"There were kids from my high school who were super gung–ho about business," Olivia Nelson (W '17) says, "And looking back, I was probably one of them,"
As she sits calmly in a GSR, it's not obvious how "gung–ho" is a word that could describe her. On the contrary, Olivia is a relaxing presence. She speaks with a measured, comfortable tone, confidently opening up about her Penn experience. As the words start to pour out, her passion and commitment speak louder than all else. The small study room transforms into her space.
Since she arrived on campus, Olivia maintained that she would stay true to herself and her passions. Olivia is content to give her all to the organizations she loves, expecting little in return besides the happiness they bring her. “Even just one club can define your Penn experience. At the end of the day, I would give any amount of time to the clubs I’m passionate about,” she shares. "Namely, Wharton Ambassadors and SPEC–TRUM."
Olivia joined Wharton Ambassadors, an undergraduate–sanctioned club that works closely with administration, during her first semester at Penn. She now serves as president, spearheading outreach initiatives to reach prospective new students. "Wharton Ambassadors are the first ones to congratulate students via email when they are accepted and are in charge of Quaker Days," Olivia says. She is also a Wharton Peer Advising fellow, where she meets informally with peers to chat and provide academic guidance, and an RA in Harrison College House.
Her most recent activity — her involvement as a member of Onyx, a senior society for black student leaders — has been one of the most formative. "It's amazing because you get to learn from black student leaders from all different aspects of campus," she says. "People doing awesome things and literally killing it in their respective realms."
As a Marketing Research Assistant, Olivia’s focus over the past year has been on altruistic, social impact research with Professor Deborah Small. She is also heavily involved in research initiatives through Wharton. She participated in the Social Impact Research Experience, which gave her the opportunity to conduct independent research for four and a half weeks in Europe. "My project involved mostly qualitative investigation of the social effects of the Spanish brain drain, a phenomenon characterized by high youth unemployment, weak economic infrastructure and large numbers of Spanish professionals who decide to work in other countries," Olivia elaborates.
Olivia is also director of the Social Planning and Events Committee to Represent Undergraduate Minorities, known as SPECTRUM. "Last semester, Rob $tone was one of the openers for our fall show. Before the concert, he and his manager needed to transfer files of his tracks or something, so he asked to borrow my computer," she recounts,"So I still have some of his track files that were personally uploaded by him and his manager on my laptop!" In addition to planning concerts, SPEC–TRUM coordinates events such as the recent field trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
With such a packed schedule, it’s impressive that Olivia finds time to do much else. It helps that she, concisely put, “is really good with time management, hyper–organization, and scheduling.” “That’s why I struggle with group projects, to be very honest. Working on other people’s time is very hard for me."
She finds solace, however, in music—from the minute she wakes up until the moment her head hits the pillow at night. “I will literally wake up and start blasting music. It’s also not mellow music. A lot of the time I’ll be listening to trap music, like turn–up music.”
To unwind, Olivia also tweets. She describes the concept of Black Twitter: “Black people make literally everything funny. I’ve met people here at Penn that I didn’t really have anything in common with, but through following each other we have become friends. I don't know the exact number of Black Twitter users, but there is definitely a strong presence."
Finding a sense of balance in one's involvement here at Penn can be difficult. Olivia seems to have mastered this. “I came in from high school with a ton of clubs and leadership positions, but college has taken it to another level. We are essentially on the cusp of adulthood; we are making decisions in this microenvironment of Penn that have huge implications.” Many find the stress of constantly planning for the future to be just another unavoidable part of Penn, but Olivia offers a different perspective: “As you go on, you sort of cut things out because you realize that isn’t sustainable. Especially when you have so many options, you have to stay true to what you are actually interested in.”
Olivia in her own words:
Street: There are two types of people at Penn…
Olivia Nelson: Those who SABS as a hobby and those who try to avoid running into people!
Street: Which category would you fall under?
ON: Probably the latter. I’m super introverted and would describe myself as antisocial. That probably sounds more dire than it actually is, but it actually takes a lot of energy, so I prefer to keep interactions to a minimum.
Street: Go–to drunk eats?
ON: Pizza, but there have been times when I’ve been very active about the snacks in my room, so I’ve just come back and eaten a pear. I know, wild right?
Street: What would you sing in a lip sync battle?
ON: "All Falls Down" by Kanye West.
ON: Renata’s Kitchen. It’s incredible.
Street: Savory or sweet?
ON: I literally struggle all the time. I have a sweet tooth, which I’m trying to be better about, but my natural instinct is like French toast. I don’t know why more brunch places don’t offer split menus so you could get both!
Street: Do you have a secret talent?
ON: I’m gonna have to say no. I can’t even wink properly.
Street:Signature pick up line?
ON: Maybe “come here often?” but I wouldn’t even say that, it would just pop into my head. But honestly I try to focus more on the drinks and the turn–up situation, making sure music is good.
Street: If you could have lunch with anyone dead or alive?
ON: Bob Marley. My family is Jamaican, so growing up we would always listen to him. He is one of my personal heroes because he showed how powerful music is to make change and is also revered across the world.
Street: Spirit animal?
ON: I’m my youngest nephew who will be turning four soon. He is all over the place but also very shady in his mannerisms. He’s just a wild, pretty rambunctious child.
Street: If you were to be sorted into a Harry Potter house what would you be in?
ON: I actually did the whole Pottermore thing, and I was a Ravenclaw.
Street: What did we forget to ask you?
ON: I think general senior reflections? I more and more think about things as a woman of color. I think of a lot of things I do, also in terms of honors and accolades, as not only for me but also for other women of color who may not have the same privileges. I feel like there is a real solidarity amongst black women. I am always moving forward, striving to be a leader, so that I can pave the way.