STEP Reflection – Engineering Service-Learning in Honduras

Spring of 2017, I took the Engineering Service-Learning at Montana de Luz course. We communicated with the residents at Montana de Luz, a home for children affected by AIDS/HIV in Honduras, about their needs. Then as a class we created four different engineering projects that we worked on over the course of the semester. Over spring break, we traveled to Montana de Luz and implemented our projects. I was on the Solar Education team. One of the other teams was implementing solar panels to lower the electricity bill at Montana de Luz, and our job as the Solar Education team was to ensure that the children at Montana de Luz understood what the Solar Panel Team was working on, so that the children could feel ownership over the finished product. Our team developed lesson plans to teach the children the basics of electricity and solar power. We used interactive activities to drive home the concepts. We made solar powered night lights and solar powered windmills with the younger children. With the teenagers, we wired solar-powered flashlights and taught them that they could start their own business creating solar-powered appliances since electricity costs are so high in rural Honduras.

My viewpoint on STEM education has shifted through this experience. I grew up learning science through textbooks, PowerPoints, and pre-written chemistry laboratories. Science was black-and-white, and there wasn’t much room for creative exploration. But in Honduras, I saw so much scientific creativity among the young people. On our last work day, we visited a local high school that functioned as a technical school because most of the students would not be able to attend college. We went to the electronics workshop, where we encountered students who were programming a robot they had made themselves, making an LED stoplight, and learning the ins and outs of TV displays. The students were learning how to be electricians. Their teacher told us that he didn’t just want them to be able to repair electronics, but truly understand their fundamentals so as to be able to improve or create them.

I was most impressed by the 8th grade students who joined this high school workshop – one boy made a vacuum cleaner out of a plastic bottle, a battery, and other recycled materials. These young people impressed me with their ingenuity and creativity, using the resources around them to create valuable products. They had limited supplies, and this forced them to be resourceful and think outside the box. I was also inspired by the young man who, when we taught him how to wire a solar-powered flashlight, devised the idea to make a solar-powered phone charger by simply replacing the LEDs with a USB. This young man knew that he and the people around him would value a solar-powered cell phone charger more than a solar-powered flashlight. All of these youths taught me what true engineering is – knowing the needs of your customers, and then using the resources around you to create new and ingenious devices.

My understanding of myself in terms of what I am called to do in the future was transformed through completing my STEP Signature Project. For years I have dreamed of using my engineering skills to create devices to help end poverty around the world. My STEP Signature Project allowed me to do just that. But while I enjoyed the work I was doing at Montana de Luz, I was strangely dissatisfied and I didn’t know why. A specific interaction on Tuesday night of our time in Honduras helped me put my finger on why I felt the way I did. We were invited to the house of a local villager, where we learned how to make homemade tortillas and enjoyed dinner together. At the end of the night, the hostess’ daughter came forward and started playing songs for us on her guitar. What she sang was Christian worship music in Spanish. But she wasn’t just singing the songs – she was praying the songs. She sang with such passion and authenticity. I was blown away by her courage to proclaim her faith boldly in front of so many strangers who didn’t come from a church, but a secular university. We learned that she, at 19, was taking care of two children whose mother had left them. She sang us a song that she wrote herself about being uncertain and afraid, but trusting that God would take care of them.

I am a very faith-filled Catholic, and this display of love and trust in God truly inspired me. I was touched by the whole Latino culture, which valued God and family above everything else. Even though many people in Honduras may not have the financial security that many of us in America have, they have deep joy and hope in the Lord that no money can buy. Even though many of them face great hardship, their family bonds are strong. After meeting this young women who sang to us of her faith and trust in God, I was struck, thinking of the countless young people in America who have no hope, who base their worth on their performance, and who live in families that are distracted and falling apart. I felt God pulling on my heart to turn my focus from healing the physical poverty in other countries to instead healing the spiritual poverty in America. I am still called to give generously of my financial resources to support others who will dedicate their time to healing the physical poverty in other countries, but I feel that God has called me to dedicate my time to healing the spiritual poverty in America.

I have two main take-aways from my STEP Signature Project. For one, this experience encouraged me to take time to be creative and think outside the box. I want to be involved in STEM education in the future, and I will make learning more hands-on and less structured than how I experienced it in my youth, so that the people I teach can use their creative juices to come up with designs that surpass my expectations. In my work as an engineer after I graduate, I want to push myself to think of how I can make products better suited to my customer’s needs, instead of just going with what my company has traditionally done. The young people in Honduras will help me become a better teacher and engineer!

My second take-away is that I want to invest in healing the spiritual poverty in America. This summer I am beginning that mission by working as a counselor at Catholic Youth Summer Camp in Centerburg, OH. I am showing young people in America how God loves them deeply and personally, and wants them to have abundant life full of vibrant relationships and laughter. We create an environment where campers encounter Jesus through caring counselors, high adventure activities, skits and dramas, and small group sharing. My campers feel prepared to bring joy and life back into their families, and encourage their friends to grow closer to the Lord. We are building up leaders that will transform their families and culture – and I can’t wait to see where the Lord takes us next!

Chicago Buck-I-SERV: Misericordia

India Hinton

 

Buck-i-Serv Trip to Chicago, IL

 

For my STEP project, I traveled with several other OSU students to Chicago, Illinois to work with Misericordia during May 2017. This non-profit program offers residential, occupational, and community support for individuals with developmental disabilities, a majority of them adults. I spent a week at the site, learning what services Misericordia provides and immersing myself in their daily routines. I attended many of their work sites and participated in community leisure activities that the residents enjoyed after their work day.

 

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

I have known for many years that I want to dedicate my life to helping others. If I have the ability or opportunity to make someone else’s life better, I want to take advantage of that, whether it is major or minor. As a pre-occupational therapy major, it has always been my goal to work at a children’s hospital. Many pediatric occupational therapy patients have been diagnosed with special needs or some sort of disorder that prevents them from completing everyday activities. Due to the fact that I will potentially be working with a special needs population, I wanted to immerse myself in a special needs community to get a firsthand look at their everyday lives. When I noticed that Buck-I-serv was traveling to Misericordia, I knew this would be an amazing opportunity, personally and academically.

 

This trip has transformed me and my world views in more ways than one. I have always felt a connection with the special needs community. Of those I have met, their carefree, loving nature has always drawn me to them. Prior to the trip, I assumed the Misericordia community would follow an academic structure, treating the individuals as students or children. This always seemed to be a pattern to me throughout society, as not everyone is familiar with how to interact with these individuals. As the week went on, I soon realized how my assumptions were proven wrong. The staff of Misericordia were so friendly, patient, and kind to the residents, and did not treat them any differently than their co-workers. Many of the residents were aware of their special needs and did not let this stop them from their achievements. While society is becoming more and more accepting of individuals with special needs, this experience showed me how much we can still improve. Nonetheless, I felt a great sense of hope for the future of this community and their acceptance of others.

 

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.

As soon as I arrived at Misericordia, I knew I was in a tight-knit community. With over 600 residents at the facility, I have never witnessed so much support within a group of individuals. It seemed as though everyone knew each other, and there was virtually no sense of betterment from the Misericordia staff—everyone was treated equally. The interactions and relationships between everyone a part of Misericordia demonstrated a great sense of connectedness. Everyone knew the volunteer coordinator, who not only knew every resident’s name, but also the job they were currently involved in.

 

There are several areas of employment in which the residents work, almost like a small town. There’s a bakery, coffee-making station, garden, laundry facility, recycling center, and several art areas for residents to express their creativity. Every space contributes to the community in some way, whether it is inside or outside of campus. For instance, coffee and baked goods are sold online for anyone to purchase, art is sold to help support the non-profit organization, and items are recycled to be reused on campus, just like any other community. I was truly blown away by the unlimited activities for the residents that gave them a sense of purpose without compromising their personality traits or independence. The individuals had a voice in what job they participated in and loved every second of every day. I was so inspired by their work ethic and light-heartedness during their work shifts.

 

One of the best aspects of this program was the fact that they promoted branching out into the Chicago community several times a week. The volunteer coordinator informed me that they often take a group of residents to Chicago White Sox games. This not only immerses them into a larger community but allows them to experience everyday activities such as purchasing food or following social norms. I was very happy to learn that Chicago warmly welcomes residents outside of Misericordia and that the residents are not confined to the campus.

 

Finally, the personal connections I made with some of the residents is something that will never leave my memory. During our service, we spent time in different work areas to get a feel for what the residents did on a daily basis. I was nervous at first, but as soon as I walked through the door I knew I was welcome. Each and every resident greeted me with a smile, introduced themselves, and immediately wanted to start a conversation. I did not even feel like we were doing work because they were so much a joy to be around. I grew close to a few select individuals throughout the week, and it was very difficult to say goodbye.

 

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.

I initially decided on this particular trip because I felt it would benefit me in my future profession. There are countless areas of occupational therapy, and although I have always wanted to be in pediatrics, I felt it would be great for me to explore the adult population as well. One of the reasons I have always wanted to work with the special needs population is because I have felt that society has continually done them a disservice. While we are improving, there is still a lot of work to be done in order for them to be treated with the respect they deserve. However, seeing the interactions between the staff, residents, and people outside of Misericordia has helped me see the positive transformation society is finally going through with the treatment of individuals with special needs. This transformational experience is valuable to me not only because I have witnessed hope for the future, but I know now that it will continue to improve when I am an occupational therapist myself. It showed me that I need to continue my passion for helping this population become as independent as possible without belittling them. I have shared my Misericordia experience with almost everyone I know because it has had such a great effect on me. I cannot assume that society knows exactly how to treat individuals with developmental disabilities, but I also cannot assume that they have bad intentions. All in all, this experience has taught me the values of patience and kindness. I learned these virtues through the residents, faculty of Misericordia, and other members of the Chicago community. Their continuous support for one another has helped me get a look at what I may experience in my professional life, whether that is with my patients or my fellow coworkers, and I am forever grateful for this opportunity.

Activity Cart at The James Cancer Hospital

1. Expanding and improving the Activity Cart at The James Cancer Hospital during the 2016-2017 academic year allowed me to provide patients and families with new activities, comfort materials, and—most importantly—companionship. Time to plan activities and visit patients in the volunteer role was the one thing I needed most to be able to give patients and families all I had to offer. STEP gifted me the time that I needed with the opportunity to stay in Columbus during the summer months—a critical time for the program’s growth.

2. The activities on the Activity Cart are not the most important aspect of the cart, but rather a means to accomplish the goal of providing companionship to patients and family members. This is analogous to my STEP project in that the most important aspect was not the planning of the project, but the way in which I executed my plans with passion. In a transformational way, my STEP project made me realize that one of the greatest opportunities is being able to express love and show understanding to people while living each day in the service of others. When I visit patients in their rooms with the Activity Cart, I show empathy during conversations with patients and families and I experience the fulfillment of putting a smile on the faces of others. I am able to obtain a wide breadth of patient perspectives because each conversation, family, and patient is dynamically different. From this volunteering role, I gained a deeper comprehension of what would be required of me to heal patients’ bodies and minds as a future physician.
When I applied the same efforts and observations in my daily academic life that I did while volunteering, I witnessed that similar positive results arose. If I put others’ needs before my own or sought to deeply understand another person’s perspective before expressing my own, as I did while in the hospital, my interactions with others became exponentially more productive. In high school, I learned the importance of tolerating people versus accepting them. In my STEP project during college, I learned that it is not enough to accept others and their ideas or emotions. Rather, one must fully embrace someone’s perspective to be able to contribute his or her best self. Society is one large team that functions on embracing and understanding others to accomplish greater goals—as I had done with people in the hospital to give them hope, a reminder to smile, or a goal of completing an activity. Since my STEP project took off, I now leave patients rooms or everyday conversations with emotions that mirror those of the people with whom I speak because it allows me to embrace both my own ideas and the ideas of others. STEP transformed my way of thinking by reminding me that the most meaningful and fulfilling parts of my day are the times I am able to bring joy, relief, or partnership to people simply with my presence and desire to understand them.
This experience was transformative for my personality and life as a future physician in that it allowed me to act on the immense love and compassion I have for others. It also guided my learning from the people with whom I interacted and humbled me through exposure to a great human strength that I would not otherwise understand without the patients’ willingness to let me see through their eyes. Most notably, this project was also transformative for the patients of The James and the volunteers, donors, and coordinators involved because they helped to make a difference in the days and lives of community members who need love.

3. In essence, the people I worked with while planning my STEP project including Katie Kiene, Christine Curry, and Regina Wicks-Frank from the volunteer services office at The James and the many family members and patients I visited made my experience transformational. The Activity Cart is a unique initiative that seeks to fulfill the needs of patients and families that are difficult to meet otherwise. Not many people will admit they want something to help them escape from negative situations or someone to talk to until they are approached. Even fewer people will realize that they want something to help pass the time or crave companionship unless they are asked or until they see the cart in the hallway. The Activity Cart offers a helping hand in more ways than one and I have realized that my responsibilities as a volunteer completely change from week to week, depending on what people need. In this position, I have searched for a physician on the 10th floor who positively impacted a family who wanted to say goodbye before they left. I have met people in the elevators and in the hallways and ended up spending time with them or providing activities to them. I have met patients who inspire the entire staff who interact with them and who make the hospital a better place with their presences. I have also helped put together small kits or presents for patients to give their visiting children or family members and I have had the pleasure of witnessing their reactions.
While no volunteering day is “typical”, each day involves me preparing the cart and putting together activities for distribution, planning new crafts or things to do with patients, and talking with patients in their rooms or completing activities with them. Some conversations are short and simply involve me asking people where they are from and what interests they have so that I may give them a magazine, crossword puzzles, or coloring pages that might be of interest to them. Some conversations—and typically the conversations and people who have impacted me the most—are very long. One visit that was memorable to me was with a patient, her husband, and her daughter. The mood was solemn when I first walked into the room. They did not seem interested until I listed some of the activities that we offer on the cart. As they listened, their faces lifted and they each requested something. I spent an additional 45 minutes with them after, during which time we shared many laughs and they spoke about their hobbies, hometown, work lives, and shared childhood stories. They also asked me questions about my studies and future career plans and wished me a successful future. I helped the patient make a bracelet—an activity we titled “Moment Beads” which encourages patients to associate each bead on a bracelet with a happy memory or moment—and she told me she would remember me and all of the kind people at The James when she wore it. I had been having a stressful week before our visit, but as we said goodbye, the sun seemed to shine just a little brighter for all of us on that day.
The impact of the Activity Cart is immeasurable. However, if one were to approach someone—including the nurses and other staff members—who has experienced the Activity Cart or one of the two volunteers, they would tell you that it brings smiles to those who have participated in the interactions it provides.

4. I truly believe that my engagement in this project cultivated the growth of my professional and academic identities because it provided me with patient interaction experience, enhanced my leadership and planning skills, and allowed me to expand my network of medical professionals. My involvement in the expansion of the Activity Cart program also provides me with unique experiences to share with my future peers, current colleagues, and future patients. Being a part of the program’s growth and having the ability to volunteer for the cart has taught me how a small, humanitarian idea can have a larger effect than was imaginable. The obstacles faced while planning reminded me that if things do not occur accordingly, one must persevere to accomplish set goals—which, for me, was to bring happiness to others through my volunteering and STEP project. By extension, the valuable patient interactions that my STEP project provided will aid understanding of my own patients in my future career as a Doctor of Medicine.

Cape Town, South Africa Buck-I-Serv Reflection

Name: Gregory Zane

Type of Project: Buck-i-Serv Trip to Cape Town, South Africa

During May 2017, I had the opportunity to travel to Cape Town, South Africa on a Buck-i-Serv Trip. We worked primarily at a local community outreach organization, called Sakhulwazi, which works to solve the critical problems that the township of Philippi and its citizens face each day. Specifically, the Buck-I-Serv group worked alongside members of Sakhulwazi through their sustainable agriculture program which provides fresh fruits and vegetables to the community at affordable prices. We also had the opportunity to visit cooperating Educare centers to learn about the school systems in the Western Cape and interact with kids ranging from 0-6 years of age. When we weren’t participating in service, the Buck-I-Serv group traveled throughout Cape Town and the surrounding areas to learn about the history of South Africa, Apartheid, and the many languages that exist in the Western Cape.

Through personal experiences and interactions with others, I have been able to better understand how my identities shape the interactions and privileges I have within the paradigm of the United States. While I have had the opportunity to travel to Europe, this understanding had remained fairly constant until I stepped foot in South Africa. Until recently, South Africa was a racially separated country due to the segregation laws known as Apartheid. With radical laws that ripped families apart and forced individuals to live in townships that lacked basic infrastructure and opportunities based on the color of one’s skin, I quickly realized that my identities took on a new meaning. As a white male, my identities were similar to those of the politicians and soldiers who enforced the inhumane laws on any non-White South Africans. Understanding this, I actively observed how my interactions with locals were shaped and spoke with as many people as I could to understand the new paradigm I was in. This challenge provided me with a greater ability to reflect upon myself which I have carried back to the US to continue understanding my role in society.

After coming back from South Africa, I’ve become much more aware of the views that Americans have on both the country of South Africa and the continent of Africa as a whole. In many instances, I’ve been faced with questions like “Did you see lions in the street” or “Is it true that everyone is poor”. While I understand that these questions come from basic ignorance, I can’t help but get irritated at how Western society views the idea of “Africa”. I was able to witness first-hand extreme poverty, but I also ate and shopped in areas that are more affluent than even the wealthiest places in the United States. The people that I built relationships with came from different backgrounds and all experienced life in a different manner rather than following stereotypical Western notions. I believe that, through the culmination of my experiences, I’m better equipped to slowly change the American view on Africa to one that is much more open and understanding of the true diversity which exists rather than the single story our society blindly believes.

One of the things I am most grateful for about the Buck-I-Serv trip was the amount of activities we were able to do during such a short time period. Specifically, the opportunities provided by Sakhulwazi and the amazing people there who I look up to as role models for the way I want to live my life. Every day, Sakhulwazi faces struggles that most Americans wouldn’t even be able to comprehend like lack of clean water and inadequate funding, however, they continue to be a stable heart for the community. Listening to how resilient many of them were, even in the face of extreme adversity, made me take a step back and rethink whether the trivial worries I have on a day to day basis are worth getting upset about. I hope to have half the strength that the Sakhulwazi staff show each and every day.

Other than the service portion of our trip, the most impactful part were the visits to museums and our education sessions about Apartheid. The District Six Museum, in particular, was extremely impactful. During the 1950’s, the Group Areas Act was passed which assigned racial groups to different residential sections in cities like Cape Town. Prior to the 1950’s, the area of Cape Town known as District Six was a diverse neighborhood filled with families ranging in racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. After the passing of the Group Areas Act, the South African government expelled any non-White citizen from the city to surrounding townships and destroyed nearly the entire neighborhood. While the museum commemorating District Six was relatively small, Noor, a guide for the museum who originally lived in the district, was able to share his experiences about Apartheid in ways that continue to impact me and allow me to question how identities impact our opportunities in life.

I think the reason the Buck-I-Serv trip was more impactful than a regular “study abroad experience” was due in part to the group I was with. Even though we were only together for 2 weeks, I found a new family that helped me to grow through reflection and by pushing me out of my comfort zone even more than I would have on my own. Having other people around allowed me to question the things that I didn’t understand in a group that would help navigate me to find an answer. Without them, I truly don’t think my transformation would be as deeply rooted as it is now.

My Signature Project has provided me the opportunity to step out of my boundaries and go places that I never thought I would be able to go while at The Ohio State University. As I am a Public Health major, it’s my goal to eventually work in the field of Global Health and make impacts in communities similar to Philippi. I believe that, through my experiences, I now have a more realistic understanding of what this actually entails and it’s made me much more passionate about my academic and professional goals. This passion has already begun to translate over to deeper involvement in on-campus organizations as well as helping me take a closer look into graduate programs that can accelerate me into the field of Global Health. As I set forth now into the next stage of my academic career, I have my experiences from the Signature Project to guide me to my future.

Alex’s Work With Project Horse Empowerment Center

As a member of the STEP program, I used my money to go to Virginia and work with Project Horse Empowerment Center. They are a non-riding therapy horse farm that uses rescue horses to empower people with disabilities and emotional and mental disorders. I used my two weeks to learn about horse behavior and the skills needed to work with special needs horses, as well as what horses and humans can do to help each other in the way of therapy.

As someone who has always wanted to be a veterinarian, I know how strong of a connection humans can have with animals and the impact those animals can have. However, this project gave me a new perspective on how animals, specifically horses, can change lives. I did not have much horse experience going into my project, in fact, I had started to lean away from horses as a future career option, but decided to give this project a go anyway. Throughout my two-week stay, my views completely changed. Almost every horse at Project Horse has been through neglect or abuse. They all have unique stories and personalities, just like humans. The strength and resilience these horses show is exactly what they need to do therapy work. The most amazing thing to me was that the horses get just as much out of a session as the client does. The horses really understand the job, knowing exactly what they need to do to help the client they are working with, and it never stopped amazing me. Working with Project Horse changed the way I look at an entire species of animals and makes me want to work with horses in the future.

Several events lead to my change of heart when it comes to horses, but one of the first things was when I met all the horses and learned their stories. It still gives me chills to think about all the hardships these horses have gone through, yet they are still gentle, strong animals. I think these sufferings allow them to do the work they do, because they understand what a client is going though. I don’t think I ever grasped how smart horses are until I felt the compassion these horses have for people. It was incredible to watch the horses use their pasts to help people going through similar hard times.

There are many reasons why horses are phenomenal animals, but my favorite thing about them was that they felt like friends to me. Their personalities really shown through in everything they did and I had a personal connection with each of them. One of the most rewarding moments was getting one of the mini horses, Penny, to let me halter her. She is extremely shy around new people due to extensive abuse and it usually takes months for her to really trust someone and allow them to halter her. Naturally she became one the horses I wanted to bond with most, so at the end of the day, I would go sit her paddock for about 30 minutes and just let her roam around me. I did this every night for a week, working my way up from just sitting there to petting, feeding, and finally haltering her. It was the best feeling in the whole world to see how our relationship grew in such a short time.

The event that really made it all click though was getting to help with a group therapy session. A group of girls from a children’s’ home came out to Project Horse to start a six-week program. There was one girl who arrived with her face entirely covered with her hair. She had been at the home for 5 months and no one had ever seen her face. As they walked around meeting all the horses, they came up to a pasture that housed one of the shyer horses. He was not the best with groups, and usually avoided the larger group sessions. However, that day, as the girl walked up to the fence he came right up to her. He stared at her for a minute, and then she parted her hair and kissed his nose. It was the most amazing thing to watch because both the horse and the girl were finding comfort in each other. I actually have checked in with the group since then, and that girl now wears her hair in a ponytail and is becoming more and more social every day.

This is valuable to me because it has opened a new door for me in terms of a career. I definitely want to expand my horse knowledge and work with them in some capacity in the future. It also just renewed my faith in animals and how much kinder they are than humans. Animals go through horrible things every day at the hands of humans, yet they continue to have love and patience for them. Working with Project Horse Empowerment Center reiterated my career choice. I can never thank them enough for the wonderful experiences and I hope to get involved with a program like this soon.

Rachel: Buck-I-Serve Reflectio

 

For my STEP signature project area, I chose to partake in a Buck-I-Serve trip. Specifically, the Buck-I-Serv trip centered on the Guadalupe center in Immokalee, Florida. During this trip, my group volunteered at the Guadalupe center, which is an early childhood education center, as well as the PACE center, which is an alternative high school for girls. Additionally we also visited the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, to learn more about their mission to fight for the rights and betterment for the working conditions of migrant workers.

I think that in partaking in this particular project, I feel that something that was transformative for me was witnessing not only the effect of service, but also learning more about the harsh realities that migrant workers face, that I may not have thought about or knew about in depth. For instance I learned more about pay abuses that migrant workers face, health issues, and the fair food agreement etc.. I feel this is transformative for me because, it was very informative and eye opening; and its something that I want to share with those around me.

Looking more in-depth at my project experience, volunteering at the Guadalupe Center was transformative for me as well. The facility was very nice, and the children were split into age groups, and different classrooms with different themes. I was placed in a classroom with children ranging from ages 3-4 years old, in the “Sand Dollars” classroom. The children were very kind, playful, always ready to ask me questions about anything and everything. Each classroom had two teachers, and I had appreciated the fact that they were willing to guide us and let us help out in their classrooms. I enjoyed that, the teachers took great care and patience in making sure the children learned their letters and numbers. I also enjoyed the fact that there was a planned schedule with various activities for the children to keep active throughout the day. I loved how they played a game every morning where the children had to say the name of the person sitting next to them, so that everyone knew each others names.

And so throughout the week, I played with the children, helped with setting out lunches, cleaning up after playtime and lunch time, and setting up for nap time as well. I developed a close relationship with the children, and I still remember all their names. And so for me, it was a very rejuvenating experience, and an experience I will never forget.

At the PACE center, I learned that the alternative high school is a school for teens with certain risk factors, whether it be financial or home based concerns, etc.. And so, we played games with the girls and got to know them, and we helped with tutoring and homework as well. I also learned more about their education curriculum, and how create an open environment for the girls to get help and ask questions; and they also rewarded monthly, those who made drastic improvements for the better. One things that was transformative for me however, was learning about their dreams and aspirations after high school. I was very inspired, and hearing their aspirations reminded to not get so caught up and down about my classes sometimes. And to just remember that at the end of they day, i’m doing all of this work because of my goals/aspirations.

Overall, these experiences, helped me to directly see the power of service. I left this trip more informed, rejuvenated, and inspired then when I arrived. And, I will carry these experiences with me, and continue to find other ways that I can continue to serve.

Engineering and Culture in India

I was lucky enough to be a part of the Engineering and Culture in India service learning and study abroad trip. Our group of fourteen travelled to Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, and Pushkar to observe the culture of northern India and to sightsee. We conversed with locals, bargained with shopkeepers, and saw some of the most famous sites in India. We also got to visit Barefoot College, where rural citizens are trained how to do things like make sanitary napkins, clothes, and solar panels to power their village.

Because this trip was my first time out of the country, I kept expecting to feel like “WOW! I am on the other side of the world right now!” While I did experience a sense of wonder, I never felt a huge shock about being in a new place. Yes, India is incredibly different from the U.S., but people are really still just people, even when their circumstances are entirely different from your own. This definitely changed my view of the world. I think in the Western world, we tend to “other” people who may not be that different from ourselves. At the end of the day though, we are all just human beings. We have struggles and challenges and desires, and we just want to be happy.

Experiencing India taught me not to judge things based on how you traditionally see them being portrayed. If you want to know how things truly are, you should seek a primary source. Whether that be going to a place yourself and talking to someone who has firsthand knowledge of that topic, it is important not to make assumptions. This idea reminds me of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDtalk titled “The Danger of a Single Story.” We often are only presented with images of poverty in places like India. While these stories are valid, they are only ONE story. When you look around and dare to explore, there are so many more stories to hear.

One of my favorite interactions of our whole trip was with our tour guide at Amber Fort in Jaipur. Sonya, a friend of mine in our group who is actually Indian, asked him what his religion was. He answered, “Well, first, I am a human being. Second, I am a Muslim.” In a time in the world’s history where intolerance and hate can often seem overwhelming (especially with the constant news we get through technology and social media), this guy just gave the most amazing answer to what could be a loaded question. People are just people. Despite their religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, class, or other identity… people are just people.

I also loved talking and haggling with the shopkeepers. Their relentless promises of deals and high quality goods rang out down all the streets we walked through. Talking to them was intimidating at first, but my friend Patrick knew just how to break the ice. He would joke around with them and make them laugh. Some didn’t speak English that well, but laughter is truly a universal language. That was one of my biggest takeaways from my STEP project.

Additionally, interacting with the people on my trip made my soul so happy. I wrote this in my travel journal: “The peeps on this trip have given me book and movie suggestions, told me interesting things about their personal lives, and have made me laugh until my stomach hurts. I am truly thankful for this opportunity and for all of the ways that I have grown and learned. And there’s still three more days!” All of my peers on the trip were insightful, inspired, driven, and ready to change the world. On our

When people ask me how my trip was, I tend to say, “It was crazy….but awesome!” How many 21 year old kids get to say that they’ve been to India? How many people in general get to say that they’ve been to India? I got the chance to take a rickshaw through the crazy city streets, see a monkey sanctuary, experience the Holi festival, ride a camel, and converse with some pretty amazing people. Experiencing new things like these will always transform my outlook on life and on my inner self.

Personal growth and transformation is important to me on a fundamental level. As humans on this planet, we have a responsibility to ourselves to become the best version of ourselves possible. We cannot do that if we stay inside our comfort zones—if we are only associating in the places we call home with the people who make us feel at home. I travelled halfway across the world to experience a week that opened my mind and reinforced my belief that we are all connected.

My Buck-I-Serv trip

Name: Amy Xie

Type of Project: Service Learning and Community Service

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.

I was a trip leader during the Summer 2017 Buck-I-Serv trip.   During this Buck-I-Serv trip, me and seven other Ohio State students worked on environmental projects and learned about some Native Amercian history.  We pulled privet and honeysuckle at a Sequoyah Museum, raked leaves and pulled poison ivy to make room for a pavilion, and dug trenches on a hiking trail to prevent floods during a rainstorm.  During our free day, we went hiking at Laurel Falls and went white water rafting at Rapid Expeditions in Hartford, Tenessee.

 

2. 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.

This trip opened my eyes and allowed me to see the beauty in nature.  I saw how much of an impact humans have on the environment.  I also saw the aftermath of the Gatlinburg fire and how much the earth was destroyed as a result of it.  To see the trees and grass go from green to black was absolutely heartbreaking.  This showed me how something starts out small, can lead end in something cataphoric.

This trip has also allowed me to conquer my fear of nature.  I used to be scared of bees, bugs, poison ivy, dirt or anything that’s not sanitary.  After a week of working alongside those things, I am no longer afraid of them.   I started out the week by walking around poison ivy, to pulling them at the end of the week.  This proved to me that I am able to conquer my fears by directly facing it.

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? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

On the fifth day of my trip, my group and I drove roughly two hours to a hiking trail to dig flood trenches.  During this walk up the trial, I saw where the  Gatlinburg fires went through, and how much life was destroyed.   We talked to the park ranger that came with us on the trail and he talked about how long it will take to recover from it.  He mentioned it can take fifty years for life to grow back and look how it was supposed to be prior to the fires.  I found it amazing how much park rangers are dedicated to nature, and it allowed me to see you can always find a job that involves something you’re passionate about.

On the second day of my trip, my group and I went to the Sequoyah Museum and removed privet and honey suckle from their property.  I did not think that nature can kill nature.  I learned that privet and honeysuckle vines are invasive plants from Europe and that they actually can kill trees.   They do so by wrapping themselves around trees which prevents water from reaching the part it needs to in order to stay alive.  This showed me that people need to take care of nature and keep it healthy by removing invasive plants.

Overall, this trip taught me to not be afraid of nature, how nature affects us and how we affect nature.  The little things such as building trenches to prevent floods and pulling vines to keep trees alive can make a big impact in an environment.

 

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 was valuable to me because it was different than the stereotypical service trip.  Most people link service trips to going to a retirement home, an animal shelter, etc.   This trip also ended up being an all girl trip, and it was rewarding to see how much work my group and I accomplished when all the projects were labor intensive.  It shows me that I can do anything, regarldess of my gender and size.

 

There’s an App for That

Laura McLaughlin

Service Learning and Community Service

  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.

I focused my STEP opportunity on siphoning my passion for maternal-infant health, public health, and patient education into a prototype for a mobile application with the intent of decreasing miseducation and diminished resources which all contribute to infant mortality in the United States. Working with programming students on platforms that support both iOS and Android smartphones, we created a prototype of the app. I also established a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), pitched my idea for funding, and began networking for sponsorships/partnerships.

 

  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.

It is safe to say that my STEP project is unlike most of my peers’ due to the individualized nature of the project I worked on; it was not a two week study abroad or summer internship. Instead, my route was much more ambiguous and required a great deal of planning and extensive self-exploration related to startups, technology, and learning to navigate the healthcare and business industries. The most intimidating aspect of this project was that I had to rely solely on myself and trust my intuition.

This, however, was also the most empowering aspect because I can attribute my personal and professional growth back to what started out as simply an interest and funding money. I developed my financial intelligence to optimize the use of the $2,000 asset money for greatest possible outcomes. I gained confidence in my idea by developing and presenting my pitch in environments I am not accustomed. My introduction to the high risk for infant mortality populations challenged my world view and perception of the issue by allowing me to realize that opportunity is the true disparity. It was humbling to see how my assumption of providing healthcare information to this population compared to what they truly needed.

 

  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.

When I originally set out to create my mobile app, I had only begun to scrape the surface on the national and global factors that impact the United States’ infant mortality rate. In the beginning, as with any problem one seeks to impact, I delved deeply into education on the subject—especially as it pertained to Ohio. One of the most notable experiences I gained this year included attending the Infant Mortality Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland is considered by some reports to rank as the second worst rate of infant death among all USA cities, thus making it an excellent location for me to study and aspire to positively impact. The convention brought together an impressive task force of community representatives, health care professionals, government officials, health insurance companies, and academics all seeking to share what they have learned while acquiring new information and connections to further aid the impact of their efforts. Though I had little experience to contribute at that point in my project, I was able to expand my knowledge of the subject by interacting with variety of perspectives from different disciplines.

This two day conference required me to improve my confidence, heightened my networking skills, forced me to question my own ingrained prejudices which play a significant role in healthcare, and challenged me to think of infant mortality as a social and moral issue that is unique upon every case of infant death. I had incorrectly likened this problem to the straightforward path of diagnosing and treating a physiological problem, as I had seen and participated in during my clinical rotations. I finally realized that this was not the case and it would require expansion of my world view to include populations often misconstructed in our perceptions: individuals with limited education and opportunity, low socio-economic status, and a distrust of healthcare professionals. Instead of feeling intimidated at the thought of trying to fulfill my proposed STEP project under the short time constraint, I left inspired by the work of thousands who attended that day. I realized that the change I aspired to create was the beginning of a life-long pursuit, not simply a project confined to one year.

After recognizing that I wanted to pursue building my app past this one year mark, I started looking for ways to receive feedback on my mobile application ideation and for funding sources. My professor in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation minor encouraged me to apply to the Best of Student Startup Competition through Ohio State’s Fisher School of Business. I was selected to continue in the process and spent the next month attending workshops and creating my pitch. After passing the initial pitch, I was selected as a top five finalist to present to a greater community and table of Columbus judges. Though I knew I had worked hard and was passionate about my idea, I did not expect to win. Earning the first place and seed money is a moment I will treasure for a long time. What made it even more humbling was the support and encouragement I received as the crowd reacted to my project. Coming home that night and processing what had happened, I realized that a year before that I could never have imagined I had the personal grit, sophistication, or desire to pursue the BOSS competition. Without STEP I would never have fostered this personal growth and achievement.

It is important to mention the day-in and day-out tasks and responsibilities which are perhaps less strikingly significant but undoubtedly contributed to my growth over the past year. The most challenging problem to circumvent was finding the right avenue for programming. When I wrote my proposal, my intent was to use an online platform to create my mobile application. I even attended a PhoneGap/Buildfire training session held by the College of Nursing. To my disappointment, however, I realized the platform was limiting and did not present much potential for the work I wanted to put out. Upon looking into companies you can pay to program your app, I noted the significant cost was well above my ability to fund. Discouraged, I reached out to the OSU Computer Science Department, friends, and family to find someone with programming experience interested in working alongside me. The initial search was unfruitful, but I was finally connected to a University of Cincinnati student who assisted me during the summer of 2016. By the time school began in August, it was apparent that my project and the programmer’s skillset were not a good match, so I paid him for his time and effort and went back to searching for an avenue. While I did not use any of the work completed during this time on my current prototype, I learned what questions to ask when hiring, the importance of putting an agreement into contract, and experience collaborating with someone from a different field of experience. These lessons came in very useful when I met my current programmer and made me determined to get it right this time.

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  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.

When I began my clinical rotations sophomore year, I realized with some discontent that I would not be satisfied to be a bedside nurse for my entire career. The aspects I love most about nursing—improving the lives of patients through health education and by implementing my problem-solving techniques to holistically treat their conditions—had application but not enough to fulfill me. After exploring a variety of different avenues, I realized that women and children are my favorite population to work with and I prefer to do so in the public health setting. I had always seen graduate school as the key to working with these populations, and while I will most likely still pursue that, I have been exposed to a whole new avenue: social entrepreneurship. I have learned that nursing is not the only career with will allow me to benefit the lives of others and I have gained confidence in realizing that I need not be confined.  The transformation this project has provided me with set me up to be satisfied in the pursuit of my passions and allowed me to gain relevant experience relating to public health of women and children. I am thrilled that this application could easily be translated into a research project. When it comes to making a difference and pursuing my ambitions, I have realized that the time to chase this goal is not “sometime in the future,” but instead “now.”

One of the reasons I chose to attend Ohio State over other universities was because I knew that their dedication to research, investing in their students, and vast accolades across a variety of disciplines would provide me with opportunities and growth that a smaller school could never offer. My STEP experience is a testament to the university’s dedication to student potential. Acquiring knowledge, as I do in the classroom, is important, but it is valuable only when accompanied by action. Thank you Ohio State for inspiring and funding that action.

Example of informative graphics of prototype.

Maternal Health Selection Page of Prototype

Hong Kui Chen – Buck-I-SERV trip to York River State Park

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

This past summer I was given the opportunity to take part in a service trip to York River State Park in Virginia. While my group and I were there, we learned of different ways to preserve trails and learned a technique known as water shedding to keep the vegetation near trails alive. As a group we were able to come together and build a new fence, a new dock for boats, and clean up hiking trails for others to use.

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

Before going on this particular trip, I already had experience hiking and backpacking on trails already. I knew what equipment to bring in order to make a hiking trip worth the time. However, I did not realize that while mother nature did the work to create such beautiful scenery, the limited number of park rangers worked in the background to preserve this scenery. Each ranger tirelessly works around the clock to keep the trails clean, make sure trees are not ready to topple, and provide assistance to the many visitors that come by each day. Being able to take part in the process of repairing/preserving the trails really showed how much we have to care for the environment that we live in.

I definitely raised my awareness of the surrounding environment. There are small things that are constantly around us that don’t pay attention to that can ultimately lead to something unfortunate. If we don’t preserve our parks and forests, they can die in the very near future. One small thing can make a large difference. I had never really experienced service in this form, where it was more physical than anything I had ever done. However, this trip definitely changed the way I look at our environment. I feel as if I am ten times more knowledgable of the organisms we encounter or the plants that we see.

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? 

I remember vividly on our first day in the park where we met the first park ranger, Brad. While most people will tell you that they love their jobs, it was easy to tell that Brad was in love with it. The way he greeted us and talked about the park itself truly showed how passionate he was about keeping his park in the best shape possible. This really went to show how amazing mother nature is. Its something most of take for granted but our planet gave each of us a beautiful environment to thrive in and I learned that mistreating our planet leads to serious consequences.

While the work we put in at times was grueling, it was also fun at the same time. I was on a trip with 8 other women and I won’t say girls because each of them was more than capable of holding their own. This group showed me what teamwork really was. No one knew one another before the trip but by the second day, we were given our first project of building a fence and we all banded together to build what I would call a masterpiece. No one argued at each other or stopped working to be lazy; each person helped one another to complete the project. Now while it was only a fence that we built, it is still something that will last a good 25 years. In those years we can look back and say that came together to create something that people can admire.

To me, the most profound experience I had was when each one of us sat down to discuss our backstory. It was just amazing to see how diverse a group of students we were. Our majors spanned from Biology to Engineering to Horticulture. I thought it was just interesting to see that while we may all have different things that we are interested in studying doesn’t mean we can’t come together to enjoy something like mother nature.

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

While I aspire to be a doctor or pharmacist one day, this trip still resonates with me because it taught me to think about our environment as a whole. Without these hardworking park rangers to preserve our parks, we would be living a world that would look completely different from the one we live in today. I think it is important to remember that we can always put aside what we are doing and give back to mother nature as she has given each of us something beautiful to enjoy. This trip has also elevated my love for the great outdoors as I want to go on more hiking/backpacking trips in the near future.