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STEP participants prepare to present reflections on experience

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The Ohio State community will get a taste of what some students participating in the Second-year Transformational Experience Program have spent their time doing over the past year.

Those students are set to present their required reflection projects at the inaugural STEP Expo on Tuesday.

STEP is a program ran by the Office of Academic Affairs and the Office of Student Life that looks to boost second-year education and involvement on campus by having students coordinate with faculty mentors. STEP students live on campus, participate in co-curricular programs and activities and learn from interacting with peers.

There are six types of transformational experiences that students in the program can engage in — artistic and creative endeavors, internships, leadership, service-learning, study abroad or undergraduate research.

The pilot program officially launched in August 2013 with 53 faculty mentors and 1,000 students, meeting the 20:1 student-to-faculty ratio the university had planned to achieve.

The students were organized into clusters and cohorts: clusters had a ratio of about 100 students to five or six faculty members, and cohorts set up about 20 students with one faculty member each.

But the first year of STEP proved to be a challenge for some of the participants and mentors, many of whom had an unclear understanding of how to navigate the program. Some said expectations were never really clear, while others said recruiting faculty members to mentor students in the program wasn’t easy.

But those faculty members who agreed to participate were offered a small amount of money for a discretionary fund, meal blocks to use at dining halls with students and the chance to interact with students studying in other departments.

Vicki Pitstick, the program manager for STEP in Academic Affairs, explained Academic Affairs and the Student Life organized the expo to give the STEP students another outlet to share their experiences from their experience.

“One of the requirements of STEP is that students have to reflect and report back about their STEP Experience once it is complete,” Pitstick said in an email. “One of the options they have for the report-back piece is to participate in the STEP Expo.”Other options for reporting back options include creating a digital story, presenting research at a research forum and present a program about their experience to other STEP students, she said.

Pitstick said the expo is also for OSU faculty, staff and students who are not involved with STEP.

“Basically, we wanted to create an event, open to the entire campus, where students were able to share the amazing transformational experiences they have had,” she said. “This is their chance to come and see what a part of STEP is really all about and all of the great opportunities being in STEP offer to our second-year students.”

Pitstick said in particular, she hopes freshman attend the event.

“We hope first-year students attend, so they can see what STEP is all about and consider signing up for STEP next year,” she said.

Ross MacDonald, a research scientist in the Department of Entomology, who has been a STEP mentor both years of the program, explained some examples of projects from last year. He said in one, a student created a video game, another attended the History and Archaeology of Medieval Ireland study abroad program and another working as a mentor for students in researching landscape and sustainability at GEO Academy in Sacramento, Calif.

MacDonald said being a STEP mentor means a lot to him.

“I believe in holding high expectations and giving high levels of support and I believe in understanding the world as my students do and working outward from there,” he said.

One of the experiences that will be featured at the Tuesday event is Jeremiah Lawson’s, a third-year in industrial and systems engineering. For his transformational experience, he studied abroad in a trip that included going to Amsterdam, Berlin, Hamburg, Germany and Copenhagen for a class in the city and regional planning program within the Knowlton School of Architecture.

While in Northern Europe, he and other students created sustainable housing developments and transportation systems. In groups, they were assigned numerous case studies in addition to a small, individual research project.

For his presentation on Tuesday, Lawson plans to display photos from his time in Europe. He is set to also provide soundbites and a hard copy of the class publication from the trip.

He said it’s important to go to the event to get a handle on what STEP is.

“If one is trying to learn more about what the possible experiences for STEP are, the expo will probably be the best thing they could attend,” Lawson said in an email. “(Visitors) will get a lot of different perspectives on an entirely new educational concept.”

The event is scheduled to be held in the Archie Griffin Ballroom in the Ohio Union from 1-3 p.m. and from 4-6 p.m.

This STEP Expo is set to be held each spring and fall semester so students who complete their experience can display their reflections about it the following term.

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