When beginning the STF workshops, I will readily admit that I was expecting a linear process. I thought I would enter these workshops, get a bit of advice on how to narrow my program idea, learn how to create a budget and be on my way out. I had no idea how strongly STF would impact my perspective on a variety of social issues, on teamwork, and on the power of a group of committed students at U of M.

During the workshops, I learned a wider breadth of useful information than I could’ve expected. I learned how to connect with stakeholders, how to pitch my project, how to both give and receive useful criticism and how to integrate new ideas into my project while maintaining personal foundations. I also learned that when trying to help fix a problem, you need to truly dive into that problem and know it as well as possible through root cause analyses, gathering multiple perspectives, and doing an immense amount of research. I also learned how to create succinct project plans and a detailed budget.

Beyond beneficial information regarding building my specific project, I also was provided the time, space, and support to reflect on preconceptions and biases. STF challenges you to reflect on your personal ideals and answer the question “Why am I doing this”. Often in college, we get stuck in a cycle of doing what we think we have to do, not reflecting on why we are doing it. However, STF looks you in the eye and makes you reflect on your own perspective and innately understand your motivations.

However, what I was not expecting was the fantastic people I would meet through this fellowship. STF gathers some of the most passionate and kind people I have yet met at U of M. They are passionate about solving the problem they are focused on, but they are also ecstatic to help you figure out how to tackle your project, too. “Leaders and Best” is a popular phrase at U of M, but in STF, you feel that more than ever. I am incredibly grateful that I could not only receive the guidance and support of the BLI staff but that I could enter an incredibly supportive, endlessly passionate community of scholars and, most importantly, change-makers. I have no doubt that I will continue seeing names from STF creating spectacular businesses, nonprofits, and organizations. I entered this program knowing that I would expand my workable knowledge regarding creating a program. But I never could have expected the personal impact this program would make, both regarding my personal beliefs and in the connections I would make with the fantastic STF cohort.

–Elizabeth Tolrud is an ecology and cellular biology student at the University of Michigan with a passion for combining fieldwork, lab research, and environmental advocacy. She is a current undergraduate researcher at the Colacino Lab exploring the impacts of lead on epigenetic regulation during neural differentiation. Previous experiences include ecological fieldwork at the University of Michigan Biological Station. Elizabeth plans to pursue a doctoral degree in ecotoxicology while maintaining a holistic lens through environmental justice.