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.


  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.

OSU STEP Reflection

1. I went on a Buck-I-Serv trip to New Orleans, LA from May 6th-13th, 2017 where my team helped a citizen build a shed in a community where Hurricane Katrina’s devastation was still very evident. 8AM-3PM was dedicated to hard labor under the scorching sun of building a building from our raw hands, and nighttime was used to explore the city.

2. I was very surprised to see that even after a decade, the area in the Lower Ninth Ward were still suffering from Katrina’s damages. The government has not stepped in as much as they should to help New Orleans citizens, and as we talked to many of them, they have very bitter feelings towards the government. As for the man we worked with, most of the supplies were bought with his money. He was a carpenter, so he was lucky he had the tools he needed. Other people, however, had little to nothing and had to make do with what they had. The other group were in shock that they were expected to help renovate homes with the little they had. It made me realize that people in the Lower Ninth Ward were saving every last penny to build themselves the best life they could, because many had large families to take care of.

What we take for granted, shelter, heating, air conditioning, decent flooring and walls, etc., were what these people were spending their life savings for. The best part of this experience was seeing how they never gave up, their perseverance, and being able to remain happy with their family despite their losses. The man we worked for lost his daughter to the flood, and his mother and sister died days within this. His parents’ home that he lived in was destroyed and he had nothing. He built his home with his bare two hands, with the help of the Lower Nine Organization (which we volunteered for). He gained 100 pounds  from stress but despite all this, he was able to remain happy because he never took anything for granted and appreciated even the smallest things. The last day, I teared up because I wanted to continue to be around the kind of energy the man gave off. He taught me that hardships I face will help me appreciate the smaller things in life.

3. The work we did throughout the week was the hardest physical labor I had ever done. I did not know that I was physically capable of completing what we did. When I look back at the experience, I realize I was able to cheerfully make it through the week because of the man we were helping out. We worked very hard, but he also talked the entire time about his experiences. He said that when there aren’t volunteers, he does this work by himself. This is a man who walks with a cane because of his bad leg. I couldn’t imagine him alone having to do what a team should work on, but he knows he needs to do it for his family and this kind of willpower was very admirable.

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I was really able to learn to appreciate even the house I live in. Being able to live in a privileged community, I wish there was more I could do to help these people. Working together with people I’d never met before, we all came together to help this man who had so little. I realized that if people were willing to commit to one week out of several in the year, it can be such a huge help. And these people appreciate it so much, too.

The man said every hour how grateful he was to see us. He always opened up his home and said anything that was his, was ours as well. He always bought water for us and when I went to the store with him, he kept saying to buy any food I wanted to eat! He was a Christian man, too, and said his life motto was, “If you’re worrying, you aint praying!” I was able to see what true perseverance looked like. I respect him so much for being able to provide the best he could to his family, and I just hope that one day I will be able to come out of hardships with the same attitude as him.

4. This trip was very important for me because I had never gone on a service trip before. I was very worried because I was nervous about going with people I had never met before. I was able to overcome this quickly, however, because I realized I was not there for the people. I was there to serve. I always thought I was a type of person who liked to serve, and because I an studying to be a doctor, this was very important to me. I was afraid that after I go on this trip, it would make me second guess my future career, as my dream is to serve in third world countries. However, this trip was so good to me and confirmed that this is truly what I love.

More than the work I do, I love talking to the people and really getting to know them on a personal level. It’s not that I love the physical work (quite the contrary) but I love that the physical work I do is helping people. It really ignited in me a passion to pursue this kind of work more. I was afraid at first because I am not much of an adventurous person, but I’d love to travel more to offer everything that I can, as I did this week in New Orleans. Meeting people at places like this makes the world seem not so big, and you really learn to humble yourself, which is why this was a significant trip for me.


Zachary Smith – Buck-I-Serv Trip to Cape Town, South Africa

1. Hello. My name is Zach Smith. For my STEP Signature Project, I was provided the opportunity to fly all the way across the world to Cape Town, South Africa with the Buck-I-Serv program through The Ohio State University. While our team was there, we volunteered our service through a local cooperative called the Sakhulwazi Women’s Hub in the township of Philippi. Our duties included going to early childhood schools to help the teachers and engage the children, painting a new school in the area, as well as assisting at the women’s hub with agriculture and maintenance.

2. Going into the experience, I knew that my view of the world was going to be expanded significantly. From having never left the country to flying over twenty hours to the other side of the world, I was ready to take in every experience and truly push myself out of my comfort zone and immerse myself in a brand new culture. One aspect of the trip that really opened my eyes was the stark disparity between the bustling, cosmopolitan city of Cape Town and the underdeveloped, dilapidated townships that are only minutes outside of the city. This inequality is not unique to Africa; cities and ghettos are spread out across all of the United States, Ohio included. The stark contrast between classes in Africa has made me much more aware of my surroundings, as well as a sense of profound gratitude for the opportunities that I have been given in my life.

The heightened social awareness that I developed during my time in South Africa has also forced me to confront the guilt that I feel from all of the privileges I experience. Here in the United States, it seems that the privilege discussion is always boiled down to a white vs non-white and male vs female platform. But to only think of privilege in these terms is reductive. There are people living on less than one dollar a day. People with no roof over their head. People not knowing where their next meal is coming from. When I connected the dots and realized just how lucky I was, it hurt. It hurts to be consistently aware of all inequalities of the world while I am here enjoying all of the wonderful things I am fortunate enough to be blessed with. The guilt I feel could easily be reduced by turning a blind eye to inequality and living in my own perfect bubble where everything is great. But that is not how I want to live. The guilt I feel is a reminder that there is a lot of change that needs to take place in the world. I can either sit around a feel bad about it, or I can use the hand that I’ve been dealt to make the world a better place for others. I would choose the latter every single time.

3. While in Africa, there were many experiences that shaped my new world view and elevated my social awareness. Specifically, I remember our first day driving into the township of Philippi from Cape Town. Although it is only about a 25 minute drive, as soon as we left the city, the inequality was extremely pervasive. We met with the Sakhulwazi hub, and then rode by van to the preschools that we were going to volunteer with. When I stepped foot into the classroom, I was overwhelmed with emotion. The classroom had well over 50 children, and only two teachers to attend to them all. The room was much too small to comfortably fit everyone, and there was simply a lack of resources to effectively teach a class. Thinking back to when I was little and going to school for the first time, I cannot even imagine how different things would be for me had I not attended a well-established private school.

The kids themselves left a profound impact on me as well. Given our current political climate in the United States, I was feeling very pessimistic about the world prior to leaving for the trip. All I saw was negativity, hatred, and partisanship at every level of socialization, and I truly felt like there was little good left in the world. The second I started interacting with the children, those melancholy thoughts evaporated. The kids would run up to all of the participants and greet us, rubbing their thumb against ours like some sort of secret handshake. They would run around, laugh, play, scream, and overall were just so full of energy and happy. All of the kids reminded me of my younger siblings and cousins back home, and it was so refreshing and pure to see their innocence. It also made me irate that there are still people today who are racist, xenophobic, and overall hateful towards people and culture that they do not understand. With the internet and wide variety of technology available, there is simply no excuse to be ignorant and afraid of things that are different.

But to me, I think the most profound experience that I had while spending my time in Cape Town was listening to the stories of the men and women who volunteer their time at the Sakhulwazi cooperative. These men and women have next to nothing, yet they wake up every morning, travel to the Sakhulwazi, and find ways to give back to their own community and make it a better place for others. Some men and women shared deeply intimate stories about the hardships that they have faced and the inequalities they still experience. I also had to laugh at myself and my own “problems” because they do not even hold a candle to what some of these people have experienced. The sheer determination that these men and women possess is truly inspiring, and serve as a constant reminder that even when things seem difficult or that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, you can and must push through it. The culmination of all of these interactions catalyzed the transformational experience that I had.

4. The personal growth I’ve experienced and the broadening of my worldview as a result of this opportunity is something that I will be able to carry with me for the rest of my life. Currently, I am in the process of applying to medical school. I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, and the profession allows me to utilize my skills and talents to help others in the most effective way that I can. This experience has only reaffirmed my commitment to others and making the world a better place. Ideally, after making my way through medical school, I want to work with Doctors Without Borders, supplying aid to the countries that need it the most. Though these areas are often remote and or dangerous, I am excited for the day I can finally give back in the capacity that I would like to.

Beyond reaffirming my own personal ambitions, my increased understanding and appreciation of the world and all its cultures is something that will help me better connect with others, as well as potential patients later in life. After coming back from South Africa, I find it much easier to place myself in others’ shoes and to critically think about big ideas from other perspectives than my own. I also have a new found appreciation of my culture as well as all those that I experienced on my trip. The world is a big, beautiful place with so much to see and experience if you are open to, and I am going to continue to keep my eyes and ears open to as much as I possibly can. Overall, I think that I’ve grown much more as a person as a result of this experience, and I am ready to challenge and engage the problems that I see within my community and others.



Mt. Rainier Climb – Zack Dinsmore

Thanks to STEP, I was able to travel to Seattle during my summer break to successfully summit Mt. Rainier. The semester beforehand was spent training for the climb and getting into the best shape of my life in order to make it to the summit. During the climb, I worked with fellow climbers and guides to keep each other safe by practicing proper rope spacing and self-arresting techniques.

For most of my life I have done things by the book, so to say. I haven’t taken any crazy trips or gone on vacations by myself. I have always just done what I was “supposed to do” in life. One thing I learned while on this climb was that there is more to life than just going to school, getting a degree, and working the rest of your life. I always thought that all I wanted was a stable job for the rest of my life but Rainier made me question what I want out of life. It made me really think about what I love to do, and if I can accomplish that with my current life plan. With working an office job 40 hours a week, I only really have time to travel and explore the world on the weekends. At this point in my life that doesn’t seem like enough time. This STEP project really made me value every moment I have, and to try to make the most of it.

My STEP project also made me re-evaluate what success looks like. Before this project I viewed success as the classic “American Dream” of success, a big house, a nice car, and a well-paying job. Rainier made me think about how success isn’t the same for everyone. It is more important to live a fulfilling life in your eyes that it is to have what a generic version of success might be. It made me realize that there are many things I want to do in my life that fall outside of this “idealized” view of success. I have a greater appreciation for the simpler aspects of life.

One of the key interactions I had was with a fellow climber I met, Chris. Chris was 53 years old and an ultra-marathon runner who was attempting to summit Mt. Rainier with me. It was great listening to Chris because he talked a lot about doing what you love in life. He retired early from his job as a business analyst and now works at a running shop near his home. He decided that his job wasn’t what he enjoyed doing and instead just works an in environment where he can talk to other runners all day long. I think this conversation with Chris was one that affected me the most because I had never thought about doing something similar to this. I just always assumed I would be doing computer science related work the rest of my life but Chris’s story made me reconsider that. I am now thinking that I want to do something like Chris, except possibly be a guide.

Another aspect of the trip that really affected me was the difficulty of the climb. While it was easy to run and practice other cardio activities in Ohio, it was very difficult to train for the altitude. On the climb as we neared 14,000 feet I could feel the measly amount of air I was taking in with each breath. It made every step a challenge and this struggle made me really appreciate what I had done. It gave me such satisfaction completing the climb. I was in no way gifted the summit of Mt. Rainier, it was due to my own training that I was able to make it to the top and it was a different kind of success than other successes I have had it my life.

Another relationship I formed was with the guide Casey, who has been guiding trips up Mt. Rainier for 20 years. Casey fell in love with mountaineering after he was done with high school and decided to be a guide for his career path. Before this trip it really hadn’t occurred to me that you would be able to travel and get to do things like climb mountains without a well-paying college job. However, after meeting Casey I realized that he is doing what he loves and getting to travel around the world and be outside with nature all the time. It made me realize that there might be some point in my life where I no longer want to sit at a desk all day and that I will want to be outside enjoying nature. Casey was also the person who really pushed me on the trip and made the climb so worth it.

This transformation is beneficial to both my personal and professional goals. Personally I think I have found something I really enjoy doing and have a new hobby that I will pursue in the future. Professionally, I think it made me realize that a work life balance is something I need in my life. While working 60/hours a week at a startup sounded fun to me before this trip, I think I would get burnt out quickly with this lifestyle. It also makes me want to work harder in those 40 hours a week I have at work in order to get my projects done and get to go home early. The biggest transformation that I will take away from this project is how I value my time.