of the scenarios I participated in and the spontaneity with which they occurred led me to seriously deciding that I want to be a paramedic for a couple of years. Having limited resources and having the freedom to think fast and act on my instincts outside of a hospital setting was so incredible for just the simulations, but I cannot even imagine how much more I would enjoy it as an actual paramedic in the streets or wilderness. Thus, I learned that being a paramedic for a couple of years is what I want to do after graduation before going on to medical or PA school.

Scenario where I played an unconscious patient with a broken ankle

MCI scenario where we prepared to evacuate a patient with cerebral hemorrhaging

The last aspect of my STEP project that really solidified what I want to do for the rest of my life were the relationships I made with my fellow program participants. The majority of us in the program were facing the same dilemma as me, trying to figure out what path into medicine we should follow and what careers we should pursue. Additionally, since the majority of us were interested in Emergency Medicine, it was even easier to relate about the similar confusion about whether or not it was better to be a doctor, PA, NP, or paramedic. Regardless of the careers we were all considering, what really stood out to me was how respectful, caring, and compassionate everyone was. I have never met a more dedicated group of people that worked hard as well as played hard which is such an essential ability needed to work in Emergency Medicine. Everyone I met was also such an amazing team player, especially when it came to running through scenarios where a “patient’s” life was on the line. All I could think was, I just want to work with these amazing people for the rest of my life. I cannot wait to work with the same kind of awesome people in Emergency Medicine in my future career.

Groups 5 and 6 preparing to go out on our hike

My STEP project truly changed my plans for the rest of my life. From having no idea what path to take or what career in medicine would be best for me, I can confidently say that I want to work in Emergency Medicine and upon graduation, I want to become a paramedic and work in EMS for a couple of years before applying to medical school down the road. Prior to my STEP project, I was confused and dissatisfied with my life because I did not know what I truly wanted to do. After participating in this program, a huge weight was lifted off of my chest. I could finally breathe and not be stressed about the future. I am satisfied with everything I did in my life to get me this far, but more importantly I am so happy and excited for what my future has in store in Emergency Medicine.

STEP Reflection

For my STEP Signature Project, I completed an 200-hour intensive yoga teacher training program. Throughout the course of this summer I spent my days learning the history of yoga, anatomy and correct alignment of postures, how to effectively teach a class, how to set students up for success through safe sequencing, the health benefits of yoga and much more. At the end of the program I had taught my peers three classes, taken or observed over 50 classes, and received my teaching certification.

Coming into this program I didn’t quite know how I would change. I didn’t think a physical practice could mold my mind as heavily as it did. I hoped that I would be better at holding chaturangas (low planks) and maybe would get some arm definition. Those things did happen but were the least significant milestones of my journey.

Learning about the yamas and niyamas has transformed the way I approach challenges and change in life. These 8 pillars set before yogis inspire inquiry in life externally and internally. They govern the most important qualities to embody. My favorite part about learning these was how they held different meaning for each person. This was another important lesson – everyone has their own truth and recognizing this allows for deeper connection and understanding. An example would be the first and most regarded yama, Ahimsa. This translate to non-violence. For example, someone could choose to be a vegetarian as to do no harm to animals. But if that didn’t work for their body and they were suffering, they would inadvertently be doing harm to themselves. This goes to show that not every lifestyle and pillar is the same for every person. Coming to this conclusion has challenged me to see others perspective and understand where they are coming from.

I also learned that yoga can also be harmful to a degree. Most people believe that just the act of doing yoga will great and healing for their body. While this is mostly true, the incorrect alignment can have the opposite effects. For this reason, my class and I spent countless hours reviewing poses, studying alignment and anatomy, contraindications, and how a pose might not look ideal but if the student feels it in the correct muscles then it doesn’t matter. This was really refreshing to learn because social media is flooded with photos of novice and expert yogis alike doing challenging poses for an “aesthetic”. Although they look cool, if that alignment was embodied in their practice daily it would have serious damages on their body long term. This helped to teach me that yoga isn’t always about the outcome. It’s doesn’t matter if you can maintain a posture or add a bind, etc. What matters is that you’re breathing and staying present. If you are not hurting in a pose and you feel it in the right places, then you’re already successful in your practice.

On the very first day of the program, Laurel, our main instructor gave us paradigms to keep in mind throughout the completion of the program. She challenged me to “begin where you are”. This was especially helpful because I was just anxious to complete all the requirements, perfect my chaturangas, and get my certificate. When Laurel told me this it allowed myself to be ok with the fact that I had absolutely no teaching experience. I have been applying this principal to my habits ever since. I normally always want to jump right to the ending. When I was training for a half marathon last year I was frustrated that running over 13 miles didn’t come easy to me. Laurel telling me this allowed myself to be comfortable with where I was starting and to embrace the journey, not the destination.

These pillars and paradoxes have inspired me to see the world in a new way. However, the most important takeaway from this journey is the simplest. It is the breath. Learning to control my breath, take a step back, and breath in tough situations has been the most transformative for me. I didn’t realize how anxiety had been building up in me until I explained my symptoms to my yogi peers. They mentioned it sounded like I had anxiety and that they struggled from it too. I would never peg myself as someone with anxiety but there was a point over the summer when that wrong, and I needed to be truthful with myself. Meditating and breathing have helped me to control my body when I start to get worked up about deadlines, to-do lists, and the future.

We also learned the tantric approach regarding the cycle of transformation. In times of change it is most effective to take a step back, allow yourself to feel, relax, wait until you feel ready to face the situation and then act. This method allows one to distance themselves from a hard situation and listen to what their body is telling them. Breathing deeply alone actives the parasympathetic nervous system which automatically calms the body down. Feeling is important too because often we with try to explain what we feel, and it turns into us demeaning ourselves on why we felt that way. It then allows one to enter a situation when they’re ready and able to respond in an effective way. This conscious communication and tool to combat change are so transformative and I have implemented them into my daily life. Being welcoming to change is something that doesn’t come easy for me but with this process it makes it more comfortable.

As a student who aspires to go into healthcare I would love to implement what I have learned for patients. I have seen yoga firsthand help those with anxiety, eating disorders, and depression. I believe that it a tool for a healthy and conscious life that does not require a prescription. I am planning to teach a free clinic to my pre-health sorority during finals week to help those destress. When people make time for themselves on their mat and commit to present for that time amazing things happen. Without distractions of the outside world, especially their phones, people can tap into their body and explore how they feel. When people understand how they feel, they know what they need and with tools of conscious communication they can express that to others and maintain healthy relationships. When I become a doctor, I will use yoga as a form of therapy for patients.

This program has changes my life in many ways. I never expected that I would get such a rich understanding of yoga and still be thirsty for more knowledge. I plan to get a teaching job and share my passion with others. I am extremely grateful for STEP, as I would not have been able to enroll in this program without their financial support. I would recommend yoga teacher training to anyone who is interested in learning more about themselves and seeing the world in a new light.

My Thru-Hike of the Appalachian Trail

Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

My STEP project focused on hiking the entirety of the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail (A.T.) solo in the spring of 2018. I traveled northbound from the trail’s southern terminus of Springer Mountain, Georgia to the northern terminus on Mount Katahdin, Maine in one continuous trip which lasted 131 days (Feb. 6th – June 16th). The planning and preparation phases for the trip lasted two months, and the actual hiking portion of my experience contributed an additional four-and-a-half months to my project timeline.

The Appalachian Trail

Hiking the A.T. was a goal of mine after completing Vermont’s 275-mile Long Trail before my freshman year of college, and I thought this trek would be a great way of showing how valuable skills like persistence, resilience, and adaptability can be developed in unconventional settings. I expect these skills to transcend the trail and enhance my personal and professional life.

What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

I failed to come to any profound moment of “reawakening” during my experience. There was no major crossroads, no extreme turning point, no insurmountable obstacle that was finally overcome. This is to be expected. I think it is important to understand that transformational experiences do not occur at the nexus of time and effort as an epic and instantaneous explosion of personal growth and development. Transformation is a slow and seemingly aimless series of experiences that build upon each other and change the way a person views the world and themselves.

Often times the importance and magnitude of an experience is only realized while reflecting on the past. When thinking back to my hike of the A.T., I was able to realize how important it is for me to have a goal. Without a goal, I feel adrift and lack the motivation and drive needed to put forth an exceptional effort. After all, what’s the purpose of a mission that has no objective?

The *almost* starting point of the A.T. Hikers must take an 8.5 mile approach trail to reach the official southern terminus of Springer Mountain. While the start and end points of the trail have remained unchanged for some time, its exact length changes every year as sections are modified or rerouted. The official distance in 2018 was 2,190.9 miles (more than 80 additional miles since this sign was placed!)

I need a goal to work toward so I can fulfill the full potential of who I am as a student, professional, and person. In addition, I also came to realize the importance and value of having a positive mindset. These two pieces of knowledge have had a significant impact on how I navigate obstacles today, and I don’t think I would come to these conclusions with such clarity without the experience of hiking the A.T. and reflecting on that time.

What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to your transformation?

The majority of my transformation occurred in tiny increments each day. Similar to northward progress on the trail, personal progress can often seem slow and fruitless. On the trail, each hiking day began with putting everything I needed into a backpack and carrying that weight over mountains, along ridges, and through rivers. Each night ended by unpacking all these items and preparing for the next arduous day ahead.

The first point from the southern terminus of the A.T. where hikers cross a road and are able to either continue or call it quits. The “Boot Tree” at Neel’s gap is 31.2 miles into the hike.

But these long and difficult days provided me with clear, consistent, measurable progress. I could watch as each exhausted step, drop of sweat, and labored breath brought me closer and closer to Maine. The miles added on each day, and I developed an addiction to seeing my efforts transform into results. The experience of constantly persevering through difficulty made me realize how important it is to have a goal and maintain a positive mindset.

McAfee Knob, central Virginia

One example showing the importance of having a positive mindset was while hiking through the Roan Highlands of North Carolina. The first major snowstorm of my trip finally hit and coated the trail in 14 inches of snow, with drifts on the windward side of the mountains reaching almost three feet. I decided to hike 17 miles to Overmountain Shelter, which was an abandoned barn half a mile off trail, so that I could have some cover. Nighttime temperatures were going to be below zero.

Another snow day on the A.T.

I remained optimistic about my accommodations for the night, and I could almost feel the coziness of a warm barn stocked with hay. These thoughts occupied the greater part of my day as I trudged through deep snow and bone-numbing cold. I finally descended from Round Bald, an open grassland near the center of the Roan massif, and made my way down toward the little red oasis settled in Buckeye Gap, oddly enough.

Looking northward from Hump Mountain in the Roan Highlands at an oncoming snowstorm

My daydreams didn’t quite match the reality of where I would be staying for the night. Although the barn was below the high peaks, it was situated on a ridge facing directly into the wind. The walls of the structure had a stunning collection of holes, and gusts shook the building as more snow continued to fall. “At least the mice aren’t that bad”, I thought as I set up my sleeping bag for the night.

I awoke in the morning to the sensation of someone tapping my head. Tapping, tapping, tapping, and biting! A mouse! After a brief episode of frantic smacks and swatting, I got out of my sleeping bag and began to pack up. When I was almost ready to go, I realized there was a slight problem: my shoes. My shoes were frozen. Not cold, not firm, not stiff; frozen.

Overnight, my shoes had turned into solid, inflexible blocks. Get two bricks and try to put your feet into them. Those were my shoes at the moment. Without shoes to wear, I’m stuck. I contemplated just wearing an extra pair of socks and hoping that my shoes would loosen up as the day went on, but I concluded that the trail was far too rocky and my feet would get chewed up pretty quickly as a result. There was no way around it; they must get on my feet. I thought that maybe a bit of water could help loosen them up, but my bottles? Chunks of ice.

And you thought the toilet seat at home was cold… (outhouse at Overmountain Shelter, NC)

I went and quickly dashed in bare feet to a spring about 50 yards from the barn, but where water once flowed I discovered cold blue icicles instead. I reasoned that I could melt some snow to thaw out the shoes. This seemed like a good idea…until I got my stove out. If you’ve ever wondered what temperature isobutane fuel fails to vaporize at, it’s about 10° F. Finally, with a bit of clever thinking and some embarrassment, I was able to squeeze into my shoes. I quickly tied the laces as best I could with my frozen fingers and sheepishly hurried with an empty bladder down the trail.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is an absolutely brutal physical trial, but it is undoubtedly more of a psychological challenge. Hikers that do finish aren’t necessarily the strong-bodied, but the strong-minded. There is a lot of trail between Georgia and Maine, and also a lot of points where everything will be a disaster. And at any point during the trip, I could have ended my hike. But having a positive outlook and laughing at the often times humorous nature of my predicaments made things easier and was absolutely essential to staying on the trail during difficult times like the one described above.

A windy day in New Hampshire on Mt. Washington

Crossing into southern Virginia

Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

Daily challenges are a bit different now that I’m not on the trail. I no longer need to filter my water, dig holes to go to the bathroom, or lay awake at night trying to differentiate the noise between a foraging squirrel and a curious bear. That being said, challenges are challenges, whether on or off the trail, and they are overcome using the same toolset of persistence, resilience, and adaptability. I’m comfortable using these tools to tackle any obstacle that lays ahead of me, whether it’s a difficult assignment, a complicated project at work, or… a pair of frozen shoes.

Mt. Katahdin, Maine.

My Buck-I-Serve Trip to Ghana

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

For my STEP Signature Project I traveled to Ghana, Africa with Buck-I-Serv in partnership with the Akumanyi Foundation. We stayed at the site of an orphanage and helped complete the daily activities/chores for the home. We also traveled daily to, and painted, a school the Foundation was building for the orphanage. We painted the toilette project the foundation completed in another village, as well.

2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

This trip ended up being an extremely impactful experience. I have always been deeply involved in service and have helped to head a non-profit as OSU for a majority of my time at this institution. Recently, however, I was feeling fairly burnt out in my work, and this trip completely re-inspired me and reignited my passion for helping others. I was reminded often of my privilege and learned how that privilege isn’t something to feel guilty about, but something to use to my advantage to do good work. I also learned a lot about perception and how just the way you frame something can have either very positive or negative effects. I was reminded how I have so little to complain about and how when I complain it is usually about things that many people would die to be doing.

3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

We had many reflections and performed a great deal of activities that aided in my transformation throughout this experience. One specific activity that impacted me greatly was the privilege walk we completed as a group. Everyone on my trip participated and although I expected to be ahead, it didn’t make turning around to see so many of the others, mostly colored friends, far behind, any less shocking. The questions we stepped forwards or backwards for were completely unbiased and really expressed the disparities often seen in our society between white people and people of color.

The friends I made on this trip also aided in my transformation, I feel blessed for the very diverse group we had and the many open dialogues we were able to participate in. Having people from many different backgrounds with many different experiences made the trip and our group activities especially impactful. I was able to learn from everyone I was with through their own personal stories and reflections.

Furthermore, my interactions with the children at the orphanage were especially transformative. They reminded me that so much joy can be found is such simple things. Everything I did with the children made me so much happier than I ever expected and their ability to be so happy and have such good mentalities was inspiring. Their work ethic put me to shame and their attitudes when doing anything made me realize how much I complain and how little I have to actually complain about.

4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

This transformative experience has done so much for me when it comes to my academic, personal and professional goals. I was reminded to always be grateful for the opportunity I have to education, as well as for my love of helping others. Because of this experience, I hold so much hope and excitement for what my future holds and for all the work I want to do. I can’t wait to continue to do similar things I did throughout this experience and look forward to finding new ways to make others happy.



Leadership Training in Winter Park, CO

My STEP project was participating in H2O’s Leadership Training (LT) program in Colorado during the summer of 2018. Students from H2O, an on-campus church here at Ohio State, joined students from about 5 other campus churches at LT. As a part of the project, I worked 40 hours a week for the YMCA of the Rockies, and LT activities happened during off days and evenings.

The biggest change I saw in myself over the course of the summer was an increased understanding of my need to not rely on myself, and instead to seek and accept help from God, friends, and family. As our leaders forecasted at the beginning of the summer, a lot happened at LT, and if I had tried to deal with it all myself it would have been overwhelming. I hope to take this mindset back to campus with me as I start the fall semester.

As mentioned, a lot of difficult things arose over the course over the summer. Some things, such as disagreements with my fiancé or discontentment with team activities, required that I seek to resolve conflict with those parties, and in many scenarios I didn’t know how to approach the resolution. However, after seeking counsel from nearby leaders and peers, I was able to successfully navigate those situations. Other things, such as career path decisions, I previously would have been tempted just to examine by myself, and would have felt very stressed and overwhelmed. However, after making an effort to seek input from others and pray for guidance, I’ve felt much more at peace with my status.

While I have always understood that it isn’t wise to just rely on myself, my perceived success in school and other areas has meant that it has been difficult to put that into practice. I always shied away from the vulnerability required to ask for help, even though there have been plenty of times I needed it. Additionally, sometimes I felt like it would be a sign of weakness to ask for help. This led to a lot of loneliness and anxiety, especially during the first few years of college. However, one of the guest speakers at LT taught on this subject early in the summer, and with his encouragement I was able to develop better habits over the rest of the program.

As I return to school in the fall, I hope to use these new habits to recenter my life and to have a healthier lifestyle. Campus is always a source of busyness, stress, and unexpected developments, and I hope that by seeking input and guidance from God and those close to me, I will be able to deal with those things more effectively than I have in the past.

In addition to helping my general state of mind, this personal growth will help me make better decisions, having considered advice from many sources. For example, this summer, the career path decision I mentioned earlier was whether or not I should pursue a PhD, as my research professor had recently suggested the possibility to me. While I haven’t made a decision yet, talking to those around me and praying about it allows me to see more pros and cons to the offer, instead of being limited to my own viewpoint.

STEP Research Endeavor: Investigating the Inflammatory Response to Traumatic Brain Injury

Undergraduate Research Endeavor
Julia Dziabis

My STEP project consisted of 3 months of full-time summer research in Dr. Jonathan Godbout’s Lab assisting with the traumatic brain injury project (TBI). This summer concluded with travel to an international meeting to present my research in Toronto, Canada.

While completing my STEP Signature Project, I learned a lot about myself and the world of professional science. As it was my third full-time summer working on the TBI project, I was able to complete a lot of work independently from idea conception all the way to preparing figures for research publications. Having a hand in every step of this long, stressful process because of the time I was able to dedicate day in and day out without distraction gave me a new and more realistic perspective on the scientific process. At the end of the summer, I was able to present my work at an international conference, and there I was able to learn even more about the greater world of academic research, as well as the importance of networking for the purpose of progress and collaboration. By the end of the summer, I felt transformed into a more competent and experienced scientist, with a better grasp on the research process and the greater scientific community associated with the field of neurotrauma.

This third summer in Dr. Godbout’s Lab supported by STEP taught me a lot about the failures and frustrations associated with scientific investigation, and also the sheer amount of work that goes into the preparation of a paper for publication. Being allowed significantly more independence in designing and executing experiments also meant being far more emotionally invested in the outcomes, especially being the person who analyzes the data and is first to interpret the results. This summer has made me far more comfortable with disappointments and lack of progress in a research setting; sometimes you spend weeks on something, pouring time into it every single day, and at the end all you get out of it is a slew of negative data. It can be hard to justify all that time and effort seemingly wasted, but I learned that negative results are still results. They still tell us things about science that are important, even if it the thing they tell you is that your hypothesis is wrong. For example, this summer in particular, the project I intended on completing during my STEP project was not the project I ended up working on due to negative results. Despite my excitement for that project, I was able to adapt to the idea of a new project quickly, which still allowed me to make significant progress despite a late start.

I also learned more than I anticipated about the importance of networking, something I always associated with fields other than science and previously assumed would be irrelevant to me. Preparing for and attending an international research symposium made me realize just how important it is even to just introduce yourself to another person. Because I am applying to many of the programs that were represented at the conference, I was thankful I did research in advance to identify potential research mentors and become familiar with their projects so that when I was able to find and speak to them over the course of the week, I knew who they were and why they were important and was able to make a good initial impression. This was the first time I ever had to “network,” and I learned a lot about how who you know has an impact on your science and success.

Despite these excellent experience detailed above, I think the greatest catalyst for my transformation this summer was my graduate student mentor. Her unwavering trust in me and my abilities had a massive impact on the way I feel about not just science, but myself. Even three years back, when I knew practically nothing, she was never hesitant to pull me away from more “classic” undergraduate duties, like dish washing, sit me down at a lab bench, and trust me to work on experiments I thought were far too important for my unexperienced hands. She has always been an advocate for me and is the primary reason that I not only was able to attend an international conference, but the reason I believed I belonged there. Without her faith in me and willingness to correct my mistakes as I learned everything hands-on, I would not be the scientist or person I am today. I cannot imagine who I would be without her mentorship and support, I truly believe I have her to thank for all of my successes as an undergraduate student researcher.

This transformation is significant and valuable to me because of how it relates to my personal and professional goals. Independence and willingness to work hard despite failure and adversity are qualities that I think would be valuable in a graduate school candidate and I believe this summer of research allowed me to be able refine and build those attributes. Additionally, the connections I was able to make at the research conference are ones that may still be in place even 20+ years from now; many researchers were talking to me about their own first conferences almost 20 years prior and how many of the connections they made back them were important to their science and career progress. Overall, this opportunity has been an instrumental and transformative part of my undergraduate career, and I feel very grateful to have been supported by the STEP Program.

Australia / New Zealand Adventure Leadership Experience

My STEP Signature experience was a remarkable, life-changing leadership opportunity over 21 days in Australia and New Zealand, which developed my curious and adventurous nature by providing individual and leadership growth. I spent this time learning about various leadership styles, leading adventures, and embracing the Pacific through a variety of unique activities including kayaking, hiking, skydiving, exploring, bungee jumping, white water rafting, horseback riding, mountain biking, and more.

During this adventure, a major transformation took place in me. When my parents dropped me off at the Outdoor Adventure Center on Friday, May 11th, I was very anxious. I didn’t know anyone in my group and I had no idea what was in store for me. I started the adventure very timidly, not knowing what to expect. When we boarded the plane the next morning, and traveled first to Dallas then halfway around the world to Australia, I was nervous and very quiet. By the end of the adventure, I realized how much I had grown on this experience, and felt much more outgoing. I had 21 new best friends that I had completely bonded with.

I have always been adventurous, but this trip tested my limits with new experiences and challenges every day. I never thought I’d eat a bug or bungee jump or hike 230+ stories up the ascent, but I learned that I’m braver and stronger than I realized. When the hikes got very challenging, I leaned on the encouragement from my new friends and pushed through, because I knew that we were all in it together. On the free days, I chose the most dangerous, daring, and thrilling options.

Much of my personal growth came from the many adventurous activities that were included in this experience. As soon as we arrived in Australia, we began our immersion into the Pacific culture. Each day, it seemed that the outings became more and more exciting. We started with snorkeling and scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, followed by white-water rafting, skydiving, interacting with crocodiles, kangaroos, and koala bears in an animal sanctuary, and stand-up paddleboarding. The most challenging day was fairly early in the trip when we hiked the Grand Canyon of Australia. This really stretched the limits of my physical and mental capacity, first trekking to the bottom, then climbing all the way back to the top. Many of us thought we couldn’t make it, but we persevered, which was really rewarding.

Throughout these experiences I had the opportunity to really get to know each of the 21 other students. With each new adventure, I was grouped with different people, giving me the opportunity to really appreciate our diversity. This was truly a life-changing experience since we were trying new things and stretching our limits, giving us the ability to really bond with one another. Being without internet for three weeks allowed me to become more focused, both on myself and on others, and to make deep connections without the many distractions that technology can provide.

After about 10 days in Australia, we flew to New Zealand where I had the opportunity to practice my team leadership skills as Leader of the Day for a river cruise. The leadership portion of this experience was well organized, giving each person on the trip the opportunity to practice, receive feedback, and develop their own personal leadership style. Prior to the trip, we were each tasked with researching 2 different leadership styles. By sharing what we had read about our assigned styles, we were able to quickly learn and understand many diverse approaches to leadership.

Most of our adventures in New Zealand included hiking, and gave us the opportunity not only to continue to stretch ourselves physically but also mentally as we took in the remarkable, unique landscape. In between hikes, we went horseback riding, bungee jumping, kayaking, mountain biking, and flew by helicopter to the Franz Josef Glacier. We also had an opportunity to observe kiwi birds in their natural habitat and feed eels. This outdoor adventure was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. My natural curiosity and quest for adventure was fulfilled over and over again.

Coming out of my shell and stretching my physical and mental limits are extremely significant for my life and career. The leadership skills that I learned, and the opportunity to experience physical challenges day after day have really prepared me for my senior year at Ohio State, during which I will participate in an investigative internship. In my career in criminology, my expanded curiosity, sense of adventure, and life experiences will be critical to my success. The opportunity to interact with a very diverse group of peers in such a variety of situations has really expanded my perspective and curiosity. Not only has this adventure enhanced my college experience, but it has been truly transformative, causing a marked change in my personality, confidence, and abilities. I am so very thankful for this STEP experience and especially for my new friends.

My STEP Signature Project was through the Outdoor Adventure Center at OSU and took 21 students, accompanied by 2 leaders, across the world to New Zealand and Australia. These beautiful destinations offered the 23 of us the most magnificent views and experiences, as well as the ability to step outside of our comfort zones as us strangers became like family in just three and a half short weeks.

This trip opened my eyes to more than I could have ever imagined. Going on a journey across the world with 22 strangers really forced me to put myself out there. I’m not usually in situations where I don’t know anyone around me- and although intimidating at first, I quickly found myself growing to be extremely comfortable with every single one of my travel companions. This trip was meant to teach us about leadership by assigning two new people to be leaders of the day each morning and by also pairing us up with another partner to research and present a leadership theory to the rest of the group. Through these experiences of not only being a leader but learning about various leadership styles, I felt that I really found out much more about the way that I lead as well as the way that my peers lead. It was really transformational to have the ability to lead a group of college students on our daily adventures through these amazing countries that none of us knew anything about. It required a great amount of collaborative skills, communication skills and organization skills in order to be an effective leader with your partner who you barely knew and to lead the group on a safe and fun-filled day. Through this leadership experience, I have learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to leadership- not even only from just being a leader myself, but from seeing and learning about how my friends led our group.
During my time abroad, I really found that I was the happiest version of myself. Our leaders Tyler and Morgan highly recommended that we didn’t use our phones while we were away, which at first really made me nervous. Although I will admit to using it here and there to check in with a few people back at home and let them know that I was alive, I found that without all of the social media and all of the involvement in the busy-ness of everyone else’s lives, I was truly able to focus on myself and my own happiness for one of the first times. Looking back, I can’t even think of a single time on my trip where I wasn’t happy or wasn’t enjoying myself. I truly think this was due to the removal of myself from society back at home. I have found upon my return to the States that I am a much more easygoing person and things that once bothered me, don’t anymore. I have finally realized, more than ever before, what it means to live in the current moment with the people around you and to not live for the people who see you on social media.

I owe absolutely everything good that came out of this trip to the people I was with. Every single person in my group truly impacted my experience and transformation that I had in Australia and New Zealand, making every single second of my time there as enjoyable as possible. I learned so much about each and every single one of my group-mates and formed the most incredible bonds that I know will last a lifetime. We have only been home for a month and already two reunions have happened. The fact that we got so close after only three and a half weeks and almost all of us being complete strangers is so incredible. I feel so lucky to have been a part of a group of people that were able to mesh so well together despite being 23 completely different individuals.
The adventures we experienced every single day allowed me to have a seriously enhanced appreciation for the world around me. I have never seen such beautiful places in my entire life, and I know that I will make it back to these places one day and experience it all over again. Being on long hikes, car rides, boat rides and everything in between made me talk to new people every single day and experience all that we were experiencing with a different person each time. This made the days and the views even better by having someone else’s perspective and feelings right there with me.
One of the most amazing things that brought us so close together were not necessarily the amazing activities that we did during the day, but our times together at night. A handful of times, we would have discussions at our evening meetings where everyone would share a little something about themselves; their aspirations, their fears, their dreams, their scars. Hearing people open up and talk about things that were really personal to them was truly amazing to see and made me realize how every single person has things that they are going through that are not necessarily visible from the surface. Personally, I have never opened up this much to a group of people that I barely knew, but the fact that I felt comfortable enough to do so made me realize how incredible the relationship we all had was, and how day by day, these countries were changing all of us in the best of ways.

This transformation truly will impact me for the rest of my life. I think that I have grown up a lot on this trip- I’ve learned how to live in the moment, how to socialize and form relationships with people who are completely different than me, how to appreciate all of the beautiful things this world has to offer, how to put my phone down, how to be a leader at all times and most of all, how to stop worrying about things out of my control and to just be myself.
These skills will be extremely beneficial to me in my life as I graduate college this year and take on the “real world” where I will constantly be working in teams with all different kinds of people and trying to be a leader whenever I can. Remembering and reflecting on this trip constantly will remind me to continue to work hard so I can afford to do more amazing things like this, hopefully with some of the same people. This whole experience was such a once in a lifetime experience and I truly miss it every single day and will be forever thankful I was selected to take part in it. I plan on traveling a lot more in the future, pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and taking risks by partaking in things that scare me.

OAC Australia and New Zealand Leadership Expedition

For my STEP Signature Project, I participated on the Outdoor Adventure Center’s Australia and New Zealand Leadership Expedition. Throughout this three-week long endeavor, we traveled throughout several destinations in both countries where we participated in a variety of activities ranging from snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef to sea kayaking on Lake Wanaka of New Zealand. The leadership element of this trip came not only in the mental and physical challenge inherent in this adventure, but also through our frequent discussion of leadership theories and expectation to be a “leader of the day” for a portion of the trip.

My personal expectations for myself were challenged through this experience in terms of my understanding of effective leadership and ability to push myself beyond my comfort zone. As mentioned above, each day our trip had “leaders of the day” or LODs that directed the days’ activities and made important decisions about the itinerary. After the day had concluded, we got feedback from the leaders from the OAC. I was selected to do this on two of the days of our trip and these were great learning experiences for me. I was able to gain confidence in my leadership skills through this experience and I was able to augment and practice the skills I had developed prior. I was also able to apply the leaders’ feedback from the first day so I could improve myself and the group on the following day. In addition to this, I learned the personal rewards of stepping out of my comfort zone in my perceived physical limits. This came in the form of new activities like challenging hikes, kayaking, and mountain biking, all of which I had no prior experience with. While skeptical before participating in these activities, my ability to try something new and succeed (to a degree) was pleasantly surprising to me and gave me a sense of newfound confidence in my abilities.

My view of the world and diversity has changed ever since this experience as well. Through the cultural immersion on this trip, I was able to find many differences and similarities between our culture and theirs. In addition to this, I was able to meet so many different people from so many different walks of life; this was not only limited to the natives of Australia and New Zealand but also includes other tourists from places like Germany and the UK who surprisingly shared many similarities with me and my peers on the trip. Through the variety of different activities we participated on, I was able to meet individuals who took a passion of theirs like rafting, skydiving, or kayaking and made a career out of it; this is something that I found to be very admirable and, therefore, encouraged me to follow my passions as well. There is so much we can learn from the laid-back, friendly lifestyle that Australians live or the sense of adventure that seemed to be inherent in most everyone I met in Queenstown, New Zealand. Meeting people with these different lifestyles and views of the world was truly eye opening and gave me a hunger to move outside of my comfort zone in truly getting to know people of different backgrounds and cultures than my own.

While our geographical location was truly breathtaking in most every way possible, I found that it was the people I shared these views with who made the experience truly memorable and transformative. As mentioned above, I embarked on this journey with twenty-one other Ohio State students and two leaders from the OAC, all of whom I did not know before embarking on this trip. While we had the opportunity to mingle and get to know each other during the pre-trip meetings, I was still extremely skeptical and uneasy about traveling with a group of practical strangers for 3 weeks. While I encountered my fair share of physical challenges in this experience, overcoming my anxiety and fear of denial so as to get to know 21 strangers was by far the most challenging mental aspect for me. I was urged to step out of my comfort zone from day one and I haven’t left since then! Although it initially seemed like a daunting and exhausting task, my group members made it easy to push myself in this way; they truly were and continue to be some of the most fun-loving, humorous, friendly, and accepting people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I have no doubt that stepping out of my comfort zone in this way allowed me to meet some life long friends. This encounter with getting to know a group of strangers also taught me a lot about diversity. I learned that, even when I don’t have a lot in common with someone (whether it be major, hobbies, likes/dislikes), that they can still prove to be a person well worth getting to know. There were several people in my group that I initially misperceived and judged to be incompatible with me and this initial judgement could not have been more incorrect.

As I spoke about earlier, my experience also brought me a greater understanding of the world and different paths people may take in it. I was able to learn these lessons about geographic and occupational diversity mostly through interactions with the natives of both countries. While on our adventures in Australia, I had the opportunity to speak with and learn from several of our guides in each respective activity. Some of these people included my skydiving tandem (no better way to get to know someone than to jump out of a plane with them), our whitewater rafting guide, and our surfing instructors in Sydney. While each of these people came with their own life stories, I was able to find one thing in common with all of them: they all embraced their passions and followed them despite obstacles in their paths. Every single one of these guides were so passionate about their work and it showed through their love for the job. While maybe not as monetarily rewarding or characteristic of what we are conditioned to see as “successful,” they were so rich in life and happiness that it was impossible not to idolize and envy them. This opened my eyes and showed me that, despite my previous belief that money and power were the best indicators of success in life, that the opportunity to wake up every day and follow your passions should be the end goal for all of us. Meeting these people challenged my previous beliefs in the world and helped me to focus more on holistic health and happiness.

While my interactions with my group members and the natives challenged me mentally, this experience brought physical challenge as well. This physical challenge transformed me by giving me confidence in my ability to address the unknown, although seemingly impossible at times. A lot of these physical challenges were mentally taxing in nature; while skydiving and bungee jumping took a great amount of physical skill (mostly from my instructors and tandem), pushing myself far beyond my threshold of comfort made them far more mental for me than physical. I was surprised by the mental strength it took on my behalf to “pull the trigger” for these activities; while challenging and transformative in this regard, it left me with the feeling that I could do quite anything after conquering those challenges. These were some of many instances where I was assured of my mental strength and capability to conquer the unknown. Additionally, I was physically challenged through the array of new activities we participated on during this adventure. While extremely fun and exciting, every day proved to be another physical challenge to overcome and another mountain to climb (sometimes literally). Whether it be through physically exerting hikes in and out of the Australian Grand Canyon, kayaking, or scuba diving, I was constantly learning new skills and pushing myself to use these to become proficient in the respective activity. Again, the fact that I was able to learn these new physical skills both safely and successfully assured me of the rewards of trying new things and expanding my horizons. Perhaps the most challenging of these activities was the afore mentioned hike in and out of the Australian Grand Canyon. While the hike down into the canyon was leisurely and full of beautiful views, the real challenge came when we started to make our ascension. After ascending stairs for nearly an hour, I was physically and mentally exhausted. It came to the point where every single step up was an accomplishment. I found that, even though physically exhausting, this hike was more of a mental game than anything; I found my strength to finish the hike through talking to myself and assuring myself of my ability to conquer what seemed impossible at the time. While challenging (and somewhat traumatizing) at the time, the feeling at the top of the canyon was more than worth the climb. I left that experience feeling as though I could take on any challenge, no matter how apparently impossible it may seem.

This experience has guided and will continue to guide my thoughts and actions regarding my view of the world and my place in it. This experience has taught me to give new relationships a chance, even when they don’t seem to be likely; this accepting and open attitude has helped me gain 21 new friends and will hopefully improve my relationships moving forward. I plan to keep an open attitude and stray away from premature judgement as I am pushed to form new relationships. I think my view of diversity has been completely flipped upside down from these encounters; I now see it not as something to simply be tolerant of, but instead a redeeming attribute that can only help me to become a little more understanding of the world and the choices people make. I know this understanding and appreciation for diversity will be key in my future career in medicine; this was one takeaway I expected and wrote about in my STEP proposal, but I definitely underestimated the effect it would have on my day to day life. In meeting and interacting with the guides I mentioned above, I have been inspired to listen to my passions more and focus on what will truly define happiness in my future. This experience has challenged my view of what I want in life and showed me there are different ways to be “successful” depending on the person you ask. This is a wake-up call I may have needed at this point in my life; all of my decisions up to this point as far as my future career have been dictated by my faulty view of success.  While I am very passionate about a career in medicine and helping others, this experience may attract me to a field or specialty of medicine that may not be the most financially rewarding, but lets me wake up every day knowing that I am doing what I love and am passionate about. This experience has allowed me to cut my previous associations between success and money. Finally, as discussed above, the physical challenges inherent in this trip assured to me that I am resilient and capable enough to step out of my comfort zone and succeed at activities and interactions that may be foreign to me. This newfound confidence is something I will take with me going forward so as to make the most out of every opportunity I’m given. This confidence in myself will not only pertain to my ability to take on new physical challenges; I will use it in personal interactions, explorations in my career, and as a call to bravery to take on situations that may be initially uncomfortable to me. Overall, this experience has challenged my view of the world and the role I play in it. Its forced me to reevaluate some initial biases and inclinations that I have developed in my life thus far. Its allowed me to embrace every opportunity with confidence and an attitude for adventure. I could not be more grateful for thenSTEP program in helping me to be transformed in these ways.