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Villanova undergraduate student, Kristian Olvera is pursuing a double major in political science and peace and justice. Photo: Courtesy

The Impact of one mentor

Villanova student shares how his longtime mentor, Natalia Palmarini, is responsible for who he is today and is ‘the biggest inspiration’ in his life.

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“Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can,” Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Kristian Olvera, Ecuadorian-Mexican, second-generation American, is thriving at Villanova University, a soon-to-be double major graduate— pursuing political science and peace and justice degrees, is passionate about leaving a lasting impact on his community, especially in Hell’s Kitchen, NY, where he is originally from.  

AL DÍA interviewed Olvera to learn more about his academic endeavors and the person he credits for the person he is today; Natalia Palmarini, his longtime mentor, also shares with AL DÍA the impact he had in her life. 

Leaving a mark at Villanova University 

Olvera received a full scholarship to attend Villanova University but explains freshman year was not his first time visiting the campus. He participated in the National Hispanic Institute (NHI), which focuses on engaging “high ability youth in leadership development and preparing students to serve in future community leadership roles,” where he attended the university for a one-week program in the summer of 2016— through a partnership with Villanova, NHI opened the Northeast Great Debate for 9th graders, which Olvera was able to participate in. 

Olvera will use his majors to focus on racial justice, racial equity, promoting diversity, and implementing inclusivity in different spaces. 

His thesis argument was about whether or not radicalism should be permissible within modern-day movements and how to accomplish such changes. 

“Current day movements are doing amazing,” he explained. “But I feel as if there needs to be more push for change,” adding that “radical…is often stigmatized and historically used to denote people…there may be violent methods, but there is a difference between radicalism and terrorism, that often gets combined…there isn’t a necessity for that combination.” 

His involvement on campus attests to his desire to impart change as the Department Chair for the Student Government Association: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, former Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, former DE&I Ambassador/ Senate Liaison, and a Non-Voting Committee Member for Villanova Board of Trustees, and Senior Advisor for the Latin American Student Organization (LASO).

Olvera was also a constituent liaison for the Office of Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), where he handled 10 case intakes and emailed correspondence, and provided constituents with jurisdictional resources. 

Passionate about unearthing issues affecting the community, he shares, “I have a voice, and I want to use that for something good,” crediting his mentor Palmarini for always being someone “who would give me words of advice.” 

Photo: Courtesy

“Biggest inspiration in my life”

Olvera and Palmarini grew up in the same neighborhood; Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. She remembers Kristian from Hartley House Pied Piper Summer Camp, where he was one of her campers. 

“Kristian was five years old when we met,” Natalia shares. “He was a sweet kid who stood out.. made you laugh. Kristian’s smile was infectious, especially when he did not have front teeth.” 

She eventually realized they both attended the same middle school. Speaking about this experience, Olvera mentioned it was all “interconnected…it all worked out for me,” the support Natalia provided and her involvement in getting him to participate in NHI and later attend Villanova, where Palmarini graduated from. 

“Kristian is someone who is deeply in tune with his emotions, and that allows him to connect with others and the world in the most beautiful of ways,” said Palmarini. “It is important to know he comes from parents who love him so intensely that it radiates through his existence.”

Olvera aspires to have a positive impact on the youth and Hell’s Kitchen because of the summer camp in his community center, which he envisions rebuilding or reopening with more educational activities for young students to “partake in things that they may enjoy,” noting that he wants to give “children a space to be themselves and feel as if they have a community somewhere outside of their home.” 

Therefore, the Ecuadorian-Mexican student will attend law school after taking a gap year upon graduation— to focus on retaking the LSAT. Kristian explains that going to law school will help him achieve some of the changes he wants to happen within his community, which he says is often forgotten because of New York City’s major attractions. 

“I used any opportunity to let him know his potential,” assured Palmarini. “I am genuinely honored to have served as a family friend and mentor to him all these years,” a sentiment echoed by Kristian’s unwavering gratitude to his longtime mentor and friend. Palmarini has worked for NHI for the past 14 years. 

He repeats, “The way I met her is the most interconnected way that anything has ever happened in my life,” frequently smiling as he reminisces all the times Palmarini has been of assistance. He notes, “knowing that somebody from our neighborhood was able to do something good with themselves, attend college and make a life for themselves and take opportunities, see opportunities. She’s the biggest inspiration in my life.” 

Their connection, mentor to mentee, feels as Oprah Winfrey brilliantly puts it, “a mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” 

Palmarini allowed Kristian to strive and to know he could thrive in any environment. 

“Kristian and I very much are people who will give our whole selves to others,” Natalia explained. “I wanted him to know at some point, you have to give to you. It is a lesson I learned, and continue to re-learn the hard way. I wanted Kristian to feel accountable to himself. The rest would fall into place. I let him know he was worthy to have everything he sought out in life. There was no room for anything less.”

Although Kristian admits to wrestling with impostor syndrome at Villanova, the predominately white institution was a culture shock, especially coming from a diverse city. Therefore, he intended to shift the narrative of “I shouldn’t have been here or didn’t belong here,” he explained. 

“When it came to Kristian, I could not help but speak in affirmations,” explained Natalia. “He needed to know his power and carry that with him always. I believe him leaning into his greatness continues to work out for him.”

She concludes, “Kristian could rule the world if he wanted to. He is a change-maker, a trendsetter, a hard worker, a deep thinker, and a good person. He will challenge the status quo because he wants to see it change. He will push until he sees movement.”
 

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