“I wear many, many hats.”
That’s how Kristen Hotopp, graduate program coordinator II in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, describes her job, but it also describes her outside activities.
As an avid BMX cyclist, Hotopp has found a way to bring a keen interest in global and community issues into both aspects of her life.
As a university staff member since 2002, Hotopp has worked closely with students. After working as an academic adviser in the College of Liberal Arts and in the Department of Theatre and Dance, she now works with 350 graduate students in the LBJ School, serving as the fellowship and scholarship coordinator, registrar, teaching assistant appointment coordinator and organizer of the LBJ School commencement.
“It’s kind of neat to work with folks who have a solid idea of who they are and what they want to do,” she said. “They really want to change the world and the university.
“I get postcards from students interning over the summer in Africa, Kazakhstan, China,” she said, noting this is one of her favorite parts of her job. “It’s a great opportunity to interact with people who get to travel or who come from the far reaches of the globe, places I’ll never get to visit. It’s lifelong learning, and that’s what I like about it.”
The position in the LBJ School fits Hotopp perfectly. Having a degree in social work, Kristen has always felt a deep commitment to social justice and community outreach, something that has translated into her outside activities as well.
Until a serious injury a few years ago, Hotopp was a competitive cyclist, active in the sport of BMX racing.
It all started because she rode a bicycle as her primary form of transportation. She became friends with people who opened up a bike shop and started attending cycling events, which soon translated into competitive racing.
It was in one of those races that she broke her leg. On a rugged downhill BMX track, she was racing with seven other bicyclists, going about 35-40 mph, and as she put it, “you know, accidents happen and people fall.”
But the injury didn’t stop Hotopp’s passion for cycling. In response to people who criticized her for her risky activity, she explains with a smile, “at least I was doing something I care about, that makes me feel good about myself.”
Even though she was unable to race, Hotopp remained involved in the cycling community, and in addition to helping maintain bike trails, she became a cycling advocate.
“Austin’s grown exponentially in the past 15 years,” she said, “and we have far more users in our local parks and recreational facilities than the city ever planned for or can really handle.”
A consequence of this is that various groups clash over the use of various park spaces.
With fellow cyclists, Hotopp now is actively working with Austin Parks and Recreation and various neighborhoods to build collaborative relationships to solve these problems. As Hotopp points out, Austin has long been a destination for cyclists, both road and BMX bikes.
“The people are already here,” she said. “It’s not a question of if you build it, they will come — they are already here. So let’s provide healthy, legal outlets for these folks so it doesn’t become a community issue.”
Together with friends, Hotopp advocates keeping existing spaces from being shut down, and works with the City of Austin to develop new bicycle parks and trails and educate the community about the need for these spaces.
“We want to keep our park spaces open, and we are willing to do whatever we need to do to make the neighbors happy,” she said.
Through her job and her outside activities, it’s clear that Hotopp loves Austin and campus. She said she finds the intellectual community here stimulating. As she puts it, “it’s so much fun, and I feel so lucky to be surrounded, immersed in such a dynamic place.”
“I’m much more motivated to think creatively and get to work in a pretty place, to be honest. If I can’t be out on a trail, I can’t think of any other place besides UT that I’d like to spend my day, every day.”