Transforming and improving the lives of our students and their families is central to the purpose of the mission of The University of Texas at Austin. As a public flagship university serving Texans from all backgrounds, one of our key priorities is supporting students and their families along their path to achieving the American dream. As a founding member of the American Talent Initiative, a national alliance of public and private universities, we are working to expand college access and opportunity to highly-talented lower-income students. This series of student stories highlights exceptional students who are thriving, pursuing their passions, and preparing to go out and change the world.
Meet Sam Olayiwola, Class of 2018. The dance studies senior from Mansfield, Texas didn’t always have his sights set on the big stage. A first-generation college student, Olayiwola originally came to UT Austin to study computer science, but it wasn’t until he aced his first computer science classes that he realized it wasn’t his dream. Scholarships and programs like the University Leadership Network and Presidential Scholars empowered Olayiwola to explore his options on campus and find his true passion.
We spoke with him about finding his sense of purpose and his next steps after graduation.
Can you tell us about the moment when you realized you didn’t want to major in computer science?
I always say I’m glad I did well in my classes because it put me in a position to realize it wasn’t for me — as opposed to struggling, finally getting good around junior year, then realizing “Oh, now I don’t like this.”
What drew you to majoring in dance?
I had experience dancing. I was in color guard — I did it four years in high school, and I did it professionally one summer after I graduated high school, but I had never received formal dance training. I knew how to dance. I knew how to move — it had just never been refined in a very highly structured setting. I was attracted to dance because of my brief history with it, and what has kept me in dance is a desire to prove and dismantle notions of appropriateness, suitability and freedom. I have an extrinsic motivation to reconfigure people’s ideas of what is viable, acceptable and worthy of our time.
How has UT Austin helped shape your career?
I’m so glad I came to UT! It has one of the top computer science programs in the country and also has one of the best dance programs in the Southwest. We have a broad range of faculty with different backgrounds that helps cultivate diverse artists, and there are a lot of resources here that help connect students with working artists.
UT also has a very diverse population of students — a bunch of different cultures are represented, which I think is important.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Myself. I know that sounds sort of conceited, but a lot of the work I create has to do with my identity, and how I can either heighten or desensitize people to it. I’ve made works about blackness — taking it out of the context of race and just seeing it as the color. What happens if we’re forced to look at it like that? I think I’m inspired by myself but also by how these themes can be lifted to be sort of universal. The idea of love. The idea of race. The idea of the removal of one aspect and the purity of the other. How we’re all human and how I can use these aspects of myself and speak to a larger group of people.
What are your plans for after you graduate?
I recently applied for a Fulbright scholarship to study at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. If that happens, I’ll be going to London for two years to get my Master of Fine Arts in choreography. A parallel plan is moving to New York. I’m a dance studies major, so in addition to getting a lot of performance and choreographic training, I’m also taking education classes. I’m using these courses as a way to supplement my entry into teaching artistry, where you’re a working artist who’s equipped with the skills of an educator.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
I would tell my younger self to find not just what you love but why you love something. I think one thing that our generation — and maybe people in general — gets trapped with is the “what.” I would tell myself to think about the “why” sooner rather than the “what.”
There are so many avenues to accomplish the goals we have for ourselves. I think if you cultivate the “why” sooner, you’re going to be happier and find the “what” and the “how” much more easily.