Campus Recreation Leadership Research STEP Reflection

My STEP project was a mixture of research and conferences. I collected research on leadership based questions from 30 of my 45 coworkers. I also attended the ORSA, Region III Student Lead On, and NIRSA Annual conferences to further my understanding of leadership and leadership development.

There were many changes about my understandings of myself and the world through this project. The first of which is that I learned that people have many different ideas of what values are important to them. Even in a department where we share the same five values for work, the spectrum of personal values that people have is quite diverse. I also learned about some of the top indicators of leadership in college students. Through this learning process, I was able to incorporate more of these activities into my life. From additional community service to sociocultural conversations, I was able to develop further as a leader. I also gained understanding of my abilities in public speaking. This is because my project went from not only attending the NIRSA Annual conference, to presenting my research at the conference.

One interaction that led to these changes is my interviews with my coworkers. Not only was I able to get to know each of my coworkers individually, but this also led me to further understand them as people. I was able to get to know what makes them tick, and what is important to them. Through this series of questions, which was also a sociocultural conversation, I learned about many different types of people with many different backgrounds. I was able to see many different perspectives on different issues.  This greatly broadened my thoughts about diversity and the values of others. Interviewing my coworkers has been incredibly beneficial for my understandings of others.

Another relationship that has been important to my development has been my time with Dr. Don. Dr. Don is the Director of Recreational Sports here at OSU. Through my STEP project, I have had the pleasure of meeting him and getting to know him. Interacting with him has taught me a lot about campus recreation, leadership, and myself in general. Reading the book that he wrote on leadership in campus recreation was also influential for me. That taught me much about indicators for collegiate leadership and how to improve leadership in myself. Through this experience I have also gained an incredible mentor that is continuing to change my life to this day. Through his passion for student development and interest in leadership, he has taught me a lot and changed my perspective on how to employ leadership in the workplace.

The final event that affected the transformations above were the three conferences, with particular regard for the NIRSA Annual conference. These conferences taught me a lot about a variety of issues in campus recreation. But the most important part about attending these conferences, was all the relationships I formed. I got to know people from all over the United States. Through continued conversations with these people I have been much more productive in the workplace as I have used their help on a variety of projects. I have also gained valuable friendships with them. These relationships have also allowed me to find future places of employment.

This change has been valuable for me because it has led to me shifting my career plans. I went from an aspiring school psychologist when entering this program to wanting to be a director in collegiate recreation just like Dr. Don. It has also been valuable because through this research and networking I have been able to meet many people in the field. Some of those people have even expressed interest in hiring me once I am done with my undergraduate education. Two schools in particular, those being Kent State and Georgia Southern, have really encouraged me to apply to be a Graduate Assistant in their programs come next year. I am very excited for these opportunities and all the leadership insights and friendships I have made along the way.

Undergraduate Research in Pharmacology & Toxicology

I carried out my STEP Signature Project in the lab of Dr. Imad Damaj at Virginia Commonwealth University. As an undergraduate research intern, I was able to perform my own experiments regarding the role of a gene expressed in individuals with HIV contributing to anxiety and ethanol consumption. I used a mouse-model to investigate the relationship.

By being assigned my own research project, I was given many expectations in order to be successful. This was the first time I had done a major research experiment outside of my coursework, so it was extremely important to me to fulfill my expectations and have my work matter in the overall work of our lab. This was a chance for me to become more independent and take on a lot of responsibilities. Although my PI would occasionally check-in with me, I was mostly carrying out everything on my own and presenting my findings at weekly lab meetings. Sometimes I would find contradicting results and not everything would go as I predicted, but this was an opportunity for me to learn and change my methodology. This entire process taught me the importance of perseverance and hard work. I can relate my work during my STEP project to reflect my work in life in general in the sense that it takes motivation and hard work to achieve your ultimate goal.

As I mentioned previously, this was my first major research project. So, I knew the basics of conducting research, but the type of research I was doing was beyond what I was exposed to. It would have been very easy for me to shy away from the whole experience or take on fewer tasks. But, I committed to doing full-time research, working as much as 40 hours a week. As a “novice” researcher, it was key that I interacted with my PI and the other people in my lab to get exposure to the skills that my project required. A grad student in the lab was working on a similar project to mine that dealt with ethanol exposure in mice, so the first couple of weeks of my internship, I was able to shadow her and learn the skills that I would need for my experiment.

After I began my experiment, my PI requested I present my findings and any updates at our weekly lab meetings. Speaking in front of crowds is not easy for me, so I was extremely nervous for my first presentation. I quickly learned that there was no need for me to be nervous because everyone in the lab was very supportive of me and excited to hear what I had to say. However, I was not prepared for the amount of in-depth questions they asked me after my presentation. This made me realize how important it is to pay attention to details in methodology and be as thorough as possible when analyzing data and presenting graphs. As my research continued week after week, I learned to recognize certain aspects of my study I may have not recognized before and my work and myself became much more detail-oriented – a characteristic that would transform me into a better scientist.

Aside from interacting with fellow lab members in meetings, I was able to interact with them while working in the lab and outside of the lab as well. I realized that although I was carrying out my own experiment, everyone in the lab worked toward one major goal of contributing to pharmacological and toxicological research. We all knew of each other’s projects and whenever there was down time in my project, I would help someone else out. Or if I needed extra help, someone could help me. It truly showed me the importance of teamwork and supporting one another. Outside of the lab, we would all gather for dinner or go to an amusement park to have fun, etc. Not only were these people my colleagues, but also my friends. I definitely would not have been as successful in my work as I was without their help.

As my future goal is to be a physician, my research experience definitely helped me better understand the role of science in the healthcare field. It allowed me to network and form connections with other people who are also interested in medicine. My PI is actually on the admissions committee of VCU’s College of Medicine, so he was able to give me very helpful advice in the admissions process. This experience under the mentorship of other scientists and professionals helped me further develop skills in problem solving, independent thinking and communication. Additionally, throughout my research, I was taught to relate my work back to previously written scientific papers and experiments regarding my specific study. I learned how to read scientific articles and write a scientific paper myself. This skill transformed me into a better scientist and will be important to me, as my ultimate goal is to become a physician. As a result of my STEP fellowship, I am now one step closer to achieving my goal of obtaining a profession in medicine and exploring the field of research.

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Signature Project Reflection SU16

Name: Victoria Soewarna


Type of Project: Undergraduate Research


  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 signature project focused on an interferon transmembrane protein known as IFITM3, which is known to impact the viral effects of influenza and a multitude of other viruses. The study focused on the transmembrane protein and its impact on antiviral activity. Main activities included PCR, western blotting, infection and flow cytometry.


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

Research has always had a strong presence in my life. I was attracted to its influence on the scientific community as well as the opportunities to continuously learn and grow. From this experience I have gained a much higher respect for those in the field. Working in research can be extremely frustrating, but it is also equally rewarding. I gained a new sense of patience and problem solving. I approach problems with a holistic view ensuring that I do not miss any detail. I am more curious and am able to see that there are an abundance of unanswered questions in the world. I see the influence and impact I have through simple experiments and studies. Conducting this work is such a rewarding experience because you see the contributions you have made and how others can benefit. Most importantly, I have realized that not everything comes easily and persistence is key to success.


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

I have been apart of this research group for the past 2 years, but during the school year it becomes difficult to complete experiments due to time constraints. Being in the lab full time this summer offered a new perspective of the research field. I was able to immerse myself in my studies and truly apply my knowledge to the field. I focused solely on research and what improvements I could make. I gained a better understanding of this project and tried to further develop any ideas. I was independently working on something I helped create which was an amazing and rewarding experience.

The experiments conducted were a large part of my experience, each were completely different but were all crucial to the success of the overall experiment. This perspective was eye opening; understanding that a multitude of experiments or events can lead to something much bigger was fascinating. I realized the importance of each step and that how necessary it is to reflect on them. I realize now that by gaining a better understanding of the little steps, comprehending the bigger picture is much easier.

Working on each experiment was one aspect, the other were my lab members. They each contributed something different to our dynamic. Everyday in the lab was not a chore, but an enjoyable experience. They were supportive, caring and extremely helpful. They showed me tips and tricks to help my experiments, shared life advice, and always had a joke to tell. Being around my lab members was truly a transformative experience because they showed my how to see optimism in a bad situation and grow from every failure.

The independence, experiments, and people I was able to participate in and encounter were crucial to my transformative and positive experience. From this summer I have become not only a better researcher and student, but also a better person.


  1. 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.

Life is a collection of influential experiences and events. This signature project is an addition to that collection. The significance of this experience was its impact on my personal and professional growth. I was given the opportunity to develop my personality and character through the trials and tribulations I encountered. I was also able to enhance my professional relationships and experiences. The seminars and workshops offered were extremely helpful in networking and advancement. I was able to expand my knowledge on proposal writing, poster presentation, and speaking. Through this signature project I have been able to gain crucial experience in laboratory work. I have been able to make connections and attend seminars from professors and scientists from a variety of areas. This experience and these connections has given me more confidence in myself as well as my future goal as I move forward onto medical school.

Reflecting on Undergraduate Research

In the last year, I have been making plans to put my STEP Signature Project into motion. My STEP project is a pilot study attempting to use fluctuations in salivary cortisol levels and changes in survey responses to understand the post-traumatic growth of  students enrolled in the Student Advocacy Center’s Sexual Civility and Empowerment Program. It is an on-going study for which we have just begun recruiting participants. The idea for this research project was born of a passion for social justice and fascination with the neurobiology of trauma. It got its start when my current PI, Dr. Tamar Gur, decided to take a chance on a novice with an idea for her STEP project. Joining a lab for the first time last summer, all of my wet lab skills came from an “Intro to Biotechnology” class I had taken senior year of high school; I had effectively no background in research. Thus, I spent the last year learning wet lab skills, behavioral techniques, animal handling, and formulating the research project. While completing my STEP project, which turned into a two year process, I realized the importance of taking initiative in my work, how to better communicate ideas and how to plan ahead. Additionally, learning lab protocols for certain experiments through repetition taught me a certain discipline. I’ve reflected on this experience and have answered the STEP reflection prompts throughout the following response.

I realized the importance of taking initiative in my work, not being afraid to ask questions, and inquiring about collaborations. I learned how to better communicate my ideas; working with a team of collaborators on the project forced me to vocalize and write my plans/ideas/comments/questions in a clear and concise manner, as opposed to the typically haphazard way I might arrange it if I were working alone. Along the same vein, I learned that research takes time and requires patience and flexibility. Working with a team, I realized that other people may have different priorities, and so I had to take those into account when asking them for something (i.e. if I need feedback on something, ensuring that I give them plenty of time and following up if need be). At a large institution like OSU, while there are a tremendous number of resources, learning to navigate through its web can be certainly time-consuming and frustrating sometimes.  

Technically speaking, working in lab this summer allowed me to spend time improving wet lab skills, such as RNA extractions/clean-ups, cDNA synthesis, real-time PCR, and learning ELISA. Additionally, I learned about the general tasks done to keep a research lab functioning, like autoclaving glassware/tools, keeping a neat lab bench, planning breeding experiments, and inventorying samples. Being immersed in this environment also exposed me to some data analysis and increased my understanding of the paper-writing process. I saw how my PI approached her writing and graph preparation and also had the opportunity to help edit some visualizations of data.   

Additionally, learning protocols for certain experiments through repetition taught me a certain discipline; I had to follow directions as closely as possible while thinking critically about each step–whether it could be improved upon or where some troubleshooting may be done. This, in turn, made me responsible for the resulting data and gave me ownership of it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this further motivated me to precisely complete the experiments. As cliche as it sounds, these changes have certainly sharpened my critical thinking skills and increased my confidence in myself and in my work, which have then impacted my future plans.

I have been collaborating with the SCE program for just over a year on this project and, in that time, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know their staff and seen the zeal with which they pursue their work, which is inspiring to me. I have been humbled by their interest in my ideas and their trust in my abilities; they would like to expand research efforts and I will begin working for them part-time this fall, transitioning into a full-time position after graduation. I’m thrilled and grateful to have the opportunity to mold this research position and see this research project to completion and, perhaps, even expansion. In light of this job, I’ve also decided to forgo graduating early and spend spring semester writing a research thesis; I hope to have more data to present from the study by then.

After graduation, while working for the Sexual Civility and Empowerment Program I am hoping to pursue a master’s in public health at OSU part-time; I will be applying this fall. In the last year, I have been surprised at how much I enjoy the research process. This whole experience has been so empowering and humbling; I have been able to construct a research project around a simple question and will hopefully be able to see some data come to fruition, as well. Thinking about my career, although I am still not certain of what I would like to do, the self-efficacy and research skills I developed during in the process of completing the STEP program will serve me in being more bold in my future endeavors.