Next Up Columbus 2024: Hillary Morales Robles

Hillary Morales Robles
Hillary Morales Robles

Photo courtesy of Hillary Morales Robles

Interview by Derek Grosso

Name: Hillary Morales Robles
Pronouns: She/Her/Ella
Age: 30
Profession: Vis-a-Vis- Director of Patron Engagement and Educational Research at Columbus Landmarks Foundation
Neighborhood: Victorian Village
Education: Master of Architecture and Master of Science in Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania. Bachelor of Environmental Design and Minor Concentration in Art History from the University of Puerto Rico.
Community Involvement: Columbus Landmarks Foundation (Staff), American Institute of Architects (Associate AIA Member), Preservation Ohio (Board Member), & Heritage Ohio (Ohio Preservation Affinity Group)
Motto: Don’t let “perfect” be the enemy of “good”
Connect: LinkedIn | Instagram

Give us a snapshot of your path
My journey has been a quest to align my path with a vision of a fulfilling life—driven by a passion for service, anchored in academic excellence, and dedicated to the historic preservation of our built environment.

With a Master of Architecture and a Master of Science in Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania, complemented with a foundation in Environmental Design and Art History from the University of Puerto Rico, I’ve cultivated a specialized understanding of the complexities in preserving historic settings, emphasizing technological innovation, sustainable practices, and design quality.

My professional trajectory has been diverse and interdisciplinary. Before turning 30, my goal was to gain experience across various organizational types—profit, non-profit, and governmental—at different governance levels, from local to international. This journey has equipped me with a comprehensive understanding of the historic preservation ecosystem.

From documenting heritage sites with the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey in Washington, DC, to collaborating on archaeological documentation at the UNESCO Heritage Site in Aphrodisias, Turkey, alongside esteemed institutions like the University of Oxford and NYU, my career has encompassed impactful roles. As an Architectural Staff and Preservation Specialist at Beyer Blinder Belle in New York City, I focused on interior renovations, preservation planning, and consulting on significant projects such as Grand Central Terminal, Temple Emanu-El, and 120 Broadway. My tenure as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Pennsylvania further refined my ability to apply academic insights, particularly in building material science, to practical challenges in climate change and sustainable urban redevelopment. Additionally, my research in climate change and historic preservation has driven innovative approaches in tactical preservation design and grassroots co-design in rural communities in Puerto Rico.

I’ve also contributed to non-profit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity Puerto Rico, where I documented low-income housing, and the Fresh Air Fund, where I collaborated in implementing a design curriculum for students. These experiences have broadened my perspective on preservation as both a professional practice and a form of service, illustrating its impact across diverse contexts.

Now, my journey continues as a Director at Columbus Landmarks—a role that promises immense fulfillment through grassroots preservation advocacy, preservation education and outreach, and technical consultation services.

What gets you up in the morning? And what gets you through the workweek?
I don’t want this to sound like a love note, but spending my days with my partner is what motivates me every day. His energetic and kind personality brightens my mornings. He loves to start the day by sitting in the garden and drinking a warm cup of coffee with me, and every evening, he enjoys cooking the most delicious food ever while spending time together.

What advice or mentors have helped guide you along the way?
It is truly a blessing for me to have had incredible, brilliant mentors throughout my academic and professional career. One common trait among them is their encouragement for me to pursue the ‘impossible.’ I have always been an ‘out-of-the-norm’ or ‘outside-the-box’ thinker, which led me into an interdisciplinary realm in my practice. This path has, at times, felt extremely challenging and lonely. However, my mentors have been my supporters and voices of reason in moments of doubt and hesitation, pushing me to be confident in my own voice. They all hold a special place in my heart and memories.

What do you do or where do you go to unwind?
When I need to unwind and reconnect my mind and body in the present moment, I have a few go-to activities that help me ground myself. One thing I love to do is take a warm shower; the feeling of the water gently flowing over me washes away tension, allowing me to relax fully. Going to the gym is another practice I turn to, combining exercise, breath, and mindfulness to center myself and release worries. Additionally, simply being outdoors refreshes me; whether walking in nature or sitting by a lake, the fresh air and natural surroundings help me feel more grounded and connected to the world around me.

What are a few of your favorite local spots in Columbus?
Ginger Rabbit is one of my favorite spots in the city. The speakeasy cocktail bar, accompanied by live jazz music, sets the perfect vibe for a chill evening after work.

When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up?
I was a very sensitive and empathetic child! I remember having a strong desire to help those in need. I aspired to become either a pediatric surgeon or a dentist to help kinds like me.

What books or podcasts are you reading/listening to right now?
In recent years, I have been primarily focused on financial literacy. As the eldest child and the first-generation Latina woman in my family to pursue a master’s degree, I have become increasingly aware of the lack of financial education I received growing up. While my financial education primarily focused on saving, it lacked guidance on building generational wealth. This journey is not only about personal empowerment but also about breaking generational cycles of financial uncertainty and survival.

The finance books and podcasts I am currently reading or listening are “Financial Feminist” by Tori Dunlap, “The Psychology of Money” by Morgan Housel, “Girls That Invest”, “Marketplace”, “The Diary Of A CEO” by Steven Bartlett, “We Are For Good Podcast”, and more.

What does it mean to you to be chosen for the Next Up Columbus award?
I am genuinely grateful to receive this recognition. Last year, I made the difficult decision to change careers from corporate to non-profit and moved from New York City to Columbus. I am thankful to my board members, Susan Keeny, and CEO Dr. Rebecca Kemper, for welcoming me into Columbus Landmarks. Their trust and support in my expertise to elevate the organization to a new level has been truly rewarding for me. Let’s continue together to protect and celebrate the places and stories that matter to our communities!

If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them?
The “pulse” of Columbus is indeed its residents. In my short time at Columbus Landmarks, I have witnessed the most caring and active people involved in community organizations, leadership, and partnerships. It has been truly inspiring and energizing to work with like-minded individuals in mission-driven work to elevate and empower each other.

The Next Up Columbus Awards highlight emerging leaders who are connectors and ambassadors in central Ohio and who are making a positive impact on the future of Columbus. The Columbus Young Professionals Club would like to offer special thanks to our 2024 co-presenters, Discover Financial, Columbus Chamber of Commerce and Edison Brewing Co. for their support of this year’s awards program. Meet the entire “Class of 2024” »


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