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olivia wenzel pictures with members of menlo's faculty

Menlo’s “Unique Environment Is Truly Irreplaceable,” Says Alum Olivia Wenzel ’16, a Harvard ’24 Undergrad

If you were to ask Olivia Wenzel how she got to where she is today, an intern at Amazon Prime and an incoming Harvard sophomore, she would laugh and say, “it’s a long story.” While that might be true, as actual greatness never forms overnight, she would have no problem saying that her story began at Menlo Park Academy.

Coming to Menlo in 3rd grade and staying all through 8th, Olivia was always attracted to big things. Her career goals during her time at Menlo Park Academy spanned from becoming a civil rights attorney—encouraged and explored through Mock Trial—to embarking in the world of evolutionary biology.

This interest in biology that Olivia developed during her time at Menlo soon sparked a fascination with medical sciences. The summer after her 9th-grade year, she interned at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Neurological Restoration.

“It was a lot of shadowing,” she recalls, “but I got to make informational pamphlets for families to help understand these scary diseases their loved ones were dealing with, and that firsthand experience helped me realize I really wanted to focus on helping people with dementia.”

The head of Neurological Restoration connected her to the head of the Center of Brain Health, which focuses almost exclusively on dementia, where she spent the next two summers. During her time interning at the Cleveland Clinic, she shadowed a virtual reality lab they have on-site. Here, they used virtual reality to create an engaging therapeutic experience for patients with mental diseases. This was her first introduction to the ways VR could help patients with dementia, and this interest quickly grew into a passion.

“I was seeing virtual reality headsets being used to help dementia patients and this idea, partnered with the plus of being able to help people without using pharmaceutical methods, which is always a goal for me, made me want to delve deeper into the possibilities of VR and dementia experience,” she expands with excitement clear on her face.

The summer before her senior year, she decided to take action on the big ideas in her head. With the help of a team of her former classmates, both from high school and Menlo, they created a prototype of a VR nostalgic experience to help engage people with earlier stages of dementia. This became Altrutec, an LLC run by Olivia, whose goal was to deliver fun and stimulating VR experiences to dementia patients.

Altrutec was put on hold when Olivia started at Harvard University last fall. However, the school’s culture of student leadership and the great support for student entrepreneurship allow her to continue to grow as both a leader and creator. When she began volunteering with a local senior center and learning how Covid-19 was impacting the senior residents, she started a program of virtual activities of crafts and bingo to keep them engaged.

“This experience taught me the direction I eventually want to take Altrutec,” she explains. Continuing, she says, “I want to be able to use virtual reality to help socially isolated patients connect with others. I have Altrutec on hold right now so that I can continue to learn and figure out how I can best achieve this.”

This passion for serving others is something she attributes to the people around her, many of these people still being constants from her time at Menlo.

“My very best friends are all from Menlo Park Academy,” she smiles, “they truly are some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met, and the environment we grew up in strengthened that bond incredibly. We could fully be ourselves at Menlo and were totally comfortable all the time. It was encouraged to focus on niche interests, and we were surrounded by curious and interesting people. That sort of unique environment is truly irreplaceable.”

While Olivia’s “long story” may have begun at Menlo Park Academy, there isn’t an end to it quite yet. Her journey of greatness is far from over, and her middle school self was right to have had big dreams because she is more than capable of achieving each one of them.