In 2016, a program called “GEMS- Girls Empowered and Motivated to Serve” was born. I saw a need for positive female role models in our communities to influence, encourage, and inspire the youngest generation of leaders. As a contestant in the Miss America Organization, I aimed to create a community of strong, powerful girls who wish to make a difference. As I go on the road to host GEMS workshops and share a love for service with others, I decided to feature MORE amazing women who also dedicate their time and talents toward making their communities a better place.
A few weeks ago, I saw a post by a mom in a Facebook group posing the question, “My daughter is working on her prepared speech for Technology Student Association. When you think of someone ‘Modeling The Way,’ what comes to mind?” Determined. Independent. Compassionate. Active… I commented my thoughts.
Attached to this post was a photo of a young girl serving on a STEM Education panel for a women’s leadership luncheon. I decided to connect with Brandy, the proud mom and author of the post, because I knew her daughter was someone who embodied what it means to be an empowered girl with a passion for leadership, involvement, and breaking the status quo.
In continuation of this blog series, meet Olivia Nelson, a 13 year-old from South Carolina with a love for science, technology, engineering, and math.
It’s not every day that you meet a 7th grade girl who loves to build robots and practice programming in between school, theater, traveling, and hanging out with friends. I’m convinced Olivia secretly has more hours in a day than the rest of us do, and quite frankly, I’m a bit envious.
Olivia’s interest in the STEM field sparked when she was just eight years old when her mom brought her along to volunteer at a robotics competition. Speaking with the students involved and seeing how they programmed robots to move on their own was fascinating to her. Olivia’s mom discovered a robotics camp for middle school students the following summer and convinced the adviser to allow Olivia to take the class even though she was younger than the rest. She spent two weeks working with other students to design, program, and build an ev3 LEGO Mindstorm robot. From there, she was hooked.
Since 3rd grade, Olivia has advanced to the state level in FIRST LEGO League Robotics and once received the Judges Award at the international competition in St. Louis, Missouri. Her favorite part? Working with teammates that are different from her and learning to listen to new ideas.
“I’ve learned so much about talking with others and helping people. Each year, we research for months on a real life issue and come up with a solution that we design, make a model of, and present to the community. It has taught me a lot about how things affect people outside my little area of the world.”
She recently got involved in the Technology Student Association, a national organization designed to help students develop STEM skills. There, she served in office, received 2nd Place for Prepared Speech and took silver in Video Game Design with her team. Aside from participating in STEM-related projects and competitions, Olivia also credits her passion for people to TSA, as they have the chance to research and raise money for a charity each year.
“It’s always good to learn about others and find ways to help those that don’t have as much as we do.”
To add to her already-impressive résumé, she once emceed for the Horry County Tech Fair Lego Robotics Competition, spoke at her county’s fall fair about robotics education and the importance of mentorship and involvement, and is also a member of the Junior Beta Club at her school. Olivia’s robotics team recently won the Project Presentation Award at the state competition, and she is currently preparing for the state TSA competition in April, where she’ll compete individually in Prepared Speech, and with her teams on Video Game Design and Problem Solving.
Olivia’s parents are most proud of the way she embraces who she is, accepts people for who they are, and is willing to reach out to those who are struggling. They mention she isn’t afraid to share her opinion, ask questions, challenge ideas, and continue learning.
They are fully supportive of Olivia chasing after her passions.
“The biggest thing for us was letting her decide which opportunities she wanted to be a part of. We always give her the options and let her choose, and once you choose, you see it to the end. We make it clear that if it isn’t something you enjoy, you don’t have to do it next time, but we don’t quit.”
Olivia’s drive, curiosity, and love for others are just a few qualities that are leading her down the path to success. Get to know a little more about Olivia:
What makes you a leader?
“I’m good at listening to other ideas. A lot of times, it’s difficult to be heard in a group of people. I work hard to make sure everyone on the team can build off of each other.”
What’s your dream job?
“Since I was in third grade, I wanted to have two jobs: an actress and an engineer. I love being on stage and I’m not shy with a microphone, but I also love to build and find out how things work.”
What are three qualities you love about yourself?
“This is hard for me. I’m very empathetic. I also love helping and teaching others. I’ve been teaching my six year-old brother how to read and learn about robots. I also love that I’m a weirdo. Most of my friends are also weird in their own ways and I like that we never all try to be the same.”
Who is your role model or inspiration?
“My mom and my best friend, Kaelyn. My mom always lets me choose what I want to do and she includes me in discussions. She’s also a very hard worker. Kaelyn is my best friend and when we started robotics, she could barely talk to other members of our team. Now, she is part of the All County Orchestra, Technology Student Association, does math counts, and is in accelerated classes at school.”
What’s your favorite thing about being a girl?
“That I can do anything. People sometimes underestimate me because I’m ‘just a girl,’ but then I get to blow their socks off.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
“I may be 13, but I think I’m a voice for others. I feel strongly that everyone should have a chance to be successful, whatever their passion may be.”