Olivia Martin Dahl was a sixteen-year-old high school senior when her life was cut short in a tragic plane crash that occurred in Peninsula State Park coming home from a flying lesson in Green Bay in a volunteer pilot’s plane. As her parents, we wish to honor her with a fund to provide scholarships for other gifted and talented students to pursue educational and enrichment opportunities available outside of school. Oftentimes, such programs are expensive, and therefore inaccessible without the help of scholarships.
Our daughter learned to read when she was three years old. She was the youngest child to have entered kindergarten at Gibraltar School, at just four years old and with a December birthday. During the early entrance screening, Olivia read the test provider’s instructions to him. And on her first school bus rides, she became famous for spelling pneumonoultramicroscopicvolcanoiosis (and telling people the definition.) By the time she was in first grade, Olivia had read all of the Harry Potter books that had been published and we stood in line with her at midnight at Passtimes Books in Sister Bay to get The Deathly Hallows.
As she got older, we found that school was not enough for Olivia’s academic and social needs. So we enrolled her in her first three-week summer camp program at Northwestern University during the summer after 5th grade, where she studied computer programming. She was one of only two young girls in that course—the rest were all boys. Her roommate was a young girl from Ukraine.
Every summer after that, Olivia attended at least one summer camp, most of which were at UW Madison under the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY.) The summer she was 13, Olivia attended an additional camp called Women in Technology, in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. It had a highly competitive application process, and admitted only 16 young women each year. (In part, it was Olivia’s ACT score that helped her make the cut.) The young women were exposed to many aspects of technology such as building radios, programming industrial robots to pick up objects, and more. Each student had to choose a final project, and for hers Olivia chose to complete a computer aided design project that would print out a three-dimensional prototype of a robotic arm.
When we returned to Sault Ste. Marie to pick her up, we learned that the professors had been amazed by the fact that a thirteen-year-old completed the CAD project, as normally it takes a college student a whole semester complete it. One mistake in the coding causes the programmer to have to go back to a certain point and start again. But given Olivia had a little previous experience in programming and could type 100+ words a minute, she already had skills that many college students haven’t yet developed.
Olivia also loved music, and had been a student of piano, violin, and bassoon, and she loved to noodle around with her ocarina and guitar. She had the privilege of working with a professional bassoonist one-on-one at a summer camp at UW Madison, and of joining the large and diverse orchestra for a performance at the end of camp.
We believe that when a child is engaged and challenged, skills build upon skills and self-confidence grows. From there, the drive to become excellent at something begins to manifest itself. The goal of striving for excellence is to become successful, even eminent in one’s chosen field or passion. This is how science, medicine, engineering and technology will advance for the betterment of this world, and how the arts will remain vibrant to enrich our lives. Our desire is that the Olivia Dahl Excellence Fund will assist other gifted children in our community in accessing the kinds of outside programs and opportunities we were able to provide our child, in order that they stay engaged and challenged in learning, and so that they to go on to become expert in whatever careers they choose.
-Collin & Jennifer Dahl