When Palmetto High senior Olivia Schuitema was in ninth grade, she decided she wanted to learn more about marine science.
“Living in South Florida I’ve always gone to the beach,” she says. “I also love Shark Week. I took a marine science course at my school and fell in love with it.”
Since then, she’s completed a summer internship at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science of the University of Miami. She went the entire summer, working there two or three days a week in a coral restoration lab.
“We studied staghorn coral,” she says. It’s getting hurt by sedimentation and coral bleaching due to climate change.”
Because she can scuba dive, when she goes diving in the keys she gets to see the coral that was planted for the research project.
Schuitema has now also taken a marine science course through the UM Summer Scholars program. It ran for two weeks and she received six college credits.
Naturally, she’s interested in attending UM for marine science. She’s also applied to the University of California San Diego, Tulane, Duke and Rutgers.
At Palmetto, she is a member of the National Ocean Science Bowl team. Last year they competed and earned third place.
She is the captain of the varsity tennis team. She’s been on the team since freshman year.
“Usually Palmetto is pretty solid. My freshman year I played number three and made it to the finals,” she says. “My sophomore year they made it to states but I couldn’t go. I had a back injury.”
That injury required several surgeries and a loss of playing time. She had to set aside her dream of playing tennis in college.
Schuitema is a member of several honor societies and vice president of publicity for the National Honor Society.
“We write letters to the children in the children’s hospital,” she says.
Members also participate in the canned food drive for Trick or Treat, Food to Eat, an organization started by fellow Palmetto student Kayla Spigelman.
She’s also vice president of activities in the Science National Honor Society and a member of the Science Competitors Club.
“We do science competitions like the Lexus Eco challenge,” she says. “We get a lot of money for that. I know that Palmetto does get some of the proceeds.”
Club members also participate in beach clean-ups.
Each year, Schuitema is willing to get dirt on her hands and knees at Plant the Pride, the annual effort to beautify the school.
Outside of school, Schuitema has volunteered for Riverside Baptist Church’s vacation bible school. While the children learn about the bible and God during the day, they also get play time, which is the area Schuitema prefers.
“We have different tournaments, we have a tug of war, boys vs girls, or staff vs kids,” she says. Volleyball tournaments, basketball tournaments, kick ball, dodgeball.”
She also goes on mission camps with her church.
“Every summer its different – North Carolina, Tennessee, West Palm Beach,” she says. “We go to those communities and we take supplies and crafts and games. Like a VBS but we bring it to them.”
The students stay in a Student Life warehouse or dorm for the week. Flyers are put up around the area inviting people to come to meet them at a nearby park or sometimes a parking lot.
“It’s pretty much the children and the elderly that we focus on,” she says.
Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld