Freshman Olivia Baldino Wins National Scholarship Contest

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Olivia Baldino, a freshman at Florida Tech, is one of 100 students who won a nationwide essay contest for a $1,000 SAGE Scholars scholarship.

Students from all over the country submitted essays on subjects such as how they overcame academic challenges, what they did to prepare for the college process and what they were planning to do after graduation. 

“My dad heard about the scholarship and told me I should apply.” Olivia says. “I saw that Florida Tech was on the list of schools they partner with and saw the scholarship as a great opportunity for me.”

Olivia wrote about tackling her personal struggle: fear of public speaking. The essay detailed her experience preparing for her capstone project, which she had to complete in her final semester of high school. The project involved a 10-page paper and an accompanying presentation given in business attire.

“I used to be very intimidated by public speaking,” she says. “I always grew extremely nervous in the moments leading up to when I had to speak.”

But in completing her capstone presentation to positive feedback, Olivia overcame her fear and harnessed her newfound confidence to effect positive change on her high school campus.

Following a discussion about the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Olivia’s Law and Public Safety class, she and a classmate spearheaded a project to improve the internal school atmosphere.

They introduced a mentorship program to assist incoming freshman as they adjust to high school life and to boost their student involvement. After receiving the board’s approval, the initiative was implemented and was an immediate success.

“The school saw the most freshmen participation in school activities and sports than any year before them, and our school felt like a tight-knit community.”

Olivia has always dreamed big and wants to be remembered as having had a “big, positive impact on the world.”

She has a large support system, from her loving family and friends to her high school professors, such as her junior- and senior-year law professor, who helped her realize her true potential and instilled in her a confidence she never knew she could have.

“I’m so blessed to have so many people in my life who deeply care about me and my future.”

A passionate student who is inspired by the power knowledge can have in benefitting society, Olivia has carried her passion for learning to her chemical engineering studies at Florida Tech. Although she is only at the start of her college journey, she already has plans to use her degree to work toward finding a cure for cancer.

While she has found the college workload to be far greater than that of high school, she ensures that prioritizing her schoolwork doesn’t mean she has to throw out the fun stuff. In her spare time, she loves going to the beach, tanning and kayaking, and she has begun learning how to surf.

To maintain her motivation, Olivia often turns to her favorite quote by Dr. Seuss from his book, The Lorax.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Read Olivia’s scholarship-winning essay below.

It was my freshman year. I had just entered the world of high school. It was going to be tough, but I would emerge better, smarter, and as a brave leader. After two blocks of icebreakers and syllabuses, I headed to the cafeteria. I settled in next to my best friend, Lizzy, and my sophomore friend, Saraly.


I loved hearing what Saraly had to say about my new home for the next four years. She made it seem fun, intriguing, magical, interesting, and… “The capstone is the worst of it, though.” Huh? What’s a capstone? “The Capstone Project is a huge research project you have to do senior year. It’s a ten page paper and a presentation, and get this! You have to dress up like it’s the real deal!” Those happy feelings began to disappear. I dreaded public speaking like nothing else. There was no way I’d survive that.Don’t worry about it! That’s a senior year problem. I pushed it to the back of my brain until a few months ago. I walked into English IV greeted by the white board’s message: “Intro to the Capstone Project”. Crap.The time had come for that dread to resurface. I considered myself a confident girl, and I’d say the people around me saw me that way too. That always felt like a lie, though. I felt like I had to put on that facade, so that I could keep my high status or seem powerful and strong. All of that confidence, as much of a sham as it was, wouldn’t last in front of a large crowd. I would be humiliated; I just knew it.


The due date quickly approached and my research and essay were perfected in time. Next was preparing for my turn to present. I did what I knew how to do best: practice. I went over my presentation in front of everyone in my family and everywhere I could before the day arrived. The morning of, I quickly put on a nice outfit and headed out the door. The first three blocks pasted faster than normal, which I expected. Deep Breaths. You’ve got this.I approached the front of the classroom with the feeling of eyes piercing my back giving me chills. I turned to face the crowd of judgement and saw my friends. These are the people I talk to everyday. They know me. They have already chosen to accept me or not. They will support me and if they don’t, then their opinion doesn’t affect me anyway. It just clicked in my mind the trick to public speaking. It wasn’t picturing them in their underwear; it was realizing what really matters. I took a breath and delivered my presentation with few mistakes. Those that supported me gave praise after my conclusion, and those who don’t didn’t affect me. Those who wanted to listen and gain something from my presentation did, and those who didn’t want to didn’t. I did my job as a presenter and overcame my fear, and that is all I could do.

Olivia Baldino’s SAGE Scholars Scholarship-Winning Essay
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