Juan Andrade

Juan Andrade

Juan Andrade is an alumnus of the Purdue University Department of Nutrition Science’s doctoral program. He is currently an associate professor at the University of Florida, where his research focuses on supporting nutrition programs in low-income settings. Originally from Ecuador, Andrade believes Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15) is a great time to embrace the nation’s diversity to reflect on its history while also building toward the future.

What is your current role and responsibilities?

I am an associate professor of global nutrition in the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department at the University of Florida (UF). I lead the nutrition team of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Soybean Innovation Lab with a focus on enhancing the utilization of soybeans in sub-Saharan Africa. I am also affiliated with the USAID Livestock Systems Innovation Lab and the Food Systems Institute at UF. My lab focuses on designing, implementing and evaluating technologies that better support nutrition programs in low-income settings.

What inspired you to pursue this career field?

My father always supported serving others. Despite that I am originally from Guayaquil, Ecuador, I studied agricultural sciences at Zamorano University in Honduras for my bachelor’s degree. There were many opportunities for students to learn beyond the classroom at Zamorano. So, in a rural development module, we had to put together an activity in which we trained communities on specific information — in that case, teaching school age children about taking care of the forest. We built a simple theater for sock puppets and wrote a script emphasizing better practices for natural resource conservation and protecting the forest. The rural school had great challenges, and most of the kids were poor. When we started, the children were so excited about our play. Their eyes reflected this intent to learn that I had not seen before, with so much hope and laughter. This was a transformational experience for me. That day, I decided that whatever my profession might be, I would serve and bring hope and laughter to others.

How has your education from Purdue’s College of Health and Human Sciences shaped your career?

For the longest time, I wanted to be a doctor of medicine. However, I decided to study agricultural sciences after I aced the admissions exam to Zamorano University in Honduras. I studied food technology as a minor. In 2000, I traveled to Purdue University to work with Professor Suzanne Nielsen in the College of Agriculture for the USAID Bean Cowpea Collaborative Research Support Program. The combination of food science and nutrition to improve health was something I cemented in Dr. Jay Burgess’ laboratory in the College of Health and Human Sciences. Certainly, it is the care he had for science and his students what made me the scientist I am today. These experiences have served me well to work in the vast field of dietary supplements.

What is the most rewarding part of your career?

In the last decade as a scientist, I have had many rewarding experiences in the many “aha” and “first” moments: when my students finally get the science of things and their eyes glow in disbelief; when they publish their first paper and learn they are the first to bring information to light; when they learn that all their hard work matters; when we travel together and start developing this urgency to solve problems. I see this learning materialize in a career that will bring hope and benefits to others. I will always be honored to be part of this experience.

What do you think is important for people to know about Hispanic Heritage Month?

Embracing diversity is a key element of our American dream and our future progress as a nation. We are a nation of many races, ethnicities and cultures. Our diversity makes us strong, wise and hopeful. We all should remember our heritage, whichever our origins are. We share a common ancestry, expect a hopeful future and are willing to work hard for it. Hispanic Heritage Month gives us the opportunity to remember those who came before us, improving our nation’s future and building the infrastructure and society benefits we currently enjoy. It is also time to reflect on those coming after us, so they too embrace diversity and diligently address our nation’s healthcare needs, support our marginalized communities, improve our food and nutrition security, welcome peace to our hearts, and secure a more just future for all.

Written by: Rebecca Hoffa, rhoffa@purdue.edu