Julie Hassen has an affinity for nature and human well-being. Hassen’s interest in using nature as a healing agent began during her marine science undergraduate studies when she used surfing to support her mental health. After working in the field of nature-based therapy, Hassen realized there was a gap between people coping with mental health challenges and their connection to the environment. This realization drew her to pursue a dual degree from SEAS and U-M’s School of Social Work (SSW).
Combining stewardship efforts with human well-being is a key goal of Hassen’s dual-degree studies. “People cannot make sustainable behavior changes if they are not in a good headspace,” she said. Her career aspirations aim to help people heal through nature, develop a connection to the Earth, and translate this relationship into action. One SEAS class that shaped this vision was Dr. Ray De Young’s Behavior and Environment course. During a lecture on mindfulness, Hassen felt inspired to explore a profession as an environmentally focused therapist.
Through her dual-degree program, Hassen is learning to understand people and how they make decisions. One significant impact of having both curriculums is getting a robust education in analyzing social contexts, especially with an environmental justice lens. Hassen noted that she is able to view a person’s holistic self through dimensions such as “the brain, body, socioeconomic status, home life, spirituality, history, race, where they live, what they breathe, and their access to nature.” Thinking about these different factors makes Hassen better equipped to bolster stewardship and well-being at the same time.
Learning at SEAS and SSW has allowed Hassen to solidify what she wants to do after graduation. Exploring a new field, taking different classes, and trying new jobs helped her realize that she can use nature-based therapy to aid communities in coping with climate change and working towards resilience. She acknowledges that transitioning to a sustainable future will require practitioners that help people process change as they grieve their past lifestyles. Hassen is eager to step into this role and use her skills for supporting the adoption of pro-environmental behaviors.