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 a little girl, I eavesdropped constantly and badgered my mom with questions about everyone around me. I like to think my childhood nosiness has since evolved into a more socially acceptable curiosity, one that drives my interest in playwriting, politics, and psychology. Playwriting provides a creative means of exploring what makes people tick. While attending an arts high school, I wrote plays that delved into how culture and environment drive relationships and influence us all. Through an internship with the Alley Theatre and city-wide competitions, I’ve had the honor of having several of my plays staged; watching my words resonate with audience members of varying backgrounds solidified my interest in using art as a vehicle for opening dialogues and creating common ground.

Using the past to make sense of current inequalities and social phenomenons inspires my plays and fuels my love of history and politics. To be completely honest, I walked onto campus with little idea of what my professional future holds. All I know is that I want to leave this world better than I found it- whether it be by pursuing my art, influencing public policy, or whatever other passion or cause I have yet to discover.

Majoring in Plan II Honors allows the variety and rigor required to explore my diverse interests. Studying the politics of the Catholic Church this summer in Rome and interning as a research assistant for Raw Data (a podcast exploring the implications of technology and big data) have affirmed my fascination with exploring the way institutions impact individuals. The intersection of culture and public policy is something I will continue investigating in years to come.

While I’m not trying to figure my life out, you can find me eating too much queso, annoying my roommates by live streaming NPR, and cheering on the Longhorns.

Government; Plan II Honors

Honors Program 
Plan II Honors

Other Academic Interests 
History, Politics and Public Policy, Playwriting

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 Ashley Deutser 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(who also doubles as my best 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 Ashley and I 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.