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Making the Puckett List: Hannah Holland Talks Africa, Pepperdine, and the Scholarship that Changed Everything

By Nate Ethell ('08)

Hannah Holland with kids

If you're hoping to spend time with Hannah Holland this year, you may want to grab your passport. The 25-year-old public policy student, now in her final semester, never seems to stay in one place too long—taking her heart of service to some of the most desolate regions on the planet.

"As I was finishing up high school, I felt called to serve, and I knew I wanted to make a global impact," said Hannah. "The only question was where I needed to go to get started."

Completing high school early, the Florida native enrolled at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. Behind the scenes, however, Hannah had another motive in packing her bags for Music City—to work for social action organization Blood:Water Mission. Founded by Grammy Award-winning Christian rock band Jars of Clay, Blood:Water Mission is a grassroots effort that empowers Sub-Saharan African societies to work together against HIV/AIDS and water crises, galvanizing individual communities through clean water, hygiene training, sanitation improvements, and HIV/AIDS support.

"[Jars of Clay lead singer] Dan Haseltine said his nonprofit's name is derived from the two things Africa needs most: clean blood and clean water," Hannah commented. "I was struck by what each of those mean to societies." Hannah signed on as an on-road ambassador for the organization, cultivating relationships with donors, planning events, and engaging in advocacy and outreach.

Building on her experience with Blood:Water Mission, Hannah headed to Africa in 2007, where she traveled to South Africa and Botswana to volunteer at an HIV/AIDS hospice and orphanage. "Even after my first day in Africa, I remember saying to myself, 'This is what it's all about—walking the walk, being involved with these communities, and not just doing something from a different continent.'"

Hannah Holland

After graduation—her life changed by her time abroad—Hannah hit a crossroad deciding her next step in life. But Africa, she says, was going to be part of the plan. "I have always had a heart for the nonprofit world and the people of Africa," Hannah reflected. "Even while growing up with the Live Aid generation, I knew there was something beyond the celebrity. That's how I found the policy world and realized it was a place that fits my love for people and nonprofits."

The policy world soon led to policy schools, specifically Pepperdine's School of Public Policy, which she says was a graduate program unlike any other she considered. "When I looked at Pepperdine's values and what it stands for, I saw myself being an active part of the community," said Hannah. "I knew it wouldn't just be a two-year education, that I would be part of a story and part of a family."

Once at Pepperdine, her passion for Africa was nurtured by course work. Specializing in international relations, Hannah was drawn to classes like Robert Lloyd's international conflict management and international relations of Africa. "Dr. Lloyd, like so many professors at Pepperdine, was a huge inspiration for me and the main reason why I ended up at my internship this past summer."

That internship, a 240-hour touchstone of Pepperdine's public policy program, was at Peace Matunda. Located just outside Arusha, Tanzania—rated by the United Nations as one of the 50 poorest and most underdeveloped countries in the world—Peace Matunda is a primary school and orphanage that houses and feeds at least 20 orphans full time.

"The Tanzanian education system is extremely broken," Hannah explained. "Peace Matunda had a need for someone to assess the school's situation, make connections with government officials, and monitor what was happening with the money that they are raising. So that's what I did—and am still actively doing today."


But the kids, she says, are what really changed her life. "In the United States we tend to be a little removed from the dire situation in Africa. But once you grasp the number of small kids who are plagued with HIV and living in unimaginable conditions of poverty, it changes the core of who you are and how you see the world."

Even so, Hannah was quick to point out how grateful she was for the experience and to Pepperdine for making it possible. At the School of Public Policy, Hannah is the inaugural recipient of the Allen and Marilyn Puckett Endowed Scholarship. Residents of Pacific Palisades, the Pucketts have been friends with Pepperdine since 1980. Today, Marilyn is a volunteer for the Campaign for Pepperdine, serving as a faithful member of the School of Public Policy's campaign committee. Allen, a 1984 honorary doctor of laws recipient at the Graziadio School, is chairman emeritus at Hughes Aircraft Company, where his career spanned more than three decades.

Allen and Marilyn made the instrumental decision to endow their scholarship at the School of Public Policy with a major campaign gift in 2009. Growing it each year since, the couple gave a $1 million transformative gift for the scholarship this year with the intention of providing an even greater impact for public policy students like Hannah.

"There's no secret to my story at Pepperdine," said Hannah. "I took this journey alone, with the help of some student loans, so being named the first Puckett Scholar was honestly a life-changing moment. I have indescribable gratitude for Dr. and Mrs. Puckett, and benefactors like them, who are willing to give, invest in the community, and know the good work Pepperdine is doing through its students."

With graduation upon her, Hannah is determined to continue her humanitarian work. In the meantime, she currently is working in project research for the Movember Foundation, a global nonprofit that raises funds to support research initiatives for prostate and testicular cancer.

"My favorite role with the foundation has been serving as a mustache farmer where I ask men to grow mustaches for the month of November in support of the campaign," Hannah revealed. "I can't wait to get back to Africa, but right now it's gratifying to raise vital awareness and funds for these men's health issues—all while challenging men to take the 'hairy' journey everywhere."