Getting to Know Holly Hippensteel

Holly Hippensteel is the Housefellow for Resnik House and West Wing. She also serves as a Student Affairs Liaison for the College of Engineering (CIT) and works closely with graduate education colleagues and the Graduate Student Assembly relating to the overall experience of graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University. In partnership with a fellow colleague in the Office of the Dean, she works on awareness of academic integrity issues and responds to violations of the University Policy on Academic Integrity. Additionally, she’s heavily involved in assessment and strategic planning activities for the Division of Student Affairs and serves as the Interim Director of Title IX Initiatives.

Holly completed her undergraduate studies in sociology at La Roche College and earned her master’s in student affairs in higher education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. In her “spare” time, Holly is working towards finishing her doctorate in higher education at Kent State University. “I’m currently ‘ABD’ (all but dissertation) and hope to finish this year!” says Holly.

In the photo above, Holly poses with a Carnegie Mellon alumna, Emma Livne, while they were in the Dominican Republic on a spring break trip with Outreach 360, a student organization that organizes alternative, service-based trips each year.

How did you come to join CMU?

After graduate school, I left Western Pennsylvania for a job at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. It was a great place to live and a fabulous institution, but I missed Pittsburgh. When Carnegie Mellon posted an opening in the Student Life office, I threw my hat in the ring. I have always been impressed with CMU as an institution but it was the people and the culture of the university that really hooked me. I’ve gotten addicted to the energy of this place and am so glad that I found my way here.


Holly (center) and CMU alumna Rachel Inman (CFA ’11) meet President Obama when he visited the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) to highlight CMU’s impressive record of launching start-ups. Rachel is now an Interaction Designer at Google.

Holly (center) and CMU alumna Rachel Inman (CFA ’11) meet President Obama when he visited the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) to highlight CMU’s impressive record of launching start-ups. Rachel is now an Interaction Designer at Google.

Share one of your most prized CMU memories.

Some of the most amazing experiences of my life have come from my affiliation with Carnegie Mellon, including meeting President Obama and traveling to places like Qatar, India, and the Dominican Republic. But, out of everything, I would have to say that my favorite CMU memories come from volunteering with Sweepstakes (Buggy) each year during Carnival. I have co-piloted or driven the lead truck during the races for the past 10 years. I love seeing all of the alumni who come back year after year and how excited the students are to compete after a year of intense preparation. It’s such a special and treasured tradition, and it takes a lot of hard work to make it happen. I am so proud to be able to be a part of it.

What is an important life lesson you have learned from a student or students?

I have learned after many conversations with students that there is a difference between being good at something and having a passion for something. Hearing students talk about finding their passion when they are 19 or even 25 years old … it helped me realize that there is a difference between liking something or being good at something and truly being passionate about it. Incorporating my passions with my abilities has been an eye-opening and life-changing experience for me, and I owe that insight to the students here.

Outside of work, what are your hobbies/interests? What are you passionate about?

Most of my time outside of work is spent with my three amazing children  – Spencer (12), Hanna (9), and Madalyn (7) – who like to do anything outside – bike riding, swimming, or walking the dogs. When I have time for myself, I love to read. I am kind of a history nerd and am especially fascinated by early American history up through the Industrialization period. I love to watch documentaries and science fiction movies or anything on HGTV. I also love the way that I feel, physically and mentally, after a great yoga session. I like to watch football (Go, Steelers!) and I really like roller coasters. I wish that I had more time to travel, and I am looking forward to my first trip to Europe later this spring.

I am most passionate about learning and education in general. I believe that education is and should be transformative, not transactional. If you want to make the most of any experience, you really need to invest in that experience and take an active role. I think every interaction that we have is an opportunity to learn, whether that is learning about ourselves, another person or perspective, something from an academic discipline, or a just an interesting story.

All-time favorite book?

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. This is the book that inspired me to read more. It was the first book that I had been assigned to read that I really loved. I also really enjoy Kurt Vonnegut.

If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

If I could have dinner with anyone I would choose Eleanor Roosevelt. I feel like she was so ahead of her time related to the role of women and human rights. She made so many beautiful and poignant statements. I have decorated my daughters’ room with empowering Eleanor Roosevelt quotes like, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” and “Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you will be criticized anyway.”

You get to eat a meal where fat, calories, sodium, and cholesterol get completely wiped off the books. What would be your food of choice for this very special (and sadly impossible) meal?

I would definitely go to the pizza place where my sister and I worked during college, Luciano’s Pizza, and get all of my favorites like Stromboli, white pizza, bread sticks, and Italian sausage … yum!

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