Grad Olga Ortiz Slagado

Olga Ortiz story
"Take Every Opportunity You Can" Her Driving Mission

Even if you’ve never met them, you can see Olga Ortiz Salgado’s parents staring back at you when you meet her. Olga’s mother, Maria Salgado, is an environmental scientist who emigrated to the United States from Colombia. Her dad, Raul Ortiz, was a gifted student-athlete who grew up in Milwaukee without a lot of opportunities.  

Ortiz Salgado, 18, credits her curiosity and passion for the environment to her mother who made that long, hard trip from Colombia before she was born, and her drive to her father who pushes her to not take anything for granted.

“Throughout my life, he’s enforced that idea - don’t take anything lightly. Take every opportunity you can,” she said.

In the fall, Ortiz Salgado will be following in her mother’s shoes, in a way, when she starts at the Coast Guard Academy to study marine science. 

“I’m kind of living both of our dreams, and that makes me happy,” Ortiz Salgado said. 

She said she knows the Coast Guard’s mission varies from keeping the environment safe to enforcing laws at our borders. She’s no stranger to law enforcement – her step-father is a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) commander, and her brother is a sheriff’s deputy. 

While she has her father’s drive and her mother’s mind for science and engineering, Olga is her own person - from her love of acapella music, her fluency in three languages, her speed on the track (she’s one of the top three sprinters in the conference), to her identity as a person of color.  

Combating racism is an important issue to Ortiz Salgado, who is co-president of the school’s Unity Club, an organization that promotes awareness of racism and seeks an understanding of the experience people of color have in South Milwaukee and the larger community.

“This isn’t the same South Milwaukee High School it was,” she said. “I’m glad we’re making a difference.”

What drove her to the Coast Guard Academy, she said, was the atmosphere and the opportunity (a track program and an acapella group) the academy offered, and a chance to be a woman and person of color in a leadership role in the military. 

“It’s hard balancing finding a school that has a good environment, a course of study, and a sport you want to go into,” she said, and she found that balance at the Coast Guard Academy. “I loved it,” she said.