Q&A with Elizabeth Hitti: Engineer and Field Hockey Co-Captain Named to 2015 Academic All-Ivy

Elizabeth Hitti, senior in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics with a minor in English, has been named to the prestigious Penn Academic All-Ivy list for her excellence in both scholarly pursuits and athletics. Each fall, the eight universities in the Ivy League each choose 10 student-athletes (five men, five women) to receive this honor. In order to be chosen, a student must be in at least their second year and hold a cumulative GPA of 3.00 or better.

Hitti is co-captain of Penn’s Field Hockey team, and during her senior season led the nation in assists per game, set Penn program records for assists in a season (18) and career (34). Following the regular season, she played in the NFHCA Senior Game at the NCAA championship weekend held in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In addition to being second-team All-Ivy, Hitti was also first-team NFHCA All-Region in field hockey. In her spare time (if you can believe she has such a thing) she participates in the Friars Senior Society, and also plays on the Penn Women’s Club Ice Hockey team.

This Ashland, Massachusetts native is one of the busiest women on campus. In the Q&A below, Hitti reveals her passion for both engineering and sport, and has some very sage advice for prospective Penn Engineers who may also be considering athletics while at Penn.

Why did you choose Penn?
Penn had everything I was looking for in a school: a great city, a beautiful campus, a rigorous engineering program, and a passionate field hockey coach.

Did you come to Penn knowing you wanted to major in engineering?
Yes, I’ve always wanted to be an engineer, and the strong engineering program was an important factor in my decision to attend Penn. Both of my parents are engineers, so I knew what it entailed and that it would be a good fit for me.

What about engineering, specifically mechanical engineering, appeals to you?
I’m obsessed with cars. When I was 12 years old, I told my teachers that I wanted to do “car design” when I grew up. As a child, I collected toy Matchbox cars (I own hundreds), and as I got older my interests expanded to include go-karting, driving a stick-shift car, taking pictures of sports cars, and attending car shows and NASCAR races. Most recently, I got my motorcycle license. This early obsession became my future aspiration as I excelled in the more advanced math and physics courses available to me and fell in love with the variety and real-world applicability of what I was learning.

Engineering is still considered by many to be a male-dominated field. What is it like to be a woman engineer at Penn?
Penn Engineering’s program environment is welcoming and sets you up to be successful right from the beginning. In engineering, like sports, you work a lot in teams. If you establish yourself as a strong student and hardworking teammate, that is what matters to your peers. When you are confident, contribute, and have the expectation that your peers listen to you, they will.

For you, does participation in athletics make you a better student?
Self-discipline in order to balance athletics and academics is essential for any successful student-athlete. I’m very organized, making lists and keeping up-to-date calendars. I have less time to do homework and study for exams than if I didn’t participate in athletics, so I work hard to manage my time and make the most of every hour.

You must have a hectic schedule during the season. What is it like?
If you include all team practices and workouts, plus events such as travel, games, recruiting, and film, it adds up to be about 40 hours a week - the same amount of time as a full-time job. On top of that, I’ve taken a full course load of 5 classes during the fall season. It becomes very important to get at least eight hours of sleep every night, so it’s definitely challenging.

How do you balance all of your commitments without feeling overwhelmed?
It takes intense focus and getting work done more efficiently. Being “on” all the time during the season is a struggle, due to the physical and mental exhaustion every day. Yet, in some ways, being forced to work out helps me to manage stress, and practice is sometimes a welcome break from pressures of academia.

What advice do you have for aspiring Penn Engineers who may also want to pursue athletics while at Penn?
YOU CAN DO IT. I’ve had the privilege to mentor prospective students that are interested in engineering and athletics, and the most common question I receive is, “Can I do it?” The answer to this is a definite yes, but you do have to be willing to have a different kind of college experience. You have to stay on top of everything: work, scheduling and sleep. The tradeoff is getting to play a Division I sport and receive an Ivy League engineering degree, and it doesn’t get much better than that!