Newt graduating Adult Level 2 Training

Newt visiting Jane and Chuck at Kensington Place Retirement Center

  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. 

My STEP Signature Project consisted of adopting and training a dog (Newt) to act as a therapy animal for people in retirement homes, nursing homes, hospitals, or other similar facilities.  This training included getting Newt certified as an AKC Canine Good Citizen, as this ensured that he would be well-mannered and would behave appropriately during visits and during everyday interactions with others.

  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. 

At the beginning of my sophomore year, when I was first deciding what to do my STEP Signature Project on, I was a very timid individual, unwilling to seek out interactions with others unless they directly sought me out first.  The only exception to that was if I saw someone with an animal. In those scenarios, I would muster up the courage to ask the person if they would be willing to let me pet their animal. With that in mind, I knew that if I were to adopt and train a dog as a therapy animal, it would open up many new interactions with strangers, which in turn would force me out of my comfort zone to help me become more comfortable with the idea of interacting with people who I had not explicitly met before. 

One of the things I really struggled with when coming to college was making new friends. As mentioned before, I was extremely unlikely to approach someone and strike up a conversation, but after working with Newt and having strangers approach me because of him, I became much more comfortable with the idea of interacting with people that I didn’t know. This has allowed me to greatly expand my friend group, as I have met many new individuals while volunteering with Newt, walking him around campus, and taking him to training.  It was a very gradual change, but I’ve noticed that this newfound confidence in myself has extended beyond face-to-face interactions with others.

Before participating in this project, the thought of having to call someone new on the phone terrified me, because I had no idea how the conversation would go. However, this project has given me ample opportunities to practice speaking with strangers over the phone, whether it be through coordinating retirement home visits, obtaining liability insurance, making plans with a veterinarian, or even through calling my new residents to introduce myself and explain that a dog would be living on our floor throughout the year.  As a result, phone calls no longer terrify me, and I don’t feel the need to avoid them at all costs. I am generally more confident in my ability to handle new situations, which in turn has increased my self-esteem and my willingness to try new things.

In addition, my understanding of the older generation has increased as a result of this project.  Before participating in this project, I did not have reason to delve into the experiences of past generations, but volunteering at the retirement home (Kensington Place) has given me ample opportunity to do so.  As a result, I have gained a vast amount of respect for those older than me, as their past experiences have helped to shape the world that I live in today. Listening to the residents at Kensington while they tell stories about their pasts has truly made me appreciate how much things have changed, even in the last 50 – 60 years.  Things that I’ve always grown up with and take for granted were once completely new and exciting to those older than me. This has made me slow down and appreciate the resources that I have access to, no matter how commonplace they might seem to me.

Also, I’ve realized how much of a difference a little human interaction can make with individuals in a place like a retirement home.  I’ve participated in events where animals were brought to nursing homes and hospitals before, but I did not know how much of a long-term effect the visits would have. I try to volunteer on a biweekly basis, and it always amazes me how excited the residents at Kensington get when Newt and I come to visit. The events that I have experienced during this project have shown me that it’s crucial to always try to see situations from another point of view.  There’s no such thing as a one-sided story; two people can experience the exact same event in vastly different ways, and in the future, I will try to remember that when interacting with others. I hope that this will allow me to continue to grow as an individual and that it will open up new experiences and perspectives to me in the future. Overall, I would say that this project has allowed me to build my self-confidence, become more outgoing, and has allowed me to get a glimpse at perspectives that I never would have been able to experience without this project.

  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 first started visiting Kensington Place with Newt, I was extremely self-conscious about what the residents would think.  Would they like me? Would Newt’s visits be beneficial for them in any way? I was still very shy when I started volunteering back in August of 2018, but after seeing how the residents at Kensington interacted with Newt, I realized what a difference human and animal interaction can make for someone who may not get the chance to interact with others on a regular basis.  Perhaps my most notable experience with this was with Joann. When I first started visiting, I noticed that there was a lady who sat a little ways away from the group where Newt and I were. Although it was difficult for me to muster up the courage to approach a stranger, I made it a point to go over to her to ask if she would like to come sit with us and visit with Newt.  Her face immediately broke out in a huge smile, and she happily joined us in the lobby. As we sat there, she told me all about her childhood pets, and explained that she wished that she were able to take care of an animal of her own while living in Kensington. She also explained that she did not have any family that lived nearby, so she usually went weeks or months without seeing her loved ones.  After she went back to her room, one of the other residents that had been sitting with Newt and I in the lobby explained that they had never seen Joann smile before, let alone hold a conversation with someone. Since that day, Joann always joins us in the lobby for visits, and her excitement and enthusiasm has not decreased since then. Seeing her open up and become a happier person has made me realize how much of an impact a simple action can have, and as a result, I am trying to be more aware of my actions and how they can affect others.

In talking to the residents at Kensington, I have learned that many of them attended Ohio State when they were younger.  One of the residents, Jane, was able to tell me about the history of Ohio State, as her father was the chair of the history department for several years.  Listening to her experiences on campus and then relating them to the campus that I’ve grown to know and love has given me a strong appreciation for how much an environment can change in just a few decades.  It amazes me how many buildings on campus have been present for at least 50 years, and I greatly enjoy describing the new buildings and landmarks that have been added since she and the other residents last visited campus.  Listening to her stories and the stories that other residents have told me about historical events that they have experienced has also given me a greater appreciation of the past and how it has shaped the future. One of the older residents, Edie, was able to tell me about her experiences as a Jewish woman during WWII.  Although she did not directly experience any of the events of the war, as she was a young girl in New York, listening to her experiences has allowed me to form a better understanding of one of the most crucial events in the history of the United States. I have learned about 9/11 as well, through the stories and experiences that residents have shared with me.  Reading about an event is all well and good, but listening to what people have actually experienced has helped me to develop a deeper appreciation of what older generations have experienced, as well as of how much the world has already changed before I was born, and how it will continue to change as I grow older. These experiences have reminded me to always try to view as many sides of a story as possible, to ensure that you are looking at a completed picture.  My respect for the older generation has grown immensely, and I look forward to fostering relationships with others, in the hopes that I’ll be able to continue to expand my worldviews to gain a better understanding of the past and how it relates to the present and the future.

My main goal in starting this project was to become a more outgoing person, as my social anxiety was hindering my interactions with others and my ability to meet new people.  In a world where connections and networking are becoming increasingly important, I knew that I had to work to overcome my introvertedness to become a more social individual. This was extremely difficult at first, as it is hard to undo almost 20 years of a behavior.  However, I started small, and was soon able to progress to situations that pushed me further and further outside of my comfort zone. One of my first experiences with Newt on campus was taking him on a walk and meeting two other people who were walking their dog. We both stopped so that the dogs could play with each other, and while the dogs played, the two girls and I started socializing.  We ended up talking for over half an hour, and I discovered that they were both animal science majors like myself. We exchanged numbers and later discovered that we were taking a few of the same classes. As a result of the chance meeting, I gained two new friends and study buddies, and I slowly started to realize that interactions with strangers weren’t something that needed to be feared. As the months went on, I began seeking out contact with individuals who I hadn’t met before, not only to challenge myself, but also because it would assist with Newt’s training and socialization.  After a while, I noticed that making eye contact with someone new didn’t make my hands start sweating or cause my heart rate to increase. This has allowed me to make connections that I would have never made had it not been for this project.  

Perhaps the biggest example of how my increased ease in interacting with strangers has helped me was with Dr. Burns.  During one of my visits at Kensington, I met someone new and struck up a conversation with her. It turned out that she owned a veterinary practice nearby, and upon learning that I wanted to go into the veterinary field, Dr. Burns invited me to shadow at her clinic over the summer.  I have been shadowing since May and have learned many valuable lessons not only about the veterinary field, but also about how to handle various interactions with the owners of animals. If it weren’t for this project and the increased self-confidence that it has helped me develop, I have no doubt that I would not have been granted this opportunity to experience my chosen career field.  This project has allowed me to become more comfortable in all sorts of situations, and as a result, I have been granted an opportunity that will help me with my academic and my professional future. In addition, my experience at the veterinary clinic will allow me to continue developing my people skills, and will continue to push me outside of my comfort zone so that I may become a more well-rounded, well-socialized individual.  My STEP project has allowed me to reconsider who I am and who I want to be, and has allowed me to discover what changes I needed to make to ensure that I reached my goals. Although most changes have been gradual, I can definitively say that the transformations that I have undergone since starting this project have made me a much more confident, competent individual, which I have no doubt will continue to improve my future and open up further opportunities in both my professional, personal, and academic life. 

  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

I used to joke around that I wanted to become a veterinarian instead of a doctor because I like animals much more than I like people.  However, one of the key aspects of the veterinary job is not only treating the animals, but also being able to interact appropriately with the animals’ owners. At the start of my sophomore year of college, I was in no way prepared for these interactions, despite wanting to be a veterinarian since I was four years old.  The thought of having to talk to someone I didn’t know very well or at all, potentially about something wrong with their animal’s health, made me break out in a nervous sweat and filled my stomach with butterflies. However, with the confidence that I’ve gained throughout this project, these interactions no longer terrify me.  I no longer overthink every interaction with someone new; instead, I now choose to be present in the moment and to truly listen to what the other person has to say, since I am no longer worrying about what I should be saying next in the conversation. This will be a valuable skill to have as a veterinarian, especially since I will be almost totally reliant on the owner to tell me what is wrong with their animal.  Not truly listening to what they have to say could cause me to miss something important that could result in a detrimental effect on their animal’s health.

In addition, understanding that not everyone has had the same experiences that I’ve had will allow me to see situations in an unbiased way. If an owner were to come in, panicked over something that is not worthy of panic, it is important for me not to pass any judgment on them.  This could be their first pet, and they could just be trying to take the best possible care of their pet. What might seem silly to me could seem perfectly reasonable to them. The lessons I’ve learned while participating in this project will help me to be a better, more personable veterinarian in the future.

In addition to my transformation helping with my career goals, it has also helped with my academic and personal goals. I’ve found that since I started training Newt, I’ve had to balance multiple responsibilities, including school, training him, volunteering, and maintaining a social life.  This project has helped me learn how to prioritize, delegate, and manage my time effectively to ensure that I am able to handle a large variety of tasks at the same time without becoming overly stressed out. In turn, this has allowed me to stress less when preparing for exams and presentations.  I have become much better at planning out my week far in advance, which has helped me to stay on top of homework and has prevented me from saving everything for the last second. As a result, I have noticed significant less stress when it comes time to take an exam. Before starting the project and practicing the skills that I’ve gained from it, I had extremely bad test anxiety, to the point where I would feel nauseous before a test.  While I do still feel a little stressed before an exam, it is nothing compared to how I was before the project. I can definitively say that this has helped to improve my test scores, which has helped to improve my overall grades in classes. This boost to my GPA will be especially important when I start applying to veterinary schools.

In addition to helping me meet my academic goals, this project has also helped me meet my personal goals.  As I mentioned above, this project has also allowed me to greatly expand my group of friends, as I now feel much more comfortable with approaching people that I do not know and striking up a conversation. I am no longer the introverted wallflower that I was for the first two years of my college experience. Being able to approach others and make plans with them is a skill that I severely lacked before participating in this project, but now, I feel confident in doing so.  As a result, I greatly enjoyed my junior year of college, as I was doing more than just completing homework, working, and staying in my room.

I also believe that this project made me a better RA. Newt helped to bridge the gap between any awkwardness that might have been present at the beginning of the year, and as a result, I became close friends with many of my residents. While I do believe that I would have been able to form friendships with my residents without the help of this project, I know that it would have taken much longer, and I likely wouldn’t have formed as many connections as I ultimately did.  In the coming year, I hope that my increased willingness to interact with others will help me to form strong relationships with my new residents early on in the year, so that we can continue to grow and develop as the year progresses. Overall, I would say that this project has had many beneficial effects on me, and I hope to continue growing as I work towards my ultimate goal of becoming a veterinarian.

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