Hi there! I'm Andrea Bell and I am Kevin and Damian's mom.
I just wrapped up my bachelor of science degree in Psychology with a Concentration in Behavioral Neuroscience + Pre-Med Prerequisites in summer of 2018 from Wright State University just before I turned 35. Before returning to college, I was a freelance photographer for about ten years. It has been quite the jump to transition from artist to preparing for medical school as a single mother. However, I'd like to think that medicine is creative and there are countless opportunities to see the beautiful alliance between art and science.
In fall of 2018, I began a masters degree in Physiology & Neuroscience at Wright State. I plan to apply for medical school and take the MCAT in 2020.
I've been blogging sporadically since 2008 and have never mastered the art of a clever bio. I asked my good friend, Justine of This Little Place, to ask me some questions:
WHO ARE THE HANDSOME MANS IN YOUR LIFE? My sons! Being a single mom is hard work, but my sons are also my fuel to move forward + drink in each day with a grateful attitude. I've done my life in a different order than most people, but we've adapted together as a team. I treasure these years with them.
Kevin is thirteen and I love learning about who he is and listening to his ideas. He is always happiest when he is creating something- and I'm such a fan of his work. Whether it's a handmade grappling hook or an oversized paper airplane, he is always ambitious about his inventions. He enjoys math & science. I try to encourage his interests but also let him be a kid. He holds the door for me when I have groceries and his manners make me proud. We like riding bikes together and I love his handpicked Spotify playlist of cello covers (esp We Found Love). Love seeing him practice & show enthusiasm about playing guitar & cello. He keeps me honest when I can't remember the difference between a manta ray and a sting ray. It's an honor to have conversations about life and how the world works with him, we get each other's humor. He will splint his time between 9th grade classes at the high school and 8th grade classes across the street at middle school this year.
Damian is feisty & sweet. He likes to tell terrible knock knock jokes and loves being the center of attention. Can't stop him from dabbing or flosssing (OMG it's hilarious though). His sense of humor brings much needed comic relief, notice the flowers in his hair in the (iPhone) portrait above. It's really cool to see him demonstrate his own version of creativity, and he makes it look incredibly effortless. He likes his dinosaurs to be tall and fast. He brags that gym is his favorite subject, and always has a group of friends in any situation. The three of us have good memories of playing baseball together and I love watching his games. Even though he is nine, I will hold him until I can't anymore. It's getting harder, but I still carry him up to bed when he falls asleep downstairs. He answers to Ocean and Achilles. I'll tell you about it sometime. He is starting fourth grade.
They are both resilient and inspire me to be the best version of myself for them.
WHAT ARE YOU WATCHING? Taking suggestions! I binged a lot of TV this summer and I’m not sorry.
FAVORITE CAMERA? My jokingly 'vintage' iPhone 4, now replaced. It actually taught me a lot about photography & light because of its simplicity. Professionally, I prefer my Nikon cameras & Nikkor lenses.
WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT DAYTON TO YOU? Dayton has been my home for many years. I am a Sinclair alum and the Visual Communications program gave me a chance to explore myself as an artist in an applicable career. It prepared me to be the photographer I have become. Now that I've returned to Wright State, I'm constantly impressed with how it has changed since my first classes there in 2002. It feels like a new campus, and the faculty have been supportive of my goals. When I went back to school at in my early thirties, I worried it would be a disaster or that I would never keep up. It is probably more work than I initially imagined, but I am lucky to be a student with so many resources a short drive from home. The initial premise of being "tethered" to Dayton used to scare me. I felt stuck here, while my military ex moved to a sunny new location. Now I feel so grateful that I had strings to keep me here, we have excellent universities and opportunities that I am thankful to take advantage of. My family support system is vital too.
WHAT KIND OF PHOTOGRAPHY DO YOU DO? I've scaled back tremendously as my courses and medical school prep have become more time consuming. The nice thing about being a photographer is the variety of assignments I can pursue. I have been photographing weddings & occasional portraits in a boutique fashion since 2009. My original background is in graphic design, so I also have found a niche in working with local (women) owned businesses to help with their online brand development as well as product & commercial photography. I love the challenge of translating their story, hard work, & identity into a visual story. Some of my clients are Confetti, Skin Food by Aubrey, and Taylor Monroe. Understanding design has been a large advantage in establishing my own branding & creating my own websites- like Tether & Fly!
More importantly, I see my background as a creative communicator as an advantage with sharing research & information in digestible pieces. I straddle the line as a recent lay person with no scientific background and someone who now studies and works in academia. I hadn't taken chemistry in about SIXTEEN YEARS when I returned to Wright State, so I was working hard to understand even very simple concepts. I try to remember that as I prepare to tutor students or when I prepared to share my honor's research project with the public. It is important to me to be able to use my artistic background to enhance the clarity of the science I need to communicate. I also want to make it more appealing.
WHY DID YOU MAKE THE SWITCH FROM PHOTOGRAPHER TO ASPIRING DOCTOR? Photography was only one of many interests that intrigued me. For a time, it was a toss up whether I'd open a bake shop or commit to taking pictures. The first wedding I photographed, I also baked the cake. Not a good idea, and never doing that again. (That disaster is NOT what is pictured above... that was a Jabba the Hut cake for Kevin years ago). As I started to go through my divorce and lived for a long time as a single parent, my mind started to change. I started to see the trauma of flexibility, but it made me curious about the benefits of flexibility.
I would have never dreamed my marriage could end, but it did.
So if that could happen, what else could change? Now ANYTHING is possible.
I became curious and felt more pressure to dictate my own life. I knew that both of my sons would be in school (allowing me more time to focus on work), I started to wonder if photography was the work I wanted to focus on. If photography were to be the sum of my life's contribution to the world, was it enough? It wasn't for me.
When Damian started kindergarten, I also started classes again. It was perfect timing to finish my bachelor's degree. I started to slowly build confidence that I could take on challenging classes and do well. If I had believed that earlier, I would not have earned an X in Anatomy in 2004. I still didn't think I could just sprint to medical school, and I remained cautious about even picturing myself enduring that kind of education. There were a lot of reservations about "if I was smart enough" or "if I could keep up" with my young and talented classmates. A thousand little thoughts culminated to one persistent idea: I liked what I was learning and I could become a doctor. I'm glad it happened like that. I try to be very clear that I was a broken person just trying to finish my degree and I didn't come back to school as the person I am now. It was a slow process to even picture myself as someone who could imagine myself with the confidence to make big academic goals.
There is so much more to the story, and I try to share pieces when I have time. Returning to college and taking courses required for my pre-med track and completing a concentration in behavioral neuroscience rekindled my interest in helping people with neurological disorders and mental health needs. A close family member has a chronic disease, schizophrenia, and it was the catalyst that brought me to where I am. Since his diagnosis almost 20 years ago, I've wanted to understand what changed in his neuronal circuits to cause his symptoms. That's why I took anatomy in 2004, but I wasn't ready and I acknowledge that. Now I am, and the pieces are falling into place differently because I approach everything I do differently than I did before.
WHAT IS YOUR RESEARCH FOCUS? I recently worked in a behavioral neuroscience lab on campus, and we examined neuroimmune factors related to the stress response. I love this topic, because we have always heard about how bad stress can be and it's kind of terrifying if we only hear one side of the story. However, we also look at the way our bodies are designed to buffer the stress (change the physiological response and reduce negative behavioral changes) due to the presence of social stimuli (like the presence of a mother with her offspring). It's not a surprise that I like this field, because I'm drawn to anything related to how we can apply physiology to real world applications. I'm just beginning to get a better grasp on the immune system and it's such a cool network. I always look forward to learning more. More recently for my masters thesis, I joined a lab that examines the change in proteins near the axon initial segment in various brain regions (like the corpus callosum and hippocampus). We are interested in how some diseases, like diabetes, can cause changes in these “scaffolding” proteins.
HOW DO YOU STAY MOTIVATED?
After everything I went through to keep my sons from relocating 1000 miles, I learned how to advocate for myself. Having my sons kept from me woke up the fighter inside of me, and I learned how to draw on that fire to be persistent about my goals. I just mentioned my family member with schizophrenia, and being close to him during 20 years of intermittent episodes of psychoses has changed me. It has given me a unique view of this cruel illness that makes me intent of being part of some kind of solution in his honor.
Another thing, is that I ENJOY learning about the mechanisms behind our existence. While they can be challenging, many of these classes are so interesting that I don't mind studying for them. I am fascinated by the way we are wired underneath our skin. Working in the emergency department this year as a scribe has also helped me confirm that I want to help patients and use my knowledge to coordinate the best care possible.
To stay motivated, I recommend celebrating the milestones. It is so important to savor the journey as much as the destination. There is already so much goodness surrounding me even in the mundane and meticulous years of preparing for medical school.
It's a bit of a hike until I reach medical school, so I am still balancing freelance photography in my schedule!