My STEP Leadership project was a 5-week trip to Ohio State’s field lab on Gibraltar Island in Put-in-Bay, Ohio (Lake Erie). I was enrolled in two, 4-credit-hour courses, Evolution and Ecology, and had class 6 days a week for 8 hours every day (crazy, I know)! There were field trips just about every day which included banding Ohio birds (mark and recapture) and spending hours on field boats.
My main objective of this trip was to work on overcoming the severe social anxiety that has affected me all of my life. Being on a 6-acre island for 5-weeks and living in such close proximity to the same 60 people really forced me to reach out. I went into the first night on the island looking to make as many friends as possible. It was rough at first and being surrounded by people that I didn’t know was definitely stressful, but it helped me grow so so much. I ended up making some of my best friends there, people I hadn’t known 5-weeks prior were now people that I could see being friends with for the rest of my life.
Much of the time spent together was while we were traveling to the different islands around the Western Basin area of Lake Erie. We spent hours on the field boats talking about where we were from, what our future plans were, and why we decided to come to Stone Lab in the first place. These talks allowed me to work on not freaking out in new social situations (which I do pretty often).
Being on such a small island meant that the class sizes were much smaller than those on main campus which was awesome! My Evolution class was 10 people and my Ecology class was 15, much smaller sizes than what you find back in Columbus. These smaller class sizes allowed me to step out of my comfort zone (see what I did there…) and I gained the confidence to ask questions and actively engage in my own learning. I took charge in class discussions and I wasn’t afraid of being wrong anymore because that just meant there was an opportunity to learn.
During much of our time in my Evolution class, we caught and banded birds for mark and recapture studies. We would go to the different islands and set up the pricey bird nets in shaded areas over about a 100-yard area. They consisted of rebar that was pounded into the ground and poles were extended about 15 feet high. We would then stretch bird nets across them and wait… sometimes for hours. The first time we caught a bird, it was magical. I had never been that close to an alive, wild bird. It seems like nothing to get too excited about, but we may very well have been the first people that bird had ever been handled by. Our professor showed us the traditional “banding hold” and when I held my first bird, I realized that I had made the best decision for myself to come to the island. I now know more about birds than I had ever imagined knowing, and I’m not upset about it.
During my stay on the island, I was surrounded by very intelligent people. We all spent hours talking over a bonfire about our research or our favorite bird catch of the day (nerdy, I know). These moments I will cherish forever and have truly transformed me and given me more confidence in myself socially and intellectually than ever before.
This newfound confidence will follow me throughout the rest of my life. Whether it be me staying calm in a new social setting with friends, or even staying relaxed on the first day of classes each semester with new classmates. The realization that I had the ability to take charge of a classroom discussion has given me the confidence needed to be a leader in other academic situations whether it be undergrad, medical school, or in the working world.