This is the fifth article in Bears Doing Big Things, a weekly column celebrating the stories of notable M-A alumni. Read last week’s article here.
“My time at M-A was a wild ride, but definitely a great experience! High school is an interesting time because you’re figuring out who you are,” said Peace Corps Community Economic Development Advisor and USAID Higher Education Partnership Deputy Chief of Party Julia Olson.
Olson enjoyed her AP Spanish Language and AP Spanish Literature classes at M-A, and remembered that “Calculus with Mr. Whitnah was also a fave!” She went on the school Guatemala trip and traveled to Mexico with an organization called Amigos de las Américas, where her interest in Latin America and living abroad began. Olson graduated from M-A in 2013. Her three younger siblings, Nick Olson ’16, Will Olson ‘19 and Emily Olson ‘22, are also M-A grads.
At the University of Pennsylvania, Olson majored in Economics with minors in Computer Science and Hispanic Studies. After college, she joined the Peace Corps and moved to the Dominican Republic to work as an Economic Development Coordinator. She strategized with many small businesses, including a dried mango business and a doll-making business, to help them grow. Olson also ran entrepreneurship programs educating youth about how to make business plans.
Now, Olson works for USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, which provides foreign aid to developing countries. She works with three of the biggest universities in the Dominican Republic, helping them improve their student services to enable more students to attend and graduate. She explained, “I have a lot of meetings with students and teachers. My job is basically to learn from them and understand the key reasons why students struggle to complete higher education, so I can then advise the universities on how to provide better services and help more students succeed. Especially ones from high-risk backgrounds.”
Olson’s advice to current M-A students: “Relax and enjoy living at home and not having to really work or have adult responsibilities. I know everyone gets stressed about grades and college and stuff, but one day, you will look back and realize how good you have it now and how nice it is to live near all your friends and family. That’s not something to be taken for granted.”
In her free time, Olson enjoys hanging out with her two cats Nala and Bali, baking pumpkin muffins, watching reality TV, and going to Crossfit. In fact, our interview with her was cut short because she was late for a workout class! She is also an avid reader—two of her favorite books are Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
Disclaimer: Bears Doing Big Things is not meant to be a list ranking the most accomplished or famous M-A graduates on Earth. It is a collection of people with a wide range of expertise, opinions, and stages of life who were kindly willing to share their stories. All have wisdom, entertaining anecdotes, and book recommendations to share. There are 45,000+ additional accomplished M-A alums out there, so keep an eye out for them!