SMC student Stephen Olsen makes history with scholarship


Stephen Olsen, 33, of Appleton Wis., recently became the first student in Santa Monica College history to have been awarded the highly coveted Jack Kent Cooke scholarship for his perfect academic achievements, his monetary need, and most importantly his desire to take what he has been given and give it back to the world on a massive scale.

"I think filmmaking is the way that uneducated people like to get their information, as well as with television. And I think why judge that? If you contemplate it without moralizing that, I think making films about things that are important is one of the best ways to educate people," said Olsen. Helping people understand themselves in a deeper way by means of radio shows, children's books, television and animation is Olsen's ultimate goal. "I am a pragmatist. My education is something I want to share in whatever way I can."

Olsen's inspiring story begins as a part of a poor, yet loving family in the midwest. Where he is headed is as yet unknown, but he holds in his possession packages welcoming him as a future student at Columbia University in New York, the University of Southern California, and the University of California Berkeley. He currently awaits a response from Brown University, a member of the Ivy League.

The youngest of four, he had grown accustomed to his family's tradition of leaving home at 18. With dreams of pursuing a successful acting career, Olsen moved to New York City and lived there for seven years, eventually moving to California. He began taking several courses at Santa Monica College, hoping to improve his acting skills.

Before he knew it, he was accidentally on his way to becoming the first in his family to working towards a degree. As the units began accumulating, he became a member of the Honor Society at Santa Monica College (Phi Theta Kappa), and then applied for the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship after one of Columbia's admissions counselors advised him to.

"I always considered myself a fly in a bottle, fervent and resilient, but it was my professors who uncapped it so I could fly out," he said. "And now that I'm out, I want to go back in to help others out." 

Scholarship Office Administrator, Marcia Fierro comments, " We had been trying for 20 years to get this award for a student, but we had never found one fit for it. I still wasn't really surprised Stephen got it because he is a go-getter. He is not afraid to go and get what he needs."

The final decision as to which university Olsen will choose to attend depends on how much financial aid each school will be willing to support him with. Despite this, he is thrilled to have two more years of learning and creative opportunities. When the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation announced his award, Olsen remembered feeling very connected with the world, but most of all appreciative. Regarding his scholarship, "I felt like I had to give back; all of it. So I feel the responsibility to do very, very well in school, and part of that is not to have a financial burden looming over me."

Emotions arise in Olsen as he recalls the people he is thankful for. Conscious of his story being one to hopefully help other students, no matter what age or income level, Olsen will be holding a lecture regarding his feats in room 140 of the Science building at 11:15 a.m. on May 24, on the main campus.