Skip to header Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Sarah Olson '23

Sarah Olson discovered her love for competitive swimming through her local YMCA, club and high school teams.
Sarah Olson discovered her love for competitive swimming through her local YMCA, club and high school teams.
When Sarah Olson was a young child, her parents were missionaries in Kenya. She remembers climbing trees with her three siblings, running around with neighborhood children and going on safaris to see elephants, giraffes, crocodiles, flamingos and monkeys. Her family moved back to the United States when she was 8 years old, eventually settling in western North Carolina, where she discovered her love for competitive swimming through her local YMCA, club and high school teams.

“My dad, who swam in college for the Air Force Academy, definitely made my career what it was,” Olson said. “He always had unwavering support through everything, and I would not be a swimmer if he was not so involved and supportive.” 

Following in her father’s footsteps in more ways than one, Olson came to college on an athletic scholarship and eventually led the UNCW women's swimming and diving team to the 2023 Colonial Athletic Association championship – their first championship since 2006. She also placed second in the women’s 50-meter freestyle event, taking the podium for the first time ever.

After completing her degree in finance with a minor in international studies, the Class of 2023 graduate is considering heading back to Africa or Asia to pursue a career with a nonprofit agency.

“I’m excited to start a new chapter, but it is bittersweet to close this chapter because I’ve been so lucky with the experiences I've had at UNCW with swimming, my teachers and my friends,” said Olson. “It’s a little scary but also really exciting.” 

Olson credits being a student-athlete for helping her stay focused and find balance while juggling a rigorous schedule that led to graduating in 3.5 years. When she wasn’t studying or in the pool, she served as an ambassador for the Cameron School of Business in the Career Success Center helping her peers work on their resumes. She also worked with a handful of other students to lead UNCW’s Best Buddies chapter, an international organization that creates opportunities and friendships for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I hope that Best Buddies has a lasting impact on people, even if I was just a tiny spark that helped with the foundation,” said Olson. “Those friendships will be really meaningful for whoever comes along next.” 

The Cameron Executive Network was another important part of Olson’s college experience and professional growth. During her junior year, she started meeting with her mentor, Jeff Bantle, a retired NASA flight director. 

“He was the spark,” said Olson. “As we got to know each other better, he told me, ‘You would be a really good project manager.’ He told me to find the project management class and take it, and I did. It was the class that spoke to me the most. I'm an organizer, a scheduler and time management is a forte.” 

Olson said she feels prepared to pursue her career in humanitarian aid, which has been a calling for a long time.
“Growing up in Africa, you definitely see from a different perspective and realize how good we have it here and how blessed we are,” said Olson. “My goal is to use the skills and things God has given me to pour into other people. Loving on people—that's my goal both at UNCW and for my future.”