Alumni Spotlight: Annika Olson

Annika Olson (R), pictured with a fellow Literacy First tutor during her service term.

Annika Olson serves as an Assistant Director of Policy Research at the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Urban Policy and Research Analysis, whose mission is to “strengthen Black communities, promote social justice, and combat anti-Black racism using a racial equity framework.” Read on to learn how her experience as a Literacy First tutor in 2016-2017 has played a role thus far in both her service-driven career path and her life.

After graduating undergrad at UMass Amherst, I really wanted to give back to a community in need and work with children and their families. That’s what brought me to Literacy First! It was a great opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the education system and form strong bonds with the students. I was also interested in the community partnership component of Literacy First–I worked as a refugee mentor for a wonderful family that I am still friends with to this day.

One of my favorite memories during my time as a tutor was seeing the growth in my students. One 2nd grader I had been working with for several months became so confident and eager to read she made me promise we would read as much as we could up until the last few minutes of our session. Working and laughing alongside the kiddos while seeing them blossom into confident readers filled my heart!

Another one of my favorite memories was dressing up with my teammates for Dr. Seuss Day, Halloween, the holiday party….we always had a blast and went all out with the costumes! I have stayed in touch with people who I served with through Literacy First. They have become some of my best friends and we still keep in touch even when we are hundreds of miles away!

After Literacy First, I completed my Masters in Psychology and Masters in Public Policy at Georgetown University. Austin was pulling at my heartstrings, and now that I’m back, I work at the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Urban Policy and Research Analysis, where I serve as the Assistant Director of Policy Research. Our policy areas include criminal justice, housing, poverty, health, and our focus this year is education–we are working hard to identify and inform policy that affects the quality of life of communities of color.

Literacy First still plays a role in my life–I went to the wedding of the young Syrian woman I mentored through iACT, I’m holding a donation drive for Literacy First at UT, and I recently saw MEI [Literacy First Director Mary Ellen Isaacs] at a United Way Conference! I had no idea that moving to Austin for AmeriCorps would have such a strong impact on my life–and I’m so happy that it did!

Annika Olson (R) pictured with her Literacy First teammates at Oak Springs Elementary School.