Holli Hutcheson Dilks has translated her experience at Lipscomb into a life-saving career as a Human Geneticist, the Director of Personalized Medicine at Sarah Cannon Research Institute. In our terms, she helps physicians personalize cancer treatments to more effectively and appropriately serve their patients. How did she reach that position from a spot on the Lipscomb Tennis team? She spoke this week with Lipscombsports.com about dorm life, her father’s influence, Lipscomb’s success in producing Christ-like scientists, and even her favorite food.
What years did you compete for Lipscomb?
I played three years of tennis for Coach Trish Hodgson from 1993-95. I graduated one semester early, in December of ’96, so I didn’t play my senior year.
Tell us about your education
I earned a B.A. in Biology from Lipscomb and a Ph.D. in Molecular Physiology and Biophysics (specialty in Human Genetics) from Vanderbilt University Medical School.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Holli also performed her postdoctoral Cancer Research Training Award fellowship at the National Cancer Institute, where she served as a visiting scientist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.
Why did you attend Lipscomb?
The most obvious reason was a strong family tradition, but equally important was Lipscomb’s solid science program. I also was attracted to the religious affiliation and the Christian environment of the university.
What is your favorite athletic memory at Lipscomb?
No one specific instance stands out, but I have very good memories of tennis team road trips and the friendships that were made on those trips. We made several Spring Break tennis trips to Hilton Head, and those were the best to me – great times and good clean fun with teammates. Those were very special times.
Who influenced your athletic career at Lipscomb?
That’s easy. My father (Robert Hutcheson) was by far my greatest influence. My dad is an incredible athlete – I doubt people know that – but he is a really good multi-sport athlete, and he is who taught me to play tennis.
During high school we would go play pretty much every night after dinner, regardless of hot weather or cold. Unless it was raining, we played tennis together every night. I’ll never forget him patiently feeding me an endless supply of balls so I could practice strokes.
My parents are a very good team. My father is the coach, and my mother is the encourager.
I suppose he was such a good coach for me because of his keen attention to detail. He had this unique ability to take my game apart, see what I was doing, and very clearly explain what I needed to do to get better. He did all this with an incredible level of patience that seems incompatible with the high level of competitiveness in our family, but Dad could do it. He gave tremendously helpful constructive feedback, and he taught me how to be “coachable” to receive feedback and to act upon it to become better at my craft. This is a trait for which I am very thankful as I use it every day.
Dad didn’t stop with me, either. He has done the same for my nephews, encouraging them and helping them to enjoy tennis. He has been a strong influence for them as well, just as he was with me.
What’s your favorite non-athletic memory from your time here?
I lived in the dorm and I had the same roommate, Wendy Wasden Kriegel, the entire time. She’s an M.D. now, a radiologist. We share some great memories, and I’m thankful that we have a really close friendship still.
I also enjoyed my time at Lipscomb serving for several years on the Student Government Association, and I know it sounds kind of nerdy, but I really enjoyed my Biology classes and my science labs.
What did you learn in your time on campus?
The first lesson I learned was how to manage time, and I imagine most college students find this to be true.
It was one of the most valuable exercises for me because I learned to balance practicing and all we did with tennis with the schoolwork and its demands – classes, labs, and studying. Plus, I enjoyed the extra-curricular social activities that go along with being a college student, so I had to learn to fit everything in effectively. Time management was a valuable tool.
A second lesson is a very real appreciation for the strong foundation in science that I enjoyed at Lipscomb – that’s been very valuable to me as I’ve gone on to other settings.
I also learned at Lipscomb, and I’ve grown to appreciate more than ever, the coexistence of solid science academics with a strong Christian foundation. That’s been increasingly meaningful in the world I live in. It’s good to know it is possible to be a strong scientist and
a strong Christian at the same time.
Lipscomb is very successful in producing Christian doctors, dentists, pharmacists and other medical professionals, but I was motivated at Lipscomb to learn that brilliant scientists and medical research personnel can also live a Christ-like life.
Who were your favorite professors?
Dr. Jon Lowrance was my favorite professor, and I also have very good memories of Dr. Linda Roberson, and Larry Latson. These were all Biology professors who took an extra amount of care with us as students. They inspired me to enjoy learning and teaching, which is probably partially why I combine my work at SCRI with a position at Lipscomb as an Adjoint Professor for the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy.
Tell us about your family:
My husband, Timothy, and I have one “child,” Riley, who is a certified therapy dog we take to hospitals and nursing homes. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Timothy served in the Navy, and we will celebrate our 13th anniversary in December.
- Favorite food: Sushi and pho
- Favorite scripture: 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 – “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” – the things God has prepared for those who love him – these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
- Favorite TV show or movie: Sports
- Favorite sports team: Nashville Predators, Tennessee Titans, and Atlanta Braves
- Favorite season: Fall
- Pick one – salad or dessert: Dessert
- Early morning or late night person? Totally late night