Scholar-Citizen Olivia Thompson found her calling at Radford University
Olivia Thompson, the first student to join Radford University’s Scholar-Citizen Initiative, will graduate at the 2016 Spring Commencement Ceremony. She met with Lisa Sheffer, a student volunteer in the Office of University Relations, for this special feature story.
“Where are you?”
I glanced at Olivia’s email and replied that I had nabbed a study room on the first floor of Kyle Hall. But as soon as I pushed send, she walked in. I knew right away this interview would be productive. She would make it that way. It was obvious.
Olivia Thompson, originally from a Richmond, Virginia neighborhood snuggled between downtown and the west end, will graduate this spring after a hugely successful academic career.
In addition to her double majors in psychology and sociology and a minor in women’s studies, I asked her about the clubs she is involved in. She humbly told me she was also the founder of the Scholar Citizen Club, current co-president of the Women’s Studies club, a member of the Club Programming Committee and the Scholar-Citizen Initiative steering committee.
Wait, “founder”? Tell me more.
In 2012, the Scholar-Citizen Initiative (SCI) had just been implemented at Radford. Its overall mission is to encourage students to apply their education, be civically minded and be reflective in order to see growth throughout their education. Olivia understood that better than anyone. She was the first student to join SCI and, by Spring 2013, she had succeeded in forming a club for SCI students. She served as president for two years, before stepping down to a member position in order to balance SCI and other opportunities.
“I was moved by the vision of SCI. From the ground up, I was offered the position of Student Outreach Coordinator. It was much like a career an individual higher up would have,” she said. “That responsibility made me more passionate. Back then, I was one student and the first.”
Although Olivia immersed herself in SCI, the following year was one of personal battles and challenges to overcome. Olivia only talks briefly about her darkest times. She prefers to talk about finding the light. Not just any light, but enlightenment.
“I finally started to feel the power of education. The structure of my own will,” she said. “Two classes – Intro to Women’s Studies and Intro to Philosophy changed how I viewed the world. There was a resounding theme that I started to recognize; you can’t control how you are born, but you can try to control where you go from there.”
SCI students are required to produce comprehensive e-portfolios, reflections and senior capstone projects. For Olivia, documenting her education isn’t just a requirement; it’s a tool for growth.
After every project, paper or event, she writes a reflection to consider her continuous growth and changes. She started collecting artifacts and made reflections a sort of ritual that developed beyond anything as simple as a course assignment.
“I was really starting to see what I could learn and do in the classroom setting and how I could take it and apply it beyond the classroom,” she said.
In one example of service beyond her SCI work, Olivia traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, and received training on how to facilitate group discussion. Upon her return, Olivia succeeded in encouraging “Ask Big Questions” - a national organization that encourages students to think deeply about particular issues - to come to Radford. From there, Olivia conducted a yearlong fellowship with “Ask Big Questions” during the 2014-15 school year.
Olivia was blossoming.
She told me about so many projects: her part in planting the first organic garden at Selu Conservancy, her internship as a mentor at Floyd County High School, her work as a camp counselor for high-risk youth and her work at clothing drives sponsored by the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley, where clothing is provided to sexual assault victims when they are examined and sent home.
Our conversation brightened most when she shared her love for research and the studies she conducted that can be viewed on her e-portfolio. The main themes included but were not limited to gender, poverty and social issues. She studied them both globally and within communities closer to home, particularly the New River Valley. Olivia poured her growing knowledge and passion for theories, into her study of evolutionary factors.
She has also conducted exploratory research on aged vs. young rats, psychology research on stress and coping and she is currently working on an independent study to develop a theory on how different factors lead to different access to care.
“I like to develop brand new theories for the world,” said Olivia. “I am also fascinated with intersexuality and what it means for our society as a whole.”
Currently, developments in holistic care, health, biology and medicine have started a fire in Olivia. After graduation, she hopes to attain her master’s degree. She also plans to return to Richmond order to start down her next path in the field of mental health.
“I am a dreamer,” she said. “I want to help solve some big problems in the world.”
Olivia challenges future Radford students to look for connections between their studies and their lives.
“Apply the connections, reflect on everything and think about your thinking. At the end, you’ll see you’ve grown,” said Olivia.
To me, Olivia stands as an example on how to get involved and make the most of your education. She will go on to solve problems, encourage group work and research new solutions to each study she pursues. That is what agents of change do.