Getting to Know Mandy Best

Mandy Best is the Housefellow for Donner House, a first-year residence hall affectionately known as “Big Blue.” In addition to her role as Housefellow, she is also a coordinator for Residential Education, spearheading Spirituality and Interfaith Initiatives for the campus community, and advising INSPIRE (Interfaith and Spirituality Embassy) – a student group focused on advancing interfaith cooperation and spiritual well-being at Carnegie Mellon University. She also serves as staff support for the Council of Religious Advisors (CORA), a group of religious and lay leaders organized around supporting and encouraging religious and spiritual life within the campus community.

Mandy completed her undergraduate studies in psychology at Geneva College. She went on to earn her master’s in education in school counseling from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania.

How did you come to join Carnegie Mellon?

When I finished my master’s degree, I was doing mental health counseling with children in their homes. Though it was incredibly important and meaningful work, I really wanted to find a job in education. For years a friend had been telling me that I would be a good fit for the Housefellow position at CMU. When there was finally an opening, she called me and said, “it’s time!” I applied, interviewed, and got the job, which happened to start two days after my wedding. So I cancelled my honeymoon, packed up my house, and here I am! (And we were fortunately able to reschedule our trip for the following summer!)

What makes the Donner House community so awesome?

During orientation, Donner residents learn this simple truth: “Donner is blue. Blue is nice. Therefore, Donner is nice!” Donner is a community full of history, folklore, pride, and its residents bleed blue! There’s something about Donner that’s infectious.

Housing Blog Donner

The building itself is set up in a way that encourages its residents to get to know others throughout the entire building — not just their roommates or floormates — so it really does feel like a big blue family. This means residents have many, many opportunities to form connections with others.

Also, Donner is situated in an ideal location on campus. Because of its close proximity to the design, architecture, and art studios, and to Skibo gym, Donner often draws large groups of both art students and athletes. (And, occasionally, art students who are athletes!) We are truly a diverse community that embraces and celebrates different and unique interests, passions, and personalities.

The residents of Donner House also run a completely student-managed website about the Donner community: There’s bios about the residential staff, information about events, and frequently asked questions. Check it out!

What kinds of special first-year programs take place in Donner?

Donner has a few events that are unique to our community. Most notably are Pohlees and Whale Week. Pohlees is an annual variety fair hosted in Donner which features a coffee-house talent show, food, games, crafts, and other activities throughout the house. The week leading up to Pohlees is Whale Week, where we jam-pack the house full of things that are blue: tie-dye, blue food, blue crafts, and if we’re lucky, painting the Fence blue! It’s a big celebration of all things blue … and, of course, by extension, nice!

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

Our students have taught me that if you really believe in an idea, you shouldn’t delay in finding a way to make it come to life.

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

Mandy and her husband enjoying nature in Glacier National Park in Montana.
Mandy and her husband enjoying nature in Glacier National Park in Montana.

I can’t seem to stop making things. My main creative interest is quilting, but I also dabble in hand-lettering, crocheting, baking, and folding tiny origami stars. I’ve recently learned how to make jewelry out of precious metal clay. It has been a really fun process to learn and gives me an excuse to own a torch and light things on fire in my kitchen, which of course is endlessly amusing.

I also love being outside in nature. I’m passionate about the work that’s being done at Camp Lutherlyn, a summer camp where I spent several years working with the summer-time and year-round staff. I now serve on the board of directors and try to find any excuse possible to spend some time at camp.

All-time favorite book?

This is a hard question, because I read a lot but I never read the same book more than once. I love anything and everything by Anne Lamott, and I was fascinated by Katniss and the Hunger Games world. I recently read Neil Patrick Harris’s autobiography which was written as a choose your own adventure. I highly recommend it if you want a good laugh. I think maybe my all-time favorite book is still out there waiting for me to pick it up. I guess I need to keep reading!

Tell us at least one thing that’s on your bucket list.

Oh there are so many things! I’ve always wanted to join an ice hockey team. (Who knows if I’d be good at it – I can skate, so that’s a start!) I want to buy a camper and drive across the country with my husband and our dog. I’d love to learn to play the ukulele. I recently bought tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway, so I’m looking forward to checking that one off the list.

If you could give first-year students one single piece of advice as they start their journey here at Carnegie Mellon, what would it be?

Be intentional with and protective of your time. Don’t just do things because you think you “should” or because it seems like that’s what everyone else is doing. Reflect on what’s important to you, what you love, and what you value, and craft your life in a way that is consistent with that and nothing else.

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Getting to Know Kristine Kengor

Kristine Kengor is currently the Housefellow for the Stever House, a first-year residence hall located on Morewood Avenue. Additionally, as a coordinator for Residential Education, she spearheads community service and civic engagement initiatives across the Carnegie Mellon campus, including in the residence halls. One specific campus initiative that she co-directs is PACE (Partners Allied in Civic Engagement), a collaborative student and staff program aimed at increasing participation in civic engagement activities and creating a pervasive culture of civic engagement across campus.

Kristine completed her undergraduate studies at Bucknell University, where she studied economics and political science. She earned her master’s in higher education administration at Penn State University and is currently working towards her doctorate in social and comparative analysis of education at the University of Pittsburgh.

How did you come to join Carnegie Mellon?

My good friend and colleague Bryan Koval (Housefellow for Morewood Gardens) told me about the position because he thought it would be a great fit for me. I had worked in residence life in the past and was working in service learning at the time. Since this job was a combination of both of those areas, I jumped at the opportunity. Plus, it was a chance for me to come home to Pittsburgh, be closer to my family, and go back to school.

What are you looking forward to most for the Stever community this coming year?

This year in Stever I am most looking forward to making this place feel like a home. I want students to walk into our building and feel like they have the ability to entirely be themselves and to truly exhale when they come home. PACE (Partners Allied in Civic Engagement) is also focusing their educational programming on Environmental Justice this year. I am looking forward to collaboration between PACE and Stever to focus on sustainability and the fact that Stever is a LEED Certified building.

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

I continually learn from this line of work and from students that we cannot possibly know what struggle or challenge someone is going through unless we really take the time to slow down and listen to each other.

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

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Kristine with Cooper at Allegheny National Forest

Because I am in school a lot, much of my “free time” is spent on school work! I am interested in social class identity development within higher education, specifically for students at schools like Carnegie Mellon. I am also passionate about being part of my church community, helping retired racing greyhounds find their forever homes through Steel City Greyhounds, trying new restaurants around the city, and sampling craft beers.

All-time favorite book?

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. It’s his autobiography about his relationship with his wife, with C.S. Lewis, and with Christianity.

Tell us at least one thing that’s on your bucket list.

This past summer I purchased a passport to America’s national parks while I was in the Grand Canyon. I would love to fill that by camping at as many national parks as I can!

If you could give first-year students one single piece of advice as they start their journey here at Carnegie Mellon, what would it be?

Don’t over do it! Allow enough time in your schedule so that you can enjoy your experiences while fully engaging in the classes you are taking.

Kristine 1
Kristine with the 2015-16 Steering Committee at Stop Hunger Now

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Good Nutrition? There’s an App for That.

Director of Health Promotion Programs Paula Martin has been a part of the Carnegie Mellon University community for 10 years. Here she shares her background in health and wellness, information on National Nutrition Month® events on campus and the Dining Services Nutrition Calculator, and tips about how to become a mindful eater.

Where did you go to college/graduate school and which licensed/registered degrees have you earned?

I’m a two-time graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. In 1995, I earned a bachelor’s degree in clinical dietetics and nutrition. In 2008, I received my Master of Science in wellness and human performance. I’ve completed and maintain the national Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential, and I’m a Licensed Dietitian-Nutritionist (LDN) in the state of Pennsylvania.

How did you get into the field of nutrition?

I realized during a childhood illness that I could enhance and control my health based on what I ate. Having a chronic illness is overwhelming. You’re not in control of things most of the time, the treatments are not flexible, and you feel like a human pincushion. During that time, I had a dietitian who was wonderful. She didn’t hurt me! She helped make food my medicine and offered support that lasted a lifetime.

Also, I’m very invested in our regional food systems: how we grow our food, how we access safe and nutritious food, and how we treat everyone and everything within the food system, from the field and industry workers to the animals.

How do you stay up-to-date on nutrition trends and information?

I am very active in several national, state, and local professional health and nutrition organizations. I’m on the public policy committee for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Hunger and Environmental Dietetics Practice group, as well as a member of the Society of Nutrition Education and Behavior. I’m also involved with the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. Continuing education is required to maintain my state (LDN) and national (RDN) credentials.

Why is National Nutrition Month® important to you and why do you feel it’s important for the CMU community?

Paula Martin and Lauren, a University of Pitt intern, discuss ideas for National Nutrition Month while referencing portion models.
Paula and Lauren, a University of Pitt intern, discuss ideas for National Nutrition Month while referencing meal portion models.

For me, it’s personal. Health and wellness through nutrition has been my life’s work and, for the past 10 years, I’ve been active in supporting nutrition efforts across our campus community.

National Nutrition Month® is a chance to reflect on how far, as a society, we have come and where we still need to go. It is also an opportunity for the next generation of health and nutrition professionals to showcase their knowledge and expertise. I also appreciate Registered Dietitian Day each year on March 11, when nutrition professionals are recognized for the work they do within communities. March is also special because it is the beginning of the growing season in Western Pennsylvania, so it kicks off our community’s local food involvement as well.

La Prima celebrates National Nutrition Month!

What kinds of things are happening on campus to promote National Nutrition Month®?

Two dietetics interns from the University of Pittsburgh will be tabling near The Fence on Tuesday, March 24, from 9:00 am to noon, giving away complimentary apples and sharing tips for healthful eating.

Additionally on March 24, every Dining Services vendor location across campus will be promoting a healthy food item from their menu that corresponds with at least one of our healthy food icons. Each of these food items is searchable in our Dining Nutrition App. The flier shown here will be at each dining location next Tuesday showcasing which healthy food item is being promoted.

A Farmers Market is also taking place on March 24, from 5:00 to 8:00 pm on the second floor of the Cohon Center in the Marketplace.

Reading (and understanding) food labels is a great way to be mindful of healthy eating habits. What are the main things on food labels that conscientious eaters should pay attention to?

Food labels highlight food strengths and weaknesses. We’ve developed a food icon system to help students make quick decisions about food labels. Per serving, a food item 500 calories or less with at least 10% daily value (DV) of key nutrients can be considered for the Healthful Choice (HC) icon. Other food strengths include dietary fiber, protein, iron and calcium. Whole grains account for dietary fiber so be on the lookout for the Whole Grain (WG) icon. Weaknesses are trans-fats, saturated fats, and sodium or salt. To limit those, look for the Heart Smart (HS) icon.

Food iconsHow can the Dining Nutrition App help promote good eating habits and food label reading?

Carnegie Mellon Nutrition CalculatorThe Nutrition App is a comprehensive look at most of the food served on campus. The campus community can review menu options and see the nutrition facts panel with ease. Details about ingredients, food allergies, and the health icons are literally in the palm of your hand. The app is constantly updated and refreshed to keep up with new menu items and options.

You can access the Nutrition Calculator from your computer here: Or you can download the app on your phone or tablet from the Apple App store (search for “CMU Nutrition”) or the Google Play store (search for “Carnegie Mellon Nutrition”).

I’d love to hear from you about the Nutrition App: What does everyone think of the App and the web version for meal tracking? You can contact me via email at or simply comment on this blog.

In terms of diet and nutrition, what services can students seek out from University Health Services?

Students visit University Health Services (UHS) for individual nutrition assessments, Medical Nutrition Therapy for health problems, body composition testing, and eating disorder concerns. Each spring we offer “Personal Nutrition” as a mini academic course from January through March. We also offer Peer Health Advocate nutrition education programs for any campus-affiliated group. Students may also “Ask the RD” any question or concern at

If you could give one piece of nutrition advice to a busy CMU student, what would it be?

The good news is that young bodies are very forgiving and our collective health on campus is very good. The goal is not to be a perfect eater but a mindful eater. Every few hours, ask yourself: How am I feeling? Am I thirsty? When is the last time I had water, vegetables, or a good source of calcium from milk or a leafy green? Think about these simple questions during your next food and drink decision.