Olivia Morris ’21 (McMurtry)

Cognitive Sciences and Psychology

As a high school student, Olivia Morris ’21 approached the college admissions process with a sense of determination. “Coming from a single-parent household, I wanted to find my dream school and knew the in-state schools weren’t a good fit, but had no idea I would be competitive for — let alone be able to afford — a top-tier institution,” she remembers. “For a long time I thought it wasn’t realistic.”

However, this changed when she received a helpful tip from her neighbor, a former college admissions counselor who emphasized the university’s incredible academic reputation and generous financial aid policies. “She had worked with many students like me in the past and saw that I had potential,” Olivia notes. “By then, I had decided to go forward with an application for a QuestBridge Scholarship, and I was excited to see that Rice was one of their partner schools.”

Rice was one of the first three schools to join the QuestBridge Match Program, which connects the nation’s brightest students from low-income backgrounds with leading institutions of higher education. For the highly qualified students who are matched with Rice, the university provides a full scholarship to cover their educational expenses, including a yearly stipend.

“More than anything, I feel Rice has given me a clear vision for serving others. Here, I’ve been able to participate in student government, advocate for change when needed, and develop my passions alongside friends.” — Olivia Morris ’21 (McMurtry)

Finally, Olivia received the news she had been waiting for: she had matched with Rice University and would be receiving a full scholarship. “The sense of relief and opportunity was overwhelming. What stands out to me is that this feeling has stayed with me as a QuestBridge Match throughout my time here.”

During the past three years at Rice, Olivia has made it her mission to take advantage of the full student experience and to make her own contributions to her student community. Outside of her studies and conducting research in the lab, Olivia has embraced life at McMurtry College as an Advisor and O-Week Coordinator, Academic Fellow, and Co-Chair of the McMurtry Diversity Council.

Some of the challenges of her student experience have influenced her future path. “From my personal medical challenges to Hurricane Harvey to the current pandemic, I have certainly had an atypical college career. Still, I hold that these experiences have made me more resilient and I’ve become passionate about working to develop the kind of wrap-around support Rice provides elsewhere. My struggles have even informed my academics and what I want to do in the future,” she remarks.

These trials inspired Olivia to volunteer in the public health sector while she was engaged in remote learning due to the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis. “Because of a medical setback and the ongoing pandemic, I wasn’t able to participate in an internship this summer,” she says. “Though through the end of the term, I saw the need for immediate COVID support and with my background in cognitive sciences and research, I knew that there was something more I could do to help my community.”

Olivia contacted a family friend, who showed her how to apply to the Florida Department of Health where she worked full-time as a COVID-19 responder in a high-need county, about three hours away from her hometown. “I worked tracking cases and minimizing exposure in the high-risk Long Term Care Facilities and conducted general population case interviews, collaborating with community partners such as hospitals and non-profits. On the case interview and contact tracing side, we followed clients through their isolation and quarantine,” Olivia notes. “Contact tracing is about educating clients and reducing disease spread, but doing so effectively depends on building trust with the clients first.”

“The community I served was largely low-income and Hispanic, and often clients were understandably fearful about talking with the government or giving out personal information,” she remembers. “Contact tracing is also about making sure that people in quarantine have the resources to stay in quarantine and do so safely. Do they have enough food? Are they able to pay their rent while they’re unable to work? Do they have enough clean sheets or clothing because they can’t go to the laundromat?”

It was an eye-opening experience for Olivia, and one that has made her more excited to head into her senior year where she will finish out her Rice undergraduate experience — and simultaneously begin coursework for a Master in Public Health.

I wanted college to be an enriching experience to explore and to grow, but I always thought I would have to settle,” Olivia says. “I could never have dreamed that I would be in the top of my class and be able to make such an impact at a place like Rice. More than anything, I feel Rice has given me a clear vision for serving others. Here, I’ve been able to participate in student government, advocate for change when needed, and develop my passions alongside friends. I’m so grateful for all the support from the Rice community.”

Because of the generosity of Rice donors, the Rice Annual Fund continues to be able to support a number of important areas of campus, including scholarships, residential college life, student activities, teaching and research. Learn more about how your gift to the Rice Annual Fund can make an impact for students like Olivia.


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