Alumna Spotlight: Annalise Blum & Amy Strauss

at-step-one-rocking-horse-croppedAnnalise Blum and Amy Strauss spoke with us about their 25+ year friendship with each other and Christa Whitney that began in Room 4 in Step One. It’s an enduring bond that speaks to the kinds of meaningful friendships that sustain our community.

Hi Amy, hi Annalise! Could you tell me about your memories of your friendship at Step One?

Amy: I know that Christa, Annalise, and I were an inseparable trio, and we’d always want to sit together and hold hands during circle time singing with teacher Katie.

Annalise:  At one point I convinced the other two that we should only wear dresses and skirts, and we took it to extremes: there are pictures of us wearing multiple overlapping dresses and skirts.

Amy: Oh, I remember being fascinated by the classroom pet iguana! And the one time we made green eggs and ham as a classroom activity. Step One was such a positive place and I think back on it fondly.

Annalise: I think Step One gave all of us a good foundation. Being outdoors, being excited about learning.

What role has the friendship played in your life, and why do you think it’s persisted over the years?

Amy: I’m so happy to have friends that go all the way back to the beginning. It’s always so genuinely comforting and fun to be back together, and reminiscing/cringing at our childhood and adolescent memories never gets old.img_2553

We watched each other grow up and have shared values from those childhood experiences. Step One being such a supportive environment allowed for some really early formative bonds. Plus, we did a few years of elementary school together, Christa and I went to middle school together, our families know each other—it’s really special.

Annalise: I’m an only child so their friendship has been so important to me. I learned a lot from them: they both had older sisters so they knew what was cool! I feel completely comfortable with them no matter how long it’s been. It’s a family feeling.

What are you both up to now?

Amy: I’m living in Massachusetts and working on my PhD in Biology at UMass Amherst. I study the ecology and evolution of singing in birds, which combines field research outside and neurophysiology experiments with birds in the lab. I’m enjoying living here—but every winter when the freezing temperatures roll in, I yearn to be back in the Bay Area.

It was a strange coincidence that Annalise, Christa, and I all ended up in Massachusetts for a few years! Annalise is now gone, but Christa is just down the road and it’s been so much fun seeing her more regularly.

Annalise: I’m in Washington DC; I just moved from Boston, where I’m doing a PHD at Tufts in environmental engineering (water resources). I’m here on a US Geological Survey internship, working on better predicting future floods given climate change.

There are some interesting connections between what the three of us do. I trace my interest in science to an elementary school year I lived in Costa Rica. Amy came to visit us and we saw amazing birds. At that time, I decided I wanted to be an ornithologist, partly because it was the biggest word I knew. I didn’t follow that path but Amy did!

Also, though Amy and I are the Jewish ones, Christa is the one who wound up as the Director of the Wexler Oral History Project at the the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst. She’s become expert in Yiddish and preserves incredible oral histories. We’ve all rubbed off on each other over the years. img_2705