Casey Hirschmann

Casey Hirschmann hosts monthly Culture & Cuisine events at various Houston restaurants.

photo of Casey

A champion of diversity and inclusion

text and photography by Gus Morgan

As an optimization engineer at ConocoPhillips, Casey Hirschmann works to decrease costs and drive consistency in the Bakken rig fleet. She also creates Spotfire visualizations for her fellow engineers. But when her workday is done, Casey’s collaborative nature and SPIRIT Values don’t stop, they shift into overdrive.

An advocate of inclusion, Casey is passionate about Houston, America’s most diverse metropolitan area. And as a social crusader, she’s working to make it even better.

“Houston is what America is going to look like 20 and 30 years down the road,” she said, “where the minority is the majority.”

But urban sprawl, Casey said, has reduced Houstonians’ interactions with each other, leading residents to often stay within their own immediate neighborhoods, workplaces and circle of friends. This silo effect, she said, hinders synergy and collaboration. 

“This causes us to miss out on a lot of opportunities to get to know other people,” she said. “Houston has every culture you can imagine. It’s just a matter of accessing that interaction.”

To increase cultural interaction in Houston, in late 2016 Casey founded Culture & Cuisine. The social hub, designed to encourage people to learn about the cultures that make up the community, has blossomed since its inception.

Each month, participants gather at a Houston restaurant to dine on authentic cuisine and socialize with guest speakers who share their cultural knowledge and experiences. It’s like going on a minivacation to an exotic land, minus the airfare. A list of previous gatherings reads like a world tour: Venezuela, Italy, Japan, Mexico, China, Iran and Vietnam.

After Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters devastated Houston, the group hosted an “Appreciation of Houston” to thank some of Houston’s first responders. The event, which raised money for hurricane relief efforts, epitomized Casey’s vision of a culturally unified community, a city worthy of the slogan “Houston Strong.” 

“We’re all human at the core,” Casey said, “worried about supporting our family, being happy, surviving. Cultures and beliefs are just different expressions of that endeavor. We often don’t understand people who aren’t like us. That’s why it’s important for people to experience different cultures.”

Highlighting this point is the story of Casey’s grandmother, Maria Anne Hirschmann, who was a member of the Hitler Youth. Casey said “Grandma Hansi” initially viewed Adolf Hitler as a visionary and savior for the German people. But after being captured and imprisoned in a Russian concentration camp, Hirschmann escaped, only to be rescued by American soldiers, an enemy she was raised to hate and fear.

Hirschmann’s positive interactions with the Americans changed her perspective, making her realize that she was brainwashed and disillusioned because she hadn’t interacted with anyone else. She had relied on others to shape her thoughts and opinions. Since those days, Hirschmann has been an advocate for diversity and inclusion. This life lesson continues to be advanced by her granddaughter, Casey.

Casey knows conversations build understanding: “Do we want to be subdivided little communities within a big city? Or do we want to be united? Do we want to stand as a place of understanding, acceptance and empathy? That’s what I’m hoping to create in Houston, to begin that conversation and create a place of connection.”