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Davynne Atanasoff, My Very First Markers, 5/6/2012

"A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us." -John Steinbeck

My Biology of Innovation class can be described as nothing less than a journey. Although it has not been a journey counted in years, but rather in months, it is a journey that has left its mark on me, and it has only just begun. We all started the path together, in the same lost and confused state, but our paths quickly diverged from each other, causing our journeys to become our own and be just as unique as each of us. I was fortunate to be dating another individual in the class, which really helped me see different struggles and perspectives that others had. But like the quote above says, no two journeys are alike. Each of us has our own story to tell, and I want to tell you mine.

My first obstacle came before the semester even began. As a class, we had to find discussion times that would work for everyone. The times were not originally put it the schedule for the class when registering, so I did not think twice about planning other classes and work to fill my day. A week or two before the class began; our teacher sent an email out with a survey of what discussion times would work the best. I sent the teacher my schedule, which included the times I had class, work, or volunteering. Needless to say it was a very jammed schedule. My teacher emailed me back to call her, which I knew was not a good sign. We ended up playing phone tag for a couple of days, but when we finally got a hold of each other, she told me that she did not think that I would have time for this class and that I either needed to drop some of the things I signed up for or drop the class. I quickly reassured her that I would be able to do it. After all I had taken on a much harder previous semester and managed to get by. She was still not convinced but agreed to let me stay in the class. My confidence never wavered when I was on the phone with her. It was only after I hung up that I would start to second guess myself. I began to experience what I would later learn is called the "imposter syndrome." I thought "Am I prepared for this class?" "Am I really smart enough for it or am I going to flunk out?" "What if I really don't have time for it?" "What if I am too stupid for it and I really don't have time to do everything?" I almost dropped the class, even though I had been so confident in my abilities just a few moments before. I eventually calmed down, after giving myself a miniature pep talk, and decided I would see how the first week went before I made the decision.

The first class went really well. Most of the other students looked just as confused as I did. The teachers eased us in with ice breakers, which I had never experienced in my 3 years of college classes. I was feeling pretty confident again, until they told us we had to have a novel idea and come up with an invention or program that no one has ever come up with before. In my family, I was never the person whose opinion really matter. I have never thought much of myself or my abilities, and now these people wanted me to come up with an idea that not even geniuses have thought of! I began to battle with that imposter syndrome again. "You are too dumb to think of something new!" "This class is way out your league!" "You don't have a creative bone in your body!""You are going to show up to the discussion with nothing, and make a fool out of yourself!" This was the second time I considered dropping the class. I decided that I would see, if by some miracle, I would come up with something before my discussion session on Thursday. That left me 3 ½ days.

I have always been concerned with my grades and I wanted to come up with an idea that would give me a good grade. When I started thinking about the good grade instead of my lack of abilities, my mind started opening up. I would think of ideas at random times; in the shower, while driving, eating dinner, and even in a boring lecture. By the time I went to discussion I had over 10 ideas! I actually loved all my ideas, and thought that each of them would be great additions to the world! It was the first time in my life that I thought I might really have something to offer. With this new found feeling, I had no trouble trying to help others. I listened to their ideas and told how great their ideas would, and I even suggested minor improvements. I think most people were having the same feelings that I was. "Wow, maybe I really can do this!"

Limiting my list down to three ideas was not hard. I had already had three favorites from my list. However, it was much harder to limit it down to 1. Eventually, I settled on a marker grip, which only allowed an individual to hold it correctly. I picked this project because I felt like it was something that could really be beneficial to individuals where I worked at and individuals where I volunteered at. I knew I would have a lot of resources at my disposal with this project. Because of this fact, and the fact that I already came up with the design, I thought the rest of the class would be a cake walk. Boy was I wrong!

"I've come to believe that all my past failure and frustration were actually laying the foundation for the understandings that have created the new level of living I now enjoy." -Tony Robbins

Finding time to create my prototype was more difficult than I thought. I had to admit I was starting to agree with teacher about not having enough time for this class. My teachers had suggested that I make my first prototype out of a special type of clay called PHEMO, which was clay that you shaped and then backed, causing it to harden. I finally put aside time to make my prototype. I picked up the clay. I thought that making the prototype would take an hour or two at most. 6 hours later, all I had to show were tears of frustration and pieces of clay that slightly resembled a snake with very large ears (nothing what the prototype in my head looked like). To top it off, the pieces of the prototyped broke off very easily. By the time class started on Monday, all I had to offer for my prototype was a Ziploc bag full of little pieces of hardened clay.

I spoke of my frustrations and fear of not being able to create a prototype in my discussion on Thursday. The teachers told me to embrace this "failure" and learn from it. They told me to look at creating it in a different way and even gave me suggestions. A couple of weekends later, I decided I was going to try again. I got more PHEMO clay but this time I also got my hands on some bailing wire. I was going to make this clay do what I wanted whether it liked it or not! I made the whole frame out of the wire and then covered it in the clay. The results were much better and by the time the next discussion group came around, I was able to show the group my rough prototype!

One of the ladies in my discussion group, Sarah, just happened to be a mechanical engineer. She had many connections over at the engineering department, including the person in charge of the 3D printer. Sarah told me that UNM had just recently bought the printer, and they were looking for jobs to test it out. She said that my marker grip would be perfect because it is a simple design. At the discussion meeting, she actually called the woman in charge and told her about my project. The woman replied that Sarah had caught her at the perfect time and they were just now figuring out the budget, and that they could probably do my prototype for free, which otherwise would have cost me at least $2700 (a little out of a college student's price range!). She told her to have me email her a description of my project and what I needed from them. But Sarah did not stop there. She actually wrote out exactly what to say in my email t and told me to send it that day. I wrote that email as soon as I got home from work that day (around 10:00 pm), and I wrote it word for word just like Sarah had instructed me to do. I was so excited! I was going to have a legitimate looking prototype! However, the excitement slowly wore off, when two weeks later, I still had not gotten a reply.

I felt the imposter syndrome for a third time in this journey. "See, you really are worthless!" "What made you think that out of everybody, your project would be chosen?" "You and your project would just be a waste of this person's time!" I voiced my concerns, concealing my inner turmoil, with my discussion group. With their encouragement, I found the courage to write a second email to the woman. I feared being rejected again and the thought of failing. By the next discussion, I still had not received a reply email. That is when Sarah decided she was going to give me the push I needed. She grabbed my hand, and with the permission of the teacher, marched my sorry little butt over to engineering building and right up to the woman's office. Unfortunately, she was not in. Sarah insisted on me writing a message to leave her. I did not have much hope in her replying, but I wanted to appease Sarah, because she had done so much for me. Next Sarah walked me down to the 3D printer lab and introduced me to one of the engineers that worked there. She told him about my project and what I needed. He said he did not really have time to talk today, but asked if I could meet on Thursday. I quickly agreed.

When Thursday came around, I made sure to look nice. I even made sure that my hair looked good and spent extra time on my makeup. The person in charge of the printing still had not contacted me, but after a few compliments directed toward the engineer, he agreed to make my prototype for me under the table. I thanked the man and left with a smile that stretched ear to ear! I finally had a prototype I could be proud of!

I causally showed my new prototype to my discussion group later that afternoon. Nobody knew just how proud or thrilled I was about it. I thanked Sarah again for all that she did for me. If it wasn't for her, I would still be wrestling with that imposter syndrome. The lady in charge on the printing never did contact me back, but it no longer mattered. I felt proud and accomplished, and in that moment I could have taken on the world.

"There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave"- Dale Carnegie

The next part of my journey caused me the greatest fear and anxiety. I have always hated public speaking. My stomach always will start to do back flips and I cannot stop shaking until I'm done. This part of my journey involved not one presentation, but two. The first of which, was giving an elevator pitch.

I was actually so nervous about the elevator pitch that I kept putting it off. Soon it was the night before we presented and I still had not written anything! Panicked, I started to jot out what I wanted to say. This is what I ended up coming up with:

"Almost 100% of Americans will learn to hold a writing utensil. About 10% of these people will learn how to hold it incorrectly. Pediatric occupational therapists work with over half their patients on their writing grip. My name is Davynne Atanasoff, and I have designed a marker that would be a great tool to help individuals with this problem as well as prevent it all together. WriteRight markers are fun, cheap markers that kids will love to write with, but they can only be held the correct way.

The average American middle class parent spends around $17,000 a year on their child. Now most parents want the very best for their kids and will not think twice on spending a few extra dollars for these markers.

In addition, there are over 2.5 million individuals who suffer from Rheumatoid arthritis or Cerebral Palsy. My markers are perfect for these individuals because they do not require the individual to clasp their fingers together to write.

I have designed this versatile, one of a kind marker. Now who wants to help me sell it to the world?"

On paper, the elevator pitch does not look so bad, but it was totally different in practice. The pitch took a downhill turn before I even spoke. I completely froze when "PITCH" was yelled at me, signaling for me to begin. For some reason the people yelling at "PITCH" at me brought back old memories and I got scared. The class and teachers were very understanding and allowed me to start again. When I began again, I stumbled over some of my words and could not seem to stop moving my hands around. The speech I gave was a lot worse than the one I practiced and as soon as I was done I wished I would have included more and said some things differently." But by this point in my journey, I had adopted a new attitude. I knew that this experience would make me stronger and I would be better next time. Although I did not feel like I was great, I was still confident in myself and my abilities. This ability to maintain this confidence was something that I gained from this class and the people in it. I hope that this ability will stick with me for the rest of my life and not just go away when the class ended.

The following Monday, we had to do a presentation, which included 5 slides. I was swamped the week before with assignments and tests. I actually did not make my slides until the day of the presentation! I felt unprepared and very nervous to say the least. But I had to present regardless. My slides actually turned out great! They were probably the best ones I have ever created (thanks to the instructional film we had to watch on how to make great slides). However, I did not feel like my words matched the greatness of the slides. I stumbled over words and even mispronounced some of them. I made hand gestures that did not necessarily fit with what I was saying. I knew it was because I had not practiced presenting at all. I regretted not practicing, but I knew that this was just another learning experience for me. I now knew that a little bit of practice goes a long way. After analyzing my performance on the presentation, I realized that I was criticizing my presentation rather than myself! This is probably the best trait I picked up on this journey. Instead of saying, "Wow Davynne you really screwed that up!" I was saying "That sentence did not really flow there and made me stumble. I think next time, when I practice the speech before hand; I will catch things like that."

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." -Dr. Seuss

My teachers were truly amazing and wonderful people. They believed in us when we did not even believe in ourselves. They had no idea of my background or what issues outside of school I am struggling with. But they were there to build me up anyway. I cannot express how thankful I am to them, and I know that I will definitely keep in touch with these two remarkable people. This class has been an emotional ride. There has been plenty of fear and frustration, but there also has been a lot of appreciation, learning, and happiness. This has definitely been the most beneficial class I have ever taken. I have learned a lot, especially about myself, in this journey. But like I said at the beginning of this paper, my journey has just begun. But now, as I continue, I no longer feel scared, but rather excited of the adventure yet to come.

"I believe that life is a journey, often difficult and sometimes incredibly cruel, but we are well equipped for it if only we tap into our talents and gifts and allow them to blossom." - Les Brown