This story appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Indian Springs Magazine.
Olivia Honeycutt ’22 exemplifies Indian Springs’ theme for the 2021-2022 school year: Building Connections. She discovered a unique branch of neuroscience through a thoughtful approach to leadership and a passion for human communication.
Student government tops Olivia’s list of favorite things about Indian Springs. She’s a class representative and has formed a committee to orchestrate this year’s “senior prank,” a longstanding school tradition. She served as a Commissioner of Citizenship during her junior year. She and Krystal Li ’22 ran on a platform encouraging “building connections,” which the school adopted as its theme for the 2021-2022 academic year.
Olivia was instrumental in organizing Development Day and Club Expo in the spring of 2021. These were the first major events held for students after the pandemic began. She worked with the faculty to develop plans for engaging her classmates while also keeping them socially distant. For Development Day, this meant arranging projects on campus that would have taken place off-campus in previous years. Olivia also took charge of assembling the virtual convention of the Junior United Nations Assembly of Alabama.
“Being a leader has given me a much larger appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes,” says Olivia. “Things are a lot harder than they may seem.”
As a peer mentor, Olivia encourages younger students to take advantage of all the opportunities available. She leads by example as a member of Indian Springs’ Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee and Black Affinity Forum. Olivia plays on the varsity girls soccer team and participates in piano competitions under the wing of Director of Instrumental Music Dr. Hye-Sook Jung. She is also a familiar face in the stands at other teams’ sporting events and in the audience at concerts and theatre productions.
“In my experience, being a good leader is about being approachable and open,” says Olivia. “You can’t lead without decent feedback, and you can’t get feedback if people are afraid to come to you. It’s also about decisiveness, which has been more of a learning curve for me. I didn’t start high school being decisive but becoming a soccer referee really helped develop my backbone. If no one else is going to make the decision, then I will.”
With Krystal and Benjamin Zheng ’21, Olivia founded Indian Springs’ Psychology Club to create a space for discussing psychological studies. After the school went virtual in March of 2020, the trio began meeting over Zoom to talk about how the pandemic had affected their mental health. Olivia took a statistics class that semester and had the idea to develop a survey to gauge students’ feelings about remote learning. She analyzed the results and submitted a report for the school’s use in planning the 2020-2021 academic year.
“It took a lot of work over the summer,” says Olivia. “When you Google surveys being done, they always look very organized. But what you don’t see is all the individual responses that had to be sifted through. We had around 200 or so responses.”
Olivia’s research into the impact of the pandemic extended to her independent study in American Sign Language with Brad Skiff. She attended the monthly meetings of the deaf community in Birmingham and learned about the adverse effects face masks have had on members of the community who rely on reading lips and facial expressions.
However, sign language is Olivia’s third language. She is Indian Springs’ first student in French VII and is currently completing a seminar in 17th and 20th-century French theater with retired French teacher and alum Jonathan Horn ’75, who lives in Panama.
Olivia’s involvement in Psychology Club and independent studies in language led her to discover how the human brain can be structured differently based on what language a person uses to communicate. Fascinated, Olivia began looking into colleges with neuroscience majors. When she was accepted to the computational neuroscience program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place.
“You wouldn’t think an independent study in language would lead me to a STEM career,” says Olivia. “But looking back at it, a lot of things make sense.”
More than any other subject, Olivia loves math. Computational neuroscience employs mathematical models to understand the brain and nervous system structure. The models require coding, which Olivia is learning in Indian Springs’ computer science program headed by alum William Belser ’80. She did an independent study in Python programming, and now she’s taking a class about big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.
Olivia hopes to walk onto the soccer team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and looks forward to getting involved with the deaf community in Boston.