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Alumni Spotlight: Olivia Hsia '13

Sierra Canyon School
We caught up with alumnae Olivia Hsia '13 to talk about life after SC, and learn more about her experience at Rice University and her thoughts on future career plans.
1. How was your college experience at Rice?  
 
First of all, I know a few people are reading this might ask, “What’s Rice?” As far as I know, I am still the only SC alum to have attended Rice University, which is in Houston, TX by the way! I had the opportunity to visit Rice when I was a junior in high school, and I loved it. I still applied to about 17 colleges(!!!), but I always knew Rice was the best fit. It’s a relatively small school with about 4,000 undergraduate students. The atmosphere is very academic and research-oriented, but also quirky and ‘unconventional.’ There were many different aspects of my college experience, so I broke it down into ‘categories.’
 
Major--being ‘UNDECIDED’: When I started college, I was the textbook definition of ‘undecided.’ I had no idea what I wanted to major in or what I wanted to do after college. I started off Pre-Med, which is still an interest I have today, but I sincerely think it limited the amount of exploring I could have done in the beginning. It wasn’t until the spring of my freshman year that I took ‘Intro to Psychology,’ and decided I wanted to pursue a Cognitive Science major. Along with psych classes, this major also allowed me to take classes in neuroscience, philosophy (which I thought I would love, but I did not), linguistics, and computer science. Cognitive Science was the perfect major for someone with a ton of different interests. I’m still glad I majored in it, and it gives me something interesting to talk about to future schools and jobs.
 
Academics: The classes I took were exciting, but they were also very challenging, and sometimes the pressure was high. If you usually receive only As and Bs, do not freak out the first time you get a C on an exam. It will happen. The best thing you can do is NOT freak out, talk to the professor, and set up a plan of action. All professors, future jobs, etc. like upward trends. Learn from your mistakes, and get better. Take classes that sound interesting, but also do as much research into the professors as you can. The BEST course I took was “The End of Life Seminar” which was a course all about different cultures’ approach to death. It sounds dark, but the professor was an amazing and warm person who made each 3-hour class breeze by. Those are the classes you will never forget.
 
Texas: I always knew I would not mind moving to a new place to go to school. It makes you feel a lot more like a grown-up at 18 then you are. I never thought I would get homesick, but the first semester away from everything familiar was hard. Luckily, Houston has a somewhat similar culture and weather to Los Angeles (warm, spread out, not too fast-paced). I think going to the east coast may have been a bigger shock. I also had family living near me, and I cannot emphasize this enough--family, any family, can be a real lifesaver in college. That being said, I am so glad I moved to a new city for school. Yes, it was hard, but it also taught me true independence, such as how to find my dentist, register a car, and navigate through crazy drivers. I also got to experience parts of Texas culture that are very different from California, such as going to the rodeo, eating fried cookie dough, and buying my first pair of cowboy boots.
 
Social life: At Rice, I met kind and down-to-earth people who were beyond smart but also liked to engage in some very wacky traditions. I loved getting to make new friends from all over the country and even the world. Rice was special in that it has a residential college system, kind of like Harry Potter houses, so I had a community within an already-small community. I liked that the social scene was never exclusive--everyone was invited to every social event, club, party, etc. The wide-open social scene was also something I had to balance. If I could tell you anything, I would say: Don't spend every night in the library! But don’t be afraid to stay in either. ‘FOMO - (Fear of Missing Out’ was something I had never heard of until college, and sometimes it feels very real. It will take you months, years even, to figure out how you want to balance social and academic life. I think everyone should try most events at least once, and then decide what is worth your time and what is not.
 
2. What are you doing now, and how is that going?
 
Right now, I am doing a two-year graduate school teaching fellowship in Houston, Texas with KIPP Charter Schools. I am working towards my Masters in Teaching while also working full time as a Pre-K 3 student-teacher this year and a lead teacher next year. It’s a lot of work and time, but I love it! I always knew I wanted to work with kids, so this program is giving me all the experience I could ever need. I also love that I get to take classes simultaneously and apply what I learn in the classroom every day. It’s challenging, but I’m grateful for the experience. The kids also make it worth it--I get to create experiences for them, such as ‘winter in Houston,’ and I laugh every single day.
 
I still don’t know what the future holds, but I know this experience will only help me grow and apply my knowledge to what I do next. As I mentioned before, I was interested in health going into college. Healthcare is something I am still interested in and exploring while I teach. I am glad, however, that I pursued a ‘real job’ right after school. Some people are ready to go straight to medical school, law school, etc. but so far the real-world experience has given me a lot of perspective on future careers, finances, work-life-balance, etc. Through this experience, I feel that I will be better informed going into my next big life decision.
 
3.  We would like you to speak about your high school experience here at SC.  Were their courses, extracurricular activities, clubs and/or teachers that significantly impacted you?
 
I am forever grateful for my high school experience. Sierra Canyon provided me with an excellent education and a wealth of opportunities. Teachers like Mr. Schrode, Dr. Rohrback, Mr. Winetrobe, Mr. B, Mrs. Zielinski, Mr. Solomon, etc. all challenged me and encouraged me to grow as a student and as a person. I had some great college professors, but it was my high school teachers who made a lasting impact. Don’t take them for granted!
 
As for extracurriculars, I cannot stress how large of a role they played in my high school experience and my college applications. When I was going through high school, I felt like I tried a bunch of different things. When I was applying to college, I was pretty worried that I hadn’t stuck to something, like piano or theater, for the full four years. However,  I used my diverse experience to my advantage by demonstrating all of my different skills. For example, I did debate team, theater, swim team, the Gay-Straight Alliance club, etc. Beyond clubs, I took part in random events, like Bollywood Night, that I got the chance to plan and see to fruition. If any current students are reading this, I encourage you to do something you are interested in and don’t be afraid to take risks. I had never done Speech and Debate before in my life, but I started in 10th grade and ended up loving it.
 
4. Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
 
Ahhh, the dreaded question. I certainly see myself in a profession like teaching or healthcare that places people--in my case, children--at the heart of it. My passion is working with kids and getting to do that every day gives me energy that I think you need in whatever profession you choose. I still don’t know which direction I will take. I will finish up this program in Houston in 1.5 years and come out with actual knowledge of what it takes to be a teacher. From there, I know I will use my experience to either jump-start a career in education, as a teacher and possibly a more prominent role in early childhood education, or to transition into a position in healthcare. As you can see, graduating from college with a particular major or first job does NOT mean your life is set.

If any current students or alumni have any questions about college applications, Rice University, teaching, etc., please feel free to reach out! My email address is olhsia@gmail.com.
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Lower School: 11052 Independence Avenue
Middle and Upper School: 20801 Rinaldi Street
Chatsworth, CA 91311  | 818.882.8121
Sierra Canyon School is a private, independent, non-sectarian, co-educational, college preparatory school for students in grades Pre-Kindergarten through 12 located in Chatsworth, California. The highly cosmopolitan campus community is reflective of the Greater Los Angeles area and the world at large. Students are empowered to realize their greatest creative, ethical, intellectual and physical promise through small class sizes, a diverse student-teacher culture and a family-like environment.