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Inspire_Her Feature: Olivia R. Colombo

Olivia is a junior in high school and works on diverse projects in science, arts, and humanities. She is one of the thirty members of the Jane Goodall Institute’s USA National Youth Leadership Council. Olivia works closely with Dr. Jane Goodall and her staff, spreading a message of hope and youth empowerment as she travels nationally public speaking and serving. From beach clean-ups to electronics recycling drives, Olivia leads community service projects to help people, animals, and the environment. Additionally, Olivia paints portraits for kids with cancer to brighten their day, she does climate change research with NASA, she travels the country public speaking, and in her free time, she teaches kids how to play with robots. Her favorite projects involve a combination of science, service, art, and Catholic faith. She earned a provisional patent from the USPTO on her “Green Highway Project,” a renewable energy technology that aims to put an end to climate change. Some of her biggest accomplishments include a national title from ProjectCSGIRLS, a fine art Boston Globe Scholastic Gold Key, and being recognized as a teen “Witness to Life” through videography by His Eminence Cardinal Seán O’Malley. Olivia has been recognized on a national level in computer science, art, film, and leadership in diverse areas such as faith and pro-life ministries. For fun, Olivia runs long distance and ponders how to change the world!

Briana: What was your first experience with technology and/or coding?

Olivia: Falling head-over-heels in love with coding really stemmed from my love of fine art. I’ve been studying fine art since I was in kindergarten. In sixth grade, I discovered another layer of art when I participated in an Hour of Code during computer class, drawing little sunbursts all over the screen in JavaScript and completely disregarding all instruction from the teacher. I was so curious and passionate, and I was so ready to see what I could do with this newfound love.

Briana: Describe some of your achievements in awards or extracurriculars, especially STEM.

Olivia: Computer science is a skill in my tool belt that has helped me accomplish whatever other crazy passion I’m pursuing. My first big coding project ended up being a National Grand Prize Winner for ProjectCSGIRLS (Fun fact: Pooja, ProjectCSGIRLS founder, Briana, coderGirl founder, and I are all NCWIT National Winner sisters!). That first project was the Green Highway Project, a renewable energy technology that combined my love of CS, engineering, physics, climate change research, and environmental science all in one. The Green Highway Project kept growing from ProjectCSGIRLS, as I continued to build prototypes and redesign them. It has brought me humbling amounts of opportunities and press, including an MIT THINK Honorable Mention, provisional patent from the USPTO, and ultimately brought me to be a National Winner for NCWIT, sponsored by Bank of America.

Additionally, I can always be found embracing my love of environmentalism and service-learning, with the mentality that youth can change the world. My greatest honor and most enjoyable job is my position on the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots & Shoots U.S. National Youth Leadership Council, where I serve with about 30 other teens as a youth public speaker and representative of Dr. Jane Goodall. I have the exciting job of using science and my other passions to lead community service campaigns, and I also get to travel around the country talking to students about my work, Dr. Jane’s work, and how to change their world. I live by her quote, “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make."

Briana: What is a challenge you've faced, related to coding/technology experiences? How did you overcome that challenge?

Olivia: The number one challenge that I have consistently faced in technology is not being able to gain support for my wild ideas! So many people have said “that will never work,” but I strive to defy the odds and always make it work with dedication and passion.

Briana: What advice would you have for someone who was interested in technology, but was intimidated?

Olivia: Technology can certainly be intimidating! There are so many languages to learn, and it always feels like everyone else knows more. My best advice is to take CS, learn what you need to, and then apply it to something you love. Coding is a tool in your tool belt to help you change the world. Learn what you need to and then combine it with whatever you love, whether that’s art, the environment, or community service.

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