Andrea Bühler Wassmann: PhD Student in Human Development

With each interview I conduct, I am reminded of how wonderful women can be.  Because of our child-bearing nature, often times the well-being of others depends heavily, if not solely, on us; we are often seen as the caretakers of society.  It is magnificent to see us extend that role outside the realms of our biological abilities, turning it into our life purpose.  Along the lines of our latest interview of Princess, here is yet another wonderful woman devoting her life to the underrepresented of her community.  Andrea was nominated by Pola Bunster.  She is from Miami, but was born in Mexico from Nicaraguan and Dutch German parents.  Usually, Barnard College women kick ass and Andrea is no exception to that.  She is currently working towards her Ph.D. in Human Development, at UC Davis.  Andrea is taking on the challenge of helping include the Latino community in the conversation of human development research.  Before this, she co-founded an awesome project that offered a creative solution to one of the main issues caused by climate change.  Andrea’s achievements go beyond the scientific into the creative entrepreneurship; she was involved in starting an independent music label, always having the end goal of benefiting the community.  Even her internships are impressive!  Meet Andrea.

What are you most passionate about? I’m passionate about learning how we become who we are, the experiences that shape us (our behavior and our biology), and especially how we can be resilient in the face of adversity. Currently and in my last position, I’ve been working on projects that research the relationship between parents and children in Latino families living under the poverty line and how stress gets under our skin (measuring cortisol, a stress hormone, and heart rate and sleep data). To collect this data, we visit the families in their homes. I get to play with the young ones, collect the physiological data, and interview the mothers. It’s been shown that social support promotes resilience (good developmental health outcomes, competence, success) in stressful situations. Early childhood is an especially vulnerable period in our lives. A lot of development is happening at a fast rate, and it’s the best time to intervene and understand how we can help people start their lives in a positive, healthful way. There’s a big cultural gap in human development research, which is why I am involved in expanding the research to include Latinos. I’ve always found it so rewarding to work with children; they really are our future! I plan to dedicate my career to enhancing science, learning more about ourselves, and supporting women, children, and underrepresented communities.

You were also the co-founder of an amazing water-collection project…PHOG Water is a project that works to use alternative, environmentally-friendly methods to collect water directly from the clouds using energy-free nets. This was developed at Princeton University in 2013 during an entrepreneurship lab. We tested the technology in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and then returned to the island in 2015 to collect more water from a volcano. Right now one of my teammates is in law school and I’m working on my PhD so we’re not really working on PHOG at the moment; however, it is super rewarding to know that we can create the method to access an untapped water resource. Environmental issues are critical with climate change, and I think we’re going to have to continue to think creatively for solutions.

And created a music label!! From 2012 to 2015, I was on the spearheading team for GroundUP Music, an independent music label started by Michael League – the leader and bassist of the Grammy-winning band, Snarky Puppy – that (like the name suggests) works to build community through music from the ground up. Before that, I was an intern at Universal Republic Records (2010), United Talent Agency (2013), and Vogue (2011). I’ve always been interested in the arts and my hope is to expand my research at some point to learn more about the development of creativity, and how people use their creativity in stressful/adverse situations.

What was your first job out of college? Right when I graduated from Barnard College, I started working on PHOG Water at Princeton. Then, I moved to Washington, D.C. to work as a researcher on the Buffering Toxic Stress project with University of Maryland, which put me on track to start my PhD here at University of California, Davis.

What or who inspired you to do what you do? Inspiration feels like energy to me. It’s an everyday thing. I get that energy from connecting with people, in conversation and from those who share their ideas and creations with the world. As a research scientist, I’m very inspired by Carl Sagan, Jane Goodall, and Sir David Attenborough, who have all communicated truth in a way that has revolutionised how we see ourselves in the context of this planet and our universe. Children always inspire me because they embody the potential we have as human beings to enjoy and explore.

As a major goal, what would you like the impact of your work to be? I’d love to contribute to people’s well-being and sense of connection within themselves and with humanity and the universe. If my work could help illuminate the ways our environment and early experiences affect us and our bodies, we can adapt our environments and our relationships to nurture healthful and happy lives. One person who is doing this is Dr. Nadine Burke Harris. Her TED talk on childhood adversity and its impact on health is so powerful.

If you could publish an autobiography, how would you title it? From Everywhere and Now Here

What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self Keep asking questions, trust in the process, and be good to yourself. You are on your way.
What is your definition of a “dream life”? Are you living yours? Loving. Being aware, happy, and thankful to be alive. Sharing and building connections and making a positive impact. Being free to learn and evolve as I please. Traveling. Forgiveness for mistakes and no fear in trying times. Creating opportunities for myself and others. Writing. I’m very appreciative for my life, but I acknowledge that sometimes I don’t feel like I’m living my dream life. But it’s just a difference in a state of mind. We’re all experiencing life for the first time. I’m here for it. I love it.

What is your choice of each of the following:

A song: Erykah Badu’s “Orange Moon”

A moment in your life: Now, the present.

 

 

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