FCCS Friendship Mentoring Program

For my STEP project, I participated in the Friendship Mentoring Program through Franklin County Children Services, where I acted as a mentor for a child involved in the foster care system. Through the program, I developed a lasting relationship with my mentee by providing her with various fun and new experiences.

I chose this project in particular as a means to explore my desire to eventually work with Franklin County Children Services; it seemed the perfect opportunity to get experience with the organization and begin networking. Not only did the project prove to be transformational in the sense that it did provide me with a deeper understanding for what Franklin County Children Services does and a better chance to get more involved with the organization, but it also opened my eyes to the complexities of the foster system and the issues that youth involved in the system face throughout their lives.

I had always assumed that working with children services would be a taxing job that required much emotional resilience. However, after having completed my project (though my involvement with the youth still continues), I realize that I was still very oblivious to the challenges involved with working in children services. Although I believe that the my role with my mentee as a friend and role model played a great role in the strong emotions I felt, I learned that I will need more practice in the field of social work managing the difficult emotions before I put myself on the front line with children services. Though child welfare is an area I am still very passionate about, my passion became more focused on transforming the system to minimize the negative effects it can half on the youth and impacting the issues that cause so many children to be involved in the system, including drug abuse and poverty.

The girl I mentored was living with family, because both parents no longer were living. However, the impact of poverty and the age of her family members created living situations for her and her siblings that were neglectful. The impact of peer pressure, grief, and bullying also resulted in the children acting out. As a result, she was moved to a foster home, and a few more soon after, before finally ending up with family for what is hopefully a permanent living arrangement. All of the moving around, however, began only months after her and I began the mentorship program. Such unrest in her living situation revealed the difficulties involved in foster care, as there always seemed to be unanswered questions and confusion for all parties involved. I found myself personally always trying to get the latest information so I could keep in contact; such experiences revealed how much more difficult it must be for those social workers investigating the case, not only of just one family, but many families simultaneously. I quickly learned that children services was much more overwhelming than I had imagined

Not only did that experience show how overwhelming it must be for those social workers with children services, but it also revealed the complexities involved. My understanding of child welfare always came from the news stories that were seemingly very straightforward, where the abuse and neglect were obvious. However, I found myself conflicted when my mentee was removed from her family’s care, as from my perspective, though the living conditions were not ideal, they seemed to love the children unconditionally. It seemed to uncover a lot of gray area where the needs of the children need to be weighed to decide what is best for them. Having such a relationship, not only with my mentee, but also her family, made seeing the displacement of the children into the foster system very frustrating.

Finally, one of the biggest things I learned about myself through the experience was my dread of visiting strangers’ homes. Because she moved four times in the six months that was considered my project, I had to go into four different neighborhoods (some of which were not the safest) and meet four different families to keep in contact with my mentee. Some families were more welcoming and easier to contact than the others. However, not knowing what or who I was facing every time I called or visited to introduce myself to her new foster parents created much fear in me. I imagined having to visit new homes in different neighborhoods every day as a part of my job, with the potential of walking into dangerous situations when dealing with possible violent people or animals, and I quickly realized home visits were not something that I wished to do on a daily basis as a part of my job.

Although I wished that this experience would simply give me experience with foster care and child welfare to be more comfortable in entering into the field for my career, I gained both that and the insight that working directly in child welfare might not be my calling. Therefore, instead of applying to work with Franklin Country Children Services for my senior field placement, I decided, instead, to go into the area of residential mental health, where I will still get to help with some of the issues youth face when they spend time in the foster system without having to deal with the complexities, frustrations, and personal fears associated with working in child welfare directly. That being said, I hope that, by still working with children who are involved in the foster system, I will become more comfortable dealing with my emotions and fears, and eventually feel confident enough through my training as a social worker to spend some time working as a part of children services at some point in my career. Finally, my STEP project gave me a better understanding of the field of social work as a whole, and how emotionally difficult it will be. I will take the insights I have gained from this experience and focus on those as I move forward in my field placement to grow personally and professionally.

Once Upon A Time in Appalachia

My project was a service trip through Buck-i-Serv to Maryville, TN where we focused on environmental restoration and helping and learning about the Cherokee Indians. On this trip, I was involved in cleaning the Smokey Mountains and on a Cherokee Reservation, I really got to learn how to and why it is important to care of the environment and about the Cherokee culture. The other aspect of my project was to do photography and for it to aid me in my goals of doing photography as a career.

My trip to Maryville, TN allowed me to change my view of how I see the world. I was able to go to the Smokey Mountains and Snowbird Cherokee Reservation and do a lot of environmental work for a week. Throughout the week I got to learn a lot about myself. I cared about the environment before this trip, but while in the Smokey Mountains I got to meet a lot of people that do so much for the environment every day. This gave me a new appreciation and understanding as to why it is so important to care about the environment everyday. I got to learn ways I can help anywhere I am and this really opened my eyes as to how important it is, especially right now since we live in a world that is really showing the effects of humans and it is so important to try and remedy this.

I also got to help a Cherokee family on the Snowbird Cherokee Reservation with their building project. While driving through the reservation, I really got to see how the Cherokee people live very modest lifestyles. We got to meet with the people and they were happy and kind people, they did not need a lot of materialistic goods to be happy. While they did have goods, it was not anything to the extent that we know American to have today. I am Cherokee so getting to meet with the people and learning more of their customs and ways I got to learn a lot about my heritage. This really taught me a lot about myself and where I come from which made this trip more special to me.

The first relationship that led to the change I had on this trip was with our hosts Ed and Arlene. Ed and Arlene were extremely gracious hosts, they love having college students come in and teaching them their vast knowledge of caring for the environment. Each day we were at their cabins, they taught us something new. For example, they taught us of various invasive species of plants to the area and we spent time pulling them and getting rid of as much as we could around their land and in the Smokey Mountains. They also taught us how to can foods, living with a wood burning stove, of the native animals and how to care for them and not invade their area, and much more. Seeing how they live and hearing what they had to share was a very big component of the change I had in being more environmentally conscious. They were very big influence on me and I greatly appreciate getting to meet them and spend a week with them because it really opened up many new things for me.

Next, the interaction I had with the Cherokee family we helped from Snowbird helped to cause the second change. This change had to do with learning more about my heritage and getting to meet some of the people that are of same descent. I never got the chance before to meet and Cherokee people and see the way they live and this was a great opportunity to be able to experience that and also get to learn more about the culture. We helped the family with their home building project and on our way in we got to see the reservation and the modest lifestyle they lived. I really enjoyed getting to see that way of living. We also got to learn more about the Cherokee past when we met with the librarian and she answered any questions we had, she told us a lot of information we were never taught before. Finally, we learned a traditional Cherokee game that is played when a man wants to marry, it shows the potential wife how he and his friends are so that she knows what her future husband will be like. All of these interactions really taught me a lot about my heritage and made me want to learn more. These interaction caused a big change in me that way because previously I had some interest in knowing about my heritage but after this trip I had more desire to learn about it and try and live in that way more.

The last relationship that really helped me develop the change was with our trip advisor. He already lived a very outdoorsy lifestyle, and while on this trip he taught us more about the importance of experiencing the outdoors and caring for it. I have always really enjoyed being outdoors but after this trip I had more drive to want to spend time outside and care for it. He told of us the adventure he has had and why he believes spending time outside is good for you. It all really resonated with me, I really connected with what he was telling us and wanted to have more adventures like he did. Not for the sake of saying I have done certain things either, I genuinely want to live a more outdoorsy lifestyle so that I have a healthier life and can experience all the world has to offer and give back and care for the issues I see while I am out in the world. I feel very lucky that I got to have him as my trip advisor as he caused a very big change in me.

This change is valuable for my life because it has given me an even bigger appreciation for the world. Prior to this trip, I enjoyed being outdoors some and doing things to help the world, after this trip I really notice the things I can do to help the environment and I also enjoy being outdoors even more and have gone on many more hikes and camping trips since this trip and I play to continue this. This change really affected my personal life more than anything else. As I am more aware of the impact that I have on the world and changes I have made to make my impact smaller. It matters because the world we live in needs more people realizing their impact and making the changes to lessen it. We also live in a society that enjoys staying inside and having material goods. It is important to experience the outside world and go out more and explore, this will make a positive change on our health and view of the world. So, the changes of being more environmentally conscious, wanting to know of my heritage and culture, and spending more time outdoors experience and caring more it have really made an impact on my personal life.

Log Chopping

Great Smokey Mountains

Making Jam


Making Jam

Exploring the Waterfall


Buck-I-Serv Habitat for Humanity Eustis, Florida

David Ruffner

Service Project


STEP Service Project-Habitat for Humanity

            The Service project I choose to do was a Habitat for Humanity project in Eustis, Florida. This project focused on partnering with Habitat for Humanity to help build affordable housing for Veterans in the area. The project we specifically worked on was a place called Veteran’s Village where we helped finish up the roofing and inside painting for 3 homes.

I think this project certainly gave me a chance to look more on myself and the people around. One big thing I took form this trip is how Ohio State was able to get a whole group of students together to do a project like this. It allowed me to see that there are other people around me who want to get out there and help others. This idea helps open up my views of the world because as an individual you cannot always make the impact that you hope to but with the help of others you can get bigger goals done like helping people get housing they deserve. Also knowing that groups like Habitat for Humanity are able to get volunteers year round motivates me as a volunteer because it shows that even when I may not be able to be there to help that others will be available to fill the gap.

I think this trip helped to also open my eyes more to what I want to do when I leave college. Though things like building affordable housing does not pertain directly to my field, chemical engineering, this trip showed me that service will still be important. I think I will be able to use my degree to hopefully find a job that does try to help the community so that I can know my work, though not directly service, is helping to make a difference. It will also help shape my life because I hope to wherever I land in the country or world that I will look for groups like Habitat for Humanity and will get involved with their cause. I believe that by helping even in the smallest ways I can continue the good work that I was able to achieve in Eustis Florida. I know now how key I take service to heart and how I hope it shapes my life in the future.

I can think of three major parts of this trip that shaped how it affected me. The first was the people in general. This was a combination of Carlos, our representative from Habitat for Humanity, Bob and Dolaris, the couple who ran the site, the other volunteers from the community and also my fellow Ohio State students. I went into this trip not knowing any of the people going as I got in the trip as an alternate and was not able to meet up with anyone beforehand. One the trip started I got to start meeting people and getting to know them. It though wasn’t until we started service that I feel like I started to connect with people the most. It was great to see other people who were like minded to me in that they were putting all their effort into helping to make a difference. This sentiment also went to the other volunteers who were there because they had been working prior to our arrival and were continuing after we left. Sometimes just seeing that other people care as much as you, makes the work seem more impactful as you know that it doesn’t end. This look on the work is what continues to attract it to me and will most likely impact my life from here out.

The second event was just how I carried myself while working. During the whole service, I constantly wanted to keep working to help get done as much as I possibly could because the work felt impactful. I found myself disappointed at the end of the day and wanting to eat my lunch fast so I could go back and help finish the section I had stopped at. The biggest example of this fell on the last day when we had only a half day due to us needing to begin our drive back to Columbus. On that last day we were getting near finishing all the rooking on one of the house, a job that me and two other people worked on the whole time, and when it came time to pack up for the day there was only one small piece left that needed cut and fitted. Tw hole time I was packing up the supplies I just sat there and was like “ come on just let me do the last piece so that I know it is finished” but of course we needed to make sure we stayed on schedule and the other volunteer who had worked with me assured me they would get it. It was just that feeling that made me think a little more on the impact of service in my life because it had become more than a simple experience. It had become something that I had put myself into and was not 100% willing to just let go of it. In that instance, I knew then that I would always want to continue making the impact that came from service.

The last part of the trip that truly made an impact on me was when we got to meet a family who was going to move into one of the houses. We had been given the heads up the day before that a couple was coming to visit the house and look around the area the next day and I honestly was looking forward to the experience. When the next day did come I was one of the last people over there to say hello to the couple as I had been working on a different house then almost everyone else. When I did get over there though, it was a very fulfilling moment.  Just getting to meet them would have been enough but they talked with us for a couple minutes talking about stuff like the husband’s time in the military and other small stories. Throughout all of this though you could just see the happiness in both of their eyes at the sight of the house. Most of service I have done hasn’t been the most hands on service and when it is it is usually something much smaller scale then the project for Habitat for Humanity. It was that concept of seeing the impact and knowing how much something can mean to people. To you it is only a week of doing what you see as the right thing to do but in reality it is a lifetime in that this service will help shape the lives of the people for the rest of their lifetime. Being able to see this larger scope brought another layer to service for me and has motived me to keep pushing the boundaries when I can to help.

This trip is important because it will now shape who I am for the rest of my life. As I discussed I will use this trip as a platform for how I shape my future. I hope to be able to continue service throughout my life and this trip has found another outlet to do so. I will now take the chance to continue work with Habitat for Humanity when able to. This type of service allows me to provide value to my community and help make a difference outside of my life. These are goals that I believe to be important in life and those any chance I get to do these things is worthwhile and life changing. This experience in particular was able to bring service to a new level and bring it to a much larger scale.

There is no real way to quantify how this trip was able to change me but it certainly helped to shape who I will become. It has helped me expand my scope and see the impact that I as one person can make. I will continue to do this work/service because I know it is the right thing to do and I know that along with the help of others it is making a difference. I believe this sort of mentality is important when thinking about the world holistically. We as Americans tend to take things for granted as we are a very privileged nation, though we have are many faults.  I believe that this trip was just a small internal example of what we need to do worldwide in that we need to extend the hand to show others they are not alone. By showing we are willing to help, even if just in our own country, we are setting example to others that support is out there. Sometimes people just need to know they are not alone in their endeavors and then they can go on to make an impact. I am not saying this trip was to this magnitude but I am saying that it helps open the discussion and is a great way for people to get started in making a difference.


Buck-I-Serv & Break A Difference: New Orleans

Name: Claire Hasley

For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled with roughly 20 other OSU students to New Orleans during Spring Break through Buck-I-Serv. We stayed in Slidell, Louisiana, and worked alongside people at various different service sites throughout the week. During our free time, we got to explore New Orleans by ourselves, which included several trips to Cafe Du Monde.
From the trip, I became more open to meeting new people and learned to love hearing about people’s backgrounds. Going into the trip, I knew no one. I was worried about spending an entire week without anyone I knew, but the first night of the trip, my fellow OSU students and I bonded so quickly. I found that I could be myself around people I had just met such a short time ago. Barely anyone on the trip knew anyone else, so we were all in the same boat. While staying in New Orleans, we stayed with students from two other colleges. The one thing my Buck-I-Serv group had in common was being from OSU, and this was a commonality that brought us all together in a very short time. Also, while in New Orleans, we got to interact with people from different backgrounds at the various service sites we worked at during the week. In doing so, I was able to see firsthand how everyone in the community can contribute to making it a better place.
New Orleans is still rebuilding after the horrible devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Throughout the week, I volunteered at various different sites with my subgroup, and we got to build relationships with the people of New Orleans. At the first service site, we worked alongside of people with disabilities who work daily to recycle beads that were used in past parades around New Orleans. The next two days, we created relationships working alongside the same people at a secondhand store called the Green Project. Their main focus is rehabbing building supplies to be used again. While there we got to pick our coworkers’ brains about things to do in New Orleans, how life has changed since the floods, and how people on the outside can really help this rich and lively community thrive and return to its former glory. On our last service day, we helped set up for a fundraising gala at the Audubon Zoo. Throughout the week, it became apparent how the everyone in the community of New Orleans works together to rebuild and sustain themselves. Several specific interactions really were the turning point of the change that the trip brought upon myself.
In addition to our interactions with our coworkers, we interacted with other people of New Orleans in a different fashion. In the middle of the week, myself and a few other girls from the trip stopped in a random cafe after grabbing dinner on Magazine St, and we found ourselves engaged in a conversation with the barista. He was so open and real about life in New Orleans and answered any question that we had. It was refreshing to connect with such a beautiful, genuine person.
Later on in the week, we went on a swamp tour. Our tour guide was born in the swamp and had such a passion for learning about where he lived. He had quite an extensive knowledge that kept us all engaged throughout the entire ride. He even had a great relationship with the animals of the swamp and knew just how to make them come out so that we could see them.
Following the swamp tour, we got to meet up with the Cajun Buckeyes, the New Orleans sector of the OSU Alumni Association. We got to pick the brains of recent alumni and got to hear about stories of success from OSU graduates who majored in an array of things. The interactions with the people of New Orleans was definitely the highlight of my trip!
Going forward, this trip has made me more open to the unknown. I didn’t know what to expect going in, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the entire experience and how it changed me as a person. I am now more open to putting myself in uncomfortable, new situations and hoping for the best. In addition, the trip opened my eyes to how people still suffer even when the story is no longer on the front page of the newspaper. Hurricane Katrina is remembered yearly, and updates are given to the general public. However, brief updates from afar do not compare to actually experiencing the turmoil that still exists as a city struggles to get back on their feet over 10 years later. The trip has made me more aware of ways that I can help communities in need from afar and up close. The trip was a positive experience and one of the highlights of my college years thus far.


Buck-I-Serv Grand Canyon Trip

  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.


We first arrived at the Palatki Heritage Site in Sedona, Arizona and spent three days building trails and learning about the history of the Palatki ruins. Then, we traveled to the Grand Canyon where we learned how to work as a team while hiking, camping, and white-water rafting.


  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.


What I came to understand the most during this trip is that something so small can make such a huge change in the world. Even just a group of college students can change an experience for thousands of people. For the next few years to come, everyone who enters the Pataki Heritage Site will be able to experience these trails that we put so much work into.  I never believed that I would be able to impact people or make an impression on someone’s life, but now I know that everyone who enjoys the heritage site in the future will appreciate the work that I did even if they don’t acknowledge it. I will forever be a part of their experience, and that makes me like I’ve contributed to society and history. Not only will it be a part of their experience, but it will always be a part of the caretakers’ experience as well. They were so appreciative of work, and this truly made me feel as if I made a difference in the world even if it may just be a small difference.

I also learned that when I put my mind to something that I’m passionate about, it feels more rewarding than just work. Then, when you get a group of people together who are all passionate about the same thing, it’s easier to work as a team and share your ideas. I’m very passionate about serving people who may not have the necessary help, and I’m passionate about preserving history so that it will never be forgotten. This trip combined two of my passions perfectly. I was able to help the caretakers of this site make this piece of history beautiful and more enjoyable, and they may not have been able to do this work without our help. Hopefully, these efforts will help attract people to the site so that more and more people will continue to care about and help preserve historical landmarks like the heritage site.

It is very rewarding to know that my services may have helped bring people to the site and may have helped get people to care more about our great history. This trip helped me understand that I can actually make impact. I don’t think that every person who goes to the heritage site will think about the efforts that went into making it look the way it does, but that doesn’t matter. I know that I can change a person’s experience even if it may go unnoticed. Without the support of my group, I may never have been as passionate about the project. Their passions helped push me even more to care about our service project and how it could impact future visitors for years to come. This trip has helped me learn that if I want to continue to pursue my passions, I will need to surround myself with people who are just as passionate (if not more than) about something as I am.


  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 was standing there in the Grand Canyon, I felt microscopic. I felt as if the world was so much bigger than I ever imagined and nothing I could do would make even the slightest difference. Then, I thought back to our community service project just two days before. I thought back to the smiles on the caretakers’ faces when we finished our project early and asked if we could do more for them and the genuine gratitude they had for our work. I realized that I don’t have to change the world for everyone, but I can still change the world for someone. The trails that we paved at the Palatki Heritage Site will be used by thousands of people for years to come, and I will always be a part of their experience.

This transformation would not have been possible without my Buck-I-Serv group and leaders. Each night, after we hiked, rafted, or volunteered, we would have reflection. During these reflections, we would discuss what values and lessons we learned during the day or the week. It seemed so easy for everyone to share their transformation each night because we knew that our other group members were genuinely interested in our lives. This made working as a group easier and more enjoyable. We all knew that everyone there was not only passionate about the work, but they were passionate about each other. My other group members genuinely wanted me to succeed and transform, and this only served as a catalyst for that transformation. One night during our reflection, our group leader asked us if we would take any new lessons or memories with us in the future. I didn’t know how to answer this. I said, “I don’t think I will know what I’ll take with me until this trip is over, and I can think back to certain memories I’ve made.” This was me before my transformation. I didn’t know what I was learning, and I may not have wanted to take anything back with me. Now I know that I’ve taken every memory with me, and now I can write a whole paper about how I’ve transformed from that moment. Just being able to understand who I was at that moment, and how I wasn’t very accepting to change, makes it easier now to be able see just how much I’ve transformed and how much I use these lessons and memories to shape my future.

One of the most rewarding activities we did throughout the week was called “Five Minutes of Fame.” During this activity, one group member would volunteer to have the spotlight for five minutes. The other group members could ask this person any questions they wanted to. This got very intimate, but it was a good kind of closeness. I genuinely wanted to learn about my group members’ lives, childhoods, wishes, fears, and dreams. These conversations allowed us to get closer to one another in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. When I volunteered for my five minutes, I was able to open up to my group members like I’ve never opened up before. I felt cared for. These people asked me questions that even my best friends have never asked me before. This one activity helped me open up to people I barely knew which I never would have been able to do before this trip.

After we finished our project at the heritage site, and before starting our voyage to the canyon, we wanted to look for someone else to serve in Sedona, so we volunteered at a food pantry in Sedona. This wasn’t even on our schedule, but it is one of my favorite memories from the trip. There were only five people who worked at this pantry, and they were struggling to keep up with the need to give out food to the community, so when we told them that we could help, they were extremely excited. One of the women, Omi, was in charge of storing and packing food to give out, and a few others and I worked with her to pack food into bags. She told us that this would have taken her the whole week if she had to do it by herself, but we finished it in two hours. She could not contain her gratitude for us, and, like before, this made me feel like I’ve actually made an impact on someone’s life. I had never felt this way before. I learned that just half a day of volunteering to help someone can change their lives. I learned that not all of my efforts go unnoticed or unappreciated. Most importantly, I learned that I can make a difference, and I hope I can use this self transformation to continue to impact people in the future.

  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.


This transformation will provide significant value to my life in many ways. First, I learned how to work in a team which is a beneficial skill to have for both my academic and professional careers. Being able to share and bond over our passions, dreams, and lives in a group will only make working together easier and more productive. I will feel comfortable sharing my own ideas and accepting the ideas of others. I also learned the importance of helping others. The caretakers of the Palatki Heritage Site would not have been able to do that trail work on their own. They would have had to wait until another group of 16 dedicated college students came along to volunteer, but it may have been years before that would happen.

Some people in this world can’t do certain things on their own; they need help from others. While I am young and able, I want to commit to helping others whether this is for my academic, personal, or professional career. I want to serve as a tutor and mentor for someone who needs help with school or with work. In my personal life, I want to continue to volunteer for people whenever I get the chance. I learned the importance of volunteering on this trip, and I will forever remember those smiles on the caretakers’ faces. I will do anything to see those smiles again from anyone I help.

Grand Canyon Service Adventure Trip – March 2017

Project Summary

During spring break 2017, I traveled with 15 other spectacular individuals by plane into the heart of the American Southwest for eight days of community service and good old-fashioned outdoor recreation. We arrived in Phoenix on the morning of March 11, and after retrieving our multitude of bulky luggage, we set off in our motorcade for our first stop at the Palatki Heritage Site outside of beautiful Sedona, AZ. Upon our late afternoon arrival,  we were promptly greeted by the young at heart couple–Vicki and Tom–tasked with overseeing the out-of-the-way yet culturally significant site. We were all quite tired from our trip but equally excited to take a tour of the aura-enriched region, which we were granted. Over the course of the 2.5 days we were at Palatki, we became very intimate with the history and tradition behind  our primary service site, and we grew closer as we restored the access trails in the dry heat.

Following our departure from Sedona, we journeyed up to the Grand Canyon, and after a thorough distribution of all our gear, we set off towards our campsite destinations near the floor of the geological trough. We split into two groups for our descent, and I became very close with my mini-group peers as we worked together to accomplish (seemingly) simple tasks and shared our thoughts amidst some of the most beautiful backdrops available to mankind. To finish out the trip, we rafted down the Colorado River for 50 miles, spending multiple nights on the river and tightening our bonds of newfound friendship. Overall, my experience during my week in Arizona was one I won’t soon forget, not only due to the incredible adventures we had, but also because of the sincere gratitude of the people we helped.

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

Going into the trip, I knew that if nothing else, I was going to more than enjoy the time spent in the Canyon hiking and rafting. Given my long-time love of the outdoors, I was ecstatic to find out that I had been selected for this popular Buck-I-Serv opportunity, and having never been to the Southwest, I was anticipating the new culture and natural environment that I would finally get to experience for myself. What I didn’t know prior to my trip was how much the people and the spirit of the place itself would rub off on me and change my perspectives. One memorable insight that stands above the rest came into form as we were preparing to depart from Diamond Downs for the rafting segment of our trip. As we slowly winded our way towards the mighty Colorado along a washed out dirt road, I couldn’t help but take note of the numerous children playing in the muddy gullies running parallel to our whiplash-inducing trek. Our put-in point on the river lied within the bounds of the Hualapai reservation, and what struck me the most was the joy these children got from such simple things, despite the evident poverty that permeated the small villages on the outskirts of the nearby towns. Here were people with every right to be angry at the circumstances they had been subjected to through countless years of discrimination and manipulation, and yet, they were friendly and seemingly happy to be alive. This called to mind my own perspectives, as well as those of the other people in my life. Too often it seems that we desire more creature comforts, more prominent standing, and more material happiness in our day-to-day lives. But seeing these people living carefree on the land of their ancestors and deriving delight from something as simple as a late spring melt-water stream really pulled my mindset back to the basics. It really set the tone for our adventure down the river, surrounded by nothing more than some of the most worthwhile scenery ever formed on Earth. Simply stated, I felt humbled to be in such an incredible place and fortunate to be living the life that I am.

Building off of that final point, the recreational segment of my trip to the Grand Canyon also helped me come to know a little bit more about myself and the world as I conceive it. Few places on this planet possess the grandeur and storytelling capacity as the Grand Canyon, and it didn’t take long for me to place this all at the forefront of my mind. While many may overlook it, the Canyon provides insight into a very different world than we know it today. Ancient lakes sat at the mouth of the great basin, left stranded by the uptake of water into reformed glaciers that dropped sea levels by orders of magnitude inconceivable in modern history. These lakes fed the rivers that little by little created a feat of engineering beyond the scope of human imagination, taking with them sediments that, in some places, canvas as much as a billion years of Earth’s past. When taken for what it is, the Canyon recalls a modest way of thinking that rarely frequents the minds of most people. It reminds us how small we truly are and in my personal belief, provides us with an inarguable reason to protect the planet that we have been gifted. Nature is after all a force to be reckoned with, and if we do not take care of her, we cannot realistically expect her to care for us. The Canyon–in its immensity and longevity–forces us to step back and consider our small existence within the context of an ongoing story. Yet, in so doing, it just as soon reminds us of our degree of influence as one species on a place so rich with life and geological might. Getting to experience this place so intimately along with 15 other insightful and humbled human beings was eye-opening in more ways than one, and it has certainly transformed by worldview for the better.

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?

Throughout the service-adventure trip to the Grand Canyon, I was able to be in the company of great people while doing good works for others and seeing a whole new part of the U.S. At the end of each day, our OSU group would sit around a fire (or a flashlight) and reflect on the events that had taken place up to that point while also challenging ourselves to open up and grow in association with one another. There were too many fantastic activities and interactions to account for within the confines of this recollection, but some stood above others, which I noted in my daily log.

Assisting with the trail maintenance at the Palatki Heritage site in Sedona required fairly simplistic work on our group’s part, but it made all the difference for our site supervisors, who would have spent as much as a a week or more attempting to do the work that only took us a day and a half. Eric, our Forest Service overseer, was a quiet man with a soft face that spoke volumes his words couldn’t. His face at the conclusion of our task was one of humbled gratitude and near disbelief that so many awesome people would be willing to spend their spring break helping out. This same sense of gratitude was expressed more verbally on Tuesday, March 14th, when we traveled to the Yavapai county food bank and bagged nearly 200 meals for area youth. Some of the bank’s staff were reduced to tears as they explained how important the meals were for people who couldn’t afford to eat well otherwise and subsequently thanked each one of us repeatedly. While it felt as though we hadn’t done much, it was empowering how far small acts of charity and kindness can really go, something that stuck with me throughout the week.

The second half of the week imprinted on me equally as much. Prior to our Canyon descent, it was a real joy to watch as everyone excitedly stuffed their backpacks and chattered with one another. My group started down first and consisted of six people, generally the more experienced of the bunch. Following the switchbacks down the steep walls, the size and sheer magnitude of the Canyon left me awestruck, knowing full well that this was a place capable of testing a man’s wits. My downsized group’s leaders, Ethan and Anthony, kept us on point and provided comic relief and encouragement each day we were in the Canyon. After our long hike down, we were all a bit slap-happy upon pitching camp near Cottonwood Creek, and we grew much closer to one another while appreciating the landscape around us all the while. This appreciation was further fostered as we ascended the Canyon the following night, climbing towards a sky so full of stars that it little resembled the one I had looked at so often before. The last leg of our trip–rafting down the Colorado River–was also made up of many interactions and memorable events. Overall, however, it was purely incredible to paddle between the ancient walls of the Canyon’s main corridor and to take on the forceful rapids that we encountered on occasion. On our second night on the river, we slept on the rafts and awoke the following morning to the sunrise casting a pink hue across the largely untouched landscape. During that time, I felt completely at peace looking on from the front of the raft, and as I contemplated the serenity of the moment, I silently cried out of joy. Not too much later that same morning, I was somewhat overcome by another emotion, which was alarm. I had known prior to the trip that the Colorado River watershed was in trouble from excessive utilization of its waters, but experiencing this first hand made it all the more worrisome. We hadn’t even gone a full 50 miles before it became apparent that the river around us was shrinking and decreasing rapidly in depth. This certainly struck me and hit home the point that we must do a better job of protecting our natural resources if we have any hope of preserving such unspoiled places. Every action we take as a species has consequences, and it is up to us to ensure that our children and their’s can experience such magnificent places as the Canyon for decades to come.

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

I found my entire experience in Arizona to be highly rewarding and transformative. The service and recreational components both provided both the group and me with a new perspective of an unfamiliar place and its people. Most of us had never been to the Southwest, and it enabled us the opportunity to get a glimpse into a different lifestyle (and some of the unique challenges) that several million Americans experience everyday. Of course not every moment of each day was perfect. Much as in any extended encounter with the same people, there were some frustrations, quips, and hurt feelings, but by and large, we became very close as a group of individuals and enjoyed one another’s company throughout the week. The personal satisfaction derived from the the faces of those we helped as well as from now being able to say that I’ve camped in the Grand Canyon and conquered its mighty river will stick with me for years to come as I reflect on my time well spent at Ohio State. Helping others is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and although it isn’t always easy or fun, the reward is always just as good. This sentiment was reaffirmed for me during my time assisting at Palatki and the Yavapai County Food Bank with the others, and it has pushed me to continue serving others when and where I can. Moreover, it was worthwhile to represent our university and the state of Ohio itself by dedicating half of our spring break to alleviating the workload of others in a faraway place. From East coast to West, we are all one people in the U.S., and we should always be willing to set aside time in the service of others.

In addition, my career path was made ever more clear by having the privilege of so intimately experiencing one of the wildest places in the country and perhaps the world. I always knew growing up that I wanted to become a scientist and do my part to preserve this place that we call home and the people with whom I share it. Seeing firsthand the beauty, power, and scope of the Grand Canyon will imprint on me forever and further refine my perspectives of the natural world. We have been given much to be thankful for in this world, and this includes the easy-to-overlook beauty of a wild place, something that has vanished in far too many corners of the globe. Being in the Canyon refueled the slow-burning fire that I have had for so long to impact our planet for the better and to share with others all that it has to offer us if we just take the time to look. Being in the company of 15 other unique individuals was a wonderful thing in such a fantastic place, and I don’t doubt that the STEP program served its purpose well for my development. Had I not been given the stipend, I don’t know that I would have been able to parallel the experience that I took part in, and I may just have easily ended up at home doing less productive things. I am grateful for the opportunity I was given to be a part of the Grand Canyon service-adventure trip, and I will continue looking for more ways to help others in the spirit of being a true Buckeye!


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.