Australia/New Zealand Leadership Adventure


My STEP signature project consisted of 21 days in New Zealand and Australia. We kayaked, snorkeled, whitewater rafted, surfed, and hiked through the most beautiful places. We cruised through the fiords in New Zealand, visited the Franz Josef Glacier, saw the Sydney Opera House, and walked famous Australian beaches.  Throughout the trip our team discussed various leadership theories. In addition to this we each had 2 days where we were designated leaders of the day and were put in charge of making decisions for the group as well as making sure the group knew what was going on at all times.

I learned a lot about myself and how I like to lead. I am a quiet person, but this trip showed me that I can still be a leader and have my peers respect and listen to me even though I am not the loudest person in the room. I learned about the fact that leadership looks different to different people. I became more comfortable speaking in front of the group of 23 and made my voice heard when I had an opinion or suggestion on what could make the day better for the group. I have always valued leadership experience and this trip was a great way to gain more experience with a group of individuals who I had gotten to know quite well.

In addition to teaching me about being a leader, this trip changed my view of the world. Prior to this trip I had only been out of the country once. I was nervous to be going so far away from home, but I found myself amazed by the beauty of these two amazing countries. The culture in these countries was not strikingly different than that of the US but the landscapes were the most amazing views I have ever seen. This really made me gain a new respect for the environment and definitely made me value sustainability more.

Being able to lead a group of people that I trusted and who I knew well really helped me open up and be heard. The first time I was leader, toward the beginning of the tip, I didn’t want to say much because I was still nervous about what these people would think about me but after spending more time with them I was able to be louder on my second day as leader. The positive feedback I received about my leadership showed me that I am a decent leader and I think that the next time I lead a group of people I will know that it is okay to speak up and be heard because I now know how to lead in a better, more productive way. The next time I am in a situation where I am placed as the leader, I will be quicker to believe in myself and my decisions.

Seeing a glacier for the first time and hearing stories of how much larger it used to be, being in a totally remote place and not being able to hear the birds that once inhabited the area were two events that made me realize that we need to change if we want to preserve the beauty that we have on this planet. Since being back I have thought a lot about recycling and reducing the waste that I make, and I think the little changes I have begun to make will stick with me for a while and that will provide some benefit.

Every aspect of this trip changed me in some way, it is hard to pinpoint specific examples because even minor details of the day impacted how I see the world and how I believe others see me. It was amazing to see the sights of these countries, but it was also amazing to get to know a small group of people who were strangers before the trip. This helped me be more open with people which is a change I believe I needed to make. I was nervous to be on the other side of the world with people that I did not know but that added so much to the trip.

I have always had a desire to see the world, but I never thought it would impact my views on sustainability the way it did. In addition, I have always like to be around people but generally get nervous meeting new people. I was worried that my anxiety around meeting new people would hinder my enjoyment of the countries, but it did not. I was also concerned that I would struggle as a leader, but, in my opinion, my leadership improved as a result of this trip. All three of these things are impacting my life and will continue to do so forever. I am happy that this trip changed me in three totally separate ways. I think that getting out of my shell and learning how to be a better leader are things that will help me in my life in general but also in my future career. I think that seeing the world and gaining a deeper appreciation for it will impact my future learning as I hope to learn more about what we can be doing to help our planet as well as impacting how I live my life on a day to day basis.



2018 Summer Leadership: Aus/NZ

Alexandria Alpy



My project was a 20-day Leadership abroad in Australia and New Zealand. The project consisted of daily excursions that were both physically and mentally challenging in addition to having rotating student-leaders.


This project was personally challenging because on the second day abroad I twisted my ankle while hiking with the group, thereby impeding my physical ability to participate in a lot of the activities throughout this trip. Additionally, this trip was mentally challenging by being away from home for so long in addition to being unable to contact anyone and having to interact with a total group of strangers. There were very few moments that anyone had personal time, which was a blessing in disguise in retrospect but a challenge during the trip. Initially, we were forced to be with 21 strangers, but by the end of the trip everyone gained 21 mates.


After I twisted my ankle I needed personal time to physically and mentally recover. I was so upset because I thought that the rest of the trip would be a struggle, since most of the activities were intense hiking excursions. The people in charge of the trip did not seem to understand the amount of pain I was in and berated me for being unable to walk to meet up for dinner the night I rolled my ankle. Because of this event I thought I was going to be alone for the rest of the trip, but the other students on the trip stepped up and all offered a helping hand and verbal support to me despite not fully knowing one another. I went into this trip thinking that a lot of our interactions were going to be superficial because we most likely will not run into one another after these next 20 days but I was quickly mistaken. Twisting my ankle catalyzed the realization that there are people that will truly care for one another and continue to care despite having one bad day.


Furthermore, I was nervous about living with 14 other girls because I have never had a good roommate experience. I was nervous that I could not get along with other girls, especially for so long, but I was happily surprised that a handful of girls had similar thoughts and characteristics as myself. For example, I personally prefer to go to bed early in order to be able to wake up the next morning to be physically energized for the day’s activities. I assumed I would be alone at night because many people liked to go out after dinner to socialize but some girls shared my preference to stay in. Sharing these moments made me realize that I make choices every day about how I choose to socialize. Though I have never enjoyed being out late at night or drinking alcohol, people generally seem to quickly assume that I prefer to be alone but the reality is that I prefer to socialize in a different context. I never felt isolated on this trip and I always felt supported.


What changed is how I think of socializing with others. I think I have had trouble in the past finding my place at Ohio State because I was trying to find friends in the wrong places. Most undergraduates at Ohio State are heavily involved in Greek life or drinking-to-have-a-good-time and I always thought that if I don’t share that same interest then I will have a difficult time finding myself at University. Through this trip, I realized that there is nothing wrong with how I prefer to connect with people and I’m not the only person at Ohio State that cringes at binge-drinking and going out to the bar scene on weekends. I used to feel hopeless about connecting with people because I believed that I was meant to be alone, despite the importance of connecting with one another in life. This trip showed me that connecting with people is an active process not a flawless and charismatic characteristic. During our trip, the student leaders of the day would always ask the group individually how we are holding up throughout the day, communicate information effectively with the group and between one another, and prioritize group morale. We ended every night with ‘shout outs,’ complimenting people on something they did today even if we had a rough day, which ultimately generated a really good environment within our group.  Professionally, I aim to be a Principal Investigator leading a neuro immuno endocrinology lab. To be a good P.I. one needs to be able to effectively and efficiently communicate with his/her team in order to achieve the common goal of rapidly publishing accurate information. I hope to not only apply the leadership strategies of communication and connection to all relationships in my life, but also apply these strategies to my future professional career.


STEP Reflection- Leadership

Name: Maddie Ricard


Type of Project: Leadership


  1. My STEP Signature Project consisted of attending a week-long conference in Boston called Leadershape in which I learned about my personal leadership abilities, strengths and weaknesses, as well as how to better interact with those around me and listen to their opinions. A large component of this week was learning how to lead with intergrity and how to become the type of leader and person you strive to be. We also focused on having each person finding their vision for the type of life they want to lead and how to make it happen.


  1. I think that a lot changed in the way I think about myself and the world while completing my project. First of all, I noted after Day 1, that after hearing the stories of other members of my small group, that everyone has their own challenges and histories that you would never know about they told you. This was a big reminder to me to not be quick to judge someone for being annoying or different and that everyone has their own story, so it is important to be patient and respectful to everyone I encounter. I also noticed how I have different styles of leadership in different settings and that sometimes it is just as important for me to sit back and listen as it is to take charge and speak up.

My desire to become a physician increased while I reflected on my passions and desires at Leadershape. I realized that I was passionate about helping those that are disadvantaged and being of service to people by providing them with proper healthcare. I became more confident in my career path and more motivated to participate in activities that would get me to medical school, as well as ones that would help me as a future physician.


  1. The key aspects of my experiences occurred during small group time, personal reflection time, as well as during one-on-one conversations with other Leadershape attendees. During small group time, we would have discussions, often with conflicting points of view, so it was interesting for me to take a step back and really think about how I wanted to present myself and my ideas. I noticed over the course of the week that I was able to gauge the feel of the group and speak up when I could contribute and not talk simply for the sake of talking. I realized that sometimes I may be timid about my sharing my thoughts, especially if they may be unpopular with some, but my ideas are important and even helpful so are worth bringing up.

During personal reflection time, I noticed how being quiet and pensive was helpful to me for making decisions. I enjoy writing down my thoughts and for having time to assess my strengths and my goals. This reflection time taught me about what kind of person and leader I wanted to be in my classes, organizations, and daily life. I took note of difficulties I was facing, my hopes for my future, and concrete ways to get there. I believe this type of reflection has helped me tremendously since attending Leadershape to try to focus in on achieving my goals and keeping my priorities straight. I have become much more thoughtful and decisive about the extra activities I have added to my schedule since the conference such as doing clinical research and working at an Autism Learning Center in order to best prepare myself for getting into medical school.

The last evening of the conference, we met with our small groups and had a conversation with each member including constructive criticism and general comments about talking and growing together for a week. I was affirmed by many of my small group members in my ability to add meaningful points to discussions, something I was focusing on that week, and that I try to continue to uphold in all group settings. A few group members even mentioned that they thought I should speak up more, so I realized that sometimes I need to be courageous in speaking up when necessary. As I had discussed my desires to become a doctor as my ultimate vision with my group members throughout the week, it was very moving for me when some of them told me they thought I would make a great doctor. This was one of the first times I had received the support and affirmation from people I had just met about becoming a doctor and still means a lot and is inspiring to me.

Although my passion project is not supported by STEP funds, I still chose to stay in Columbus the summer after my junior year in order to continue with my research and volunteering, as well as start a job at an Autism Learning Center. While I am currently in the midst of completing this aspect of my project, Ihave been inspired by my time at Leadershape in order to take part in all of these tasks. By working for the Autism Learning Center, I am getting one-on-one experience working with autistic children and building the types of relationships that I will one day build with my patients. I will also apply some of my leadership skills in deciding the best way to lead the students through relationship building, not by being controlling. By continuing with the research that I started after attending Leadershape, I am able to not only best prepare myself for the clinical aspects of being a doctor, but also take more leadership roles within the lab by staying over the summer and obtaining more responsibilities and duties.


  1. As I have mentioned throughout this reflection, I have gained many personal insights about myself and leadership style that applies to my job, activities, and ultimately, journey to becoming a physician because of my project. The skills I learned and reflected on at the conference have been useful and make me a better member of the groups I am in and will one day help to influence the way I work with colleagues and talk to patients. I decided that for my passion project I wanted to participate in activities that would best prepare me for getting into medical school, which is why staying in Columbus this summer to take on leadership roles in my research and work with students with autism would be the most transformative and meaningful experiences. I am grateful for the self-reflection, realizations of leadership styles, motivation for achieving my goal of medicine, and opportunities to achieve my dreams that I have received from this project and how they will all help me on my way to becoming a doctor.








Australia/New Zealand STEP Leadership Project Reflection

Shane Riddle

Leadership Project


  1. This project consisted of a 21 day, once in a lifetime adventuring trip across Australia and New Zealand during which each participant had to perform a leadership role at least every other day. These varied from leading and navigating the hikes to cooking meals for the group and everything in between. The activities included lots of hiking, sky diving, surfing, kayaking, bungee jumping, jet boating, swimming in the great barrier reef, and exploring the cities.


  1. My understanding of myself changed the most. The physical and situational environments I was in were very new to me and forced me to grow as a person. For as long as I can remember I have never been in such a carefree position. It was sensationally liberating and my mental health improved drastically. I came back a much more positive and thoughtful person probably because I was able to take some time and introspect for once. I learned how to let go a little bit and not feel the burning need to micromanage, an improvement to my leadership abilities which is what the STEP side of this project was all about. And I learned that it’s beneficial to take a break from the hyperconnected society we have built around the internet in favor of making real connections with people.


My view of the world also changed quite a bit. I had only recently become interested in travelling and was hoping this trip would be able to confirm whether I actually enjoyed it or not. It’s funny because it not only reinforced that suspicion but it instilled a burning desire to explore the world more. All I can think about since I got back is where I should go next. All the activities we did there, the people we met, the sights we saw, all of it was invigorating and I just want to experience it again and again.


  1. A lot of this growth came about through the activities and interactions I had with my fellow project participants. We were without internet for 3 weeks which meant I had no easy escape from socializing. This forced me to get to know these new people I was travelling with which helped me evaluate and improve the way I interact with others. That was especially cool because I came into the trip not knowing a single person but I left having made a connection with every single one of them, something I didn’t think would happen in such a short period of time. I’m very grateful for this since it was really the people that made this trip so spectacular. We also had random reflection moments where we would take 10 minutes alone on a hike or the beach or something to think about what we were doing there and how we were using this trip to become better people.

On the leadership side of things, we were given assignments every other day that ranged from preparing the meals, to leading hikes and activities. At the end of the day we were given an evaluation of how we did. It was interesting to see the improvements that were made to our leadership skills over such a short time. The feedback was immensely helpful and the fact that we got to do multiple rounds meant we could focus on getting better and then see if we had succeeded. It was a unique experience because we got to learn by performing rather than just watching or listening. And since we were trading off roles, the days we had off we had no responsibilities and could enjoy being on such an amazing trip without any kind of stress or deadline looming over our heads. It was a much needed break from the real world and gave me a better attitude for approaching life.


Regarding the change in my view of the world, it was definitely the result of all the cool stuff we saw/ did and the people we interacted with. We swam in the great barrier reef, hiked through rainforests and canyons and over mountains, kayaked in mountain ringed lakes, explored cities and did some extreme sports (skydiving, bungee jumping, jet boating, etc.). It was incredible to have so many new experiences and to see such pristine wilderness that some other countries have preserved so much better than ours has. My appreciation for Australia and New Zealand has increased ten-fold and that desire to see more is what has brought about my elevated interest in travel. It was really cool that there was nothing but encouragement from the people I met too. No one said anything like, “oh that looks scary, you shouldn’t do it,” they all said, “that looks exciting, you should go for it!” This is exactly why I found the courage to do so many cool things I thought I’d never do and it is something I will be forever grateful for.


  1. These changes I have undergone are all very important to me. As a student and soon to be graduate, I have learned new techniques for leadership that will be applicable in my studies and future career. As an individual I have learned how to be more positive and encouraging, as well as how to best interact with others. This has already been a tremendous help as I can see my relationships with people here improving every day since I got back. In terms of future plans, this trip has opened my eyes to so many possibilities. I actually made a list of things on the trip that I want to do over the next few years and even came up with some life goals, but that list is nowhere near complete and I look forward to adding to it. I have discovered a passion for something outside of my career and that is fantastic because I now have a much better idea of who I am. I can much better define myself in terms of something other than what I do/ will do for a living and a few hobbies. It feels good.



Becoming a Yoga Teacher

Name: Sarah Sumich
Type of Project: Leadership

All the women I was training to get certified with, and our instructor, Janice.

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.

My STEP project was getting certified to teach yoga through Samyoga Institute. It was a 200-hour program, and once a month I would spend a weekend in the studio training and studying from 8 am to 6 pm, both Saturday and Sunday. I had to get CPR certified and teach an 8 week internship as part of the certification process.

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

After even the first weekend, I knew that this endeavor was going to change me a lot more than I had anticipated. I don’t think I’ll ever look at my self or my body the same way again. I never anticipated the level of self-reflection involved in teacher training, and I was so surprised by how therapeutic the training weekends felt by the end of it. I now have such a holistic view of our bodies and minds as people, and I even learned a lot about anatomy, which I didn’t anticipate getting so much of coming into the program.

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?

The training weekends were deeply transformative. Spending that much time in intensive training and education was tiring, and by the end of the weekend I could always feel the difference in my body. I always managed to find some peace those weekends, and I usually took away one or two things to continue to work on outside of the studio. I also had a mentor during this program, who was integral to my transformation in this project. She was with me every step of the way, every time it felt like too much, and she supported me when I inevitably struggled with change. Reflection is hard work, and we’re often faced by things we don’t know how to acknowledge. It helped to have someone to turn to, who has done this program before, who understands the process.

To graduate the program, I had to teach an 8 week internship, which was an enlightening process. I had never imagined the amount of work required to pull together a yoga class plan, but I don’t think I’ve ever made it through something so testing before. That was when I actually started to see the developments I had been making, as I would surprise myself constantly in front of my students. I was continually challenged and still pleasantly surprised by how successful those classes felt to me, again something I never would have experienced without this program.

Along with my mentor, I also became super close with some of the other women getting certified to teach, and those relationships I anticipate will extend out for years, all as a result of this time we spent together. These were amazing women who I may never have encountered under my normal day to day, even when some were as close as right alongside me at OSU this whole time. I can confidently say I will never be the same as a result of these women and the amazing leaders of the program.

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.

Well first and foremost I have a fallback career. Though I don’t anticipate teaching yoga full time in the near future by any means, if something were to happen I would have a way to provide for myself, which is comforting. This program helped me learn time management skills as well, as I was working on this training alongside 15 credit hours and 20 hours a week at work, which definitely pushed my edge. This training also pushed me to take up the space I want to as a leader, which I can take into work with me now and continue challenging myself. In my current internship, I’m even working with a coworker to bring yoga to our colleagues, which is something I never would’ve been able to be a part of without this project. This training is not something I would have been able to budget for without this program, and I’m not sure I ever would have taken the opportunity to get certified, and for that I am thankful for STEP.

North Cascades Mountaineering

Tal Shutkin, Leadership

For my STEP project, I took a six-day mountaineering course in the North Cascades mountains through a Seattle based guiding company called Alpine Ascents International (AAI). This course helped me develop as an outdoor leader by teaching me new mountaineering techniques, polishing old ones, and helping me learn to be a competent member of an alpine rope team.

Two major changes took place due to my participation in this project. First, I learned both the importance of preparational training, and the fact that I am capable of committing to a strict training regimen. Second, I started to develop personal systems in various aspects of mountaineering that will equip me to stay collected, organized, and therefore more levelheaded when I am faced with trying circumstances on the mountain. In outdoor leadership, personal systems help prevent technical failures which too often lead to mental failures. In my experience leading winter excursions, I have felt debilitated by a breakdown in my personal organization. Preoccupying myself with personal frustrations, this breakdown stripped me of my leadership ability and ultimately diminished my decision-making capacities. Efficient self-organization is the precursor to effective outdoor leadership.

This past winter, I took on my first true mountaineering challenge. Although I had climbed Mount Washington in winter twice before, even led a group up it, this year three friends and I decided to follow a new route up a snow gully that would require technical mountaineering skills. Unlike my previous paths, the new route entailed roped climbing up extremely steep snow along with a section of near vertical ice climbing. At the time (before my class with AAI), I didn’t realize that my cramponing technique was garbage, that I was wasting loads of energy with each and every step. Emerging from the gully, legs quivering, I was distraught to see that the summit still looked like it was miles away. Somehow, I finished the climb. If I was to succeed on Mount Baker, a much taller peak, however, I would need to be much stronger.

The objective of summitting Mount Baker was the first challenge in my life that motivated me to adopt a strict physical training regimen. Mounted above my desk, a weekly schedule dictated what I must do every day to prepare for months before Baker. Among other things, to train for prolonged stretches of steep climbing, I would hike up and down the 24 infamous flights of stairs in Morrill Tower. After following this regimen, I was proud not to struggle too much on Baker. There were difficult stretches, of course, but I never felt that the mountain pushed me to my physical limits. Since returning, I have not been so keen to continue my exercise routine. I know, however, that an exciting and challenging objective can push me to train no matter how busy I am.

While this first change occurred in preparation to the AAI class, over the course of my time in the Cascades, a series of mini transformations was taking place. The first day out was technically the easiest, yet with Baker’s intimidating summit looming in the distance and the stark contrast from the previous day’s leisure in Seattle, it felt like the hardest. That my mind was not yet acclimated to its new surroundings made the fact that I was not wearing gaiters (leg coverings that cinch over the top of your boots) more aggravating than it should have been. With every step, my snowshoes hurled snow up into my boots. By the time we got to our first camp, my socks were soaked and I was wrung out. This was a clear case of one small technical failure leading to what could have been a larger issue. Over the course of the week, my personal systems improved and I am proud to say that I arrived at our van on the last day with two dry pairs of socks out of the three I left with. By that last day, I was so comfortable dwelling at the foot of the Easton Glacier that given enough food and fuel, I felt I could have stayed another few weeks.

Dry socks and personal comfort seem like superfluous concerns compared to avalanches and crevasses, yet my guide, who has climbed Mount Baker dozens of times, Antarctica’s Mount Vinson a handful of times, done various ascents in the Himalayas, and climbed Mount Rainier over one hundred times, continuously stressed the importance of personal comfort. On a month-long expedition, if you jeopardize the coziness of your sleeping bag or sacrifice your last dry socks, “you have literally nothing to look forward to.” He emphasized that big accidents we hear about, crevasse falls, severe hypothermia, etc., are often the dramatic finales of days or weeks of poor hygiene or discomfort. “Stop the chain of events early on,” he insisted.

Despite the focus on accident prevention, we also practiced accident response. For instance, crevasse rescue. A crevasse is a glacial feature that forms as the glacier flows down increasingly steep terrain. The curvature in the terrain causes cracks to open through the glacier. Later, these cracks (crevasses) become hidden as snow forms bridges over their openings. Plunging through a snow bridge into a crevasse is a serious hazard of mountaineering. While we learned techniques of rope-team travel and route finding that aim to prevent this occurrence, we also simulated responding to a crevasse fall. What is most interesting about this, is that there is no cut and dry method for crevasse rescue. Rather, there are sets of tools and ways of thinking that enable one to respond to any situation. Learning crevasse rescue was transformational because it taught me how to think methodically despite urgent scenarios. It also helped me understand that to prepare to lead my own ventures into glaciated terrain, my gear needs to become an extension of my body. In other words, I have to be fluent enough in manipulating my equipment that I can use them as tools to help me problem solve on the fly.

Having completed this course, I am in no way qualified to lead serious expeditions, but I have started to develop the baseline skills that will allow me to be a competent member of an expedition team. Having these skills is necessary if I want to progress further. With that said, my project has certainly equipped me to be a better leader on less technical trips that I lead at OSU. I think my growth in personal organization and comfort on the mountain will position me to more dutifully tend to the concerns of others. Further, my newfound capacity to commit to training makes me optimistic and excited for future challenges.

Leadership Development at The National Outdoor Leadership School — Driggs, Idaho

Nick Jackson

I chose to participate in a leadership development program run by the National Outdoor Leadership School in Driggs, Idaho. Throughout the course my team and I focused on developing skills in cold injury prevention, avalanche safety procedures and leading others through potentially dangerous and stressful situations. For 8 days we traversed the Teton Valley Mountain Range, continually hiking up the mountain to enjoy the thrill of snowboarding right back down.

The leaders of our adventure were the most outdoorsy people I’ve ever met. Having lived many years in log cabins in the Teton area, our guides have spent a significant portion of their lives experiencing nature in a way most others never have. Shortly after meeting them and hearing their stories, I was hooked on learning more about their way of life and their perspectives on nearly everything.

Without communicating with the outside world for the entirety of our trip, we all focused on getting to know one another as best as possible. We had 14-16 hour days of hiking and snowboarding, with plenty of time in between runs to chat away. Many times our hike back up the mountain would take over an hour, and our guides always passed the time by telling stories and sharing themselves with the group. We often deliberated about the commercialization of nature, and the pros and cons of publicizing this part of the world. My guides adamantly believed that all forms of commercialization, whether it be marketing focused on bringing more tourists to these areas, or billboards saying “Get off at the next exit and check out this park”, are poison to the serenity of nature. Initially I struggled with this idea, and offered that these forms of advertising bring more people closer to nature, allowing for areas like the Teton’s to be celebrated by more and more people across the globe. By the end of our week together, my vision had transformed to allow me to meet my guides at a middle ground, believing that some commercialization is certainly good for the public, while excessive marketing can hinder the environment through overpopulation and consequently unintended destruction.

My favorite memory of the trip occurred at the peak of the Teton’s, 13000 vertical feet up after the longest day of hiking. My guide and I had been going back and forth about our views on the commercialization of “his happy place,” and eventually exhausted ourselves to silence. We sat there for a little while, looking out into the distance and pondering each others perspectives. Up until that time, neither of us wanted to budge on our position, but after taking a step back to breathe and think, we both looked at each other and started laughing. We realized that right then, at the top of the mountain, it really didn’t matter. We both agreed that the other’s points were valid, and we both appreciated each other’s input. Being able to put aside our differences and appreciate one another is what really made this trip great.

Since coming back from my trip, I’ve been much more open. Open to new people, open to new ideas, I’m much more open to life! I have a greater appreciation for little things that happen everyday, even if they don’t directly affect me. This trip has helped me realize that even if something may not be super important to me, its probably very important to someone else and I need to do my part as a citizen of Ohio State to respect that passion. After 8 days in isolation, our group felt like a tightly knit family. We were all humbled by the simplicity of our efforts when working in unison, and bonded by the same trials and tribulations. Having grown so close with 10 people in such a short period of time, I’ve transformed to be more inviting to others so I can help make a transformation in their lives.

Buckeyes in the Making: An Experience of Leadership, Growth, and Giving Back

My STEP Project – Buckeyes in the Making:

My STEP experience was founding and running a student organization, Buckeyes in the Making, which is now registered with the Ohio Union and has over 25 active members!  Buckeyes in the Making is a local outreach organization focused on tackling educational inequality in urban areas, particularly Columbus. This project culminated in our field day event on April 20th, when we hosted an entire class of 6th graders from Southwood Elementary: over 44 students.  Students got a taste of life at Ohio State by seeing a residence hall room, eating in a dining facility, etc. Lastly, they chose different interest groups that toured different academic areas and learned about different resources pertaining to their academic interests.


What I Learned About Myself?

I came to Ohio State from a very small town in Ohio.  Becoming a student at Ohio State was always the dream of mine.   I hold that it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Coming from such a small community, I see now that I was relatively sheltered both in terms of experiences and perspectives that I held.  My life hadn’t been subject to abnormal adversity or any life changing experiences. By all means, I was a typical graduate from high school, and perhaps a typical matriculate at Ohio State.

Upon arriving at Ohio State, I felt like I had experienced a lot during my freshman year, but I look back and I realize how much more I could have done.  I was still relatively introverted and had the same circle of friends from high school despite the overwhelming potential to befriend others. I studiously focused on my classes, without accounting for all the things there were to learn at college other than academics.  At the end of my first year, which had pretty much been a continuation of high school, I decided that my second year was going to be different and that I was going to have to force myself to experience different ideas, beliefs, and people.

Enrolling in STEP has easily been the best decision for my undergraduate career as it has totally changed the trajectory of my college experience.  At the start, I struggled to muster up an idea for a project, but I decided to continue with the intended theme: I was going to try to do something totally outside my comfort zone and something that would force me to grow as an individual.  I tried thinking of an experience that would allow me to interact with people of different backgrounds and beliefs, while simultaneously making a difference in the community. I chose to start a student organization entitled Buckeyes in the Making, focused on tackling educational inequality in the inner city area of Columbus.  Within a year of it being active, I would consider it to be successful both as an organization and for my professional/personal development.


What I Learned from the Interactions and Activities of Buckeyes in the Making:

The most meaningful interactions of my STEP experience have come from many different individuals, who occupy many different roles.  

One of the most transformative aspects of my STEP experience has been my development as a leader: somebody who can productively interact with my peers to work towards a common goal.  As I mentioned above, I believe one of my primary weaknesses prior to my STEP experience was how timid and unwilling I was to step outside my comfort zone. However, being the founder of a student organization and managing others has not only forced me to step up as a leader, but has taught me so much about working with others.  Responsibilities as a leader in this student organization have ranged from recruiting younger OSU students, to delegating tasks and responsibilities to the rest of my executive board. The teamwork and problem solving skills that have arisen from facilitating events and meetings is something that I truly believed I only could have learned through a real life experience like Buckeyes in the Making.  I consider myself to be more complete as an individual and professional after working with other students involved with BITM.

Similar to the leadership and organizational skills I learned through my interactions with other students, I have had extensive interactions and meeting with administrators involved at Ohio State in the administration of our field day event with Southwood Elementary.  During this event, the student organization totally sponsored and facilitated a field day where 44 sixth graders from Southwood Elementary came to Ohio State and got to truly see the ins and outs of life at Ohio State. The preparation for this event involved extensive meeting and organization with Ohio State administrators and the faculty involved with certain academic areas.  This only further emphasized the skills I learned from the internal aspects of the organization. Leadership involved with representing the organization as well as presenting information regarding the event in an organized manner has had huge benefits on my communication skills, responsibility, and organization that has leaked into other aspects of my life such as academics.

Lastly, the most important and meaningful interactions I was able to experience as a result of this event were with the children of Southwood Elementary.  I realized how much potential these children have in combination with the inequality some of them experience as a result of our current public city school system.  Furthermore, I realized what it means to be a leader and that having an impact in your local community is necessary. From these children, I learned so much about their lives and their experiences that I never could have imagined.  They taught me so much about themselves, the problems in our educational system, but mostly they taught me about myself.

These experiences peaked when we facilitated the event on April 20th where these children spent the day here at Ohio State.  Organizing this event was one of the most meaningful and teaching days of my whole life.


Why Does this Change Matter to Me?

This experience has offered me the transformation of confidence, leadership, and an expanded perspective that will carry on into the rest of my undergraduate career and into my life after college.  This has totally altered my ambition in life in and what I believe I am able to achieve. The leadership has allowed me to learn so much about my interpersonal interactions that will go on to serve me in my professional career  Furthermore, the gains I have had in perspective have allowed me to change my goals and ambitions to ones that involve more interaction with the community. This broadening of my perspective has totally changed my outlook and philosophy regarding politics, society, and involvement with the local community.  Through this experience, I gained a combination of personal development and insight into issues that I would like to give more attention to throughout my life.

Single Pitch Instructor Certification ad Exploration of Social Issues in the Outdoor Industry

With my STEP money, I pursued a Single Pitch Instructor Certification through the American Mountain Guide Association. To achieve the qualifications to take the course I took a climbing trip out West and learned about traditional climbing, multipitch climbing, and anchoring systems. I have since used these skills for my job as a trip leader and clinic instructor in Rock Climbing at the Outdoor Adventure Center.

Coming into this project, I thought I would simply gain the technical and professional skills necessary to succeed in the outdoor industry, particularly for Rock Climbing. Leaving however, I gained much more than that. My eyes were opened to what it truly meant to be a female in the outdoor industry. This field in particular suffers significantly low female representation: only 7% of certified mountain guides with the AMGA are female. While I am proud to have become part of that number, but also now have insight as to why the representation is so low. Females are more likely to be hover-instructed, thus missing out on learning opportunities from mistakes. Females are also deterred by having to break their societal gender roles, as if being physically strong and directive with their technical knowledge makes them less appealing to society. Due to societal ingrained bias people are much less likely to look to a female for instruction if they have questions in the outdoors, a phenomena I have come to call “The beard complex.” They also lack mentorship and role models, because people tend to encourage people that they see a reflection of themselves in. This did not discourage me from doing what I love, however. This made me recognize my role as a mentor, encourager, and role model for females and other minorities in the outdoor industry. It also taught me how to address instances of bias, and overcome these setbacks through hard work to get ahead of the curve in both technical skill and soft skills. Aside from that I gained even more appreciation for the outdoor industry, and a sense of gratitude for how lucky we are to do what we do in the first place.

I started with a road trip with my friend Eli, having never led a single trad route in my life. Thankfully I fell in love with it, and became an avid trad and multipitch climber over the next year and a half. This is where I gained more appreciation for climbing and the opportunities we have to experience the beautiful outdoors. I came back that summer and spent a lot of time preparing technical skills and systems for my SPI course. After the course I became more credible on rock knowledge within the OAC, and proceeded to instruct clinics such as sport climbing, cleaning and anchor building, and the biggest staff training called Rock Site Management.

Later, I received an engineering internship with Burgess & Niple, and after seeing the SPI course on my resume they offered to let me join their Survey Rope Access Training (SPRAT) course to do bridge inspections over the summer. I was the only female in the room of about 50 males, and I was treated very differently than the male students. I was receiving constant help and hovering supervision from everyone, even though I already knew for the most part what I was doing from climbing. This micro-instruction, although well intended, made me less likely to pick up on things because I didn’t even have time to think through the problems and solutions myself. I was less likely to think through and learn from mistakes I made, and more likely to become flustered from the pressure of people watching my every move intently. I also received some discouraging comments along the lines of “girls aren’t usually very good at this stuff, but you’re actually alright.”

This is when I started getting interested in exploring gender diversity in the outdoor industry. I had already personally experienced difficulties moving up in leadership as a female in the outdoor industry, but I started looking outward and on every level. I saw the same problems in my SPRAT course that I did in our trips and clinics program, and I saw it everywhere. People only trusting the male instructors, micro-aggressive comments in the gym, and instances of inappropriate sexual contact and comments. Then I started looking at statistics for our trips programs. Every semester, there were significantly more female than male apprentices on trips, but significantly more male than female trip leaders and assistant trip leaders. I started talking to people about why that was, and unveiled a whole world of gender bias in the outdoors.

I brought up the conversations with higher-ups in the workplace, which originally had a rocky start. There was a lot of pushback because these conversations were “too political” and “too controversial.” Despite the pushback I kept trying, because reguardless of whether they were controversial or not they were negatively affecting people, and the lack of talking about it leads to the festering of the problem. Through civil discussion and reaching higher, we ultimately got things going, and started brainstorming ways to increase diversity, report bias incidents, and make people aware of the struggles different groups faced in the industry. We created an all-staff training on understanding and addressing bias incidents specific to OAC situations. The SPI certification gave me the concrete credibility I needed for people to take me seriously as a trip leader, clinic instructor and student manager. Credibility gave me the platform to speak, and persistence, resilience, and bringing people together is what finally made them listen.

I learned a lot about myself and society through this experience. Professionally this gave me many opportunities that I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten: SPRAT training and bridge inspections with my internship, leading trips to the Red River Gorge, New River Gorge, and Utah in our trips program, and Rock Site Management Instruction in the clinics programs. These opportunites also gave me a chance to make this an opportunity for others, particularly females, in helping them recognize that this is a place they can succeed if this is what they love to do.

As far as addressing societal issues and sparking social conversations, I learned the importance of resilience, and standing up for what you believe in regardless of what other people say. I learned the importance of taking the time to understand someone’s perspective and intentions with what they say or do, as well as helping them understand my perspective. I learned the best methods to bring about change in a system, and what I can do as an individual to spark that change. My position as the Buckeye Outdoor Leadership and Teambuilding student manager was a prime opportunity to bring these conversations to the light in the workplace. I now have technical knowledge and soft skills to pursue being an outdoor instructor for a living.

NCAA Championships

My STEP project centered around how athletic teams are able to win NCAA Championships.  I looked at 14 championships in 11 sports (Men’s and Women’s Tennis, Beach Volleyball, Men’s and Women’s Cross Country, Field Hockey, Men’s Soccer, Women’s Volleyball, Women’s Swimming and Diving, Wrestling, Men’s and Women’s Fencing, Women’s Basketball, and Men’s Ice Hockey), going to the events and interviewing various coaches and administrators in order to better understand the elements needed to successfully win a championship.

This project was not based on a STEP project conducted by previous STEP students.  As such, I had to entirely create my project from scratch.  This was challenging as I did not have a template to base my project on and give me ideas on how to adapt my project to suit my needs.  Ultimately, this fact led to a more transformational experience as I had to lay all of the groundwork for the project.  By the end of my project, I was comfortable with cold emails, speaking on the phone with strangers, and coordinating AirBnB’s.  I became more independent and able to reach out to others for help.  I was also surprised by how many industry professionals responded to my emails even if they were not able to schedule a time to meet or speak with me.  Finally, I interacted with fans and employees of many different schools which has reshaped how I view certain schools and their stakeholders.

14 championships. 11 sports. 9 cities.

Completing this project would not have been possible without my STEP faculty advisor, Dr. Don Stenta.  I presented the idea to him on a train in Berlin, and he was and continued to be supportive of me and my vision for this project.  As mentioned before, I had to lay the groundwork for the project, determining the feasibility of it and determining exactly what I wanted to do, and Dr. Don was always available for me to bounce ideas off of when I got stuck, even as he transitioned to a new role within the university.  Working closely with a faculty member on a project was a new experience for me and one I greatly benefited from.

Besides working with Dr. Don on campus, I also became very comfortable with cold emails and speaking on the phone with people I had never met.  Before beginning my STEP project, I was nervous about conducting email correspondence, but I had to email so many people in order to set up interviews and tours, that emailing began to not bother me as much.  This was helped by the fact that the people I emailed were willing to help me in any way they could even though they had significantly higher status than me.  Related to emails are the phone calls I had to do throughout the project.  I used to be reluctant to make phone calls, but I learned in what circumstances phone calls were better suited than emails such as in ironing out details in itineraries.  Due to schedule and geographic constraints, I also conducted 4 out of the 10 interviews I did via phone.  I have always been better in face-to-face situations, but working on this project made me become more comfortable on the phone.

The interviewing process in general was pivotal to the transformational experience of this project.  I tried to set up many more interviews than the ten I was able to do, but I was still happy with the ten people who got back to me and agreed to be interviewed for the project.  Of my interviewees, 3 were athletic administrators on the university level, 6 were coaches, 2 were on NCAA sport committees, and 1 worked for the NCAA directly.  In addition to these structured interviews, I also talked to many NCAA and university employees at the events when they offered me tours.  This process was so transformative for me because it required me to both set up the interview, develop questions, and then clearly convey them to my interviewee.

The final element of my STEP project that directly led to the project being transformative for me was the process of creating itineraries.  Beyond the time of the championships, I had no other commitments and had to schedule other project-related interviews and tours to do while I was there.  I also had to coordinate my own transportation and lodging.  I had never been so in charge of my own schedule when away from home before.  The amount of travel and time involved also required me to stay flexible in regards to itineraries.  My project lasted from May of 2017 to April of 2018; many of the things I thought would be possible to do in August were no longer possible by November for example.  This required me to be organized and flexible.  Following up with people was paramount to this project’s success and something I wish I had done more.  This project was truly independent; I had no template and I traveled alone to the events.  Being alone forced me to problem-solve and fill my days in order to fully embrace the STEP experience.

I designed this STEP project to align with my future professional goals.  I am interested in working in collegiate athletics as an athletic director which will require me to create and support successful teams in order to keep my job.  This project allowed me to become familiar with a variety of sports, not just revenue ones along with putting me in contact with people who are working in my field.  The skills I developed over the course of this project will benefit me in the future as many college athletic administrators also serve on NCAA committees and have to coordinate with professionals at different schools.  Finally, doing this project helped me secure an internship for this summer.  I will be working in the athletic department at Tennessee State University, and being able to talk about my STEP experience and what I learned about championship teams helped me to stand out.