Leadership Development: A Summer with Kids

1. This summer, I had the opportunity to work full-time as an assistant teacher in a preschool for children, ages four and five, with disabilities. The summer program lasted for ten weeks and allowed me to work with the lead teacher to design and carry out activities, learning centers, and trips for the 20 children we were in charge of. We came up with ten different themes, and each week had its own theme that the activities and trips were centered around.

2. I have always had a passion for dedicating my time to helping others, especially those in dire need such as the homeless, sick, and dying. I have had the opportunity to volunteer in various homeless shelters in the Cleveland and Columbus area over the past several years and in hospitals and hospice facilities. However, my STEP signature project allowed me to step slightly outside of the healthcare setting and into a new environment with a lot more responsibilities than I had ever been used to. I was now in charge of 20 children with special needs with the help of just one other teacher. As cliche as it may sound, words can not even begin to describe how much this program allowed me to grow into an independent, confident, and responsible leader in just ten short weeks. I went into this position not knowing if I would be able to get anything out of it. Being responsible for so many children who all needed so much attention seemed like a task I was not ready to handle. I had no experience with this particular age group, and I felt overwhelmed and apprehensive. However, I quickly learned I just needed to have an open mind and let myself learn as each day went on. I learned skills such as patience, which is crucial for working with special needs children, especially at such a young age. Patience was always something I struggled with; being pre-med, I am used to a fast-paced and always moving lifestyle. My STEP experience allowed me to truly practice patience every single day, and now I am able to adjust my outlook on life and allow life to move at its own pace. A future in the healthcare field will require an immense amount of patience on a daily basis, and this experience helped me to practice this important virtue in a way I would have not typically thought would do so.

3. Throughout my STEP experience, there were a variety of events and interactions that took place that allowed me to grow as an independent leader. For example, I had the responsibility of leading daily activities for the group of children. I had no prior experience working with this young age group of children, and on top of that, I also did not have prior experience working with children with special learning needs, like ADHD, PTSD, and underdeveloped motor skills. Throughout the summer, I learned something new every day about these children and how they best learned. I was able to tailor an activity to each of their needs, so that they were able to participate in what was planned for the day. This made each child feel special and appreciated, which was a goal I had in mind throughout the summer and strived to accomplish each day.

Once a week, we took the group of children on a trip that went along with the “theme” of the week. For example, one week we went to the Great Lakes Science Center, a personal favorite of mine! The kids were able to participate in science experiments appropriate for their age, explore the center, visit the planetarium, and much more. I was beyond excited for this trip especially, being a science major. I was able to bring my passion for science to the trip and help engage the children in the activities they were participating in. The kids had the time of their lives, and we all were able to learn something new that day. I made sure to keep each child’s personal learning needs in mind throughout these trips, one of my responsibilities as a leader. Each child learned in a different way, and some needed more time and attention than others. While this made the summer slightly challenging because there was such a large number of children in the group and only two leaders, I truly do think it helped me rise above my comfort zone and put a large load of responsibility on me, helping me to grow into a more well-rounded leader.

Finally, the aspect that I admired the most about my STEP project was the interactions and relationships I made with not only the children I took care of all summer, but also their families. While the program only lasted a short 10 weeks, I built such strong relationships with the children and their families that I will be able to cherish even after the program ended. The families were so appreciative of my dedicated time and attention I put forth in order to help their children have a fun-filled, educational summer. The families of the children had to put a great deal of trust in me to have me spend 40 hours each week with their child, helping them to develop skills necessary to help them excel in life and in their education.

4. My STEP signature project has left me with memories and lessons I will never forget, no matter where life takes me. At first, I was skeptical when this opportunity came up. Being pre-med, I felt like I had to do something directly related to healthcare. However, at the same time, I realized that I wanted to do something out of my comfort zone that would allow me to strengthen my leadership skills, something that is absolutely critical in the healthcare field. I am so thankful that I chose this specific STEP project regarding leadership because I feel like I am capable of so much more and have grown into a stronger leader, even if the experience only lasted a short ten weeks. Before going into this summer, I was nervous about having to care for so many children and lead them through a new activity each day of the week. It was extremely challenging and frustrating at first. As the days went on, I dedicated my time to these children and built strong relationships with them and their families, so that I could better understand what was best for them, how they learned, and what their needs were. It got easier as time went on because I was able to form such strong bonds with them. I knew I loved working with kids for a while, but this experience definitely strengthened that passion for me. It takes a great deal of patience and passion to work with children, and I do believe I have that. The field of pediatrics is one that I have considered pursuing after attending medical school, and this STEP project was just another experience I now have that will allow me to get closer to obtaining that lifelong dream of mine.


Leadership Development: Chicago

For my STEP Signature Project, I went to Chicago, Illinois on a mission trip with Cru, an international college student organization. In the duration of my 10 weeks, I worked alongside my student and staff mentors to shape my character and develop leadership skills, and learned to discuss spiritual beliefs with people of various backgrounds at college campuses.

A night view of the city of Chicago.

While I was in Chicago for the STEP Signature Project, I learned how to be more social and comfortable around others, both with people on the mission trip and those who I met on college campuses. These conversations changed how I view others. Interactions with students on the mission trip helped me to understand various upbringings and life struggles that I would have not known otherwise and helped me to see how people have adapted or gotten out of situations. This made me realize that it is hard to understand people just by how they seem to be, but also easy to understand their background and thinking just by listening and asking question about them, and encouraged me to learn more about others. By talking to students at college campuses, my view of the world changed as I learned about how people of other cultures see how the world works and why they have faith in their beliefs. I realized that even between people of different beliefs, it is very possible for people to understand each other’s feelings and opinions. I pushed myself to learn more about different religions and beliefs in hope of understanding others better.

Multiple times over the summer, I went onto different college campuses around the city of Chicago to give students opportunities to discuss their spiritual beliefs. I had interesting, deep conversations about religion with a wide variety of students, including students who were Hindu, Muslim, atheist, and believers of other faiths. Having only thoroughly explored the Christian belief, I was enthralled to learn about other beliefs and how other people have embraced them as their own, in addition to seeing how others live out their beliefs as students and employees. Through these conversations, I was able to learn empathy toward others and understand the point of views of people from differing backgrounds.

One of the games used to encourage students to talk about their day and beliefs.

The project also helped me to become more social and comfortable around people I do not know. I did not know any of the students who I was going to spend the 10 weeks with. I also did not know any of the students that we approached on different college campuses. However, I gained the ability to step outside of my comfort zone to talk to the other members of the mission trip and get to learn more about them as various people came to talk to me and learn about me. Going onto college campuses and having conversations with strangers gave me practice to start conversations with new people. These chances I had to talk to peers I had not met yet let me become used to seeking ways to befriend new peers and have better, more in-depth discussions with people I have not met before.

While being in Chicago, my mentors and peers on the mission trip walked with me to develop an attitude of kindness. My mentors pointed out ways that I could be friendly to my roommates also on the mission trip such as asking about their day at work, and I started to find ways on my own to be kinder to them, such as washing their dishes and asking questions about their plans for the day. In addition, I helped to serve the community dinners served to all of the members of the mission trip. Helping with the dinners made me more conscious of how I interact with others, in addition to addressing details that people tend to forget, such as cleaning up after each meal. By being guided by my mentors and getting to serve dinners to others, I learned to become more humble and serve others better.

These changes that happened over the summer are critical in my life because the experiences helped me develop my leadership skills. For me, leadership skills indicate the ability to keep a goal in mind and make sure others understand their own role in reaching the goal. By talking to various people, I can understand diverse groups of people better. By learning about ways that I can show kindness to others, I can communicate my own desires and understand their desires. By becoming humble, I can understand that each role in a team requires different work, and administer the work fairly among different people. The STEP Signature Project gave me the chance to develop my leadership skills in a way that was unique to Chicago and this summer with different people that I met and learned to interact with.

My Summer at Stone Lab

Kenan Mathews



My STEP Project was serving as a student worker for The Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island in Lake Erie. My main tasks involved preparing food for the students and staff on the island, maintaining the island for visitors and guests, and working at the Aquatic Visitor’s Center (AVC) and helping children fish. I also had the opportunity to sit in on talks about the research that is done on Lake Erie and learn how much of an impact Stone Lab has on the lake.

The various tasks as a Student Assistant at Stone Lab definitely kept me on my toes and required me to adapt to the changes of the day. I also was able to learn more about the island, the laboratory, and the people that maintained it and worked there, even when classes were not in session. While working I took a five-week Animal Behavior class on the island. The course I took was a topic that I have been interested in for years and Stone Lab allowed me to have a hands on approach to concepts that were taught in class.

Being at Stone Lab taught me the importance of the laboratory itself and the research that goes on around Lake Erie. During my training for the AVC, I learned about the different types of fish that live around Lake Erie and had to know how to identify them if any of the children caught one. While learning about the fish I also learned about the invasive species in Lake Erie that were displacing the native fish. The talks given by researchers each week gave me a chance to see all the research that was going into removing the species and improving Ohio’s water quality.

Working also gave me the chance to operate some of the boats on the island in order to get from Gibraltar Island to Put-in Bay (PIB) depending on where I was working for the day. Even after being trained on how to properly operate the boats and dock them I was pretty nervous on driving one over to Put-in Bay, so I let the more experienced drivers take control for the most part while I sat back and watched what they did. Unfortunately, I only had one opportunity to watch before I was tasked with taking one of the managers over to PIB and after an interesting docking attempt, I don’t think he ever rode with me again. Sometimes I was pulled from a job that I was doing to complete another task that was more important for that day, which also required me to drive between the islands by myself and I had to get pretty good, in order to avoid crashing in Lake Erie. Although I’m clearly not ready for any sort of captain’s license, I am confident enough to operate an outboard boat at any time.

Taking Animal Behavior not only helped me get four credits of my major done, but it also gave me a better perspective into my field. For the past few years I have talked about how much I wanted to learn more about animal behavior and possible go on and pursue it as a career. For the class were required to spend ten hours observing an animal and then writing a research paper about a certain aspect of a behavior that was displayed. Gibraltar Island and Put-in Bay only really have a few species of birds, snakes, and fish, and after spending hours observing the foraging and eating behaviors or robins I can say that I still want to do research in animal behavior but not with any sort of bird. Working and classes helped me work on balancing my life as I had class from eight to four on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and worked Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for at least eight hours. I initially didn’t think I could take up the load of studying to pass my class, working every other day, and socializing with others at Stone Lab without being exhausted but by the second week I found a rhythm that carried me through the rest of my time there.

My experience as a student worker helped me personally with balancing the tasks in my life and learning that repetition helps build confidence, even if it means bumping the dock a little too hard the first couple times out. It also allowed me to work on soft skills as I interacted with guests who came to visit the AVC. Academically, not only did I knock a few credits out, but I learned so much more about the importance of Lake Erie to Ohio in terms of its economy and its water quality. Professionally, I was able to learn that while I do want to eventually go into research, I do not want to spend my time discussing fish or birds and would prefer exotic animal research instead.









One Heartland: Life-changing experiences for the kids who need it most

This past summer, I had the joy of working as a camp counselor at One Heartland in Willow River, Minnesota. One Heartland is a place where youth facing social isolation and/or health challenges can come together with others facing similar situations, and just be kids. One Heartland truly is a special place that I have come to love with all my heart. It is a place where campers and staff alike experience acceptance, love, laughter, pure happiness, sing silly songs, wear goofy costumes, and create life-long friendships. One Heartland’s motto is to “provide life-changing experiences to the kids who need it most,” but it was also a life-changing experience for me. Working at One Heartland was one of the best and most transformational experiences of my life.

During my time at One Heartland, I became more confident as a leader. I am now more comfortable in leadership roles and speaking in front of groups of people. My time at camp also allowed me to become more knowledgeable and have a better understanding of diversity. I am more likely to acknowledge and appreciate diversity and to advocate for diversity when needed. My experience also changed the way I view the world. I am more appreciative of life and the people around me, and I better understand the importance of verbally expressing that appreciation. Being at camp also gave me a better understanding of my career and life goals. I now have a clearer idea of my passions and purpose in life.

Being a camp counselor at One Heartland completely transformed my abilities as a leader. Every day at camp, I was expected to be responsible for a group of up to 8 children. I had to ensure that they were both physically and emotionally safe, and that they were having fun. It was a lot of responsibility and it took some time to get used to. I had to know where my campers were at all times and I had to make decisions about the safety and well-being of my campers very quickly. I was also responsible for leading a variety of different skills and activities each day. I had to plan the activity ahead of time, lead the activity, and manage camper behaviors during the activity. There were also times when I had to lead my coworkers when planning a program, delegating tasks and ensuring that they were done. These experiences leading both campers and my co-workers have made me much more confident in my leadership abilities. I feel more prepared to lead in any situation, now that I have had extensive experience. I have seen this change in my daily life as I am more comfortable when speaking in front of groups of people and sharing my ideas, such as when in class.

At camp, I experienced diversity on a level that I had never before encountered. I worked with populations of youth that I never expected to specifically work with. One Heartland offers camp sessions for youth facing social isolation and health challenges, such as those infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS, wanting to achieve a healthy lifestyle, living in transitional housing, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Working with these populations of youth was a great experience and gave me a better understanding of diversity. Interacting with the campers on such personal levels gave me an insight into what many members of their specific populations go through. It gave me a chance to understand their needs and their strengths, and it allowed me to challenge any preconceived notions or biases that I had before this summer. It was an experience that was really invaluable as a future social worker, and as a human being.

My time as a camp counselor changed the way I see the world in so many ways. Working with children and young people who had been through so much in their short lives was truly inspiring. I watched as children who had faced challenges that I can’t even begin to imagine let go of their struggles for the week they were at camp. They were able to look passed their challenges, come out of their shells, and have fun, which was an incredible process to witness. In addition, before every meal at camp, we had something called moment of appreciation, where cabins of campers and their counselors would stand up in front of the entire camp to say something that they appreciated. Throughout the summer I was able to hear children who had been through so much say something about their life that they appreciated. I heard so many say how appreciative they were for their families, friends, and life, and I heard camper after camper express how truly appreciative they were for camp, their fellow campers, and their counselors. Listening to the amount of appreciation that these kids and teens had was so inspiring and has made me much more appreciative of the things in my own life. Another way that camp changed my worldview is that it caused me to be more optimistic. My coworkers were sincerely the kindest, most caring people I have ever met in my life. They gave me so much support and fully accepted me for who I am. I have never felt more loved, accepted, and appreciated than when I was at camp. Being surrounded by these incredible people gave me hope, because I know that they are making just as much of an impact on others as they made on me. I believe the world would genuinely be a better place if everyone experienced the amount of kindness, love, and support that I experienced at camp.

Being a camp counselor at One Heartland also caused me to have a better understanding of my career goals and my passions. I have always known that I want to work with youth throughout my career, but my experiences at camp have cemented and narrowed that focus. I realized that I want to work with diverse populations of children who have experienced challenges, in a setting where they get to momentarily look passed their struggles, just like at camp. I want to help kids be kids and have fun and forget about the stress they normally face. Whether this means I end up back at camp or in a similar setting I’m not sure, but I have a clear picture of what I want to do.

These changes that my STEP project brought about will be very significant for my life. They will have a profound impact on my professional career as a social worker. My increased confidence and leadership abilities will allow me to stand out as a leader in my field and increase my ability to help clients create change in their lives. My appreciation for diversity and the challenging of my biases will help me to be a better social worker. I will be able to help more populations of people by acknowledging our differences and then working together to create change. My professional career will also be more directed in what I want to achieve now that my goals and passions have been made clear. My life itself will also benefit from the changes of my STEP project. I am now more optimistic, hopeful, and appreciative of life, all because of my experience as a camp counselor. One Heartland truly changed my life, and I am so happy and grateful that I could experience the magic of camp thanks to STEP.

Learning Leadership in the High Sierras

Connor Varney

A Leadership Enriching Experience

For approximately one month this summer, I embarked on an expedition to backpack through the High Sierra Mountains. With 13 other incredible people, half of whom were strangers to me before we left, I set out on a life changing experience. On our expedition we pushed our mental and physical limits. We did this by pushing over mountain passes in thin air at 12,000′ above sea level, and by pushing the comfort zones of ourselves and those we traveled with. For 189 miles we pushed.

I learned many things during this trip. About myself I learned how strong a positive and confident mental attitude can be, and the seemingly mountain-sized challenges one can overcome if they put their fullest efforts toward it. One of the most important lessons i took away from my trip was to make sure to enjoy every second, and every step that I can. Of the countless people our large group from Ohio passed along the way, they all were wonderfully happy to be alive. I tried to reflect that attitude as much as I could on the trail. No matter how sore my legs were, how heavy my pack felt that morning, or how many more miles it would be till I was able to take my boots off, I was happy to be alive and living out this incredible experience. At times I felt as if i was walking on another planet, past gargantuan granite mountains, and through fields flooded with seas of snow. So few people on earth will even get the opportunity to live the way my friends and I did, and see the sites we saw. Many times I entrusted my life to the decisions the other students on this trip made, but this is because this trip taught me how to trust people, and how much trust their decisions and actions will merit.

Backpacking is the perfect testament to how much one can go without. When you live off of whatever you can carry, and every pound matters, your life at home is put into perspective. This makes me think of how lucky and privileged I am to live in the comfortable manner I do in the front-country. Electricity, and the internet, and my warm bed are all things I love and take for granted most days. But I do know that I am more than capable of going without, and that can transfer over to many other things in life.

Out of the countless memories I made from this trip, one of the most memorable came early on. During an ascent of a pass, one of my good friends fell under an asthma attack. However, this asthma attack progresses into an altitude sickness. The two trip leaders and another great friend, who were all certified Wilderness First Responders, had to carry my sick friend down the mountain, to drastically reduce the elevation. Because they were only able to get so far down, and with not much success in reviving my friend out of the sickness, search and rescue was called in and an Evac-Helicopter was sent. During this time I was given the rest of the group to lead in the absence of the trip leaders. After watching my friend being carried down the mountain in order for her to stay alive, I had to keep my composure and help the rest of the rest of the group, of which there was little combined backpacking experience or traumatic experiences like the current one for that matter. I knew how important this trip was to my sick friend. Every day from then on I felt even luckier I was out there. At any time I caught myself in doubt of whether I could keep going I would think of my friend. After she was taken away by the helicopter. I inherited the bear-proof canister that she had in her back. This also taught me a valuable lesson, that no one wants to hear people complain about problems everyone has. At some point in any given day, everybody’s feet hurt, or their pack was heavy, sometimes because of a second bear canister, and there’s no use in complaining about it. That is the last thing that will help solve the issue.

Self preservation was very important on the trip. An everyday necessity was staying organized and on-top of what you needed and where you were. Once acclimated, I knew how to use everything we brought, where it was on my bag, were we were on an given day and how much further of a hike we had till the next camp. I think these priority and self-management skills were highly important and can be very beneficial is transferred to any daily life. Having a plan for the day and how to accomplish your goals is something I struggled with early on in my college career, and this trip did great things to help me improve these and how efficient I can be with my day. We had to be prepared for every eventuality. Whether that meant climbing up and traversing a snow-capped ridge line, knowing exactly where your rain gear was whenever nasty gray clouds would present themselves emerging over peaks ready to rain down on the trail, or even making sure you had enough water in order to make it to the next mountain lake or stream.

Completing the journey with other people was also transformational for me. Before this trip I was typically reserved in the amount of people I could actually trust, or even allow myself to get along with for that matter. Afterwards I know I gained many friends that I can trust, but I also learned how to open myself up when the situation calls for it, and how beneficial it can be. On top of taking care of yourself everyday, you had to look out for everyone else out there with you. Since we could only move as fast as the slowest hiker that day, it was very important to be open with everyone, and make sure that they were taking care of themselves. Or being aware when someone was having a tough time and offering them help. This can go far in building relationships, and can be a great key to forming new ones.

This trip will be and already has been a benefit to me in regard to my professional career here at Ohio State. I am currently employed at the Outdoor Adventure Center, and work as a climbing instructor and a trip leader. The backpacking trip was a great opportunity to get leadership skills and grow as a leader myself. Because of this trip and my performance, I had the privilege to take a group of incoming freshman along with another trip leader, on a Wilderness Welcome trip to backpack and rock climb in Colorado. I hope for all this leadership experience to positively reflect when it comes time to search for a career post graduation. The ability to lead and be a flexible leader, whether it be in the Backcountry or a research lab, can be a great foundation and stepping stone in a professional career. Hopefully this trip can reflect positively, along with a materials science degree, in my search for a career in outdoor gear development. I hope for this trip experience to give me greater knowledge on how to go on successful trips into the wilderness, and get a greater insight into the gear I use whether it’s backpacking, rock climbing, or skiing, and inspire me to make improvements to save lives and help adventurers to enjoy themselves even more. I have future goals to travel the world and see as much as I am able to, and this expedition greatly fortified my knowledge and confidence to set off into the unknown.


Leadership Training (LT)

Danielle LoPrinzi


For my STEP Signature Project I participated in an eight week long program in Columbus called Leadership Training (LT) and volunteered at the Columbus Speech and Hearing Center (CSHC). LT was about 15-20 hours per week and consisted of teachings, speakers, trainings, and meals. My volunteer work was about six hours each week, and I helped set up/clean up therapy sessions and engage with the clients. The primary objective of my project was to gain experience in leadership doing Leadership Training while seeking opportunities to practice my developing leadership skills while gaining experience in my field of interest.

I learned some very important lessons as a result of my Project. Leadership Training taught me the importance of being an open and vulnerable leader. I have grown in better knowing how to resolve conflict among other leaders and lead by example in this way. These concepts were outside of my comfort zone, but they contributed to a significant amount of personal growth. This summer gave me the chance to explore individual, group, and community values. I believe that I have increased my level of self-awareness and understanding of myself. I have learned how to better work effectively with others and exemplify teamwork. Through LT and the CSHC, I was able to use my leadership skills for the betterment of others. I have learned that I am capable of implementing the knowledge and skills that I have gained this summer into my future including my continuing education, career, family, friendships, and more. There are many things that I am passionate about, and I am confident that Leadership Training has equipped me to fulfill my aspirations in an effective way.

The summer was definitely a test of my independence and my character. This has undoubtedly been the busiest summer I have had but also one of the greatest. I was living away from home during the summer for the first time. I learned how to live with housemates and take care of things like grocery shopping, cooking, and paying rent. My Project taught me about the responsibilities that come with age and how to effectively manage them. Having a community to encourage me is something I found very helpful.

I have further recognized the world’s need for leaders. My completion of my leadership project can allow me to positively impact the community. I believe it will enable me to make an effective contribution to individuals and to The Ohio State University’s campus. Having participated in Leadership Training is beneficial for me both now and in the future in ways that are personally, socially, and intellectually challenging.

I was immersed in this Leadership Training community for many hours per week; the program was held all day each Sunday, as well as Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights. The LT sessions, workshops, retreats, meals, and the community contributed to my personal transformation. On Sundays, I spent the whole day with my team of 13 men and women who were all striving to grow in leadership and in relationships with one another. Along with learning and growing together, we cooked meals with one another and played games together. This program enabled me to experience and build new relationships. LT has allowed me to show leadership in my church, which is very important to me, as faith is a big part of what makes me who I am.

On Wednesday nights, I met with my women’s small group. This group was comprised of six members. We discussed our lives, goals, and transformation. The six of us encouraged one another and kept each other accountable. Halfway through the program, I went to the LT women’s retreat. At the retreat, we were taught how important it is to rest. It is so easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and determination to achieve our goals that we forget to take time for refreshment.

Throughout my project, I kept a journal. This was a helpful tool for me to use to take notes and reflect on my growth. I like having this journal to be able to look back on my notes and things I have learned this summer. It is encouraging to read through the ways I have seem development in so many areas of my life. Additionally, meeting consistently with a leadership mentor was beneficial for me to make sure that I was staying on track to achieve these intentions and goals that I had set for myself this summer.

Additionally, time spent gaining experience in my field of interest led to change and growth. This summer, I achieved my goal of gaining more experience in Speech-Language Pathology. I volunteered and observed at the Columbus Speech and Hearing Center. I was able to make connections while in Columbus which is important for my future career and aspirations.

The change and transformation that I have experienced this summer is valuable for my life. My personal growth and development is important and relates to my academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans. Contributing the quality of leadership to the world is so important. We need leaders throughout all areas of life. The world needs leaders to raise up even more leaders. My STEP Signature Project has helped me be who I want to be. After completing my undergraduate degree in Speech and Hearing Sciences, I will attend graduate school and earn a master’s degree. I am very passionate about my future career and ultimately becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP). I intend to be able to use my leadership skills and knowledge to fulfill the individual needs of people who seek out the services of an SLP. STEP has helped by giving me the confidence, patience, and leadership skills to accomplish these things.

I am confident that I will be able to use my skills to help patients to reach their own goals. It is so necessary to be a leader in this field of work. A speech pathologist provides services specific to individual needs of their patients. SLPs have to show a lot of initiative they need to be attentive and make therapy activities that best suit each individual client. SLPs evaluate speech, use many assessments, and treat clients. They have to come up with individualized plans to help patients reach their goals. Leadership is a very important characteristic that I will need as an SLP. Also, I am passionate about children and am excited about the possibility of working with them in my future career. Through LT and the CSHC, STEP has allowed me to develop leadership skills that I can use as I serve children in my future.


STEP Reflection Prompts

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

The High Sierra Leadership expedition was an intense, life changing, 23-day backpacking trip through the Sierra Nevada region of California. On the trip, we hiked through 190+ miles of the John Muir trail to see just a few of the incredible sights that nature has to offer, while learning outdoor resourcefulness and skills.

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

While completing my STEP project, I learned a lot about myself and the world around me. Being away from my friends, family, and many modern conveniences, I realized exactly what aspects of my life in the front country are important. For example, while technology such as cell phones are nice to have, they are often a distraction that stops you from living life to the fullest. Before this trip, I could spend hours doing nothing but scrolling through social media on my phone. Now, I feel that I can live without doing that, and have been making more time to do things that I love, rather than wasting time on things like Twitter and Instagram.
My view of the world has changed because I now have a greater appreciation for my body, my relationships, and the earth. Before this trip, I felt very self-conscious about the way I looked, thought, and acted. Now, after completing such a tremendous and strenuous task, I have the confidence to go about my daily life feeling good about myself. Not having contact with friends and family helped to show me just how much I care about the people I have in my life, so now I can truly appreciate the special moments I share with them. I have also become a vegetarian in an attempt to decrease waste and make a small change in my lifestyle to help protect our environment.

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?

One of the activities that led to my transformation was being leader of the day (LOD). As leader of the day, your responsibility is to get the group from point A to point B without any major issues. Before this trip, I did not have very many true leadership experiences, so I learned a lot in the three days I was leader. For me, one of the biggest struggles I had in this position was confidence. As someone who struggles to be confident in their daily life, it was hard to be put in a new situation with a lot of pressure and skills you are unfamiliar with. However, by my third day as LOD, I felt much more confident in my abilities. I believe that this experience has transferred over into my personal life in the way that I now have a greater sense of drive to be a great leader, and the tools to accomplish that.
This trip was also very physically difficult for me. Walking an average of 12 miles a day uphill with a 30+ backpack was hard, but seeing and feeling the reward of a hard work out has made me want to push myself even harder. I am now training for a half marathon to keep myself in shape.
Through all the hardships I experienced on this trip, I also experienced a lot of beautiful moments. Seeing the sunrise from the top of Mount Whitney, the flowing rivers, towering trees, and colorful wildflowers was worth the long, hard days on the trail. The moments these sights created have made me want to do better to help our planet heal from the pollution and mistreatment it has suffered at the hands of humans. Thus, I have become a lot more aware of the ways I contribute to waste and pollution, and have also committed to a vegetarian life style.

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 trip took every once of will I had in me not to give up, and forced me to push on, mentally, physically, and emotionally. However, everything it took out of me, it gave back tenfold in the beauty of the outdoors, the friendships I made, and the strength I found within myself. Taking away the things that made my daily life comfortable made me a stronger, more independent person, as I now know that I can survive on my own without the crutches I used to use everyday. I feel that I am more confident, and am living a life that is less focused on distractions, and more focused on bettering myself, the people and things I care about, and my environment. I will take this confidence and the leadership skills I have gained with me as I go into the field of special education.
This trip has shown me how to motivate myself and others to do the things that may not always be easy. In special education, the obstacles presented to a student may seem as hard as climbing a mountain. But, with the right amount of perseverance, motivation, patience and effort, you can overcome any obstacle. I will take this lesson with me as I go on to my teaching career, and use it in my personal and academic life as well. I believe it will help me to be the best teacher, friend, student, and person I can be.

STEP Reflection: Colorado Leadership Training

For my STEP signature project, I chose to attend a leadership training (LT) program in Winter Park, Colorado through H2O, my church on campus. At LT, we learned how to be leaders both within the church community and outside of it. We also worked 40 hours a week at the local YMCA.
The main thing that impacted me this summer was living in the Rocky Mountains. I learned to love and experience nature like I never have before. I learned that I could push through a 14 mile hike up one of the most dangerous peaks in Colorado and come out the other side. This, combined with the leadership training that I received through the LT program, has transformed me into someone who knows that she can persevere through anything life throws at her. This summer also taught me a lot about adapting to tough situations, like the 9,000 feet of elevation that made it hard to breath and the sometimes overwhelmingly challenging aspects of the LT program.
Towards the end of LT, my friends and I decided that we wanted to hike Long’s Peak, a mountain that has a 47% rate of summitting. Long’s Peak is one of Colorado’s many 14ers, or mountains that are higher than 14,000 feet in elevation at their summit. We hit the trail on a Sunday, at one o’clock in the morning. It was a very strenuous hike with lots of scrambling up steep, slippery rock, but after about eight hours, we made it. Coming down the mountain was equally hard, made worse by the fact that we were hurrying to beat the thunderstorm. My legs were so tired that I could barely pick my feet up. Eventually, after 14 hours, we made it back to our cars. This experience taught me that I can do things that I never thought possible. It also taught me that I have a great group of friends and a God that I can rely on in difficult situations.
The LT program consisted of a worship service on Mondays, a workshops on Wednesdays and Fridays, and a whole day devoted to God with my team. On top of that, we worked 40 hours a week at the YMCA. This schedule was a bit overwhelming to me. It also meant that a lot of the time, I had to choose investing in my spiritual health and my relationship with God over going hiking or camping. This showed me that life is really about balance.
My job at the YMCA also helped transform me. I worked at the front desk of the Programs’ department, where I signed people up for activities. I went into this job with no secretarial experience at all. Now, I can say that I am so much better at customer service, clerical duties, and problem solving.
All of these experiences are valuable to me. Summitting Long’s Peak is something that I will never forget, and all of the hours that I spent hiking this summer have shown me that hiking is a new hobby that I never want to give up. It is amazing stress relief and excellent physical exercise. The hours I invested into LT activities like team days pushed me to become a better follower of God. That is invaluable for my spiritual health. It is also something that I can share with others at my church and at Ohio State. Lastly, my job at the YMCA this summer has been excellent for my professional development skills. All of these things together make up a pretty great summer, and they will have a lasting impact on my personal, spiritual, and professional health for years to come.

STEP Reflection: High Sierra Expedition

Gagan “Sky” Mandava


My STEP project entailed of a very difficult backpacking trip through the High Sierra Mountains in California. All 14 people needed to hike on average about 13 miles a day with heavy packs. Through the great deal of physical, emotional, and mental stress, the trip was one of the most influential experiences of my life.

This trip changed my understanding of many different aspects of my life. For example, I learned that I am generally a more reserved and introverted person and that was perfectly acceptable in society. I realized this after we played a personality trait game and, at the end, I was labeled as a “Relationship Master”. This personality trait was the opposite of a “Driver”, which I used to think was the only successful personality you could have. Once you go out to the backcountry for 3 weeks straight and have to trek through many dangerous situations, you realize that your personality does not matter in the grand scale of things. The only thing that does matter is that you are human and you are alive. You’re personality defines you and differentiates you from other human beings, but there is no such thing as a “bad” personality as long as you have good intentions.

There are many events and relationships I’ve made on this trip that helped me be more comfortable with who I am. From the 14 people on the trip, there was a wide variety of relationships to make. Some of the relationships I’ve made on this trip were some of the deepest relationships I have ever made with anyone. These relationships were forged through the intense physical and mental stress of the entire trip. After the trip, I flew out of California with the strongest bonds anyone could have with someone they met a month ago. Of course, I did not get along perfectly with EVERYONE, but that definitely taught me how to communicate and work with people that have different views and opinions than you do.

The only human interactions I had on the trip were not just with my group. The trail that we traveled was one of the most popular hiking trails in the United States. This meant that we met a lot of different people from all around the world on the trail. There were all different types of people: young and old, male and female, experienced and first-timers, and etc. These interactions with this diverse group of people definitely made me realize that no matter who you are, if you put your mind to a goal, you can achieve it.

Beyond the human interactions, nature was probably the biggest cause of my personal transformation. Everyday there was a new extremely beautiful view to be seen. These views were the type of pictures you see in motivational posters. But it was one thing to see it on a 2d poster, and a completely different life-changing experience to see it in real life. You can see all of the little intricacies and how each little plant and animal moves throughout the scene. It was truly one of the most beautiful events that I have ever experienced, and I was extremely proud of myself for pushing my body and mind to the extremes just to get myself to that situation. I would sit and watch this beauty take place and think about how I was seeing things that less than a 100,000th of the worlds population will ever see in real life. This made me realize that, if I put my mind to it and push myself, I can accomplish anything.

Another event that helped me grow as a person was the day that I was the leader-of-the-day. This entailed of leading the group through the trail, delegating jobs, and keeping up the group morale. Even though this was one of the most stressful days of the trip, I learned that keeping a positive attitude and having the right knowledge was extremely important in order to be a good leader.

This trip has absolutely enriched my personal life. It made me feel more confident in myself. It taught me how to be a good leader, on top of the many wilderness-related technical skills. I plan on using these leadership skills to take control of my academic goals and my professional goals. I will also use the technical skills to go out to do more outdoor activities, which will definitely increase my physical and mental wellness.

My Time in the Mountains: High Sierra Leadership Expedition

For my STEP signature project, I embarked on a 23-day, 190 mile backpacking expedition on the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trail traversing the wilderness of Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. The trip concluded by summiting Mt. Whitney- the highest point of elevation in the lower 48 states. During the expedition, each member of the group got the chance to serve as leader of the day to essentially develop and refine their leadership capabilities. Additionally, each member was tasked to research and teach a leadership theory to the group throughout the expedition, as well as topics relating to the outdoors and backpacking.

Photo credits: Julia Mattis

Taken at McClure Meadow

Before this trip, I had no experience backpacking whatsoever, let alone backpacking on one of the most challenging trails in the country. I wanted to really push myself in ways I never had before, and go outside of my comfort zone. While this trip has been going on for three years, this year’s expedition was unique in that the Sierras got record amounts of snow. This meant the landscape was going to be much different than years prior and there would be some added risk as well. When the trip began, the altitude and terrain was a lot to get acquainted with. Some of the trail was cutoff due to rivers being too hazardous to cross and we had to make many detours by venturing off the trail at times. These unanticipated obstacles required me to really motivate myself as well as other members of the group who were struggling. Even though the trail presented its fair share of challenges, it didn’t take away from the beauty of the mountains and the astounding atmosphere that surrounded us. I found that as the trip went on, I discovered a new fire within myself to do whatever I set my mind to. I realized that the biggest thing holding me back in certain situations was myself and the skewed mentality that I was too weak or not up for the challenge.

In addition, I also discovered a newfound appreciation towards the power of leadership and how different people or situations can have a profound effect on it. Having some prior leadership experience, I went into the my first role as leader of the day very confident and ready for the challenges ahead. However, the day was extremely difficult and I found it hard to keep up my overall morale let alone the morale of the group. I found this made me become somewhat nonassertive and lose a bit of my previous confidence. At the end of the day, I was able to receive valuable feedback from my fellow group members and thus take their advice and apply it to when I would be leader of the day again. I realized that leadership is a skill that can be constantly refined and that no one can achieve a perfect leadership style. Being in such a challenging environment, my previous idea of leadership made a total about face; however, I feel significantly more prepared and confident in my leadership skills moving forward.

The group prior to summiting Goodale Pass

When on such a demanding trip, I quickly learned the importance of meaningful social interactions between other members of the group. In the end, we all went through the same thing, and while we may have experienced it differently, we deeply depended on one another for help when the time came. There was one day during the trip where I hit a low point physically. I developed painful blisters on the backs of my heels and found it extremely difficult to maintain an efficient pace. This day was particularly difficult as well due to the fact that we were crossing a mountain pass through many miles of snow. There were various moments where I felt like giving up due to the pain that encompassed each step; however, with the ongoing and powerful motivation of my group I was able to persevere and reach the top of the pass. After this difficult day I was able to reflect and take away that if it weren’t for the ongoing support and encouragement of the group, I would’ve had a much harder time completing the mission. Overall, I discovered that my sense of self-motivation has the ability to be strengthened through the encouragement and support of others.

Throughout the expedition, each group member was assigned to teach a leadership theory, that is, an idea of how good and effective leadership can be attained. Out of all the theories that were taught, I uncovered that my leadership style most aligned the the Servant-Leadership theory. This theory emphasizes the importance of the leader-follower relationship by encouraging the leader to have a great deal of empathy and put the needs of others first and help people develop and perform as highly as possible. During my time as leader of the day toward the end of the trip, I found myself constantly seeking out the input of my team; asking them how they felt about certain aspects of the day and what plan(s) seemed most appealing and plausible to them. I also made a strong effort to constantly check in on people to see how they were feeling physically and mentally and make accommodations if necessary. By learning about all the leadership theories and selecting one that I most identified with, I was able to enhance and refine my skills as a leader as well as widen my breadth of knowledge of different ways to be a successful one.

Aside from learning various technical skills, I discovered a large amount of information about myself during my time in the mountains. By successfully going through such a demanding trip that required physical, mental, and emotional strength, I realized that I have more capabilities than I ever imagined. I am capable of walking through miles of snow, up mountain passes, and through forceful rivers. I can now get through arduous moments by adapting a positive attitude and outlook, and I can more effectively recognize my emotions and the emotions of others and process them accordingly. These skills will undoubtably have a valuable impact on my life moving forward. By discovering these qualities, I feel I can walk through my life with a higher sense of confidence and adapt a level head during hard times or situations. Next time I have a big paper to write or an important exam or interview, I will remember what I did in the mountains and how I was able to rise above the obstacles and step up to the challenge. With this confidence, I feel more motivated to go after my goals and achieve success.