GVI: Silana

My STEP Signature Project was the Community Expedition with GVI in Silana, Fiji. I lived in the Silana Village for two weeks and worked along side other volunteers and members of the village such as the Headman, the chief, and the priest. Throughout my time in Silana, I travelled to other villages and spoke out about the importance of recycling, built new recycling points throughout villages which made it easier for people throughout the villages to organize and recycle their rubbish. Another way we contributed to the impovement of their village was the reconstruction of homes and other buildings that were previously destroyed from cyclone Winston. Another project we worked on was providing homes with their own garden. By doing this we were able to allow families to grow and sell their own fruits and vegetables instead of spending their money on produce. The community expo project provided me with a hands on learning experience that I never would have had anywhere else.

Throughout my time at Silana, I was welcomed by the village, given a family, and taught how to embrace the culture. Within the first couple of hours the new volunteers were welcomed during the church service and thanked in advance for the work we would be doing. Later, we met our home-stay families and had lunch together. Every day after the kids got out of school and I finished working I would meet them at their house. Together we would go over homework, get ready for dinner, talk about our days, and play games. There were even days when I would sit down with my younger siblings and help them with their English homework and instead they would teach me Fijian. For most meals on the weekdays the volunteers ate dinner together, however on my last night for dinner, we ate by the flashlight from my iPhone because most homes do not have electricity. After dinner the kids wanted to show me their favorite episode of the X Factor, so they grabbed their mother’s flip phone and pulled up a 30 second downloaded clip of a dance group and crowded together and giggled. As silly as this seems, that is one of the moments when I truly realized how lucky I was. Although the work I did in Silana through the expo team was extremely rewarding, my relationship with my host family made the experience something that will change my life forever.


During the two weeks I spent in Silana, I met many wonderful and caring people. One of the individuals I met that truly changed my perspective was Peter. At the age of 75, Peter was organizing, constructing and rebuilding his house that he had lost the previous year. From the time that the sun had begun to rise, til the stars came out, Peter was out working on his new house. I have never met anyone more determined than him in my entire life. Also, my Na (mother) was a single mother of three. Her husband died in 2012. As a single mother, who hardly makes any money as a teacher’s assistant, she was the strongest person I met. After constantly having to deal with negative events throughout the past couple of years, she still gets up every morning and does whatever she needs to do in order to give her children what they need to succeed. Although working within the community through construction and maintaining recycling, the most beneficial part of this experience were the connections I was able to make with the people of Silana.


Throughout the relationships I built and the work that I have done in Silana, my life has been changed forever. I have been able to find new meaning in a lot of daily activities, and I have realized everything that I take for granted. While in Silana, I have watched children under the age of 15 act as grown adults, taking care of other siblings, helping the older men work, and taking care of themselves in ways that many Americans around the age of 18 cannot do. Although community outreach has no direct impact to my future career choice, I still believe it has helped me become a better individual by allowing me to experience different culture. I can now say that this experience has helped me open my eyes to how differently the world is. I am confident that is experience has improved my social skills, and ability to refrain from judgment. These skills will help me in the future by allowing me to be confident and stand out from the competition.

STEP Reflection

For my STEP signature project I participated in the Multicultural Histories and Legacies of London and Rome program. The purpose behind the trip was to observe different cultures in the US and abroad and to work with the less fourtunate individuals that suffer from tough circumstances.

We got up close and personal experiences with different cultures and religions that make up part of Europe and discovered how they were similar and different to those in the United States. We also had the opportunity to witness first hand the same societal issues that pleague the US: homelessness, poverty, violence, and even terrorism. While we saw the issues that seem to be universal in nature, we also met different people of all sorts of race, religion and ethnicity during our time abroad that were absolutely wonderful people. Along with the cultural diversity, we were able to do some service of our own while working with a local food bank collecting donations for those in times of crisis. A pre-requisit for the trip was to complete 30+ hours of local community service. I did my service at the OSU Star House which is a drop in center for underprivileged youth. Most of the service was done prior to the trip and then we got to compare sociatal issues that appear here in the US to those that are abroad.

Our journey through out Europe was one that I will never forget. My perception on how I view this world completely changed after coming back from this trip. We had the opportunity to interact with so many unique individuals that all had different beliefs and life experiences. We had the pleasure of partaking in stimulating dialogue with these people and it opened my mind to a different level of thinking and understanding. There were interactions with Italians, the English, and people of the Islamic faith, people of the Hindu faith, the LGBT community, and a wide range of others. The trip really brought together the fact that no matter our differences, we are all equal. There may be different beliefs, religions, ang languages, but we all are still human. It was also humbling being able to witness how lucky I actually am to live with the above average circumstances that I do live with.

During our time at these places we weren’t just looking at buildings and tourist sites, we were getting lived experiences of people and places that all told a different story and it was so interesting to me. Places and people all over the world have different ways of doing things and different things they believe in, but its important to embrace all of this, even if it’s a little uncomfortable to you. I experienced the terrible things that are very real in this society but I was also able to see the good in people. Once I was able to leave my comfort zone, I felt as though I could better grasp what I needed to. That’s the most important thing this trip has taught me; in order to be comfortable with your self, you must be comfortable with others, no matter their circumstances.

There were so many fruitful conversations with local people that know the struggles and benefits of being who they are, and living where they do. Being able to interact with the locals that can tell you first hand what its like to be in their shoes is absolutely fascinating. It’s easy to just be a tourist and make assumptions of others you don’t know, but being able to set aside those assumptions can be extremely beneficial. I was certainly put in some situations that made me a bit uneasy because I felt like a complete foreigner but that was when I was really able to take a step back and realize some people feel like that on a day to day basis.

The experience that had the biggest impact on me was the service we partook in. We linked up with a local food bank in London in order to collect food donations for the ones that were in desperate need. We went to the local grocery store and set up shop by the front doors. I really didn’t know what to expect but our turnout was eye opening. We had some people that donated more than they bought for themselves. The people of London were incredibly nice and gracious and I gained a new respect for the people that work day in and day out to help those that may be struggling. It seemed as the people of London suffer from the same terrible things that some people in Columbus Ohio feel. It’s trips like these that made you realize there needs to be a lot more humanitarian work done around the entire globe.

I see so many possible benefits that this trip will leave me with. The biggest benefit this experience helped me with is being able to keep an open mind with anyone I might come across. The old cliché that you “never judge a book by its cover” got a whole new meaning. If I am able to open my mind, along with my ears and my heart, to anyone I come across in life then there’s no telling what I could learn from them. I will be able to make life long connections with people that before I would have never thought about interacting with. Relationships are the staple of a successful and healthy life so the more diverse I can become in my relationships the more I can grow and mature as a person.

STEP Reflection

During our Multicultural Histories and Legacies experience we traveled to London and Rome. The purpose of these destinations was to learn about the cultural backgrounds that make up these diverse and historic locations. Through visiting these ancient cities, we could witness first-hand how different cultures and religions shaped the cities and the overall progression of the region. In both London and Rome, we could learn about the diverse people and regions through visiting different ancient sites and religious buildings. Influences from all over the world contributed into making London and Rome into the economic and cultural powerhouses they are today.

During our time in both places we had meetings with people of all different backgrounds and religions whom all spoke about how their specific culture influenced the history in each city. Even our tours guides were often locals or had a strong attachment to the city they were explaining. This all made my abroad experience unique and helped me to immerse myself in the culture of London and Rome. By having the detailed tours of each city and interacting with all the different cultures and members of society, it helped to connect the different cultures with their contribution to the city’s history.

One of the biggest things I learned while abroad was the importance of being able to leave your comfort zone so that you can get the most out of every experience. During my abroad experience in London in Rome I put myself out of my comfort zone multiple times to talk to tour guides and even locals. This helped me to learn more about their culture and the people that make up the cities I was living in for a month. By doing these outgoing acts, I made my trip a very memorable experience filled with interesting conversations from soccer to crumbling economies of Britain and Italy. This incredible journey would not have been possible if I didn’t go out my way to meet people and create memorable experiences. This whole abroad trip made me realize the importance being a yes man and going outside of your comfort zone to make the most out of once in a lifetime experience.

My abroad experience not only helped me to appreciate leaving my comfort zone but also showed me that I am capable of living and surviving abroad. This trip made me feel more comfortable communicating with people of all different backgrounds. During our time abroad, we had discussions with people of all different religions and ethnicities and even visited sites like the Great Mosque, the Vatican and a Hindu Temple. We interact with people such as Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Italians, British and Indians. Through this abroad experience, we had the opportunity interact with people and religions we don’t normally experience but exist all over the globe, not just Europe. This whole experience help me feel the similarities and interconnectedness between all of humankind. We all aren’t very different from each other so I feel more comfortable talking with people that are different than myself more than ever now.

This education abroad experience helped me realize that I am willing to work or live abroad in a major commercial center like London or Rome. Also, this experience helped me to realize that I would not struggle to be independent living in another country outside of US. This is a big deal because now I know that I would feel comfortable to potentially pursue jobs outside America. This trip also made me realize how lucky and privileged I am to speak English and be a white American male even abroad. Speaking English was crucial to my survival in Rome because many Italians had a baseline in English, so therefore I didn’t need to know Italian to get by. Also, being a white English male meant I didn’t experienced any racism or sexual harassment and it also kept me out of any awkward situations that might have occurred between my myself and law enforcement. Now that I have recognized my privilege of being a white English speaking male, I will try not abuse it and rather I will try to be equally accommodating and caring for people that don’t share the same privilege as myself.


GVI Chiang Mai, Thailand: Elephant Project

On this Community Service Volunteer program I spent 4 weeks with a homestay family in a Karen village in the mountains of Northern Thailand working with the community there. I had the amazing opportunity to hike through the mountains following the elephants, take welfare and behavior data on the elephants, teach English at the local school and to the villagers, and get involved in village projects.

I have traveled outside of the country before, but this was the first time I have ever traveled alone- no family or friends at all. At first I had a lot of anxiety about going alone, I even had a small panic attack in the airport on my way to Thailand because I was so anxious about all the unknowns of this trip, but looking back at it now I see that I really had nothing to worry about. Being by myself allowed me the opportunity to branch out and talk to/make friends with people I wouldn’t have and go out to do things I wouldn’t have done, if I had the safety net of familiarity of friends and family with me on the trip. Overall, I gained a lot of independence on this trip and actually learned that I prefer traveling by myself than with friends or family. It also taught me that although the unknown can be very terrifying sometimes, I just have to charge in head-on and do all I can to make the experience as best as possible, regardless of what hardships come my way.

Being there in the village, you really get a sense of community. I honestly consider that place a home away from home. Everyone there, villagers, fellow volunteers, and GVI staff, are all so friendly and welcoming.  Not only do you get to get involved in Karen culture, but also with different cultures throughout the world, places like Mexico, the UK, France, Belgium, etc., that other volunteers and staff come from. You stay with a home-stay family for your program duration and get involved in village home life. My family made me feel as if I was one of their own which made the experience all the more better. I helped cook, clean, and played with my younger home-stay siblings. I figured that if I’m here to work with this community, then I should connect with them on a personal level. One of my greatest memories was on one Sunday, I had absolutely nothing to do that day so I spent it with my home-stay siblings walking around the nearby forest with some pebbles and slingshots shooting at mangoes and birds. No one ever hit any of the birds, but I did hit a mango off the tree for the first time (it was delicious by the way).  I even went to teach English at the local school and to some of the mahouts (elephant caretakers), which helped me connect with more villagers. Furthermore, you’re basically with the other volunteers for most of the day so you really get a chance to get to know one another and make some great friendships with a bunch of different people. I consider the people I met there some of the most genuine friends I have ever made, but being stuck in a new environment with new people tends to create unbreakable bonds. Interacting with all these different cultures made me more understanding, accepting, and appreciative of differences.

The program also made me treasure the simpler things in life. It gave me a chance to disconnect from technology a little (although I did have wi-fi every now and then), and indulge in the natural world around me and value the simpler things in life. Not having the opportunity to constantly check my Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat notifications really made a difference that month. Without social media I wasn’t so distracted and actually “stopped to smell the roses”. It also made it easier to connect with the friends I made among the other volunteers on a more personal level. Let me tell you, if hiking through the mountains completely surrounded by beautiful birds chirps and monkey calls, with fresh air filling your lungs, and all while following and interacting with elephants doesn’t make you appreciate this beautiful Earth around us, then I don’t know what will. Even now back in America, I look at some trees, the sky, or even a corn of field and I am struck at how amazing this Earth is. Being out there in the forest, completely immersed in nature, and following these magnificent creatures made me realize that I loved being out in the “field” and that being stuck in a veterinary clinic all day long was not meant for me. I remember the exact moment on this trip when I realized that I really enjoyed conservation work and animal welfare. It was my first time taking an activity budget on an elephant, an activity budget is when you record what the animal is doing (i.e. eating, walking, drinking, etc.) at a regular time interval. It was a little hectic because the elephant I was assigned to was trekking through the mountain forest pretty fast, but it was so much fun. There were a few falls by myself and some of the volunteers, which was expected. You can only go so fast for so long while keeping track of an elephant and recording what it is doing without tripping on a tree root or slipping a little down a muddy slope. It was all a good laugh though, and a lot of jokes were made. But once I was finally done recording data, a deep sense of satisfaction came over me. Not only did I successfully collect data throughout that manic hike, but it made me think “How often can someone say that they did what I just accomplished,”.

Initially, I came to Ohio State with the intention of getting my bachelors in Animal Science and proceeding to veterinary school. After two years I began to realize that maybe I didn’t want to go to veterinary school, but that left me at a loss as to what I was going to do. I knew I wanted to do something with animals, but I didn’t really know what exactly. When I found this program, I hoped it would give me some career guidance seeing as welfare and conservation have always interested me. I’m glad to say that it gave me a lot of guidance in that I’m going to focus on conservation work to protect this beautiful planet and the creatures that inhabit it. 

STEP Reflection

My STEP project was centered around traveling to American national parks in order to make connections with park staff and individuals in management positions to develop an understanding of how the park systems tie into American society, and to identify one salient issue pertaining to natural resource management today in order to apply it to a service endeavor locally. I was able to gain an understanding of problems facing the park systems and how to get involved in preserving these important resources.

My view of national parks has changed drastically as a result of this project. I first saw the parks as patches of wilderness for the public to enjoy, which is true. However, I didn’t see much beyond that. As I traveled and met with park rangers and staff I had the sense that they saw the parks as much more than this. In Yellowstone, I was able to meet with Judy Knuth Folts (Deputy Chief of Resource Education and Youth Programs).

National parks are in fact educational institutions. Judy was highly involved in management and youth outreach for Yellowstone, and she even had the opportunity to explain this concept to the secretary of the interior. Parks are meant to be enjoyed, but they have so many other purposes. The wilderness exists to educate the public on history, biology, geography, zoology, health and so much more. Parks are one of our most valuable educational institutions, and those who work within them go to great lengths to achieve the goal of education. My perspective on the parks was drastically changed after having the opportunity to see and experience them myself.

I was able to meet some incredible individuals on the trip, but meeting with Judy Knuth Folts was a productive and extremely powerful experience. I was fortunate enough to set up a meeting with her in the planning stages of the project, and I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to connect with such an experienced person. She began her career as a ranger in Cuyahoga national park of Ohio, not far from where I grew up. She quickly climbed the ranks of the park service, even briefly taking the position of assistant director of the National Park Service (NPS) before moving on to Yellowstone.

I planned to meet with Judy in the early afternoon for an hour, but this quickly turned into two, then three, then four and so on. We discussed her experience in the NPS, and what it really means to learn and grow as an individual with nature. Judy was helpful in every way for me in terms of the project and as an individual aspiring to work within the parks. We were able to discuss the many aspects of management that previously I didn’t consider. While some managers focus mainly on wildlife, water, or other natural resources, others deal with the business side of the park service. Because of the bureaucratic nature of the NPS, designating funding can be problematic. The budget for any national park is set, and sending resources to one area means taking them away from another. Judy described this as dividing a pie. Whether it is education programs, invasive species management, or infrastructure, allotting for one may take from another.

Despite the difficulty, parks provide some invaluable information and learning experiences to the public. As the Director of Youth Programs, Judy Knuth Folts oversees the thousands of visits each year by children and families who participate in junior ranger programs and young science programs. She is also responsible for much of the training of park rangers who interact with these visitors every day. Judy stressed that national parks exist primarily as educational institutions, and they take this very seriously. National Parks are not liberal or conservative politically and they do not attempt to change public opinion, they simply educate. This is important when it comes to controversial elements such as climate change, which many people try to write off as a political lie.

My time in the parks was incredibly valuable to me. I saw firsthand the many aspects of management taking place concurrently inside of national parks. One such issue which was brought up almost universally was invasive species. Invasive species tend to out compete natives, making them a real danger to national parks. In Yellowstone, more than 1 million dollars a year go towards invasive trout removal from rivers and lakes. A current policy exists requiring anglers to kill various invasive trout upon catching them. As part of my service endeavor, I caught and reported populations of trout in the Lamar river valley. This was done with a Yellowstone fishing license and report card.

What I found was significant populations of native cutthroat trout where invasive rainbow trout have previously posed a threat to biodiversity, which suggests that the park’s endeavors are successful. My goal for applying this knowledge to a local area is to survey and report numbers of invasive species at the Fawcett Center, and possibly go through with removal of these invasive species to allow native species to be restored. The Fawcett Center is a host to many native Ohio tree species which are being outcompeted by invasive honeysuckle and Callery Pear, similar to the Lamar’s problems with invasive rainbow trout and native cutthroat.

I was able to see these places from the viewpoint of a ranger in both Yosemite and Yellowstone, local medical personnel in Zion, and even from the top down thanks to Judy Knuth Folts. It is useful for me to see the many moving parts that each have a role in the NPS, and the many routes into the park service itself. I met with ranger Sierra Frisbie in Yosemite, who told me she first began her career in a park partner organization near Acadia and then moved into the ranger program in Yosemite. In Yellowstone, Ranger Grace White graduated as a history/archaeology major and moved directly to Yellowstone after being guided to a ranger position by USA jobs. Several other rangers also began in other positions before moving into a national park, each coming from different schools, programs, and job positions. I feel that this diversity is incredibly beneficial to the parks and to me, being someone who began as an exploration major at Ohio State. The NPS doesn’t desire one specific type of individual, but rather all types of individuals.

I gained pages and pages of information about each of the parks, but more importantly, I made significant connections to those working within them. By the end of my stay in Yellowstone, I was connecting with new rangers simply because I had made significant networking connections in other areas of the park.  I was connected to multiple rangers and most significantly Judy Knuth Folts who has continued providing guidance for me. After meeting with her, I feel like I have gained a significant professional reference and a friend.

Service-learning in Thailand

Eileen Carey

As part of STEP signature project I travelled to Thailand to explore a different culture and serve the needs of children in a small fishing village. For two weeks I worked with children to improve their English skills and also with children who have special needs to provide physical and occupational therapy while improving their independence.

I have travelled outside of the country before and been exposed to different cultures, however this was the first time I experienced true culture shock. I knew I would have to rely on others to help direct me, but there were many times that I could not communicate with anyone, even to get to the airport. The language was completely different than English, and people travel on “Thai time” so a taxi is never guaranteed to arrive when scheduled.

When I arrived at the service site, I expected to have a more comfortable living arrangement, but had to quickly swallow my fear of finding cockroaches under my bed. However, this was a minor hindrance compared to the people who live in the village where the 2004 tsunami most severely hit. Although it was almost 13 years ago, the village continues to recover as many families were torn apart as the wave swept away what once thrived there. We were told that the work we did over the two weeks to help children learn English and those with special needs overcome their disabilities will continue to impact them in order to sustain themselves in the future.

Coming from such a small village, where the tsunami’s presence still affects most of them, the villagers’ only choice is to move forward. Many adults made their living in the village off fishing, selling goods, or doing laundry. The youth were the prospects of the village, who went to school to learn valuable skills that would help them in the future. We taught them English that would hopefully one day aid them since Thailand relies mostly on their tourism. Their shining faces when we arrived each day and their eagerness to memorize each vocabulary word we taught them made us feel that we were making a difference in their lives.

As for the children with special needs, a different approach was needed. The Camillian Social Center where they go to school each day provides them with opportunities to learn about farming crops, cooking food, and making arts and crafts to sell. However, since healthcare is limited in Thailand, we created physical and occupational therapy activities each day to help them improve their strength, stability, and sensory abilities. It made my experience each day to see their playful personalities and to see them find joy in every activity. After the two weeks, I could see how they had grown and I believe it was due to the fact that we were able to cater the activities to each child’s ability.

Not only did the children we met with each day impact my experience, but the other volunteers also taught me many things. The volunteers ranged from Australia, to Scotland, to the United States, to South Africa, so all of us had different reasons for embarking on this service trip. Although all of us were from different background, we were there to reach a common goal, which was to improve the life in the village. For the two weeks I had to not be concerned on what was happening at home, and had to enjoy being surrounded by others and learning about their cultures as well. These people helped shape my experience, since I spent most of my time with them.

This experience was very tiring and I feel that I am stronger because of it. It challenged my ability to be independent because I planned most of the trip by myself and had a strict schedule to stick to especially in order to fly home on time. Knowing nothing about the language or culture I had to learn how to bargain with taxi drivers or vendors to get what I needed on my budget. This trip also improved my leadership skills because each day we had to cooperate with other volunteers to plan for tomorrow’s lesson. I had to think more creatively to teach and in a way that students would understand. I also had to think of specific exercises for the children at Camillian, which required understanding of each child’s disability. This especially will help me in the future, as my career goal is to be a therapist for children with disabilities. I realized that working with these children is really what I enjoy doing and if I can help them move forward from such setbacks and with little motivation from their families, I can conquer any setback I face. Now that I was able to achieve success in working with children with disabilities in Thailand, I will use the skills I learned to help me succeed in the United States.

Buck-I-SERV Trip: York River State Park

The main activity of my STEP signature project was providing service work to York River State Park in Williamsburg, Virginia. This labor included constructing split-rail fences, maintaining hiking trails, building a sand barge for small boats, and more manual work with regards to the park.

I have been hiking my entire life. However, I have never considered how muchwork or thought goes into building the trails we so leisurely venture. It was incredible to see how active the park rangers need to be daily. The trails in the national park are over 40 miles long; they are uphill, downhill, slanted, and even contain extreme terrain. Planning and organization is extremely important for this team of rangers to provide the best quality of hiking and other events that they can. The work is not easy. You must lovewhat you are doing in order to come into work every day with a great attitude and respect for others. That is something that has changed the way I view my future career. As a pre-medicine student, I was not sure what I would have gotten out of this nature-filled, manual labored project; however, I am happy to state that I have discovered how much love one must have for the work they are performing, which is what these rangers have for their park. Also, I have gained a new independence and confidence. After having to perform tasks by myself without being able to ask for help, it assisted me in figuring out my own way and believing in myself to finish the job.

To begin, talking to the park rangers really showed me how much they love their job. They speak very highly of the park and strive to make it the best it can be every day. More specifically, we were given two tasks to perform throughout the week we were there. The first one was to destroy an old split-rail fence, and then build a new one. The second job was to construct a sand barge for paddle boats to row up on. We finish both of those projects within the first two days. And since that was all the park rangers had planned for us, they had to think of new tasks. However, the incredible part was, was that it was so simple to find new projects for us. The park needed daily maintenance. This proved to me that the rangers loved their jobs; they went back daily with a positive attitude and appreciation for their work.

Because of this, I know how much I need to love and commit to becoming a doctor. Both a park ranger and a doctor have similar qualities: dedication, determination, and a hardworking attitude. These rangers come back every day performing the same tasks at times—for the sole purpose of assisting visitors. This is very similar to a doctor and how one interacts with their patients. The workers are very dedicated as well to the tasks at hand. They perform them well and thoroughly; again, the same as a doctor and their duties. And lastly, rangers and doctors are both very hardworking careers. They are both physically demanding.

The other thing I have learned was how to be confident in myself. On the second day of working, I had to drive the gator—an all-terrain utility vehicle—to a site on one of the trails and fix a bridge by myself. All I had was a hammer and nails. I had to learn to be independent and trust myself that I knew what I was doing. I unhinged rotted boards, then nailed in new ones. This task, though not terribly difficult, was challenging because I had to learn to do everything on my own. I had no one there to assist me if I had any questions. I really learned to harness my self-confidence and ended up performing the task correctly and efficiently.

This transformation is extremely valuable for my future career. I have sometimes doubted whether I could succeed in medical school or not. There are moments when I have been unsure if I am able to perform the responsibilities. Basically, my self-confidence has not been at the highest it should have been. Thanks to this Buck-I-SERV trip and to STEP for allowing me to go on it, I have learned the invaluable lesson that one must believe in themselves and to love what they are doing. Those two beliefs are the keys to a happy and fulfilled professional lifestyle.

Yellowstone Service Project

For my STEP Signature project, I took a summer class called Habitats of Yellowstone and the American West. With this class, we traveled to seven different states over the span of two weeks and saw many different landmarks, national parks, and collected insects for OSU’s Triplehorn Insect Collection.

This class changed my perspective completely and molded me into an improved individual as well. During this trip I got to see Yellowstone National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Mount Rushmore, Dinosaur National Monument, Devil’s Tower, wildlife refuges, and much more. Seeing this beautiful part of our country made me more aware of our environment and how important it is to do everything we can to conserve it. Without these efforts, we might not have these gorgeous parks much longer! During our trip, we collected data on each habitat for OSU’s Triplehorn Insect Collection, and analyzed the data for the officials of the park/forest we were in. This helped me see how important it is to be aware of things like what we sampled for them such as vegetation growth and the diversity of insects. Some park rangers we interacted with mentioned how they have seen the diversity in organisms go down over the years due to multiple different factors (fluctuating temperatures, decreased rainfall, etc). I left this trip more appreciative of nature, our country, and life in general. My eyes were opened to the bigger picture of things rather than just what I’m used to. I feel like this trip helped me to be more confident in who I am as an individual as well. From the small town I am from, it is easy to feel discouraged by the lack of opportunities and lack of excitement, but seeing a whole new part of our country and world has helped me grasp the amount of opportunities there are for us out there, and that we’re not confined to anywhere we don’t want to be.

One event during this trip that affected me greatly was visiting Mount Rushmore. While we were visiting, they had a naturalization ceremony that day and 188 people from 39 different countries became citizens. It was truly amazing to watch! Every single person walked across the stage and introduced themselves, and where they were from. It was eye opening and just another experience that helped me grasp the vastness of our country, and look at the bigger picture of things. This made me more appreciative of life and being born in America, because some of the people becoming citizens on that day explained that they had been waiting for this day for 25+ years! I left Mount Rushmore that day feeling very sentimental, grateful for the diversity that makes the United States unique, and happy to be an American citizen.

Another event that impacted me during this trip was visiting the Rocky Mountains. During our visit here, we noticed a lot of the trees on the mountain side that were dead. We learned that the amount of dead trees is due to the mountain pine bark beetles, which attack and kill these living pines. We learned that this problem is growing rapidly due to climate change because our winters aren’t getting as cold, and not killing these bark beetles off annually as usual. This impacted me to become more aware as I described above, because although I hear about climate change all the time, this was an example of a rapidly growing consequence right in front of my eyes. This saddened me because the Rocky Mountains were one of my favorite stops on this trip and at the rate the pines are dying, there might not be hardly any left next time I come to visit. This single-handedly has pushed me to become more knowledgeable about climate change, and things I can do to help stop it. It has made me more conscious of the amount of help they need not only with people working there in these national forests, but people like us who come for a few days at a time to collect data and analyze the environment. The more data that is collected on these habitats can help them gather more insight as to what is going on and potentially find ways to help it.

During my trip out West, I made some of the closest friendships you can make in the span of two weeks. These friendships are ones that I will have for the rest of my life, and for the rest of my time at Ohio State. When we’re older, we can look back at all the pictures we took together, all the time we worked hard together to collect data even when it was 40º or 90º, and all the good memories that were made. I endured everything with these people from hiking six miles up a mountain, walking through a hornets nest, standing on the top of the Rockies enjoying the view, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes while trying to sample the environment and collect strange looking bugs, and many more. As you can see we experienced both great moments, and not so great moments together. Some days we were shoved in the same van, with our luggage as well, for 12+ hours. We were forced to interact with each other at 5:30 am for two weeks straight, so you can imagine we saw all sides of each other. Although there were times of bickering, the good outweighed the bad and I wouldn’t trade this experience or the friendships I made on this adventure for anything.

These events were all significant in changing my perspective on life into an exciting, motivating one. Not only did these experiences help me become more broad-minded and open to new experiences, friendships, relationships etc., but it also made me excited to go out and meet new people and discover new things. It’s amazing to wake up and feel eager to start your day and be prepared for whatever it is that will happen. Most importantly, these things have motivated me to start focusing on living my life the way I want to, and to not count anything out just because I don’t think it’s possible. Seeing these beautiful sights that are right here in our OWN country has motivated me to make it possible to go see other things that are on my bucket list! From this experience, I have taken away a new passion for life and enthusiasm to do what I truly want to do rather than just what’s easy, or what my family wants me to do. I can thank the beautiful American West, and my new friends for this.

Buck-I-Serv Trip: The Medici Project (Summer 2017 – Atlanta, GA)

Destiny West

Buck-I-Serv: The Medici Project

Atlanta, GA

Summer 2017


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

    My name is Destiny West. I am a rising third year student majoring in Neuroscience/Pre-Medicine. I have an immense passion to dedicate and serve my life helping others improve their quality of life. I wanted to use my passion for medicine and people to help people improve the quality and richness of their environment. I fulfilled this by participating in a Buck-I-SERV trip to Atlanta, GA called The Medici Project. The Medici Project is surrounded around social justice issues such as homelessness, hunger, poverty and HIV/AIDS. This service project has a mission to educate and expose individuals to inner city youth and the realities of poverty. It also serves a purpose to introduce individuals to what is being done to fight against poverty and small things that they can do in their community to make a difference. This service project was in underserved areas, where 50% of the youth do not graduate from high school and in one community 60% of the residents are HIV positive. While on this service project, I was able to truly transform not only as a student but as an individual. While I have never experienced poverty, hunger, or homelessness directly, this was definitely an equally humbling experience for me. This project allowed me to build connections and form new relationships not only with my peers from Ohio State University, but the people who are a part of this unfortunate community.


    This Buck-I-Serv trip consisted of many activities. Each activity exposed us to a magnitude of social justice issues. All of the activities were completed in underserved areas of Atlanta, GA. We sorted books for Books for Africa, delivered meals to the elderly with an organization called Open Hands, tutored and mentored at Harper-Archer Middle School, made meals with Senior Connections, sorted medical supplies with MedShare to send to countries in need, sorted food at the local Food Bank, volunteered at a local shelter called the Gateway Center, and paved a way for nutritious food to grow at Gilliam’s Community Garden, a local community garden.

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

    My main objective of this transformational experience was to use my passion for people, medicine, and the environment, to serve and build various communities. By being a participant of the Buck-I-SERV trip, I was able to meet several individuals who have the same goals and values as me. This transformational trip allowed me to be a part of something being than myself and my studies at The Ohio State University. This trip exposed me to countless communities. This exposure allowed me to experience the true means of community service. This trip made me more aware of the different issues that happen around the world and that we might take for granted. I learned a lot about my self as a person and about the various communities around the world. This project was one of the many impactful and transformational experiences that will aid in my goal of pursing medicine. Through this Buck-I-SERV experience, I was able to experience the realities of the world and use these skills for survival and building a knit-tight community in my life as a student and future health provider.  This trip provided exposure and experience to my life. I will forever use this experience to raise awareness on the realities of our world. I now have a profound understanding of what it means to serve and how impactful I can be in any community. I learned a multitude of ways to serve not only in my own community, but in any community.

  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?

    The two activities that really impacted me was volunteering a local homeless shelter called the Gateway Center, and cleaning up Gilliam’s, the local community garden. I had a once in a lifetime experience visiting the Gateway Center. I got to listen to someone speak about their experience with homelessness and being in generational poverty and how it has positively and negatively affected their every day of life. I think that there is a stigma and stereotype that people who experience homelessness are “lazy” and “beg”. It was eye opening to hear all of the hardships that people can face, and how easy it is to take life for granted. I valued being able to hear someone’s story and being able to be vulnerable and personable. It was nice to be able to view life from a different perspective. This experience solidified my goals and interest in healthcare. I learned most from this experience how we, as a nation, can take our health for granted, whether its mental, physical, emotional, etc. It also made me aware of how much care and nurture we need to have in order to truly help and make change. It really was eye opening how people can come from many walks of life.


    Gilliam’s Community Garden is a local garden in a community of Atlanta, GA. For decades, this was the only source of fresh fruits, herbs, vegetables and protein that people could excess within 5-10 miles. This was a problem in this low-income community because not many people had means of transportation to get nutritious foods. Gilliam’s was created to end this famine. This experience was really impactful because I never knew how fortunate I am to live close to grocery stores and to live in the city. Around this garden was several homes that were boarded up and abandoned. There were miles of abandoned and boarded up homes. As we were leaving this community, we noticed new grocery stores and businesses. One of the Medici Project leaders, Vince, who has been leading this project for a decade, brought it to our attention that a lot of gentrification was going on in Atlanta. A lot of families and people are being kicked out of their homes to create space for business and places for the city to capitalize from. This trip has expanded my knowledge on social justice issues and various communities around the world. I have made it my goal to use my experience and knowledge to create change in my community.

  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.

    While on this service project, I was able to truly transform not only as a student but as an individual. While I have never experienced poverty, hunger, or homelessness directly, this was definitely an equally humbling experience for me. This project allowed me to build connections and form new relationships not only with my peers from Ohio State University, but the people who are a part of this unfortunate community. This experience solidified my goals and interest in healthcare. I learned most from this experience how we, as a nation, can take our health for granted, whether its mental, physical, emotional, etc. When I volunteered at MedShare, I helped sort, organize, and package surplus medical supplies to send to countries in need. I sealed and organized 128 boxes worth of medical supplies that would have been discarded and left in a landfill to rot. Over 1,000 lbs. of supplies will be sent to developing countries from our work today. This was a life changing experience! I learned how much we take our opportunities and resources for granted. MedShare’s deliveries of vital medical supplies and equipment have decreased our nation’s carbon footprint and brought health, healing and the promise of better lives to 97 countries and countless patients. This was an amazing experience! Not only did I have the opportunity to get acquainted with medical supplies, I got to volunteer along side a great team of women and change lives one box at a time. It was a GREAT DAY TO SAVE LIVES and I did that and more! I am forever grateful for this experience and for improving access to healthcare worldwide.

    I loved volunteering at Books for Africa. I was so proud to be in an environment with people who care for people so much that they dedicate as much time to other communities, as they do their own! It was truly an honor to work alongside so many passionate people! We helped clean up Gilliam’s Community Garden to pave a way for nutritious food to grow. This garden was created within this neighborhood because of the food desert. A food desert is when their is no access to fresh fruits and vegetables within a 5-mile radius of the community. I had an amazing time helping end hunger and food insecurity in this area. I really learned the value of community gardens and the impact that exposure to fresh fruits and vegetables can have on a community.

    I have an immense passion to dedicate and serve my life helping others improve their quality of life. I want to use my passion for medicine and people to help people improve the quality and richness of their environment. This exposure to knowledge and experience allowed me to experience the true means of community service. My main career goals are to be a Pediatric Neuro-Anesthesiologist and to open a free clinic in an underserved community in the name of my maternal grandmother who lost her life to Stage IV lung cancer. This trip provided exposure and experience to my life. From this exposure and experience, I feel that I can accomplish anything, including my career goals, and truly make change in my community. If I had to pick a quote to sum up my extraordinary experience with the Medici Project in Atlanta, GA, I would pick a quote by Mahatma Gandhi. “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”


Buck-I-SERV: Medici Project in Atlanta, GA

Name: Lydia Wachsmuth


Type of Project: Buck-I-SERV: Medici Project in Atlanta, GA


  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.


For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled with a Buck-I-SERV group to Atlanta, GA where we served with the nonprofit called Medici Project for the week. While in Atlanta, Medici Project leaders Vince and Amanda brought us around to a multitude of places to serve. These places included an organization that sent books to schools all over Africa, one that sent medical supplies to countries in need, a meals on wheels type nonprofit, a food bank, an inner city public school, a homeless shelter and a community garden.


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


It’s easy to assume things about those who are less fortunate than yourself or to stay ignorant to social justice issues if they are not affecting you. I can admit to being guilty of both of these things; however, my trip to Atlanta allowed me to open my eyes to problems that go further than my own. Of course, I’ve performed service in the past, but this was the first time I had taken the time to immerse myself in service for an extended period of time that included continued individual and group reflection.


This unique experience taught me a lot about homelessness and poverty domestically as well as worldwide. I learned to not be quick to judge those that are homeless and that they deserve help at their low points just as much as the rest of us. Homelessness and poverty can result from so many factors including abuse, abandonment, mental illness, etc. Society and the government like to place blame on the homeless and poor and say that they put themselves in that position. We like to stereotype and put people in bubbles to ignore the issues instead of help. Another topic that I had never really given much thought to before my trip is the topic of gentrification. Instead of helping the poor who are living in these impoverished areas, the government does nothing, waiting for the communities to self-destruct and for more and more people to lose their homes until they can displace those left to a different area of the city. This is all done to revamp the area to make way for those with money to come and spend a lot of it. It’s forcing people out of the only place they know to be home and it’s sad.  As a result of this trip, my knowledge on these social justice issues have been enriched, and my views on those suffering from poverty and homelessness have changed. I want to do more to help make a change.



  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.


On the topic of poverty discussed in question 2, there were two experiences that significantly opened my eyes to the roots of the issue. The first comes from my time spent at Harper Archer Middle School. Never had I understood how poor of education some children are receiving. The classrooms at Harper Archer were loud and rowdy, students could not be disciplined, and the educators could not get the students to do their work. In the English class I helped in, I witnessed barely any schoolwork or teaching being done at all. We came in at a time after state standardized testing for the 8th graders that determines if they go to high school. The majority of the 8th grade class had failed these tests. It was such an overwhelming amount, they abandoned the normal class schedule and dedicated the week to just practice for the retake. Still, the reality is that many will fail again but they’re not going to hold everyone back. They will continue onto a new school already behind and continue to fall back. In these poor districts, it is no wonder there are so many kids who follow in their family’s footsteps of dropping out and not making it to college, or even high school for that matter. These children are set up to fail and the system needs change.


The second experience that transformed my views on homelessness/poverty was my time spent at a homeless shelter. I listened to the chilling stories of two women who worked there who also used to be homeless. Both were victims of abandonment and continued abuse at a young age who ended up not having much choice other than living on the streets or in shelters. One struggled with mental illness and had no way to stop the voices in her head, leading her to drug addiction. She lost her children, her dignity, and had no one to turn to until one day she became determined to have a better life. I admired these women’s strength and their ability to find happiness out of such a hard life. The time and love they give serving the current homeless in their community is immeasurable. Hearing these stories really put things into perspective for me. It reminded me there is a person behind every face you see on the street and that I am so lucky to have such a fortunate life. I only hope become a fraction as selfless as these two women.


The two organizations, Books for Africa and MedShare, showed me a new perspective of the world compared to the small one I live in spanning pretty much just 7 hours wide between Columbus, OH and my hometown in Baltimore, MD. These organizations send containers of tons and tons of supplies to countries in need. They make a monumental difference for so many people with used supplies that normally would be thrown away. It’s crazy how objects Americans would label trash could be the difference between life or death, or the source of education, for someone in another country. It was just another humbling experience of the week that took me out of my own mind for a bit and allowed me to imagine the ways of life for those less fortunate than me.


  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.


Medici Project alternative breaks include a range of organizations to serve with, allowing those on the trip to figure out what service tracks interest them the most. I learned that direct service was the most meaningful for me. Even though both are equally important, seeing the issues first-hand gave me a fuller understanding than performing service behind the scenes. Much due to this trip, I am sure I want to make service a bigger part of my life, especially in the form of direct interaction with others. Service is a humbling intellectual and emotional experience different from anything I’m being taught in the classroom.