Alex’s Work With Project Horse Empowerment Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel: Buck-I-Serve Reflectio


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

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

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

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

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

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

Engineering and Culture in India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Buck-I-Serv trip

Name: Amy Xie

Type of Project: Service Learning and Community Service

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

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