Ecuador Reflection

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

  • My STEP Signature Project was held in Ecuador. In my group, we participated in tourist like activities, such as hiking and visiting the Inca Pirca ruins. Additionally, we traveled up into the Cañari Nation into the Quilloac Community to work in a bi-lingual school. We taught grades 1-5 English, and in return, they taught us their indigenous language of Kichwa.

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.

  • My most intense transformation that took place would be my fluidity of speaking the Spanish language. My host parents, Luis and Patricia, spoke no English, and thus the only way to communicate with them was through Spanish. This was a definite challenge. I am in no way fluent, but I have been studying for about 1o years in school. Due to the fact that there was no option to sink back into the comfortability of speaking English, my Spanish speaking skills transformed. I was able to flow more with my words and think on my toes during a conversation. Before this trip, I was unsure of my Spanish speaking skills, however, I surprised myself with how strongly I could communicate and understand.
  • Inside of the Spanish-speaking transformation that I underwent, I also found myself viewing Ecuador through the lens of the richness of their nature. Never in my life have I seen such beautiful landscapes. Every day I had the privilege of passing by incredible mountains and open fields and clouds that hung low to the earth. I feel a new found appreciation for all that mother nature has to offer other countries, and how lucky I am to have been able to see all of the beauty and take back this appreciation to my hometown.

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.

  • As previously mentioned, my host parents and their family, spoke no English. Thus, every day and night when we would converse with them, especially during dinner times, was a time to undergo change inside me. Dinner was held at about 7 pm and lasted for about and hour and a half. During this time we spoke to our parents about our days, and they would include stories of past college students who had visited their home. Therefore, it was imperative that I listened attentively in order to respond and in order to be respectful of our conversation. Dinner time was the ultimate time to transform my Spanish speaking and comprehension abilities.
  • Similarly, at the school in Quilloac, I had to communicate with the fluent Spanish speaking students. Although they were young, about nine years old, their Spanish-speaking was far beyond mine. However, because I had been in Ecuador for a little longer than a week, and had been communicating in Spanish with my host parents, I felt pretty comfortable with the students. The week with the students allowed me to further enhance my skills. Young students are very inquisitive, and thus they ask a lot of questions and talk a speed that is comfortable to them (very quickly), so I had to answer and help my fellow OSU students answer the students with as clear Spanish as possible. Teaching them another language also required that I needed to communicate as perfectly as possible so that the students understood what I was teaching. This was the ultimate transformational event.
  • Additionally, whilst traveling up to the school in Quilloac, we literally drove through a mountain side that had been carved out by man. Each day I felt more accustomed to the natural sites I was seeing, and I became upset by it, I was getting used to the beauty, taking advantage of it. In the beginning of the trip, I chose to be mindful of my surroundings, and not just for safety, but to appreciate the new land I was inhabiting. Seeing how families live in such rural and mountainous communities was a transformational experience for me to understand and see a new way of life and natural wonder.

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.

  • Both of these transformations are significant for me in my life because it was something I had never believed I could do or believed would be something I would partake in. For example, Spanish is a very prevalent language in the United States. Having a better understanding and speaking ability can be quite helpful for getting a job, or just communicating with locals in my community. Similarly, taking an appreciation for other countries landscape. I can bring that appreciation into my own hometown, and not take advantage of let’s say the parks, my back yard, or the trees on the Oval at OSU. I am grateful for my experience in Ecuador and all that it gave me and what I can bring back into my life.

My STEP Experience: Buck-I-Serv Lower Nine

Claire Dodson

Trip Type: Service Learning

Buck-I-Serv: Lower Nine


1. For my STEP project, I travelled to New Orleans, Louisiana with the organization Buck-I-Serv and worked  with the Lower Nine organization. The Lower Nine organization works to rebuild the area of the Lower Ninth Ward, which was devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Our group spent the week completing house repairs and maintenance in the area, as well as experiencing the rich culture of the city.

2. Through my experience in New Orleans, many of my assumptions about the area and people living their changed. I had heard about the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina on the news years ago, but never completely understood how much it had affected the people in the area, who are still recovering from its devastation over ten years later. Even more naively, I had always wondered “If the area was destroyed so badly by the hurricane, why don’t people just pack up and leave.” However, when I got to see the culture of the vibrant city, and the many people that call New Orleans home, I began to understand why they wanted to stay in this amazing place.

3. Working with the Lower Nine Organization, I saw how residents of the Lower Ninth Ward try not to leave anyone in the area without help. One resident in the area, who had recently had knee replacement surgery, was struggling to keep her house’s yard within city regulations. She was frequently receiving fines for overgrown weeds and the height of her grass. On one day, our group went to her house and cleaned up her yard and fixed her fence, in hopes that we could help her avoid fines for some time.

In being able to explore the city, I also got to better understand the culture and vibrancy of the area. From exploring Bourbon Street and listening to street Jazz in the French Quarter, to eating beignets at Cafe Du Monde and walking through Jackson Square, the city of New Orleans was so alive and I was constantly enthralled by it. I quickly came to understand why no one wanted to move away and give up on New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It’s rich history and beauty had captured my heart like the so many people who called the city their home.

Lastly, the hospitality of the area was amazing to me. The Cajun Buckeyes, the Buckeye Alumni Association of Greater New Orleans, welcomed our group to dinner at the house of one of its members. Eating tasty regional food while exchanging stories about Ohio State with the alumni there was one of my favorite experiences of the entire trip. It made me really happy to know that even after I graduate, there will always be fellow Buckeyes wherever I go.

4. The changes in the assumptions I had about New Orleans has helped me learn that the best way to understand a place or a group of people is to go and experience them, and have an open mind. It’s challenging to understand other people if you don’t talk to them, just like it’s challenging to understand a place if you don’t visit it. Additionally, visiting New Orleans has strengthened my belief that going into a situation with an open mind is the best way to learn. Having an open mind will be very important in my future career, as I plan to go into healthcare, and I know that I will encounter many individuals from different walks of life.

My STEP Experience: Transformation in Guatemala

Engineering Service Learning Trip: Humanitarian Engineering Scholars

Daniel Kiley    |      05/08/17  -05/14/17

I traveled to Panajachel, Guatemala to work with Mayan Families for a week long engineering service learning trip with Humanitarian Engineering Scholars. In Guatemala, we installed cook stoves in several homes, organized an educational activity for preschool students, and presented research and implemented a rainwater collection system.

I knew about this service opportunity with HES even before I was a student at The Ohio State University. I was very excited about the intersection of engineering and service work, and a bonus is that the official language of Guatemala is Spanish (I am studying Spanish as a minor). I had high hopes that this would be a transformational experience for me in regards to my global awareness, and that it would inform my career path or validate certain passions of mine. I cannot say I have all of the answers, but here is how my trip was transformational in my life.

One major understanding I took away from my experience, is that I have a strong sense of connectedness and find humanitarian work stimulating. In class, I learned how I can have a big impact with the person that I am and the tools that I have. The key ingredients for lasting impact in humanitarian engineering are relationships and hard work. It was exciting to experience the design process, and learn to ask questions and dig in deep to attack the heart of a problem. I worked in a small team to implement a rainwater collection system on a preschool to be used for drinking and cleaning. Every step of the project presented new insights and required further action. I acknowledge this project as my first engineering experience and attribute any success to our leader, Greg Bixler.

Greg is a faculty member at The Ohio State University and a founder of the nonprofit Design Outreach, which is a christian engineering organization that works to solve lasting solutions to worldwide engineering and humanitarian issues. He assisted in teaching the class that was required before traveling to Guatemala. The curriculum focused around human centered design and humanitarian engineering principles. In Guatemala, it was inspiring to be with Greg and my peers and see them be patient and work well with the staff of Mayan Families. Completing the project took a lot of research prior to the trip, several visits to the hardware store, a good amount of physical labor, and much communication. Along with the technical skills I gained during this experience, Greg also reminded me how important it is to follow your calling and convictions in life above success or material things. It is incredible to know a man that works out of his passion and all for his faith and love for Jesus.

If I could give advice to anyone about their second year experience, I would urge you to STEP out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to grow. It was important for me to take risks in Guatemala in order to take advantage of the experience. This ranged from trying new foods to leading an activity in Spanish! Even though I do not feel completely comfortable speaking in Spanish perfectly, I took the chance to lead an activity at the preschool for the kids. I took away an incredible experience in which I was able to practice the language but also feel the connectedness that I value so much. I will always remember how the kids piled on me to show their appreciation and the hope that I desired to spark in them…Hope for a future and hope for an education. Here are some of their faces.


Another memorable moment of my week in Guatemala, was talking to a boy in Panajachel. My team was there to install a cook stove in a home and we had some down time. After exploring a church, I talked to a boy named Marlo who lived there. We sat on the steps in front of the church and spoke in Spanish with each other. Marlo is a ten year old boy who lives in poverty and has several other brothers. His dad died when he was younger and he seemed to behave very maturely probably because he had to be the father to his younger brothers. We spoke about each of our lives and the holidays that we celebrate. He asked how many cars my family has and what it is like to fly in a plane, knowing that he probably will not ever experience it. This is a moment I will never forget. A desire to travel for me is to have real moments like this one where I am able to share moments like this that will never leave me.

My STEP experience is significant for me because it allowed me to pursue an opportunity that I would not have been able to experience, and to grow as a person and a student in ways that I can bring with me wherever I go in life. The service learning trip to Guatemala was the most rewarding work that I have done with engineering and beyond. It was empowering to feel the impact that I can have as an engineer. During the past semester, I felt significant doubt and unhappiness in the classes that I was taking and the major that I have chosen. However, I can now understand the possibilities of  working as an engineer in society and realize the possibility that this work could in fact satisfy my deep passion to work out of an understanding of connectedness and humanity.

So from now on, my goal is to seek job opportunities that are true to my calling and to continue on the path of studying Chemical Engineering with ferocity. I hope to remember my time in Guatemala and appreciate the education that I am fortunate to receive. I desire to be a good steward of my position, and not waste my life with work that is just for show, money, or praise. I am encouraged by the hearts of my peers to engage in service work and help others so that they can help themselves. I am currently planning on looking for international internships and would love to work for a summer with an organization like Mayan Families.

I am thankful for my STEP experience and hope to encourage others to take advantage of the program and create an experience that is transformational for your life right now.

Estoy agradecido por la experiencia de ir a Guatemala y trabajar con la organizacion que se llama La Familia Maya. Muchas gracias y ojala que vuelva.


Link to PowerPoint Presentation about my trip STEP Presentation-1iso0j9