Meet Our Leaders - Joy Olimpo - Asst. Dean for Student Affairs
In this series, the College of Health Sciences shares the personal stories of the leadership of our academic departments and programs, including their transition into higher education and lessons learned along their educational pathway.
Joy Olimpo is the Assistant Dean for Student Affairs in the College of Health Sciences. Ms. Olimpo completed her first master’s degree in education at Temple University and her second master’s degree in kinesiology at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Are you a first-generation college graduate?
No, both of my parents graduated from college.
Did your parents/family discuss higher education within your home? If not, please share how you were inspired to pursue a college degree and go on to graduate school.
I knew I’d go to college from about middle school. I mostly heard about the expectation of going to college from my high school teachers. My parents expected that like they did, we would go to college to pursue our own goals. My parents encouraged me to study what I wanted instead of what I may have been expected to do based on my best subjects and test scores in high school – I’m lucky to have had that support. We never discussed graduate school. I didn’t really think about graduate school until I was a senior in college, and I didn’t fully understand graduate school until I was in it!
Did you receive financial aid and/or scholarships to assist with tuition expenses?
Yes, I depended on an academic scholarship to afford my undergraduate college expenses! I also worked part-time coaching while I pursued my undergrad degree to help make ends meet. For graduate school, I took advantage of a coaching graduate assistantship in my first graduate program, and received a fellowship and teaching assistantship in my second graduate program. I also took out a few student loans for my second graduate program to cover additional living expenses.
What do you recall about your first day in college?
I remember how big my classes were, and how overwhelmed I was with the number of people in the same place. My high school graduating class was less than 300, but there were 40,000 students at my university (Penn State). I was really excited to be surrounded by so many people of different and unique backgrounds. My first semester, I took a large lecture class for a core requirement, Sociology 119 – Race and Ethnic Relations. The professor was a well-known scholar but insisted we call him by his first name. He made us talk about difficult topics and face our own privileges long before that word was common knowledge. I learned so much in that one general core requirement that I still use today, over 25 years later. It’s a good lesson: Even classes you take just to meet a core requirement – classes that aren’t part of your major – can change your life.
Please share one of the greatest challenges you experienced while in school and what you did to overcome it.
I had a big challenge in transitioning from high school to college. My first semester, I didn’t do very well academically. I enjoyed the freedom of college after I had stressed out all through high school working for straight As. After I got that reality check and was threatened with losing my scholarship (which required a 3.40 cumulative GPA), I buckled down and established a better work ethic and schedule. I also started working part-time in my second semester, which actually helped me – having less free time meant that I had to use my time more wisely if I was going to succeed.
What is your favorite memory of your time in college?
My favorite memory is time with my friends and classmates. I enjoyed friendships with peers who were in all different majors, years, etc. that I met through various avenues (dorms, student organizations, etc.). They encouraged me to do things that were out of my comfort zone and experience new things. I also remember my professors – I still keep in touch with two faculty who advised me as an undergraduate and continued to provide support in my academic path after graduation. Finally, I love that I found something I loved to study – kinesiology, a major I didn’t know existed when I had started college.
If you could go back in time to deliver a message to your younger self, what would you say?
If I could talk to myself as I was starting college, my main message would be: take advantage of being a college student. Go to “optional” events. Go to office hours. Grit your teeth and overcome your shyness when talking to staff, professors, and classmates. Ask for help. Talk to your professors after class. Go to the career center every semester. Make connections with alumni while you are an undergrad. Remember that everyone you meet could be the connection to your first job, a scholarship, or your “perfect” internship. Use a planner. Write things down. Don’t be afraid to change your major or your path if you find something that suits you better. Find someone who has your “dream job” and learn how they got there and what it is really like. Be flexible when things don’t go according to plan. Know that everything will be a learning experience and part of your growth as a person, even if it seems awful at the time.
Please share something interesting or funny about yourself that you would like students to know.
Something interesting is that I had my first stint in academic advising – the career I ended up pursuing – as a senior doing an internship with the academic support center for Penn State’s football team. After that, I explored many different career options and went to grad school to open up new possibilities working in sports administration, but I ended up back in academic advising. I went back to school for a second graduate program when I was in my 30s because I thought I wanted to be a professor. Once again, I went back to academic advising and administration. It was a very roundabout path to get to my current career, but all of my educational experiences prepared me for my current role at UTEP and I don’t regret my winding path.