Olympia Trumbower, W&M Class of 2008
Olympia Trumbower arrived at William & Mary in 2004. During her time at William & Mary, she participated in Kappa Kappa Gamma, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, International Relations Club, and Student Alumni Council. She also served as an Admission Tour Guide and an Orientation Aide.
After earning a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations in 2008, Trumbower worked on the Council on Foreign Relations before joining the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where she currently serves as Program Manager for Global Policy & Advocacy. She has remained involved with William & Mary through her service as a Class Ambassador and her role on the Annual Giving Board.
In her interview, Trumbower speaks about visiting UVA and William & Mary on the same day and feeling completely at home immediately. Her tour was so exceptional that she remains in touch with the guide to this day. Moments that stand out in her mind from her time at the school include eating out of a tent when the Caf was under renovation, the pivitol role the Career Center had in shaping her career trajectory, and meeting her would-be husband over a trashcan. Trumbower brings the interview to a close with a discussion about the contribution and history of women at William & Mary, stating that she intends to use her resources to “help women and women at William & Mary specifically.”
William & Mary
Interviewee: Olympia Trumbower
Interviewer: Carmen Bolt
Date: May 19, 2017 Duration: 00:51:41
Carmen: My name is Carmen Bolt. I’m the oral historian at William & Mary. It is currently around 4:30 on May 19, 2017. I’m sitting in the advancement office in New York City with Olympia Trumbower. So we’ll start with the date and place of your birth.
Olympia: I was born on March 23, 1986 in Alexandria, Virginia.
Carmen: And what years did you go to William & Mary?
Olympia: So I entered in 2004 and I graduated in 2008.
Carmen: We’ll back up before we dive into your time at William & Mary. Can you tell me a little bit of where exactly and how you were raised, and a little bit about your family?
Olympia: Absolutely. So I am a second generation Filipino American. My parents immigrated in the early ‘80s from living in Manila. They were both born and raised in Manila and moved here, you know, wanting a better life for themselves and for their children.
00:01:00 And I’m actually the only one. I think after me they decided to just stop having children. But I loved my childhood growing up. I’m very close with my parents. Education is very important to them. That was one thing that they I really think thoughtfully put into consideration when they immigrated and moved to Virginia right away. I grew up right outside of the Washington, D.C., area, Northern Virginia. Fairfax County public schools is how I was raised, through the school system.
I’m a big advocate of public education, and just found that when I was there, at least, having the diversity and being able to learn from folks from all kinds of backgrounds and also just being in a great school system with wonderful teachers. So I went to Dranesville Elementary, then Herndon Middle School, Herndon High School, and had that same cohort of friends definitely throughout middle and high school, so that was a big part of just my upbringing, is surrounding myself with a lot of friends and communities.
I went to a bunch of camps as an only child. I didn’t have any siblings to play with, so for me, you know, I love people. I love being surrounded by people, and that was a big part of growing up.
Carmen: So how did William & Mary get on your radar?
Olympia: Yeah, so being in Virginia, you know, I would say William & Mary and UVA are the top schools to look at. I’m very fortunate. I had not only a wonderful upbringing, but really great educators, and so I really excelled in the classroom, and I was encouraged to look at both of those schools. And I actually decided intentionally to visit William & Mary and UVA on the same day, so I wanted to give them a fair shot.
Carmen: Busy day.
Olympia: Yeah. And I knew some former classmates in high school who were at both institutions, so I wanted to stay overnight and experience the full thing, and do the campus tour. So we went to UVA first, my parents and I, and I did the tour, and their campus is absolutely stunning. And then stayed overnight with some friends. And it was lovely, but I just did not feel at home.
00:02:57 And so when I went to William & Mary it just 180. It felt like a community that I could fit into. I was so impressed with the college, and the history was just really compelling. And I sort of liked the quirkiness of Colonial Williamsburg. But yeah, that kind of sealed the deal. And the tour I remember being one of the highlights. I loved my campus tour guide. In fact I still kind of keep in contact with him over social media now. But yes, that was really a game changer for me and that compelled me to then apply early decision, so I knew right away that I wanted to go to William & Mary.
Carmen: That’s fantastic. So what’s your very first memory of coming to William & Mary as a freshman? What did it look like, what did it smell like?
Olympia: Sure. So I put on my form that I had allergies, which I do, but I wanted to be in an air conditioned building. But I also wanted a random roommate. So I was in Yates, which, I loved being in Yates. I felt like we were a little bit spoiled because it was just a really fun dorm.
00:04:00 But I vividly still remember move-in day and going with my parents and waiting in the line of people trudging up the steps. And I was on the third floor of Yates, third center, so it was four girls surrounded by two wings of boys.
And just meeting my roommate for the first time, it was really fun. It was a random pairing. We wrote each other letters, and this is back like you handwrite letters—before meeting, and we just got really excited about it. And our parents, both sets of parents were really giddy about it. They took all these awkward photos of us and our dorm room. And in fact she’s still one of my best friends. She was one of my bridesmaids. We’re both expecting babies this fall, so it’s just one of those things where you remember the very beginning, and how far you’ve come, and I think William & Mary does that for a lot of people.
Carmen: That’s great that you hit it off right away. I don’t think that’s everyone’s experience.
Olympia: We did. That’s true. That’s true. And I think living in Yates especially, you know, again, the community was so fun. And our RAs did a wonderful job of just getting everyone to know each other. And living across from the Caf had its own experiences.
I was there during the time when they renovated it, and so for a period of time, it was hilarious, they put the Caf inside a tent outside Yates Field covering the parking lot and it was incredibly disgusting. I mean, it was just gross. Like the weather would be gross outside, and humid, and our rooms would smell like the food and the tent, and so everyone was always Fabreezing each other. It was just, those are some of the memories that I just think are…I mean, that’s just so typical college, but so weirdly unique to William & Mary that they would do that.
Carmen: I would think a tent with food outside is unique.
Olympia: Yeah, absolutely, yeah.
Carmen: And also not sanitary, but that’s—
Olympia: No, exactly. I know now when I go to campus and I look at the Caf, it’s gorgeous, and I’m like we ate in a tent for one year, so… [Laughs.]
Carmen: You roughed it.
Carmen: Outside of just the experience of living on campus, did you know what you wanted to study as soon as you got there, and how did you—
Olympia: Sure. So I—well, I knew, I’ve always had an interest in global studies. You know, with my parents being from a developing country, travel was a big part of my childhood, and really just learning more about poverty and development. And so I wanted to pursue something global, for sure. The college was just at a point where it was starting to refine its international relations major. It wasn’t really something that I wanted to pursue just because it was in the beginning stages and there were a lot of requirements that I didn’t really see of interest to me personally.
And they hadn’t yet had a, you know, a global health, their development kind of curriculum, so I decided to go very interdisciplinary and did public policy. And for me it was—I’m actually really grateful that I did that because I was able to take classes all over the college. So I took business classes, I took psychology classes. I was in Morton a lot in the government building. And, you know, combining that with the kind of core curriculum, I felt like it was really well rounded.
00:07:03 And then ultimately, you know, I deal with some policy work now so it’s been really helpful. And I really loved my professors, one in particular, Professor Rennagel. I don’t know if he’s still there. I think he might be. But he came to our wedding. So yeah, just being able to have, again, those relationships and having that liberal arts education, that was a big draw for me.
Carmen: I would love to hear more about the professor and other notable mentors you had at William & Mary.
Olympia: Sure, absolutely. So I, you know, I was involved in a lot of organizations, and so for me that was actually a segue to be able to just develop relationships with professors and faculty. So Professor Rennagel was one that I really loved as well, that I mentioned. There were a couple actually staff, or, and faculty members. I was an orientation aide and then an orientation area director during my time at William & Mary, and Mark Sikes, who was a dean, was just so much fun to work with, he and Ben Boone, who I think is a dean as well now.
00:08:01 Having staff like that makes something like orientation so fun and memorable, and that really encouraged me to just, again, develop more relationships with staffs and offices other than just professors. And then I’m quite close still today with Sam Sadler, so he’s very special to me, and he’s almost like a mentor, to be honest. I still talk to him about my career and family, and he’s someone that I truly think is—was such an asset to the college.
And it’s funny. I always tease him—I actually saw him a couple months ago when I was in Williamsburg—that knowing that the Sadler Center is the Sadler Center. When I was there it was the UC, so it wasn’t—it was the University Center, but no one ever called it that. But I always just joke around, like it’s very strange calling the UC the Sadler Center. And he’s still alive, which is awesome, but yeah, he was another really special person to me.
Carmen: I’ve heard that reiterated by a number of students that he really had a special impact on their lives.
Olympia: Absolutely, absolutely.
Carmen: So I want to talk more about what you were involved in, but I wanted to step back to something you said earlier, when you grew up in Northern Virginia. You said that it was a really diverse experience for you and you were able to interact a lot. Did you feel that change when you came to Williamsburg?
Olympia: That’s a good question. I did, you know, to be honest. I mean, I felt like there were folks that I was going to class with who, you know, reminded me of people that I grew up with and there were folks that I had never, you know, encountered, either culturally or even just from where they were from in the United States in terms of the backgrounds that they were bringing, particularly people from the West Coast, I would say.
You know, I was born and bred on the East Coast, so having that different style, and even just communicating with other people, I did really enjoy that. But I also, international students, I was drawn to that. I took part in the study abroad program and met some more friends through that and the Reves Center, so absolutely. I think it filled a nice extra, you know, niche in terms of me wanting to kind of diversify and meet people unlike myself.
Carmen: Great. So where did you study abroad?
Olympia: I studied the summer of my sophomore year in Cadiz, Spain. So it was, I have to admit, it was one of those where we were pretty much on the beach all the time. But I loved it because it was a very small cohort. So there were only, I think, 15 or so of us. And we mostly spent our time in Cadiz, but we traveled throughout Spain together, did a lot of side trips, and then had like a historical project as the capstone of our curriculum in the summer. But I absolutely loved it.
Carmen: I’m sure. And being out there on the beach is a cultural experience.
Olympia: Oh, absolutely. That counts as learning, so… [Laughs.]
Carmen: Definitely. So I want to hear about some fun memories or experiences, or some of your favorite memories you have from being at William & Mary.
Olympia: Oh, my goodness. Well, I mentioned I, you know, a big part of my decision to come was the tour, the campus tour, and my tour guide, so I actually, I was a campus tour guide myself. That for me was just really fun.
00:10:58 And I didn’t realize how competitive it was. And so it was kind of fun to be able to, like, prepare for it and interview and all of that, and try out. But that was, for me, a highlight of my experience. I love the college so much that I wanted to show prospective students what it would be like and share my own personal stories.
And I made a habit, I was known as the tour guide who always staged friends on the tour, because I wanted my groups to get to know other people that I thought were awesome. And so I’d make friends stand at the Wren or stand at the Crim Dell. And my husband now, who was my boyfriend in school, he’s an athlete, so I was like you have to be on my tour so they think, you know, I’m cool. [Laughs.]
And so yeah, I mean, that was…I loved doing that. As an orientation area director I was in charge of Barrett, and that was really fun for me, and just being able to have that responsibility and overseeing the OAs, the orientation aides. And I never thought I would love Barrett, but I grew to love it very much.
00:12:00 And all the, you know, younger students in the dorms, it’s just fun to kind of be somewhat of a counsel for them if they had any questions. And then I would say the other thing is I was part—I don’t…I think it has a different name today, but what is today known as the Students for University Advancement, SUA, used to be called the Student Alumni Council, SAC. So I was in SAC. And that was a really nice opportunity to just learn how to better network and really work with older alumni.
And so for me that was also a highlight in and of itself. We back then helped arrange reunions. We worked a lot with some of the boards. And so just getting exposure to what it could be like in terms of an active alum after graduating, that was another thing that I really enjoyed.
And of course, you know, going out. I was in a sorority. I was in Kappa Kappa Gamma. I rushed my freshman year. And so for me, as an only child, I was like well, this could be fun to just get a bunch of sisters.
00:12:58 I have to admit I wasn’t like an intense sorority sister. I didn’t live in the house. I served as the philanthropy chair, but I lived off site for most of my time at William & Mary, so just having the fun social events and the philanthropy events, which I loved, that was a way for me to get involved. And some of those girls I still talk to today, and it’s really fun to keep that connection.
Carmen: What led you to get so involved? Because you’ve named a few of the organizations that you were involved in. Even more than that, there were a bunch during your time. So what was it that encouraged you to get so engaged?
Olympia: I think a lot of it is just at a young age, you know, the idea of service and the idea of community is very important to my family. And for me, you know, I love learning from people and learning what people’s experiences are like.
And in particular I’m a big advocate for, even in college and today especially, elevating women in particular. And so that was fun for me—women and minorities—to be able to find what are those groups that celebrate that or really bring it to the forefront, and how can I get involved, and how can I uniquely bring my experience as both a woman and a Filipino American.
00:14:05 So yeah, that was something that really triggered it. And it was just a great way to remain active. Like I don’t like getting bored. And I’d rather be juggling multiple things. And so having that nice mix of academic and social and community service activities I thought kept me pretty centered and busy, for that matter. [Laughs.]
Carmen: It sounds like it.
Olympia: Yeah, yeah.
Carmen: It sounds like you’re still pretty busy.
Olympia: I am.
Carmen: I wanted to ask, because you brought it up again, what was the experience of being a Filipino American at William & Mary?
Olympia: Sure, yeah. Well, there was certainly an organization that had a great opportunity for not only Filipinos, but other Asians to get together, so I joined that and did a couple of their groups. You know, for me just thinking about kind of the minority part of it, I never felt that way, and I think that’s a good thing. I never felt like an outsider.
00:15:00 I never felt like I brought in things that were not productive or that seemed counterintuitive to what we were learning or what was being taught. Rather, it was an asset. But to be honest, I mean, I, because I was born in the United States and raised here, like unfortunately I stopped speaking Tagalog when I was in grade school just because no one else spoke it. And luckily I still fluently understand it because, you know, my parents speak both languages fluently, English and Tagalog, but they still like to use Tagalog.
So yeah, you know, I never felt in any way that it was either a hindrance or anything different like that, but rather it was really nice to be able to bring something different. And there was a pretty healthy community, too, of Filipino Americans at the college. So it was, again, just a cool bonding thing to have.
Carmen: Sure. That’s excellent that there was an organization for you all to come together—
Olympia: It was.
Carmen: —and meet each other.
Carmen: What kind of activities or event did that organization do?
Olympia: So they did a couple cultural things. So they celebrated, you know, if there was Filipino Independence Day, or there were certain holidays to celebrate. They did a really great job of putting together kind of campus-wide events even with other student organizations. And then just mostly social events, which was fun. They would bring in guest speakers or just have an opportunity for you to, again, find ways to interact with other people in the community.
Carmen: That’s great. So we’ll switch the tone a little bit because I want to hear about any difficult experiences or challenging experiences you might have had during your time at William & Mary.
Olympia: Sure. I think one of them was honestly just the academic adjustment. And I think that that’s still probably true today. You know, you’re in high school. You’re a big fish in a little pond. Most William & Mary people are way overachievers, Type A people, at least I am. And so I think when you come from a high school environment where you exceled and you were probably at the top of your class to then an environment at William & Mary which is perfect in that it’s helping push you, and you grow, but you’re not the best of the best anymore, and you could be struggling, and for me that’s sort of how I felt.
00:17:00 It was difficult to all of a sudden realize that I’m not the smartest person in the room, but very humbling. I mean, talk about like you definitely know, okay, I have to work really hard, and if anything, you gain even more admiration for your peers. And so that was a bit of a difficulty. I remember I definitely would rather, even today, write a paper than do a problem set. And so just being in like calculus and taking all those classes, I was like oh, man, this is not my cup of tea. [Laughs.] And there would be people that would just breeze through it. So for me that was a bit of a challenge.
And mostly, again, you know, I wanted to be involved on campus, and so balancing time management, I have to attribute a lot of my professional success to my collegiate, like the demand of having to manage my time, because that’s where I really learned how to do that. And just knowing like okay, every day of the week I have a social thing or a commitment to an organization, but I have this much schoolwork, how do I balance that?
00:18:02 So yeah, that was a big part of, I think, growth, but definitely difficulty in the beginning.
Carmen: But no doubt good preparation for the real world.
Olympia: Oh, absolutely, yeah. And I think that, you know, I just spoke not too long ago. I was invited to be a panelist at the Women’s Leadership Summit hosted by the business school, and that was one of the things that I said to the women and the students, is make sure you really develop and refine that time management skill because that’ll really come in handy when you’re a professional.
And particularly if you are in a workplace that is demanding, and frankly doesn’t care if you’re a woman or if you’re struggling or whatever, but you just need to perform. And I think that’s where William & Mary can help in having a rigorous academic schedule, but also like a pretty robust social calendar, yeah.
Carmen: So during the time you were at William & Mary there was this changeover of presidents.
Carmen: Yeah, Sullivan was leaving—
Olympia: We had three.
Carmen: —and then Nichol, and yeah.
Carmen: Can you talk a little bit about that? It seems like it might have been a bit of a chaotic time, really.
Olympia: It was. Actually, that’s funny that you mention that. I just got out of the annual giving board meeting, and we had the rector and vice rector come in to talk about the presidential search. And I was saying from my point of view, you know, I went through three. I had, you’re exactly right, Timmy J., and then an interim, and then Gene Nichol. And I think that’s the one thing that I really missed from my college experience, is not having a president throughout that I could have an affinity for, to be honest.
I don’t have a particular love or loyalty for any of the presidents just because I don’t think that there was enough time for me to develop that relationship. And I really would have pursued that had it been someone continuous. So that is actually one thing that I do reflect on that I’m very envious of. And I’m very grateful that students now have that with Taylor. He seems like a stellar guy. I mean, just knowing him as a board member, he’s really wonderful. So it was hard.
00:19:59 I think also, as well, you know, there was a couple incidents around Gene Nichol, and the whole Wren cross situation, and it divided the campus, for sure. I mean, I have friends on both sides. And it was a sticky situation and a sticky thing that people either wanted to dive headfirst and just talk about all the time or people wanted to ignore and just brush under the rug. So that, yeah, it was a bit tricky, for sure.
Carmen: Yeah, I don’t think that’s every student’s experience, and that’s a unique perspective that you bring that you weren’t able to really grow close to any president for that reason. I know there were protests kind of following. Did you or any of your friends participate, or do you remember what that experience was like?
Olympia: Sure. I did not. I have a lot of friends that participated, and I certainly watched from the sidelines. And I did not participate not because I did not believe in it, but just I didn’t want to really affiliate myself with either side, to be honest. Sort of an agnostic feeling on my behalf. But yes, I mean, I have…the majority of my friends were part of that protest, and they were mostly in student government and had a really close relationship with President Nichol.
00:21:04 But yeah, I mean, it was kind of an interesting little phenomenon to watch and to even see how a lot of students you didn’t know felt that way, or felt a particular way just come out of the woodwork. So that, for me, was just an interesting thing to see. I never envisioned that there would be that kind of sort of political activity on campus, but it sounds like, you know, at least nowadays that that doesn’t happen to the degree in terms of against an administration, but rather against an issue or cause.
Carmen: Well, it’s an interesting point because I think one of the things we keep trying to figure out through these oral histories is what has the social activism, political activism been like on campus throughout the years because there seems to be specific issues that would cause some to sort of rise up. And generally, we’ve had somewhat of a difficult time just seeing it widespread. So it’s very good to get that sort of perspective and just hear kind of what the experience of that was like.
00:22:01 So we can transition a little bit if you’d like, to what you’ve been doing since.
Olympia: Okay. Sure.
Carmen: I want to hear how William & Mary impacted or structured or influenced your trajectory after you left, how it impacted your career trajectory.
Olympia: So I was a huge fan, and still am, of the career center, so I took full advantage. And back then it was not as nearly sophisticated as it is today. But I worked really closely with Mary Schilling, who’s another staff member, who’s since departed from the college. But she was such an asset in helping me just get an initial network built.
And so during my junior-senior year I worked with her and I identified, okay, I know that I have this public policy major, I’m interested in international relations, and health and development, what kind of things should I be looking at in terms of organizations. I knew I wanted to stay on the East Coast. And then who are the people that are alums that might be willing to just give me an informational interview or give me some of their time.
00:23:00 So back then we looked, you know, on the online database, which was kind of primitive as compared to what it is today. But I am someone who loves to network. I do it because I genuinely want to get to know people, and I love doing favors for people. I think offering favors actually brings more in terms of generosity than just going out there for the sake of wanting to put your name out there. You actually get a lot more in return by giving first.
And so I, yeah, I am a huge networker, and that’s really what I did. I just figure out, okay, who are the people I should be speaking with in different industries, but mostly nonprofit, that’s what I was interested in. I would call people, I would visit people, just ask for 30 minutes of their time and come with my questions, and just keep a running list.
And I still do that today. I have this pretty antiquated Excel, but I am huge on keeping relationships going. And people that I met right after undergrad, I still talk to them today or send them a note and say I’m thinking about you, or this article made me think of you.
00:24:01 That’s important to me to have a very diverse network, and from all industries, so private, public, government, whatever it may be. And that’s, I think the career center was a great initial asset for that. And then going into the professional world, I mean, actually a lot of my connections professionally are from William & Mary grads. So my first job I found on my own. I ended up interviewing actually two very different places.
My boyfriend Adam Trumbower, who at the time was my boyfriend and is now my husband, he moved to New York City before I did. He graduated in ’07, and I was in ’08. So I knew, well, okay, this is going pretty well, I’d like to be in New York City. And so I looked specifically at William & Mary alums in New York in the nonprofit community. Had a really great, you know, probably five or six initial conversations and people who said oh, you should talk to so-and-so, you should talk to so-and-so. And it led to my first job.
00:24:55 And so I was able to secure the interview on my own, but a lot of it was because they suggested this place and a couple people to tap into. And I was juggling between either going nonprofit or another William & Mary alum had said well, I have this friend at this hedge fund, they need an assistant.
And it’s just so funny because I can only imagine what my life would be like had I gone that hedge fund route. Very different than where I am today. But I’m so thankful that I went the nonprofit route. I really think it’s where I’m supposed to be. But it’s just funny to think, like, you know, William & Mary grads are such an asset in that.
Carmen: Absolutely, this massive network.
Carmen: There are a couple questions I want to ask out of that.
Olympia: Oh, please.
Carmen: And I don’t want us to backtrack. But one question, just thinking about the year that you graduated—
Olympia: Oh, the financial crisis.
Carmen: The set in of this existential dread. Did you feel that? Was that palpable while you were…?
Olympia: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I felt really under a lot of pressure. Part of it was, you know, I—a lot of my friends are in the finance world, and so for them, like my husband Adam, he did his internship at an investment bank his junior year, so by his senior year he was sitting pretty and he knew exactly what he was going to do.
00:26:05 I had a lot of friends like that. And, you know, I didn’t have that. And so of course I was like freaking out by the end of my senior year. I didn’t secure my first job until September after I graduated, and so yeah, I definitely had that. And then the financial crisis that was looming, like that, you know, is just at the back of your brain, like am I really going into the nonprofit industry and not making any money living in New York City? I guess I am. And so I think that was another thing on my mind.
But again, knowing the William & Mary network existed, knowing that I had a lot of really wonderful friends from college that I could lean on, and also just having, again, that kind of family support, that was really important to me, to be able to just bravely move to the city on my own and be self-sufficient.
Carmen: Yeah, that is a big move for anybody from anywhere. That is a substantial move. And before we jump into your current work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, how did you and your husband meet? Because that is—
Olympia: Sure. Oh, gosh.
Carmen: —meeting at William & Mary.
Olympia: It is. Oh, my gosh, Adam. Yeah, Adam loves telling the story because he looks really good. But I…so I was a freshman and he was a sophomore, and I joined Kappa Kappa Gamma. And we always took part in Delta Gamma, another sorority’s basketball tournament. So they, every year, at least when I was in college, did a three on three tournament.
And I used to play basketball, so I played from elementary school all the way through high school. Was not good enough to play in college, nor did I really want to. But I would play with two other Kappas, and we were on the Kappa team. And we were actually pretty good. And so we made it to the finals my freshman year of this tournament. And Adam was as member of the basketball team, the Tribe basketball, and so he, the basketball players, were referees.
00:27:56 So he was a ref. I was playing on the team. We were playing, I remember, in the championship, Tri Delt. And they were just super handsy, and they kept on fouling us, and we would foul them. Well, Adam knew the Tri Delts, and so he wasn’t calling anything against them. Didn’t know us. And I was getting like really mouthy with him, like come on, make a call. [Laughs.] But I thought he was really cute, so I was very torn.
And when I was living in Yates, I mentioned my freshman dorm, three of the guys in Yates were basketball players, and they were my buddies. And so I told them, I said hey, I think that one ref is really cute. And they were like oh, we can introduce you. And so I met Adam briefly after the basketball tournament. And then probably a couple weeks later were in the Caf, the pre-tent Caf. And I have to admit, I’d never done it before in my life, and I don’t even know what compelled me, but I walked up to Adam when we were both throwing away our trash in the nasty conveyor belt and I just like blurted out we should go shoot some hoops sometime.
00:29:02 And I was with my roommate, and I just stopped and was like what did I just say? So I put my tray down and I walked away, like I did not even wait for an answer. I was just so embarrassed and appalled at what I did. And then there was a football game later that week and Adam found me at the football game and asked me for my number.
And yeah, we—this was, golly, this was probably around October, November of my freshman year. We spoke on the phone throughout the winter break, and he had basketball games. And he stilled called me like every day, even when he got a concussion. He got a concussion at one of the games. I think they were playing Kentucky. And then we started dating February of my freshman year in 2005. And we obviously have been together since. And we got married October of 2010 in Williamsburg, so yeah.
Carmen: And now you’re expecting.
Olympia: And now we’re expecting a Tribe baby, yeah, so we’re really excited. But it’s just so funny because it’s actually crazy. I don’t know if it’s something about the years that we were at William & Mary, but a lot of our friends, including our friends that we’re staying with in New York right now, are William & Mary couples. Like I would say we probably have, oh my goodness, almost 20 couple friends. We’ve been to so many William & Mary weddings I’ve lost count. But yeah, we have a lot of friends who just happened to marry their person that they met at William & Mary, so it’s kind of crazy.
Carmen: Yeah. I also think it spans the decades because the more people we talk to, the more people they know or they—
Olympia: Really? Yeah.
Carmen: Yeah, it seems to kind of be a William & Mary thing. I guess now we know love and basketball.
Carmen: A trash can fairytale.
Olympia: Totally, totally.
Carmen: —a lasting relationship.
Olympia: Yeah, our first date was shooting hoops at the old rec center that used to be there. And yeah, it’s so funny. It’s such a funny world. But you don’t think that that will happen to you, you know. Like I didn’t go to school like oh, I want to find a husband. That’s like the last thing I wanted to do. [Laughs.]
00:31:03 But yeah, just being able to meet, again, great people and have that fun community. It was fun for me, too, because Adam, since he was an athlete, he had a whole different set of friends. And I was in a sorority so I had, you know, like just combining our worlds was actually a lot of fun.
And our wedding was really fun. It was a very strange mishmash of people, but they all knew each other in some way, so that was just, for us, even today it’s really fun to get folks from different areas together. Where we live in Seattle, Washington we actually, every Christmas, host a brunch of William & Mary grads in Seattle, because we, again, have a great cohort of friends. So for us it’s just…I love continuing that William & Mary connection.
Carmen: So you’re a class ambassador, is that right?
Olympia: Yeah, so I’m on the annual giving board and then I’m a class ambassador for 2008. And then I just happen—it’s crazy. I don’t know what compelled it. But ever since we moved to Seattle at the end of 2011 there’s been this interesting kind of exodus of people from the D.C. area to Seattle that are William & Mary grads within our years.
00:32:07 I would say ’05 to maybe 2009. And we all see each other. And some of us actually work relatively close to each other. So there’s a cool connection there. And yeah, Adam and I love to have those friends over. In fact we just had a William & Mary dinner with two other couples two weeks ago.
Carmen: That’s excellent.
Carmen: Okay, so before we lose it entirely, your work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. So how did you end up there? What is that experience like for you?
Olympia: Sure, yeah. So Adam and I are very adventurous. We love to travel, especially internationally. We try and do big trips together. When we were in New York City, Adam was working for Goldman Sachs as an equity trader and my last job was working as a sustainability consultant for a very small firm called BSR.
00:32:57 And we hit that burnout. It was about 2011, you know, financial crisis was still kind of going on, and we decided let’s just try something new and just be adventurous. So we just looked at a map. We looked at a map and we said do you want to go to Denver, or Seattle, or Portland, or San Francisco. All of our family’s in Virginia. I’m from Herndon, Virginia, Adam’s from Roanoke, Virginia, so our parents thought we were a bit crazy, and they were also like why would you ever go to the West Coast, or even more specifically the Pacific Northwest? And we picked Seattle.
So for me the Gates Foundation was in my line of sight, but there were a bunch of other organizations as well. Adam luckily, easily enough, you know, he works in finance so he could find something. So our lease on our West Village New York City apartment was up on December 1, 2011. Adam flew to Seattle Thanksgiving weekend to find us a place to live, to rent in Seattle.
00:34:04 And then my first time ever in Seattle was moving into our rented house on December 1st. So we just plunged. I mean, we just plunged. And again, like just being really confident in our skills, but also super faithful that something would happen. And Seattle, not only was it super random for both of us—none of us have friends or family there—I mean, we had never been there before. So it was just like this looks like a cool place. We both like mountains and water, so why not? But yeah, I…it was a leap.
So I moved to Seattle. We had—I had a blissful three months of unemployment. We went to happy hours every day. We did road trips to Portland and Vancouver, B.C. And then through connections from New York City I found a way into the Gates Foundation.
00:34:58 And I started actually as a program assistant. So I was kind of conflicted because I knew professionally I was beyond that role in terms of administrative assistant, but I knew I really wanted to get my foot in the door. And so I started in our Global Development Division, specifically on our water sanitation and hygiene team.
The great link there was that when I was in New York my first job at a think tank, called The Council on Foreign Relations, they had this amazing professional development stipend where they gave you $3,000 a year and you could do whatever you wanted. And most people use that to go back to school and get their master’s. I actually used one of mine to volunteer with a water and sanitation organization in Cameroon. And so that was one of the things that, early on in my New York days, just made me even more fall in love with development work. So it was a perfect tie into the Gates Foundation. And that story and my experience I think was a big part of me getting the job.
00:35:53 But yeah, that first job, I was in that position for about a year. I supported about four different people on the team, a lot of administrative work. But I loved it because my team enabled me to do more projects that I wanted. And then I was very fortunate. I had a wonderful boss. She was, I mean, she was a bad ass. She was awesome. She was really well respected. She wanted to elevate her people. So she promoted me to a project manager, which was a pretty good leap, and I was so grateful for that.
And I took hold of our big event. We had a huge event in 2014 on toilets. So Bill Gates, one of the things he’s passionate about is what he calls reinventing the toilet. So we know that there are 2.5 billion people in the world that do not have access to sanitation. More people in the developing countries have access to a mobile phone than a toilet. And so this team, that’s their goal, is how do we get more people access to sanitation services.
And so my job was awesome when I was a project manager in that I worked a lot in India. I spent most of a year in India, so Adam was super patient with me always on the road.
00:36:58 I was at most there for a month at a time, and mostly in New Delhi. But I would help forge relationships with government partners, with local institutions or other nonprofit organizations to, you know, start to build up this network of partners to help us get sanitation services out.
And we had a huge event. It was called the Reinvent the Toilet Fair, so it was a fair of toilets. And we really wanted entrepreneurs and people that we would give grant money to come up with the next generation toilet. And that was our big project. Still today the foundation focuses on this, on non-piped or non-sewage sanitation. So that, for me, was kind of my first entry into the Gates Foundation world, sort of that service world.
And then I’ve had two pretty amazing jobs since then at Gates. After sanitation I went another route and worked on Ebola. So when the Ebola outbreak was at its height the end of 2014 going into 2015, I was asked by our leadership to project manage our Ebola response team.
00:38:03 So Bill and Melinda made a decision in September of 2014 that they wanted to give $75 million to help the Ebola response, and so I felt so honored to be able to help a small group of experts, health experts at the foundation, think about how do we best give away that $75 million, who are the partners we need to work with, how do we think very strategically about the impact of our dollars and the furthest it could go.
So I did that for just six months and then moved on to helping what is today our communications function. So today I’m a program manager in our Global Policy and Advocacy Division. And so the team that I’m on focuses on strategy, planning and management. So every day I think about multiple things, either investments and how we manage our investments.
00:38:55 My team has a portfolio of about 30 odd million dollars. So how do we think about this money specifically for raising advocacy and awareness through communications on our biggest issues.
And then I spend the other part of my day thinking about strategy. So when Bill and Melinda are out either in the media or just at an event, or even just working with partners, how do we equip them with the right information about what they should be one, messaging, and what they should be prioritizing, how do we equip them with the right facts so that when they meet with government partners they feel prepared or they’re very well versed on the policy.
So it’s a really cool hybrid. It’s very different than when I was starting in Ebola and sanitation in that back then I was working in the field. I had a very different lens on, more focus on the grantees and the beneficiaries. And now I think more about our co-chairs, Bill and Melinda. So it’s a cool view. I really enjoy it. I feel very grateful. The foundation is a really wonderful place to work.
00:39:57 It’s actually perfect for William & Mary grads like myself, like it’s a Type A place. It’s a competitive place. It’s a place where success, you know, is really expected of everyone. And there’s actually, I think, right now there’s about eight William & Mary grads at least at the Seattle campus, so it’s cool to have that community, too. And we all get together at least quarterly and have lunch, and reminisce.
And they call me the…what do they call me? The house dressing mule because every time I go to William & Mary for board meetings I have to come back to Seattle with like six bottles of house dressing. It’s so embarrassing. And I like put it in my suitcase and hope to God that it doesn’t crack, and then bring it to my colleagues. So yeah, I’m like the mule for our house, Cheese Shop house dressing.
But yeah, I feel so fortunate to work at the foundation, and especially now. I’m going to take parental leave starting in October, and they are incredible and give us a full year of paid leave. So I’m very much looking forward to having a year off to spend time with my baby and still get paid.
Carmen: That’s so incredible, I don’t even know where to start.
Carmen: It’s all inspirational. The work you do is incredibly inspirational.
Olympia: Thank you.
Carmen: The fact that you can somehow figure out how to get house dressing back—
Carmen: —to Seattle is incredibly inspirational, all of it. Can you help me pack before I fly out?
Olympia: I am an expert packer. I have traveled all around the world with a very small suitcase, so yes, I can help.
Carmen: Maybe I should trade in my ticket and go somewhere, because you’re just inspiring me right now. But it does sound like the foundation is very similar to kind of that William & Mary experience…
Olympia: Oh, absolutely.
Carmen: —involved in everything, and you still are involved with William & Mary, I think, in a number of ways. Do you mind expanding on that?
Olympia: Yeah, sure. I was asked in 2015 to join the annual giving board. And I have to admit I was very hesitant at first, mostly just because I’m on the West Coast. I know there’s a commitment to travel back East. It can be a lot. And I already travel for work.
00:41:59 But once I heard where the direction of the board was going, and the fact that there’s the three boards, the Board of Visitors, Annual Giving, and then the Alumni Board, being part of one of those big three was just really, you know, I can’t not say yes. And then now that we have this For the Bold campaign, I love that our committee or our board is specifically on participation. So the 40% by 2020, that’s a huge goal that I think is just…I think we can do it.
And the fact that I just feel so tied to William & Mary and I want people to give back. But I want people more so to just feel that connection again to the college. So that was a big draw for me, just being on the board. And then part of that is as a board member you’re a class ambassador, so I have about 20 odd people that I reach out to probably two, three times a year to just remind them, encourage them to give back, particularly on One Tribe, One Day.
00:42:59 And then, you know, I’m not a member of the committee for our Seattle chapter, but I certainly attend Seattle chapter events. So yeah, I try to do my best. Adam and I try our best to be very thoughtful givers. We definitely sit down every year. I think it’s a perfect blend that he’s in finance and I’m in philanthropy, so we’re really, we’re kind of nerdy about it. Like we have our whole Excel workbook and our whole thing about how we give money each year, but that’s important to us. And William & Mary is a big chunk of that.
And I, you know, again another wonderful benefit of working at the Gates Foundation, they match three to one. So what I give to William & Mary is tripled, which is amazing. So having that further kind of tie to the college and that pushes me even more to continue working at the foundation.
Carmen: Yeah, that’s incredible. And you and your husband also have a fund, right, for international development.
Olympia: We do, yeah. So when I heard from the career center right before Mary Schilling left, they really were looking for kind of the niche areas of support, and there were a lot of students who—I expected as much—who do nonprofit internships but either can’t afford some aspect of the fare or whatever it may be, or just need that money as a stipend.
00:44:13 Yeah, Adam and I figured gosh, that’s a great way to have a really unique impact and hopefully a catalytic one in that they do that and then it propels them to do something else. So yeah, we started a scholarship. I think right now it’s about in total $4,000 that a student can get, undergrad, and they apply, and I leave it to the career center to select the student. And then we’ve gotten really wonderful thank you notes and letters from their experience. I think we’ve had two students thus far. But yeah, that to us is like a really great use of money.
And then Adam being a basketball player, we’re a huge support of Tribe basketball, Tribe athletics. And I recently just decided to try and be one of—I guess to be now one of the 100 women that give back in honor of the commemoration of women at William & Mary.
00:45:00 So that pledge of, I believe it’s $10,000, is something that, you know, we definitely worked into how we want to continue our giving the next couple years.
Carmen: That’s excellent. This event, the commemoration of 100 years of coeducation at William & Mary, because we’re coming up on that and because you’re doing the things that you are for that, do you want to tell me a little bit about what you believe to be the value of women—
Olympia: Oh, absolutely.
Carmen: —at a university like William & Mary?
Olympia: Yeah, so it’s interesting. At the foundation right now we have, in our visitor center, a temporary exhibit, and we’re calling it Women Hold Up Half the Sky. And it’s based off of Nick Kristof’s book “Half the Sky.” And I truly believe that. I think anything from either you’re a stay at home mom or you’re a woman in the workplace as a CEO of a company you have a role and you make a contribution to both your immediate unit or your society.
00:46:00 And so knowing that women now, like I’m so looking forward to the fact that my child will live in a world where there could be a woman president, and it’s not unheard of for a woman to have a family and a career, and to study as much as she can and not have to worry about any kind of discrimination. So I’m a big believer that having women not only in the workplace, but in school is just an asset to anything. I think there’s so much that women can offer from perspective.
And there is that added bonus of having kind of that emotional and intuition, that emotional intelligence that I think a lot of men don’t have that is an asset. And having, you know, even though it is kind of that more or less stereotype, having the softer side, I think that’s an asset, too, the softer networking skills, the ability to empathize with people, that naturally, for the most part, resides in all women.
00:46:55 And so for me having that blend of being able to have those social, emotional intelligence skills, coupled with just being smart and trying to be as smart as I can, and surrounding myself with smart people, that’s the kind of stuff I think William & Mary just, they forge that opportunity, and they create an environment where they empower women to do that.
And I really do hope that women now—when I was at that women’s leadership summit it was so inspiring and encouraging to hear how accomplished these young women are, these undergrads. But, you know, they were expressing the same things that I felt, which is that insecurity, or that am I doing enough, or I’m scared of failing.
And so for me, you know, reassurance and saying that that’s a natural thing. But also I wish that they didn’t feel that way. I kind of wish we were further past that where they didn’t feel like they would be inadequate when they’re already this far along and we’re already in 2017. So I think there’s a long way to go. I mean, you know, we get 79 cents to the dollar. That’s not enough.
00:47:56 And I think that there are things that William & Mary as an institution that has had women for so long could be a pioneer in, and is, but I think we could contribute more.
Carmen: Well, that was one of the questions I was going to ask, is what changes would you like to see. And that seems like a really good route to take it. So how do you think William & Mary could really invest in that?
Olympia: Yeah, I think there’s an interesting opportunity to really leverage the very accomplished alumni we have—alumnae, I should say. So how can we do that better? How can we create better either mentor programs, or partnerships, or even just is there a way to have networking opportunities in regions or whatever it may be.
You know, I love taking time. I actually, in my calendar every week, take 30 minutes to talk to someone who wrote to me on Linked In. I ignore all Linked In messages except for William & Mary grads, and I’m willing to take that phone call, for sure.
00:48:54 And so I think if people had more of that mentality and more of that mindset that it would be…it would just be exponentially beneficial. And if more women could do that, I just think not having yet the platform to do that and a structure around which we could is one thing we’re lacking. And I think that hopefully this push, this new imitative with the endowment, I think we could really head in the right direction.
Carmen: We, I think, are coming about to close on time, and also the questions as well because you’ve been answering them all so well already.
Olympia: Oh, good.
Carmen: But I wanted to ask you if there’s anything that I haven’t brought up that you thought I might, or that you would like to talk about before we close the interview.
Olympia: Sure. I mean, you know, I think just for me—and this is a perfect week and a perfect day to ask, you know, because I just got out of the board meeting and William & Mary is on my mind. I so love the college and I think it’s funny, because people, now that I’m on the West Coast in Seattle, there is that name recognition that I did not think would carry over, and that oh, yeah, it’s a really good school.
00:49:58 They might think it’s an all girls school or they might think it’s a private school, but there’s still that, like, oh yeah, that’s a great school. And I love that. I mean, I will never tire of that.
And I think there was a really great point made today at our board meeting in that the more you give back, whether it’s through money or time, but the more you do that, the more we’re able to bring in and attract the top talent, right? And then that only continues. It’s like a whole cycle, a continuous cycle of success and a cycle of just acknowledgement of the college.
And so that’s why I’m just so passionate about being able to help as much as I can because it did so much for me as a William & Mary grad, and even now professionally. But the name carries weight, and the reputation carries a lot of weight. So I just hope that with the women initiative in particular, I mean, I, as soon as Val Cushman approached me, of course I will give. I want to be one of the first hundred women, like I would love to do that.
00:50:57 So yeah, I think opportunities like that. And there’s a lot of women like me out there, particularly kind of in my generation, that I think they’re just waiting to be approached. And that’s the other thing, too, is finding ways to really attract women. Sort of what I would call, I mean, I think of it now as like I’m in my prime. I’m 31. I’m happy where I am in my career and I know I definitely want to skyrocket, but I want to have a family.
And so I’m starting now to be very thoughtful about my own values and my own priorities and what I want. And a big part of that is just bringing about more things or through resources that I have that can help women and women at William & Mary specifically.
00:51:41 [End of recording.]
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