Getting to Know Michelle Mirabella

Michelle Mirabella is the Housefellow for Boss House and McGill House, two residence halls located on “the Hill” area of Carnegie Mellon’s campus. She also serves as the Coordinator of Community Standards and the Integrity-Process Advisor for the university’s Disciplinary Committee. A Carnegie Mellon alumna, Michelle graduated in 2010 with an undergraduate degree in professional writing and a music minor. She earned her master’s in higher education administration and student affairs from New York University.

She’s excited to back at her alma mater working within a community that helped shape her as the person she is today. Let’s learn more about Michelle!

How did you come to join CMU?

I applied to Carnegie Mellon for my undergraduate and was accepted in spring of 2006. I graduated four years later and then worked as the Acting Housefellow for Boss and McGill for a year after graduation. After five years working at other institutions – both domestically and abroad – I’m excited to be back!

What have you learned about the Boss and McGill communities so far?

McGill and Boss complement one another in forming the BaMily. Both houses are intimate in size and engender a sense of family. McGill House is an all-women’s mixed class residence and Boss House is a themed residence focusing on global living. As a cohesive BaMily community, we can delve deeply into topics germane to our house identities, like intersectional feminism and intercultural competency.

What makes you most excited about being at CMU?

The students. Students at Carnegie Mellon are uniquely passionate and pointedly interdisciplinary in their approach to challenges.

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

The beauty of intentional gratitude; I have seen this exemplified by RAs and CAs throughout my time as both a student and professional at Carnegie Mellon. This concept goes further than supporting one another, than appreciating one another. It is genuine gratitude for someone that allows you to support and appreciate them in return. This strikes a special place in my heart.

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

Language and language learning, reading up on current events/feminist theory/social justice. These are my main hobbies and passions. I speak Spanish as my second language and dabble in Portuguese and Italian. I have also taught English as a foreign language. I am fascinated by the language learning process and how language shapes our experiences as we move through the world.

All-time favorite book.

I don’t do favorites unless you ask me my favorite number. Context is relevant for me. One book I believe is important is Feminism Is for Everybody by bell hooks. I highly recommend it.

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

Perhaps in this moment, I would choose the very author of the book I previously mentioned: bell hooks. Her work focuses on the intersection of race, capitalism, and gender.

You’re stranded on a desert island – what three things would you love to have with you?

A water desalinator, a huge box of flares, a journal/pen combo to document.

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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: http://cmudonner.weebly.com/. 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 Bryan Koval

Bryan Koval is the Housefellow for Morewood Gardens, the residence hall that more than 450 Carnegie Mellon University students call home. He also serves as the Assistant Director of Residential Education, as the advisor to the Student Dormitory Council (SDC), and as the coordinator for RA (Resident Assistant) recruitment, selection, training, and assessment. Additionally, he oversees social media outreach and education for the Office of Residential Education.

Bryan completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Penn State University, in secondary education (2003) and higher education (2008), respectively. In 2016, he earned his Doctor of Education in higher education from The George Washington University.

An active and involved member of the Carnegie Mellon community for the past seven years, he makes sure to carve out time for students, his residents, and – of course – Scotty, CMU’s loveable mascot. Let’s learn more about Bryan!

How did you come to join CMU?

I started at Carnegie Mellon in July of 2010. For the previous five years, I worked in residence life at Penn State – University Park, and I was ready for a new challenge. Carnegie Mellon was recruiting someone for its Community Standards program, and I’ve always had an interest in student conduct work. The opportunity to join such an amazing institution and work within that functional area was something I just couldn’t pass up!

What are you most looking forward to for the Morewood Gardens community in the year ahead?

After serving as the Housefellow for Wesnik (West Wing plus Resnik) for the past seven years, I am looking forward to a new challenge as the Housefellow for Morewood Gardens (MG). MG is the largest community at Carnegie Mellon, and I’m so lucky to get to meet and build relationships with so many residents. Housing has been doing so much to improve the facilities in MG recently, and I know that the RA staff and I will be able to use updated commons spaces to help bring our residents together. This will also be the first time in my career that my office will be located in the community where I work, so I am excited for my residents to be able to easily stop by to chat!

Share one of your most prized CMU memories.

My most prized CMU memory is probably the first year I was here to see and participate in Carnival, an extremely fun and treasured Carnegie Mellon tradition. After working at the University for nearly nine months, I could hardly wait to see this major campus event that everyone talked about. I was blown away by all of the different ways that our students got involved. Seeing Booth and Buggy for the first time was incredible and reminded me how talented and passionate our campus community truly is.

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

Working in student affairs for nearly a decade, I’ve learned that people can always tell if you truly care for them or not. Even when things are hard or not going the way you hope they will, genuine concern can make all the difference.

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

I love spending time with my fiancé, Laura, and our dog, a Samoyed named Allie. I also enjoy cooking and reading for pleasure – non-fiction, biographies, and travel are my taste in books for the most part. I am into comedy and love watching stand-up; I’ve even taken some imrpov classes. I am also a runner and am currently training for the Pittsburgh half-marathon this spring.

All-time favorite book: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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

My father. He passed away in 2012 and there are a lot of things I would like to tell him.

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?

Ribeye steak (medium rare), baked sweet potato, grilled asparagus, and coffee break ice cream from the Penn State Creamery for dessert.

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