Olivia Cardenas
Stamps Forty Acres Scholarship, supported by Jeanne L. and Michael L. Klein
Forty Acres Scholars Class of 2021
Houston, TX
High School
High School for the Performing and Visual Arts

As the daughter of a librarian, my childhood interest in history was indulged with books about dark moments of the past. From Number the Stars to When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit to every historical fiction novel in between, I was exposed to incomprehensible violence, suffering, and bravery. The more I read, the more intrigued I became. The strength of my favorite characters and the gravity of their pain ignited a lifelong passion for history and reading. This early love has evolved into a consuming, urgent belief in history’s importance; to prevent future atrocity, we must first acknowledge the atrocities of the past. As a Plan II Honors and History major, I have spent my time at UT studying global conflict, striving to fuse an understanding of history with accessible policy research for the future.

During my time in the Frank Denius Normandy Scholars Program on World War II, I engaged in a rigorous study of the causes, conduct, consequences, and contemporary representations of the Second World War. From reading gut-wrenching accounts of the front lines to witnessing haunting displays of stolen baby shoes at Auschwitz, my experiences in the classroom and abroad as a Normandy Scholar have had a profound impact on my worldview. The military strategy, statecraft, and political maneuvers that dominated my studies came alive in a visceral and unforgettable way as I walked along Omaha Beach and through the gates of Birkenau.

As an Undergraduate Fellow at the Clements Center for National Security, I have had the opportunity to learn from the nation’s leading diplomats, military personnel, historians, and intelligence officials about how to best learn from the lessons of the past. Motivated by my study of the Second World War, I have become involved with the archives at the Voces Oral History Project. As the nation’s leading Latino oral history archive, its mission is to capture the untold stories of Latinos and Latinas who served in the military or on the home front during twentieth century conflicts. During my time summarizing and transcribing interviews, I have gotten to learn more about the impact of military service on people of color.

From political internships with the Texas Democratic Party and Annie’s List (a Political Action Committee committed to getting more women elected) to a summer in Vatican City spent analyzing the Catholic Church as a global and centuries-old political institution, I have gotten the opportunity to explore how policy decisions are made in both local and international contexts. In my final year at UT, I’ll be applying to law school and working on an honors thesis centered on the mobilization of American women through ideologies of domesticity during World War II.

History; Plan II Honors

Honors Programs 
Plan II Honors; Frank Denius Normandy Scholars Program

Other Academic Interests 
International Law; Human Rights and Social Justice; National Security

Extracurricular Activities 
In addition to interning as a Research Assistant and Content Developer for Raw Data (a Stanford Cyber Initiative podcast exploring implications of big data on popular culture and governmental institutions), I serve as a Peer Educator for Not On My Campus. This organization is committed to sexual assault awareness and prevention. By leading presentations about sexual assault prevention to the Greek Community, participating in continuous trainings on Title IX and legal resources, and serving as an advocate and resource for survivors, I’m able to serve the UT community and my sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha.

What drew you to the Forty Acres Scholars Program (FASP)?
What struck me most during Finalist Weekend was the obvious bond of the older scholars. They were not awkward or competitive acquaintances sharing a title; they were a cohesive group bound by intelligence and ambition. It was evident then and there that joining Forty Acres meant joining a community- a group of friends with diverse talents and backgrounds that would elevate my ambitions, that could inspire my curiosity. It meant access to staff committed to programming events that facilitate bonding, professionalism, and personal development. It promised access to the University of Texas’ incomparable alumni network. The donors and alumni involved with this program are passionate about opening doors in any way they can. Community with fellow scholars, staff, and alumni are ingrained into the fabric of this program, making Forty Acres unique for the level of personal investment it offers each of us.

Favorite FASP Memory  
Being two feet away from Pope Francis during the Papal Audience with fellow scholar, Ashley Deutser (who also doubles as my best friend), by my side is an experience I’ll never forget. The opportunity to study the politics of the Catholic Church in Rome with a fellow scholar and friend is something that would’ve never been possible without Forty Acres funding my travels and introducing me to incredible people. Immersing ourselves in the enormity of the Catholic tradition and Italian culture allowed me and Ashley to grow closer while exploring the impact of cultural institutions on individuals. Our absurd amount of pasta and gelato consumption, daily walks past St Peter’s, unfortunate run-in with bed bugs, and meetings with Vatican bureaucrats made for an unforgettable summer with one of my favorite people.