In observance of Women’s History Month, we reflect on the noteworthy contributions and achievements of women in all aspects of life. Among these inspiring individuals stands Olivia Newton ’13 ’17MS ’22PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in and manager at the Cognitive Sciences Lab within UCF’s School of Modeling, Simulation and Training. Recently honored as one of six people to earn the prestigious Better Scientific Software (BSSw) Fellowship, Newton, who is a first-generation graduate, embodies what it means to be a trailblazer in her field.

Fellows are selected annually and receive up to $25,000 to support their proposals outlining activities that promote better scientific software by improving developer productivity and software sustainability. Newton’s proposal focuses on conducting a workshop to establish best practices for learning within scientific software projects. In these types of projects, work is carried out by groups of people with different types of expertise, from scientists to engineers and managers, among others.

“Funding agencies like the U.S. National Science Foundation and Department of Energy, sponsors of the BSSw Fellowship, have recognized learning as critical for the effectiveness of these types of collaborative work teams,” says Newton, a second-generation Mexican American and three-time graduate from UCF. Through the workshop, Newton will coordinate the development of guidelines that can be used facilitate and improve such learning in such teams.

Reflecting on her academic journey, Newton emphasizes the significance of mentorship and support “for members of underrepresented and marginalized groups, as they progress through their educational and professional careers in STEM, including students at UCF.”

After completing her doctoral and master’s degrees in modeling and simulation at UCF in 2022, she continues to contribute to research and talent development in the School of Modeling, Simulation and Training.

Newton’s work aligns with the agenda of the Cognitive Sciences Lab, which carries out interdisciplinary research on individuals and teams to understand cognition. This includes prior and ongoing work aimed at understanding and supporting learning in scientific teams.

“[The fellowship] also affords the opportunity to develop research programs for mentorship and training, which extends the impact I can have in STEM and higher education more broadly,” Newton says.

Newton also earned a bachelor’s in psychology  from UCF. While a student, she won the 2022-23 University Award for Outstanding Dissertation for Modeling the Effects of Diversity and Corporations on Participation Dynamics in Free/Libre and Open Source Software Ecosystems.

Newton’s journey stands as an inspiring example of perseverance and excellence, not only for women but for all individuals striving to make a difference in the world regardless of gender and ethnicity.