Olivia Newton ’13 ’17MS ’22PhD is a second-generation Mexican American, a three-time graduate from the UCF and a woman excelling in a field significantly underrepresented by Latinas. Latin women hold less than 2% of STEM occupations, but Newton has always been a barrier breaker, according to a report by the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, Google and the Student Research Foundation.
The first in her family to go to college, she earned a bachelor’s in psychology and master’s in modeling and simulation (M&S) before graduating near the top of her class with her Ph.D. in modeling and simulation. Recently, Newton won the 2022-23 University Award for Outstanding Dissertation.
“My mother instilled in me a love of learning and the value of education from a very early age,” Newton says. “My family has provided me with an abundance of emotional support throughout my academic career and, when possible, they have supplied financial support as well. They have celebrated each achievement along the way and always encouraged me to pursue that which brings me joy, which in this case is learning and research.”
As a computational social scientist (which involves using data to study social behaviors) and postdoctoral research associate in UCF’s Cognitive Sciences Lab, Newton is paving a path that she hopes will increase the contributions of people of diverse backgrounds in the tech world. Her award-winning dissertation, “Modeling the Effects of Diversity and Corporations on Participation in Free/Libre and Open Source Software Ecosystems,” was recently presented to companies like Google and Meta at the International Conference of Software Engineering — where she won a Best Paper award. Her research examining and developing team cognitive processes and products has been supported by organizations like NASA.
As dedicated as she is to her own educational and career goals, Newton finds time to inspire and mentor other students who like herself have overcome financial, social, and educational obstacles to get to and remain in college.
Newton grew up with two brothers in Winter Haven, Forida. Her mother is a service worker in Orlando’s tourism industry and her father is a maintenance mechanic at Coca Cola, where he has worked for 10 years. Her parents instilled strong values of compassion and hard work in their children, which Newton credits for her success.