Ecotourism Research in Flores, Peten, Guatemala

This May I worked on a team of four undergraduate assistants and collected over 1,000 surveys of tourists in the Peten region of Guatemala, where the Maya Biosphere Reserve is located. Our places of collection were the Island of Flores, Mundo Maya airport, Tikal National Park, and the Peten bus stop. This is a development economics project related to willingness to pay for certain touristic amenities; and we will also be collecting demographic and preference data as well.

This project has made me much more assertive when dealing with conflict and rejection, and much more comfortable talking to random people. In addition, I have gotten and will continue to get lots of experience working on a team for the first time in a non-classroom academic setting. After being in a remote region of Guatemala for a month with barely any Americans, I realized that the US may seem like the entire world nowadays, whereas the reality is that the US constitutes only a small percentage of the world’s population, and our country as a whole is egotistical and selfish. This may seem like a dark realization, but it only gives me an increased drive to make our country a better global citizen and steward of the environment.

I realized these things through my interactions with Guatemalan, Spanish, Canadian, German, Irish, and Honduran people. For example, a Honduran couple I met was trying to scrape together enough money to get to the American border during the family separation crisis. Meanwhile, the Irish guys I met were astounded that one doesn’t pay for plastic bags in the United States. I always used my reusable bags before this anyway, however I am now a strong advocate for steep prices for plastic bags. Dead whales washing up on shore have hundreds of pounds of plastic in their stomachs. I got so exhausted over simply agreeing with the Canadians, Germans, Spanish, and Guatemalans, about the harm our current president is causing to our shared planet.

This change is significant to my life because I have a much more cultured perspective on America’s role in the global community. I will be graduating right as Trump (hopefully) leaves the Oval Office, which I hope will mean that there are much more jobs for environmental economics majors to undo the harm that he has inflicted. I continue to encourage others’ day-to-day actions to be more consistent with their thoughts and feelings about our world.

STEP Reflection

STEP Reflection

Name: Yifan Song

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research


Brief Description

I have worked as a research assistant in the Center for Aviation Studies at OSU for DV8 project, an interactive data visualization framework for aviation data analysis. My job is mainly programming to make DV8 a MVP (minimum viable product).

What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed?

This is a good chance for me to practice learned skills and gain new ones. As a double-major student of computer science and data analytics, the focus of this research is exactly related to my majors so that I can apply what I’ve learned from class into a real project. The research also serves as the first outside-class experience for me to discover its difference with in-class learning in my field. From the research, I found myself very interested in doing this kind of practical project and wished to continue apply what I’ve learned in the future. I have also learned how to work professionally and efficiently, more specifically, agile programming, in a team which prepare myself for more advanced industrial or academic project. In addition, I have understood the importance of self-study and enhanced this kind of ability.

What events, interactions, relationships, or activities led to the change/transformation, and how did those affect you?

During this research, I have realized how “good coding” would boost the whole project. For example, I didn’t pay so much attention with the variable names and code comments which led to troubles in reading my code for other team members and even for myself afterwards. Another good-coding is to divide a long piece of code into small pieces of modules so that debugging and modifications would be much easier. All these coding tips have been taught on class but I had never felt the power of them until this research.

I have learned not only programming skills but also how to work professionally for a team project including time managing, task assigning and priority deciding. Making backups is also crucial in a big project: I once broke the server of our project and used the backup to recover it. However, it would be a catastrophe if the backups were not there or updated. I then realized that working habits may sometimes determine the final result of a research.

One of the most impressive finding for me is the significance of self-study. Most of my tasks during the research are not related or directly related to what I had learned. I first have to learn and practice new programming languages or libraries by myself to complete my task. I thought this was because my lack of knowledge and experience but it turns out to be a normal situation for everyone after I consulted my professor and senior teammates. Learning skill is always more important than the knowledge itself.

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

The above understandings and transformations are invaluable not only for my academic or professional development but also for my whole life. Good coding and working habits which increase my efficiency and reliability are helpful in future academic and professional path. These skills can be repeatedly used in different jobs and positions. Moreover, understanding the difference between in-class knowledge and out-class usage will directly affect my study in the following two years. I will focus more on why and how, the concept and methodology of a learning, instead of simply memorizing the text. Nowadays, what really offers an advantage is the skill of study as there is an unlimited and keep-updating amount of knowledge which can never be learned completely.


Community Facilitation in Dance

This summer I partook in undergraduate research at a 3-week dance festival and workshop in Salt Lake City, Utah. My time there not only deepened my individual movement skills, but also allowed me to research methods of community building and translate them in to my own pedagogy. This experience furthered my development as a professional artist and teacher in the field of dance. 

As a whole, my experiences in the Salt Lake City workshops affirmed my drive towards pedagogy. Specifically, they inspired me to start working in the community as a cultivator and facilitator of art and movement. The expansive range of people I danced with during that time reminded me that we are all movers. Professional dance experiences shouldn’t be limited by age, body type, or social status. As I observed all these different bodies move, I became very aware of my own assumptions and biases of what makes a dancer. I recognized that I have been exposed to a very niche type of movement that does not represent the breadth of styles, cultures, and bodies in the dance field today. I hope to broaden my perspective further, so I can do my part in informing the public of these rich diversities. 

My Salt Lake City experience also attested to the use of dance as a unique method of introduction and personal connection. During physical movement classes, I recognized the power of getting to know someone through a medium of communication outside of verbal language. I also became very aware of how my movements projected my personality in this environment. In this process of revealing self through dance, my movement language became very specific and unique to me. This, in turn, enhanced my individual style and allowed me to be differentiated among the masses. This distilling process was evident in every body throughout the workshop. 

From sheer observation and participation in the workshops, I learned how quickly individuals with a similar passion working towards a like-minded goal can bond. Though this idea can be applied to any field of study, there is something unique in the experience of non-verbal seeing, admiring, and responding that arises in a dance class. These types of interactions between movers evoke a momentous and infectious energy that drives the class. This shared energy bonds individuals on a deep level and places an equal responsibility on each dancer to witness and encourage one another. The classes in the workshop that remained engaged and invested in shared vivacity encouraged dancing as a unit, stealing tools from one another, and avoiding internalized movement. As I observed and participated in this generous process, I recognized the varied individualism in the room. However, the defined individualistic styles were not acting in a selfish and egotistical manner. Rather, the atypical styles emerged to support the whole. 

Another tool which led to a stronger class community involved using metaphors rather than specific instructions during class and composition. Due to the range of individuals with differing movement practice histories, metaphors were extremely important. They provided space for individual interpretation but still gave an overarching theme in which people could explore. Similar to setting a camera frame, the metaphors made the creation of movement less daunting and, in turn, more generative.

The unique strength of community that dance can build was demonstrated in the relationships I made during my time in Salt Lake. After only one week of classes, I had formed close relationships with my peers and my teachers. I got to know a lot of these individuals by initially observing their movement language, and then engaging in a verbal introduction. A woman approached me after the first day of classes and asked me if I am a busy and highly motivated individual. Taken aback, I responded that I definitely was, and asked her how she knew this about me. She explained that she had observed me moving from the front half of my body, forgetting about the processing that happens in my back body and back half of my brain. This interaction alone was enough to convince me of the power of movement observation in getting to know someone. As a whole, I feel confident that the connections I formed in Salt Lake are honest, strong, and durable. 

As part of my research at the workshops, I conducted a few interviews with teachers and artists who specialize in community-based work. A lot of these teachers had also worked with people with both mental and physical disabilities, and I was able to gather a plethora of pedagogical tools from their experiences with these populations. They provided me with unique games and exercises that had served them well in those environments. We also discussed productive ways of widening the public’s idea of dance in the twenty-first century. Everyone I interviewed agreed that dance should be available to all people and provided me with advice on the role I can play in that undertaking. 

The insights I gained from this experience will play a monumental role in my development as a dance advocate, teacher, choreographer, and artist. My artistry flourished through the exploration of my individualized style throughout my classes. My pedagogical toolbox diversified and inflated with new theories proposed by experts in the field. My choreographic lens shifted from desiring skilled dancers in my work to individuals with broad skillsets and experiences. Lastly, this experience sparked a drive to advocate for all expressions of dance rooting from any body. During my time at the Salt Lake City workshops, I became conscious of my biases towards specific approaches to dance. As I continue my research, I would like to counter those tendencies through investigation in all spheres of dance study. As a whole, my STEP signature project led me to new mindsets and passions: a curiosity towards dance as a facilitator of communities, an encourager of movement in all bodies, and a stabilizer of minds, bodies, and hearts across the globe. I feel grateful for this growing experience and am excited to see where these budding inquiries take me next.